26 October 2016

Ira FARO - Expat in France

Ira FARO - Expat in France

We’ve had the chance to talk to Ira FARO, 68, an American expat who has moved to France with his wife. Mr. FARO who has been living there for over two years is now retired (with a little consulting work on the side).

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I was born and raised in rural western New Jersey. My wife and I lived in eastern Pennsylvania for about 35 years before we moved to France.


Q: What made you move out of  the USA?

A: A posse was after me. (Nothing ‘made’ me move out of the USA. We decided after careful deliberation to move to France because during our active retirement years we wanted to travel. And since we wanted to travel in Europe, why not live there?


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

A: We’re living in Quarante, a small village of about 1,500 in the southwest of France. We first considered climate. After decades spending frigid winters in the American Northeast, we were looking for a more moderate climate. My wife, who is from Texas, swore that she would never shovel snow again. So the weather in this part of the Mediterranean worked for us. Add to the food and the wine and the beautiful scenery and we were hooked.


Q: How long have you been living in France?

A: We first came house hunting in 2003 and bought a holiday house in 2005. After visiting once or twice a year and renting it out when we could, we sold the holiday house in 2011, bought our house in Quarante in 2013, and moved here permanently in 2014.


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

A: It’s just my wife and me.


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

A: We do miss family. It was difficult when my brother had a fatal heart attack and I was so far away. But family visits regularly and they enjoy being here. In fact, one of Cathey’s sisters has bought a house in the village and will be moving here permanently as well. And there’s email and calls to the States from our landline are free and Facetime is heaven sent.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Calling our neighbors ‘locals’ sounds a bit condescending. Our French neighbors are just as we expected. They are pleasant but not as open as Americans and other English-speaking expats. We didn’t expect to be invited into French homes for lunch or a glass of wine right away as was the case with the English-speakers in the village. We lived in a small town in the States for 35 years and were always outsiders even after decades. But our French neighbors always wish us Bonjour and ask about our health and discuss with us the color that we chose to paint the house. And one of our French neighbors takes care of our cats when we’re away and refuses to accept payment. So we are slowly integrating into our community.


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: Yes, we do mainly socialise with other English-speaking expats. We’d meet one who would introduce us to another who would invite us for a sip and a nibble with a few more. Friends have been very generous in that way. Before we knew it, and much sooner than we expected, we had an active social life that has continued to expand. We are all here by choice, not always the case in our native countries, and that gives us a very important commonality to start from.


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

A: It depends on how you live. Our income is less than half of what it was when we were both working but we live very comfortably. One car instead of two. A smaller house in a more temperate climate, buying local meats and produce that’s in season.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: A café crème can run 2 euros or more and no refill.

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

A: We most often go out to lunch. 15 euros for the menu of the day plus wine is standard, plus or minus a euro or two.

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

A: The best meal that I’ve eaten here by a long shot was a 30 euro menu plus wine. We have paid as much as 50 euros apiece.

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

A: Our daily drinking jug rose is 1.50 euros per liter from the local cooperative. Better bottles run 4 to 8 euros. We seldom feel the need to pay more although we have and been pleased. As far as cigarettes go, I smoked for 50 years but I promised myself that I would quit the day that I moved to France. I had my last cigarette on the sidewalk in front of JFK airport in New York in April 2014. I have no idea how much a pack costs today in France.


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

A: My advice is the same advice that I give for just about anything. Research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your neighbors, your real estate agent, other expats. In the beginning, we chose a big bank in the nearest city to where we thought that we might live. Once we found our permanent residence, we found a closer, smaller bank that friends recommended.


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

A: Things have gone relatively easily thanks to the help of a professional French accountant. We first used her firm when we had to account for the income from renting our holiday house. She has advised us since on applying for our permanent residency and our healthcare card and, while things have not gone totally without a hitch, we certainly don’t have the kind of horror stories to tell that we hear from others. People think that bureaucrats want to hassle you. But the truth is that bureaucracies are set up to give the bureaucrat power. So if you can befriend the bureaucrat, or hire someone who already knows the bureaucrat, the bureaucrat can usually find a way to make things work for you.


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

A: We are very pleased with the French healthcare system. Prices are affordable. Once you are in the system, paperwork is minimal. I recently had a kidney stone attack. Once confirmed by an MRI, I was admitted to the hospital the same day, operated on the following morning, and sent home that same evening. And with my French healthcare card and my private top-up insurance (called a ‘mutuelle’) I never even saw a bill. A couple of months later, I discovered by checking my online account that the whole deal came to just over 1,700 euros – hospital, surgeon, anesthetist, hospital, labs. Clinique Saint-Privat just outside of Beziers. Recommended.


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: France requires that you have minimum coverage private insurance when you apply for your long-stay visa. Once you establish your residency, you apply for the French system. We felt very comfortable adding just private catastrophic hospital insurance on top of the government system.


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: We moved from a large three story house with a full basement and a two car garage with a full loft to a tiny French village house. We really had to pare down. To do that, we used a traveling French couple that we connected with on workaway.info to help clean our house, decide what to take, and help us pack. We used NY International Shipping for the actual move. We found them to be both professional and reliable. Minor damage to one chair not worth reporting.


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

A: Language. Although I had taken French in school and Cathey and I took a couple of semesters of night courses in a local community college, there’s nothing like immersion.


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

A: The only negative side is the negative with any long-distance move – fitting into your new community, learning the habits and customs that your neighbors take for granted, discovering the best places to shop, figuring out the weather patterns. The positives have been enormous. We love the weather, the food that tastes like it’s supposed to taste, great cheap local; wine. We appreciate the active and welcoming expat community and our French neighbors who have given us space to learn and integrate. 


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

A: Best things to do in the area? The list is way too long. Drives in the country, to the lakes, to the Med. Walks in the countryside, in Narbonne. Local market days. Tours of ruins like Peyrepertuse and abbeys like Fontfroide. Discovering the now and the then.


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

A: Nope. They’ll have to carry us out in a box.


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

A: Read what I’ve just written…keep cool, research, discover, source locally, be open…


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

A: The Languedoc Page. AngloInfo. And my own: www.southfranceamerican.com