#HilaryRowland

My Big Fat International Move

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As you know, my hubby and I decided that we wanted a change from NYC. So we researched countries and cities and landed on Lyon, France. Here’s why we wanted to leave NYC, and why we chose France. Our first few months have been a crazy whirlwind, to say the least!

Moving to France took a while to plan. We had to sort out immigration, find someone to take over our apartment and car leases, and donate all our furniture and possessions (instead of movers, Habitat for Humanity and Housingworks came with their moving/donation trucks). We boxed and shipped some clothing and a few sentimental things we didn’t want to part with (which arrived in France a few days later looking like they’d been repeatedly smashed with a metal baseball bat.)

We spent our last few nights in NYC sleeping on an air mattress in our now-empty apartment, wondering what lay ahead in France.

After all that, we got on a plane and flew to France with our cats. We spent our first night in Paris because, well, why not? It still feels pretty surreal to know that Paris is less than two hours away by train. Basically, where we used to go to upstate NY (ie. Rhinebeck, Woodstock or Hudson) for weekend trips, we can now drive (or take a train) to Paris, Chamonix, Bordeaux, Provence, Geneva, Turin, and about 20 other amazing cities and towns within a two-hour drive! Seriously! And if we drive four or five hours, we can be in a number of incredible cities in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, etc. Even London is only a five-hour train ride. But I digress.

We’d visited Paris several times, but being here knowing we get to stay in France felt like living in a fairy tale. It didn’t take long for things to get real (nothing worth doing is easy, right?) but, months later, France has become home and we feel extremely fortunate to have pulled this off.

My Big Fat International Move

After one night in Paris, we hauled our six suitcases, two cats, their giant litter box, and our other, smaller bags, piled into an Uber, and headed to the train station. (We usually travel with only a small bag, but these suitcases contained the rest of our possessions that we weren’t able to ship.) There was some sort of event going on (a marathon, I think), and so several streets were closed off. This made our normally 15-minute ride take 45. Lame! So we missed our train. Luckily we were able to hop on the next train at no extra charge.

I had done some research and knew that (thankfully) the station has staff that helps people with their bags for free. Boy, did we ever need it! But our Uber driver drove us right up to two sketchy-looking guys with carts and told us to give our bags, and some money. Our NY instincts kicked in and we smelled a scam. I ran inside and asked for help from one of the station staff. A minute later we were connected with two sweet women with official-looking vest and carts. They yelled at the men, loaded our many bags onto the cart, found our train, waited with us to help load the bags into the train. Amazing!

The train ride was smooth and easy — they even had a bunch of great vegan food options. The kitties didn’t love it though, and because it goes so fast through the occasional tunnel, it made my ears keep popping. Still, less than two hours later we were dragging our many suitcases off the train and, in stages, over to where we were able to catch an Uber. BTW – The first sign that this was not NYC was that, in a crowded train station, several nice people offered to help us with our suitcases, which, amazingly all fit inside the cab.

My Big Fat International Move

I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but this was my hubby’s first day in Lyon, and the first time I’d been in 20 years. So, basically, we moved to Lyon 100% based on research we did online. If that sounds insane, and maybe it was a little, consider that we knew that France has a lot of fantastic cities we could try out (including Paris, of course), if we didn’t love Lyon.

When I moved from Toronto to NYC a decade ago, I didn’t know anybody in NYC, and yet in a week I’d already made a ton of friends. This made me a lot less scared to take the plunge again. But my hubby has never made a big move before, so it took him a little longer to warm up to the idea. It helps that we’ll be going back to NYC every month. While we weren’t sure what to expect, luckily, we really, really love it here. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but I’ll fill you in on all that in my next article.

