My Big Fat International Move
We took the plunge and moved from America to Europe! Here’s how it happened, and 7 essential tips I learned along the way.
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.
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.
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.
In case you’re interested in making the move to another country, here are a few essential tips:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- It’s probably cheaper to sell your furniture (rather than ship it) and buy used gems once you arrive. In Europe, many people want modern furniture, so if you’re open to buying cool antiques (in France, we used LeBonCoin, which is a CraigsList equivalent) and DIY painting them, you’ll pay very little and end up with amazing, unique pieces. Check out how I did this.
- When packing your moving boxes, secure them with Disney duct tape, so it will hold together and also look like it’s probably filled with kids stuff (this will reduce the chances of someone opening it and removing the valuables, and it’ll be more noticeable if it’s been tampered with). Use towels, duvets, yoga mats, and sheets as padding. Our moving boxes ended up looking like they’d been beaten with bats, but since I packed very carefully, not much was broken and nothing was stolen.
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!