It’s hard to believe this is finally happening. We’ve been hoping for and working toward this for such a long time. In fact, one year ago we thought we had figured it out and were ready to make the move, and then it all came crashing down. It was really hard going through that disappointment. So I was a little apprehensive to say anything until it was officially for real. And now, it’s definitely for real.
Getting (the right) job in France
Where to even start… Andrew decided he’d be a little sneaky about it, so he asked me to make him this image — yes, I have mad Photoshop skillz!
Then after probably irritating everybody with our obnoxious vaguebooking, we spilled the beans. It has been so fun to share the excitement with our friends and family, thank you for being happy with us! So here is how it all went down.
MONTHS ago, Andrew saw an opening for a job that seemed like a good fit for him. It was at Interpol, as a recruiter for the organization — which is what he currently does for local governments here in the U.S.
Because his background is in (U.S.) local government, we figured the best position for him if we moved to France would be in some sort of international organization like NATO, UN, or the like — French government administration is very different from in the U.S. so we figured he’d be a better fit in an international organization where his U.S. experience might be more of an asset. He speaks excellent French — good enough to have passed the French citizenship test! — but it’s another thing to have to work and write exclusively in French.
Another huge reason we wanted to go through an international organization is that they typically relocate you (pay for the travel, and your move, help with placement and admin…) which was huge. Even though the whole family does have French citizenship, there are still so many hurdles and most of all it is EXPENSIVE to make a move like this.
When we considered doing it on our own, (last year we thought we might just make the move with me keeping my job and transferring to the French offices while Andrew took a hiatus and found something locally) we realized we’d have to pay thousands of dollars just to ship one small pallet of items — so it was clear we’d have to get rid of basically everything we owned and start over.
Then, there was another huge hurdle: salaries are significantly lower in Europe. We quickly realized that living off of just my salary for a few months would be very difficult as I anticipated something like a 50% pay cut (yeah… you read that right. When we researched market value for my type of position, our jaws dropped.) To be fair, healthcare and free preschool and other social services make up for a significant part of that difference (Gabriel’s preschool/childcare expenses alone take up a solid quarter of my salary), as well as the fact we’d get more vacation time, but that was still a very steep cut, and it was just too much to overcome on our own.
Another major consideration was funding retirement (this is Andrew’s personal hobby and goal in life: to retire as early as reasonably possible). In the US, most employees have 401(k) variants that are portable from one employer to another. In France, the system is nationalized. All employees pay into a collective pool (think of it like Social Security in the US) and you must work X years or reach age 62 before you can touch it. If we ever moved back to the US, we couldn’t bring it over like a 401(k). It’s locked in France. And it’s not huge…the average pension in France is something like 1,500 euros per month. (There is such a thing as supplemental retirement but we won’t get into the weeds here.)
We decided we could make the move if three things came together:
- A job that would pay to move us there OR at least a job that provided career continuity for Andrew
- The ability to live in a sufficiently modern, well-appointed home or apartment
- The ability to have sufficient income to continue to fund our individual Roth IRAs in the US
So that’s where we were when Andrew applied for the job at Interpol. About two months after applying, he got an email that he was moving on to the next step: a written exam. It was really cool to get selected to move on, but we were still cautious because he’d gotten a written exam for another organization before and “failed” it. (It hadn’t been so much a test as a written interview of sorts — manipulate this spreadsheet around, how would you handle X situation, etc. — and clearly designed so they expected a certain profile and certain kinds of answers). We got the sense that these big organizations had specific profiles and talent feeder routes, and it was hard to break into coming from a non-traditional background.
But after sending back his results and waiting just a few days…we learned he had moved on to the next round! This time it was a Zoom interview and it went well, but we still didn’t dare hope. Then one month ago, he got the call: he had been offered the job!!!
It was infuriating because he just sent me a text as he was heading into a meeting (he was traveling for work that day), so I had to sit and stew on it all day without being able to ask the million questions that were bouncing around my head! Finally we got to connect, and we were ecstatic!