My Big Fat International Move

In case you’re interested in making the move to another country, here are a few essential tips:

  1. Open a bank account with a bank that has branches in both the country you’re leaving and the country you’re going to. This is essential since it’s nearly impossible to open one once you’re abroad until you have an apartment lease, but you can’t lease an apartment without a bank account. We didn’t realize this in advance, so we tried a paid mailbox and got rejected by the bank. Luckily we have a friend who knows a bank manager and wrote a letter stating that we’re living with him, which worked.
  2. If you have grandparents who were born in the EU, start the process to get EU citizenship. Trust me. Sooner the better. If you don’t, check out your visa options.
  3. Get an assistant (local is best, but remote is ok too) who speaks the local language and has a local phone number. Ask him/her to call rental agencies and make appointments on your behalf. Make sure the agents know if you don’t have a local job (or, if you, do what your income is) so you don’t waste your time. (Some agents in France will only work with people who have a local job and/or a French citizen who will guarantee the rent in case you don’t pay.)
  4. Don’t mess around with immigration. Research, research and then research some more. Don’t miss any steps or you could seriously regret it later. We came dangerously close to missing an important immigration deadline. It’s a good thing my gut told me to do that extra bit of research.
  5. Stay in different areas of the city. We stayed at AirBnb’s and hotels all over Lyon and it helped us figure out which areas we loved, and which were too quiet.

Stay tuned for more as I chronicle our move to France, our hotel and AirBnb stays, our apartment mishaps, and our upcoming road trip through France, Switzerland, and Italy!

A writer, artist and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

36 Comments

  1. NYC is a fabulous place, yet it could be so exhausting! Although many people want to be in NYC at some point in their lives, there are so many other great places to live in the world. Although I’m not considering moving anytime soon, this article was really inspiring. Good luck and can’t wait to hear more about your adventures in France!

  2. Matilda Parker

    It makes sense why you’ve moved out of USA. And I honestly think that France is one of the best places to live in! Such a charming, artistic, glamorous yet cozy and friendly country. Enjoy and make every day count! 🙂

  3. Celine Carter

    What a lucky woman you are, Hilary! I could no way convince my husband to move out of the country. I don’t think I could convince him to move out of New York! Sigh… I guess we’re living here till our retirement. lol

  4. Kaitlyn Barrett

    Ahh how dreamy ? So happy for you! If only I had the money to move. I wouldn’t waste a minute here!

    • I’m not sure where you live, but I found France to be much, much less expensive than the US in every way. Spain is even less expensive…

  5. This article is EVERYTHING!!! ???????? Thanks so much for all the info you’ve provided. Really helpful advice. I want to move abroad but didn’t know where to start. Thanks a million times! 😀

  6. Evelyn Sandler

    Woooow! That’s incredibly brave of you and your husband. Leaving your home to move to a strange / foreigner place with a foreign language… Leaving your lives, families, friends, jobs behind in the US… To start all over again in France. That takes some serious courage! Admirable! ???????

    • I know right? I could never do that!! Isn’t she brave?!! One of the many reasons why I look up to Hilary so much. ? A real role model for us ladies. ☺️

  7. Colleen Frasier

    Can’t tell you how jealous I am! I’ve always wanted to visit Lyon. I really doubt that I’ll get to move there, but I’ll be sure to visit that beautiful city one day. ❤️?

  8. Mari Henderson

    Great tips, Hilary! If I had one advice that would be to try to make friends before you move, so that you won’t feel like a total stranger there once you moved. ?

  9. Kim Hartford

    Great article! Really enjoyed reading about your exciting big move! Such a brave and smart couple. Congrats, you two! ???? Thanks for the tips too. I hope to move to Europe as well one day. 🙂

  10. Lena Dzeko

    Lucky you! Sort of envying you right now. I wanted to move to Madrid 4 years ago, but my visa got declined. ?

    • You could try to get a visa for another EU country. Once you’re here, you can move around freely…

  11. Emily Wentz

    Hi Hilary! It’s lovely to read your New York to Lyon moving experience. I’ll be moving to Paris myself within a few months, and I was wondering if you could suggest me some baggage forwarding company? Been looking all around the web but no luck finding anything that looks legit so far.

    • We used DHL, but our boxes showed up completely banged up… I don’t have first-hand experience with any others, sorry!

