12 Jan

Moving to France – What’s it really Like?

Who are We?


Phil & Emma Davies, who moved lock, stock and barrel from the UK to the South of France in 2011 to start a new life and a new business. We unwittingly embarked on a large and continuing renovation project which resulted in the creation of Imagine Roussillon as it is today.

Why I am I writing this?

Before and since we moved to Perpignan in the South of France 5 years ago, I have read so many articles online about other British expats’ experiences. I wanted to see how other people managed, where they ended up and what jobs they were doing.

But often these stories relate to retired couples who move to the French countryside, either in the centre or the north of France. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all; it’s just that we don’t all fit into that category and so I wanted to write down our story in the hope that it might be of help to younger people making the shift.

The Need for Change

In 2009, my wife Emma and I were getting itchy feet.  We were living happily in Brighton, with me commuting as a freelance television Floor Manager and Emma working as a freelance fitness instructor.  Our little boy was just 2 years old and we were in our late 30s.  Like so many other people, we mused and talked of a new life abroad, in sunnier climes and with less stress.  Unlike most other people, we actually did it.

In truth, and in hindsight, there are two things I can tell you about these dreams and aspirations.  First, it’s really important to have them and to cling to them, because otherwise you will never make the move and stick with it.  And second, there’s a real naivety here that in retrospect is quite touching.  How could we be mature, grown adults and simply have no idea at all about what lay ahead?


Inspirations for Change

At the time we talked of a move abroad, « No Going Back » had recently aired on Channel 4.  It inspired me greatly, seeing these brave people risking everything to make their new family vision come true.  I admired every family on that programme and loved every single episode.

The funny thing is, when you do the same thing yourself you don’t see yourself at all in the same light.  At no point do I think we were brave or inspirational – we just decided to move house and that new house happened to be in another country.  Perhaps our blissful ignorance of the challenge had a certain charm when viewed by other people, I really don’t know.  But when you are the ones – and the only ones – making it happen, you are completely focused on sorting a myriad of problems each day, nothing else.  Because if you don’t get it all sorted, nobody else is going to do it for you.  And you’ll find that your friends have no interest whatsoever in the nitty-gritty detail – they just want you to arrive so they can come and visit.


Researching from Afar

For about two years whilst still in the UK, we worked hard at making our move happen.  We were thorough, very thorough.  We employed financial advisers to guide us through all the changes in bank accounts, national insurance, pensions etc – very boring stuff but there’s lots of it and it is rather important.

We were in touch with various French and international estate agents, as you would expect, in order to begin our property search. With this you then need an international property lawyer who can mediate and help sort things out with the French notaire.

If you are thinking of making a move to France or elsewhere, remember that you will need to make a number of trips to narrow down a region that you are interested in.

We drove all over France, but we soon realised that we wanted to be right on the coast and it had to be warm.  A quick glance at a French map soon tells you that you’ve narrowed your choice to a handful of areas already.  We couldn’t afford the Cote d’Azur and we didn’t like the harsher climate of the South West coast, so Languedoc Roussillon it was.

At this stage, we headed back to our home office and studied various maps and other online information.  Climate zones, flood plains, earthquake zones, enterprise zones, population distribution, other demographics, locations of existing competition to your intended business and so on – you need to know all of this.

I plotted all this information onto just one map, and looked to see where the most favourable results of each category coincided. For us it was Roussillon, the furthest south you can go in France before you fall into Spain.


The Move

As moving day approaches, you get a kind of sick feeling in your stomach.  Partly it is pangs of nostalgia for a life you’re about to forego.  Partly it’s wondering why on earth you’re putting yourself through this enormous stress.  Our children were aged 4 and 2 by the point of our departure from the UK.  Young enough, fortunately, to have no idea whatsoever what momentous change we were about to inflict upon them. That’s another thing that hits you – this sense of overwhelming responsibility for your family, because if you’ve got it wrong, you’ll be left with an almighty mess that will take enormous time and effort to clear up.


To be continued…