Even better: they would pay for our family’s travel to move there, and they would move us (i.e. ship our household items over). We’d crunched lots of numbers and the salary was what we needed, and we anticipated I could keep working for my company (it is a French-American company, but it was still a big unknown how that might go over).
AND – they offer a 401(k)-style retirement plan with a 150% match that we can cash out and combine with our American accounts (Andrew’s retirement-conscious face lit up like a kid at Disneyland on learning that!). Andrew accepted the job, and the whirlwind began.
So what now?
When? That’s a good question. SOON, is when. Andrew starts the job the first week of April so he’ll leave a little early and I’ll follow with the kids (need to make sure our house gets properly packed up). There is a lot for us to do as we prepare, and it’s coming fast.
Where? Lyon, France. (Andrew thinks I should change the name of this blog to “Lydia in Lyon”… it does have a nice ring to it!) I’ve never actually been there, but Andrew has! In fact, Lyon was the very first city he served in during his mission! (hence why we had a flag on hand — quite convenient!)
We’ve been reading up and connecting with people and expats there, and watching YouTube travel videos, and it really sounds like a perfect place for us. Some call it “Paris lite,” because it’s still a very big city (the second or third largest in France, depending on whether you count by population or size) but isn’t as massively congested or expensive as Paris. It even has its own Eiffel tower-esque landmark, ha!
The region is beautiful, we’re only two hours from Geneva and two hours or so from the Mediterranean (YES PLEASE). It’s not super close to my family in Bordeaux (about a 5 1/2 hour drive) but obviously much closer than we are now. The travel axis is very developed to Paris, which is about a 2+ hour train ride. The combined train trip from Lyon to Bordeaux is about 6.5 hours.
Right now we’re having the big debate: do we rent a home outside of the city (which means a significant commute for Andrew but more space and a yard, smaller town living) or rent an apartment in the heart of Lyon — meaning Andrew could bike or take transit to work, we’d have less space, but more access to all the things that make a city amazing?
I’m honestly leaning pretty hard toward city life, we may as well go all in, you know? And we’ve been finding some beautiful apartments with the historic architecture — the tall windows, gorgeous wood floors, sculpted chimneys… So, I guess, stay tuned for more on the house hunt, ha!
We can’t sign anything until we’re there in person, so we’re planning to get an AirBNB for a month so we can settle in. Thankfully we found a great one, complete with a kids’ room and separate bedroom for our sitter, who is coming with us to help make the transition! (Because I still have a full-time job in the midst of all this and can’t really take a whole month off… that’ll be interesting! But we’ll make it.)
What will you do?
Andrew will be working as a recruiter for INTERPOL (which is what he currently does for cities and counties in the Western U.S.), and I will be keeping my job but transitioning to employment by the French portion of the company. My part of the puzzle was still a big unknown until Friday — I knew if I became a French employee, I’d also get a French salary, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be a pay cut, but I secretly hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as we were anticipating.
To make a long story short, everything has now fallen into place and I’ve been given the “all clear,” and the best part is the salary turned out to be much better than we had dared hope. It will really make a big difference in giving us peace of mind as we embark on a big change for our family (with lots of unexpected expenses that will definitely come up.)
Every step of the way has been like walking in the dark, but we felt right about it. Then a little more of the path would open up. I’m so incredibly grateful that my manager at work had my back and pushed to make it work for me and my family. My job can be stressful at times — I work on a lot of different projects on any given day and it can feel overwhelming sometimes, and then you add in the fact that I already have a full time job raising three children! — but I love that I’m given creative flexibility, license to try new things, and that I get to work with some truly wonderful people.
How long will you be there?
Andrew’s is a three-year contract, but we honestly don’t know beyond that. It sounds like there will be possibility to renew or move within the organization, and I think it’s likely we’ll lean toward staying an extra couple of years, but it’s really wide open for now.
