I might have mentioned in a few places that Will and I are looking into retiring–at least partly–abroad. Specifically, France. But that doesn’t seem like an easy retirement maneuver, much harder than moving to Florida or Arizona for warm weather.
So, what are some steps we are taking to insure that we are better prepared for the uphill climb we have ahead of us? Here are just a few:
Research Living and Retiring Abroad
I have been avidly reading anything I can get my hands on when it comes to the topic of living and retiring abroad. It could be online articles on AARP (such as this one) with annual 10-best lists that usually include Montpellier, France, or Le Marche, Italy. Or, it could be a website such as Live and Invest Overseas which offers daily newsletters about living abroad.
Or, you can check out books which give broad preparation for how one goes about researching and choosing, how to think about monthly costs, and specific merits and disadvantages of particular countries. We found Kathleen Peddicord’s book on the subject quite helpful: How to Retire Overseas.
Once you get more specific to particular places, you want to narrow down your research. For instance, since we are particularly interested in living in France, we’re going through Living Abroad France by Aurelia d’Andrea.
English Language Weblogs of Expats Living in France
While you are doing the nitty-gritty research on how one goes about acquiring health care or how to get your first long-stay visa, it’s also fun to browse success stories on the web.
There are a few weblogs we follow (also listed in our Blog page) which detail experiences of those living in France. For professional photography and food porn, Mimi Thorisson’s Manger is an excellent diversion from our everyday ordinary lives.
If an expertly-designed blog featuring a former model-chef, her talented photographer husband, their many photogenic children, countless adorable dogs, and beautiful Medoc countryside is not your thing, then you might want to get a bit more down-to-earth. We also read two other blogs, one created by an American woman married to a French man living in Paris (Frenchless in France) and another one with a British couple who retired to a small village in the Dordogne region (Our French Dream).
Immerse Yourself in Your Dream Locations
A while back, I wrote about murder mystery series set in locales that qualify as “retirement porn.” One of the series revolved around Bruno Courreges, Chief of Police in a village in Dordogne. While I might teach Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle, on my own time I find myself more and more reaching for Martin Walker’s contemporary murder mysteries set in fictional St. Denis.
The peaceful life–except all those pesky murders!–Walker depicts of a rural French village gets all the more appealing as we get closer to retirement. While we are in no doubt about the fictionality of St. Denis, we can still fantasize about a life composed of truffle hunting, dog raising, grape stomping, croissant consuming, and market shopping.
Visit As Much As Possible
The true aim of our recent forays into credit card “hacking,” you might have figured out, was to concentrate our rewards in the most useful ways for travel. By using our cards wisely–but never by manufacturing spending!–we have been able to qualify for two more round-trip plane tickets to France for this summer.
How about exorbitant boarding costs for our dog? Well, we plan to take Katie down to stay at her second favorite home (after ours, that is), with Will’s sister and brother-in-law. (They love Katie and pamper her with steaks, tummy rubs, and sleeping in their bed. Katie is not always ecstatic to come back with us.) Sure, this will involve 5.5 hours of driving each way and two separate trips, to drop her off and to pick her up. However, we can combine that with visiting Will’s mother and other family members near by. Everybody is happy!
We always do our best to minimize the cost of travel, but the plan is to visit France as much as possible. In the past, we have spent decent chunks of time in Paris, Amboise, Avignon, Lyon, and Montpellier. (The picture above was taken at a vineyard near Montpellier.) This summer, we will try out Sarlat and St. Jean-de-Luz. We’re also planning to stay in Grenoble and St. Emilion some time in the future.
By visiting as much as possible, we are hoping to feel confident that France is the right country for us at the same time that we can have a clearer sense of exactly where we want to relocate to within France.
Will needs to work harder than I do on this since he has never studied French. However, a move to France (or any country) will require that we both learn the language. Especially if our plan is to stay in more rural areas–outside Paris or Lyon, for instance–we will need much better communication skills than we possess.
I could tell that the ability to “get by” with just English experienced a precipitous drop from Paris to Lyon and then much more so from Lyon to Montpellier. People in Montpellier were definitely very friendly and forgiving of me butchering their language, but that’s mostly because their English (it turned out) was equally bad.
I expect that our upcoming trip to Sarlat (in the middle of Dordogne region) and St. Jean-de-Luz (Basque country, in southwest France, on the border with Spain) will yield similar experiences. We arrive in Paris (where practically everyone speaks English), and then go to Sarlat (where there might be enough British tourism to make English a familiar language), to St. Jean-de-Luz where they do not get nearly as many English-speaking tourists, especially in May.
We are comforted by our experience that a bit of effort goes a long way in holding friendly converse!