  12. Amanda Roberts

    Such a timely article! It really made my day cause I’m currently in the process of moving from Ohio to Montpellier with my French boyfriend. And I couldn’t be more excited!! ?

    • That’s great! I’m sure you’ll love it. Download the Memrise app 😉 xo

  13. Sydney Nowak

    Interesting information. I’ll do some further research and see what countries I could move to. Each and everyday it’s getting more difficult and ANNOYING to live in our own country… 🙁

  14. Yet another great piece that proves what an amazing, brave and strong woman you are! Big congratulations on this huge new step in your life and I hope everything turns out even better than you hope and imagine it to be! 🙂

    • Thanks! It’s been a bumpy transition, but I haven’t regretted the move for one single second.

  15. Olivia Peterson

    Reading this gives me hope. I’ve been really dying to move to Europe, I can’t even explain with words… Haven’t had the courage, money or time yet, but seeing you have done it makes me want to not give up on my goal! I really hope I make it happen soon, and I’m so happy for you! 🙂

  16. Anna Kaplan

    Wow!!! This is amazing and so brave of you!! Is it going to be a temporary or a permanent move?

    • I never know where life will take me, but I’m definitely in love with France and don’t want to leave!

  17. Jennifer McSween

    This really got me aching to move to France! I would move to Paris in a heartbeat if I could! ?

    • Molly Twain

      Oh my gosh, yes!!!! Paris for sure ?? Or Cannes! Oh my god, can you imagine? Everyday would be a day in paradise!❤️ I sooo need this! ?

  18. Frederica Pellman

    Great read, and as one who left London for New York City many moons ago (without money, job, apartment or any contacts in NYC- crazy, right?) I know how exhilarating/exciting and how scary/frustrating these leaps into the void can be. But we only have one life and it’s so rewarding to take chances while you are young enough to weather the challenges. It doesn’t hurt to have a buddy on on your travels (me a sister, you a husband). You can face any challenge when you’re not alone!

  19. Debbie Jones

    Now I’m thinking… But where do I go?! I’m considering climate, safety, political stability, costs (taxes), language and proximity to the US (of course, I’d like to fly back home once in a while).

    • If you want to be close to the US, Toronto is a great option that has the things you’re looking for.

  20. I’m a backpacker but not a risk taker. I salute (and envy) you for having the courage to immigrate to a different country.

  21. Elena Horsham

    Fantastic article! You woke up the adventurer spirit in me!

  22. Demi Gregory

    It’s been months since you immigrated your new “home,” any regrets?

    • No regrets at all. We absolutely love it here!

      • Norisna

        Please,I would like that you tell us more about your experiences in Lyon. What do you like, what don’t You don’t regret at all, it is OK but nothing is perfect. I’m a New Canadian citizen ( well 27 years here in Canada, only to say that I was not born here) I like my adoptive country, it is a quiet country and very well organized, but it is not perfect for a new immigrant, It is very difficult to find a right place for us; a place where we believe we really deserve. I learned his history, I learned the two official languages. in short, Canada is a country where we can be happy. Only I would like to have a lot of money to live like a bird (but permanently a house here in Canada) taking a small bag, taking a ticket and say today I want to go to New York for 4 or 5 days, then back home, another day, I want to go to Rome , another 4 or 5 days, then back home ad so on. But for that, I need money. But if I don’t have money I would see something easer and free: a voyage at the interior of myself and ask what I really want in my life to be completely happy. interior peace is , in my opinion the most important. I can’t move from here to there, from there to away without knowing what I want and where I go.Your tips are very interesting but I would like to know more about your experiences. How is people there? , the places to visit? is it an expensive city? anyway I know that you will tell us soon about all this. I reed frequently your magazine. Very nice Thank you very much

        • I will definitely be sharing more of our adventures here in France. I’ll also write about what I love about Lyon versus New York versus Toronto. Stay tuned!

  23. Sasha Rosswell

    Most people immigrate for financially secured future. It’s amazing that it’s not one of your reasons from moving from NYC to Lyon (I read your another article which is linked with this one). You’re one of a kind!

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