We’ll keep our home here in the U.S. and rent it (if you know anyone who’s looking… let me know!) and we plan to rent a home or apartment in Lyon. Thankfully, prices are quite reasonable there, I’d say cost of living so far seems very comparable with regards to rent, utilities, food prices, etc.
What about the kids?
They’ll be going to school in France! Spring break is coming up quickly here for our school district, and then when we get there, it’ll be Easter break for two weeks, so they’ll be out of school for about a month or so but we’ll be able to finish out the year in France.
Yes, it’ll be quite a transition but Andrew had really pushed this year to sign the older two up for online French classes — meaning they are mostly up to speed for the level they need to be. It will definitely be a big transition but I think they’ll integrate just fine. I was nervous about making them do extra work, school is already a lot, but now I’m so grateful he insisted, because it’ll make things that much easier. It was really inspiration on his part.
My family lived in the U.S. for about five years when I was little and moved back to France before my tenth birthday. It was a tough transition at first, but if I was able to quickly adapt at ten years old, I have no doubt my kids at 2, 6, and 8 will do well. I’m really grateful we’re able to make this happen at an age where they’re still so adaptable.
How are the kids taking this?
Adelina is excited — I’ve been telling her about how awesome French school cafeterias are, ha ha — and is ready for a new adventure. Jonas is grumpy about it because he remembers all the mosquitoes last summer… but is generally relatively indifferent now that he knows he can keep his Legos. Gabriel really has no clue what’s going on.
We’re selling our minivan (anyone interested?!) and will buy a car there, thankfully automatic cars are more and more common these days, especially with the popularity of hybrid and electric cars now.
The bad news is, we’re both going to have to retake a driver’s license exam! And it’s a whole thing in France… I’m not going to lie, that stresses me out a bit! There’s a grace period but France only recognizes licenses from a few U.S. states (Florida, Colorado, I think D.C…) so we’ll have to do that. That’ll be another adventure… on the plus side, a French driver’s license is valid for life. (True story, my dad still has his with a photo from when he was 19.)
The organization is moving us, which is huge, but we still have to clean out and purge and choose what to bring — our home there will definitely be smaller so we don’t need STUFF everywhere making it feel smaller.
The other thing is that a shipping container takes 2-3 months to get there, so we can’t just not have beds for three months! We’ll still have to re-buy some essentials, and appliances; we could buy a big old power converter but that’s just not very feasible for all sorts of everyday use. We’re thinking we’ll just get one for our home office space for laptops, our sit/stand desks, etc.
One of the toughest things for me is that we have to leave behind my beloved piano 😥 Even though we could fit it, it would not fare well in a shipping container for three months and it’s not worth the risk of damage. We’ll look for a piano or electric piano when we get there.
Thankfully, my in-laws are taking it while we’re gone and will give it plenty of love, so I’m glad we don’t have to sell it. It’s actually already gone, and it’s weird to see the house slowly emptying out!
I will really miss that piano, it has such a beautiful touch and sound. Lots of feelings. Basically everything else we own doesn’t really have any sentimental value (other than some photo books and the like) — everything but this piano. But it will be ok.
Still so many details to figure out, but that about covers it for now. Andrew thinks I should do our own mini episode of house hunters international, might be kind of fun…
Obviously this is bittersweet: we will be farther from our family here in the U.S. (my mom and sisters live here, and of course Andrew’s family), and we’ll miss the wonderful people in our life right now. Adelina has realized that she’s going to be saying goodbye to so many of her little friends, and it’s not easy. But this is what we’ve been working towards and praying for for a long time, and the timing and circumstances are so right. We are so happy!
Also, Andrew is amazing. He did the dang thing: we are moving to France!!! Thanks for sharing in that joy with us!
Next up: I’m working on a blog post about things we’ll miss about the U.S. — and things we won’t! (#1 on the “Miss” list: Mexican food, ha!)