My International Life: From NYC to France - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


My International Life: From NYC to France

How NYC lost some of its lustre, why I decided to make a second home in France, and how we pulled it off…


In case you hadn’t heard, I’ve just become officially bi-continental. For the past decade, I’ve been a full-time New Yorker. When I first moved to New York I was madly in love with the city. I called my mom after 6 days (I tried to hold out — I wanted to call after the second day, but my willpower would only stretch so far at that age) and told her that I was, quite definitely, never moving back to Toronto. That New York had already spoiled me for life and I couldn’t imagine ever leaving.

My International Life: From NYC to France

I went out every night, networked my toosh off, made a ton of glamorous acquaintances, and reveled in the fact that I was becoming a “real New Yorker” and living in “the greatest city in the world”. The city everyone (supposedly), wants to live in. Ahhhh, youth.

I moved to the West (Greenwich) Village in Manhattan from Toronto knowing only one person in the whole city — Jacquin. And I’d only met him once (under the palm trees lining a white sandy beach in the Dominican Republic, where he has quite an impressive vacation house).

You see, Jacquin epitomizes what’s great about New York. He’s a very successful tech entrepreneur, handsome, charming and fun. He came from nowhere-America, taught himself code, networked with important people, and made his own way in NYC. Now he lives in a giant duplex flat with a hot tub and BBQ on his rooftop in SoHo.

But here’s the other side of the picture: He wants love but can’t find it because he’s addicted to the rush of dating a string of holy-sh*t-she’s-hot women (read: models — they just happen to be on every block in NYC). He’s also addicted to working and partying. And there you have it. The lives of successful NYC men, much like NYC itself, are shiny, fun and glamorous, but somehow still end up feeling hollow in the long run.

My International Life: From NYC to France

NYC is exciting and intense, but as I get older, I want less intense and more relaxing

I made a ton of glamorous acquaintances and revelled in the fact that I was living in “the greatest city in the world”.

It wasn’t until five years in that NYC started to lose some of its lustre. I’d dated enough to see behind the facades and realize that I wanted something more. I began to wonder if I’d have to leave this adult playground to find it. Luckily, I met my soul mate soon thereafter. I don’t view it as a coincidence that he didn’t live in NYC.

In the years that followed, I educated myself about health and politics. They say ignorance is bliss, and I think they’re right (until the consequences of that ignorance hit home, that is.) The more I learned about the rampant corruption in American politics, the abysmal state of the American healthcare system, and the total lack of regulation to protect our health, the more I felt that, if my husband and I are to live a long life, we must leave America. (Comment below if you want more details on this stuff!)

In the decade since I moved to NYC, a lot of tech advancements have been made. Nowadays, there are gadgets you can stick in your ear that will translate languages in real-time. And if you forgot to bring that along, the Microsoft Translate web or mobile app does an incredibly good job (better than Google Translate) at helping people cross language borders.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it should. It opens up the world for all of us single-language speakers. A decade ago I would’ve been lost in France. Now, not only do tons of people here speak English (and, thanks to globalization, there are tons of English-speaking expats all over Europe), but I can whip out my phone and translate anything I need in a few seconds. #Halleluya!

My International Life: From NYC to France

Near our apartment in Lyon

In my life, I’ve traveled a lot, and one city I never forgot was Lyon, France. So when I finally realized that life is really, really short and I wanted mine to A) be full of adventure, B) be healthy, and C) be long, I immediately thought of Lyon. Here are a few reasons why I love this city:

  1. It is absolutely stunning. Hands-down the most visually spectacular city in the world (IMHO). With its varied architecture, soothing parks and two rivers, it will suck you in, charm you, and wrap you like a warm blanket.
  2. It’s vibrant. There’s a lot going on — every single day. Live music, theater, markets, museums… you name it. Here’s just a taste…
  3. Its location can’t be beat:
    • It’s a short drive to the Alps for snowboarding (yeah, Chamonix on Mont Blanc will be one of our new weekend spots).
    • It’s less than two hours by high-speed train to Paris.
    • It’s not far from the Mediterranean coast. Not to mention we can drive to Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland.
    • It’s right next to several of the world’s top wine regions.
    • World-class hiking, kayaking, boating, and even scuba diving are all within a 15- to 50-minute drive.
    • Direct flights to the most amazing places in Europe cost about €30 a ticket. #nuffsaid
  4. The cost of living is about one-fifth (for food) to one-tenth (for apartment rentals) of the cost of living in NYC.
  5. The people are super friendly and polite (not to mention young, well-dressed and attractive). Oh, and there’s a large expat community here.
  6. It’s FUN! Like, really fun. The parks along the rivers are full of people hanging out having picnics, there are many streets lined with cafes that have outdoor seating (and, since cars aren’t allowed, you’re not in a cloud of exhaust while you eat), and having a drink or listening to live music on one of the many bar-boats (I’m actually not sure what they’re really called, but they’re large boats with bars on/in them) are a great after-work tradition.
  7. Nobody honks! Really! I can count, on one hand, the number of honks I’ve heard in the past month (which is super refreshing when compared to the almost constant I’m-going-to-kill-someone style of honking in NYC.)
  8. It’s the foodie capital of Europe (and, therefore, the world), with more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else. And people actually get to enjoy it here because, unlike in NYC, people take an hour or more for lunch (yes — on work days! #gasp!) and spend it chatting (no, not about work) and enjoying the sun (or the outdoor heating lamp) at one of the many fantastic indoor-outdoor restaurants in this city.
  9. It has the longest life expectancy in France, a country with top-notch healthcare, a ban on GMO’s, and stringent chemical and food health-first regulations.
  10. Fresh baguettes for under a buck. Need I say more?!
My International Life: From NYC to France

Lyon, France

When I compared this with NYC’s almost constant noise, food and air pollution, lackluster architecture, mind-bogglingly high cost of living, lack of charming housing options, a total lack of exhaust-free outdoor cafes, and general frenzied energy, I realized that it was time to make a change.

Don’t get me wrong — if you’re young and looking to have fun, or you’re an entrepreneur who needs to network, then it’s a great place to live — for a while. But if you, like me, value quiet while you’re trying to sleep, or want to be able to travel easily, or just want a healthier lifestyle, then NYC isn’t a good fit — at least not fulltime.

My International Life: From NYC to France

So my hubby and I applied for a long-stay French visas, picked two charities and donated pretty much everything we owned that weighed over 2lbs, and rented an apartment in Lyon, France. We’ll be going back and forth to NYC on the regular, and I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe we’ll decide we love Prague. Or Lisbon. Or Vienna. But right now, I simply can’t imagine that.

Continue reading: My Big Fat International Move and That Time When We Were Homeless 

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 89 Comments

  1. John Volkman

    Do you find Lyon people to be friendly?

    I’m planning to relocate to Spain or France and have heard that Lyon is not good for expats.


    • Yes – I found them to be very friendly and open. We have had no problems making friends and have found Lyon to be very good for expats. 🙂

  2. Nancy Smith

    Indeed, you’re one of a kind. Very courageous!

  3. Quin Meri

    Thank you for the motivation! I’m seriously considering to “dive into new waters.”

  4. Paul Daiz

    The ultimate challenge of immigration: Managing finances. How was it on your case?

  5. Rosalia Russell

    “Parlez-vous Francais?” How’s communication barriers?!

    • Hey Rosalia! Lyon has a huge expat community and most people speak at least a little necessary English, so it’s pretty easy to meet other English speakers and/or find someone to help you out if you’re lost! You just have to know what to ask for. And if you don’t speak French you can always come read This is Lyon! 😉 We publish all our tips, tricks, and articles in English for the city’s English-speakers.

    • Marie Carbell

      I spent two years in Europe and six month in France It’s true that it’s sometimes hard in France to communicate with locals because they usually speak poor English, but I think it’s still possible and you can handle most of the situations. And you can make friends easily because young speak English for most of them. The only problem would be the administration maybe.

  6. Elizabeth Gonzalez

    Career wise, I think that moving abroad means you’ll be expanding your career network!

  7. Karen Abeyta

    Mmmm… new country, new situations and settings… isn’t it scary?!

  8. Steev Smith

    WOW! Immigration is a lifetime adventure! Congrats on your new endeavor 🙂

  9. Mildred Davis

    Great job, Hilary! I’ve always believed that with migration comes the power of knowledge and learning.

  10. Monique Malick

    Such a brave spirit!

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