29 September 2016

Caroline Manson - Expat in France

Caroline Manson - Expat in France

We’ve had the chance to talk to Caroline Manson, 50+, a British expat who has moved to France with her partner. Mrs. Manson who has been living there for almost ten years, now works as a property consultant.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Nottingham, England.


Q: What made you move out of England?

A: The intention was just to buy a holiday home – but I fell in love with the country and never left!


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I live in a small village just outside Perpignan in the Pyrénées-Oriéntales. Having always been a ‘francophile’ it was never a question of which country to choose, but which region. I knew I wanted to be somewhere warm and sunny and close to the sea. I had never been to Perpignan but found some cheap flights one day – and as soon as I discovered the fact that it was close to Spain, the Mediterranean, the Mountains, and full of vineyards, that was it!  


Q: How long have you been living in France?

A: Nearly ten years now.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: The children are adults so only come out for holidays – I now live here with my French partner.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I definitely miss the ‘children’ and my old ‘girlfriends’ but make do with long rambling phone calls, emails, and visits as often as possible.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I was more worried about what they would think about me – but I had no problems and even ended up playing at the local tennis club in a ‘Men’s 4’!


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in France? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: Socialising at first was mainly spending time with neighbours, new friends in the village, etc. but now that I have a French partner we have a large circle of friends. I also meet new people regularly because I work in the property business – so spend lots of time talking to agents, house-owners and clients. The ex-pat network is very good here, and we share advice regularly but to experience real ‘french living’ I feel it is important to spend more time with French-speakers.


Q: How does the cost of living in France compared to your home?

A: On a personal level I find it cheaper to live here as the lifestyle here is more ‘simple’ When I am not working you will find me walking the vineyards in scruffy clothes, rather than going to the theatre or shopping centres.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Depends on where you go and whether it is ‘tourist season’!

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: You can often find delicious ‘formule’ menus at midday – 3 courses and wine for around 15€

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: If ever a wealthy client offers to treat me to a meal, I will let you know the cost!

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: 5€ is the most I tend to pay, in a supermarket, but I’m ashamed to say we often nip over to Spain where we pay 5€ for 5 litres of Rosé (perfectly drinkable as long as you add plenty of ice cubes)! No idea about cigarettes as I managed to give up smoking years ago.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in France?

A: Opening an account is not too difficult as long as you take as many documents as you can think of. Running the account is a different matter. I was shocked to find that they set a monthly spending limit on your card – even if you have sufficient funds in your account!  They also query every large payment, whether in or out, which I assume is to do with money-laundering but it can feel a bit as if ‘big-brother’ is watching your every move.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: If you don’t speak French it can be a nightmare, and even if you do speak French you have to be very persistent and patient. The French seem to thrive on paperwork - printing and stamping anything that they can. One of my finest moments was the day I managed to get a left-hand drive car that I bought in the UK, which originated from Italy, registered in France! 


Q: Would you say that healthcare in France is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: My only experience of Healthcare here was when I badly sprained my foot and had to visit the ‘Urgences’ department – the wait was much the same as the UK A&E system and the treatment, and follow-up care was excellent. They do seem very quick to prescribe a large number of medications – and to see people carrying large Pharmacy ‘bags for life’ is not unusual!


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or France? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: As I was working under the Auto-entrepreneur system I was soon entitled to a Carte Vitale. I understand the laws have changed now, and it is much easier for anybody, whether working or not, to get this card – which entitles you to treatment in much the same fashion as the NHS system works – however after Brexit, this situation will no doubt change again. 


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to France? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: My strongest memory was the fact that the removal lorry was enormous and decorated in Union Jacks – and blocked the road for several hours!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: French etiquette can be a minefield – my most important lesson being not to take a swig from a glass immediately it is handed to you but to wait and clink glasses and propose ‘santé’ to the people you are drinking with! 


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in France?

A: It’s got to be the sunshine – I live in the sunniest region in France! I can’t think of any negatives.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: At the risk of sounding like a Tour Operator, this region has something for everybody – snow-capped mountains in the distance (ski resorts are within easy reach), long sandy beaches, vineyards, culture and history.  My advice to expats would be to get out and explore – try something new every weekend!


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No – this is ‘home’ now.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language. If you only speak a few words at first, don’t be scared to try to make yourself understood – even if you leave a shop with the wrong loaf (or worse still, a bad haircut!), you will feel more and more confident each day.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about France?

A: Before moving to France I used to love reading blogs detailing the ups and downs that people experience here – but now I spend more time writing my own blog than reading other people’s! My website Perpignan Properties.