I can assure you, I never dreamed we would raise our girls in France. I would dream about the Italian countryside while I was pregnant and suffering with insomnia.
My daughters would marry beautiful men: ancestors of Roman gods! The boys would come into the house and call me “mama”. Their grandmother would teach us all how to make pasta and olive oil.
There wouldn’t be any family drama because the Italian madness would be charming to us. That was my dream!
How it Started: France
In 2013, my husband and I were wondering if there was something better out there. We had traveled extensively before we had children. We seemed perfectly happy with our suburban life. I stopped working with my second child and was a stay-at-home mom. We both worked in education.
We started thinking about what schooling and life, in general, would be like for our girls. We realized that our budget would not allow to send them to a private school. We weren’t happy with the public school environment, the lack of discipline, and curriculum standards. Healthcare doubled in those years, causing a strain on our budget.
Travel as a family would be difficult. We had nothing to complain about, but we knew from our travels before kids, our quality of life could be better. The more we tried to save, the higher our health insurance premiums got. How could two professionals not afford health insurance? We became disgusted and had enough.
And we devised a plan: Move abroad! We researched countries from Europe to Latin America. Bolivia was my husband’s choice as we could live for years on what we had saved, and we knew the language. I wanted Italy as it was affordable to live in the south, especially buying a rural home with acres for a garden. Our choices were limited; we needed clean water and internet for work. Our youngest daughter wasn’t yet a year old.
We started working on tangible goals. We reduced our new purchases and saved as much as possible. We traded in our car leases and bought used cars. We removed all extra memberships, cable, and switched to minimal cell phone plans. We extended our life, house, and car insurance to cover everything under the sun and removed our health insurance coverage for a year.
I don’t suggest this, but we were healthy; wellness, dental, vision check ups, before we canceled. We saved 15,000 dollars; even after paying out of pocket for the cost of our then 4-year-old who had the flu and strep at the same time. In total, we had 25,000 dollars saved. We rented out our house after attempting to sell it in a supposedly hot market. We had garage sales, packed our keepsakes with in my mother in laws’ attic. We moved in with my brother-in-law while we waited for visas.
The Italian embassy wasn’t helpful. There was no information on moving to Italy, other than how annoying it was to wait for the Espresso break. The French Embassy had all the steps online and delineated the process.
They had more information and responded to our emails. Families blogged about their year in France, so I knew it was possible. Having never stepped foot in France, I moved my family there for a sabbatical year.
Mistakes – We Made a Few
We made so many mistakes. I brought too much, because everything I read online was how Americans can’t find anything in France. I complicated things by not knowing how France worked. “No” does not mean “No”. No means to word the question differently. No means “not today!”
There are the rules and then there is what is done. I had never thought the land of paperwork would be so blasé about things. I could find information on steps online, but that wasn’t the cultural education I needed to hit the ground running.
We arrived and had a magical year in our little cottage by the river. It was so perfect, it could have been a novel. I did not want to leave, but again, I was misinformed and told we couldn’t renew our visas. We had sold our home in Texas while living in France, found online work, felt alive, and needed to write our next chapter:
My husband had been following International Living. Although it targeted retirees, I thought if it was a good standard of living for those who are aging, it would be good for my toddler! Many Latin American countries fit the bill, but the flights were expensive for us all to visit family once or twice a year. This is why Ecuador appeals to many.
After some research, I realized that he was right. I followed Ecuador hashtags on Instagram. One day, a picture of an old childhood friend popped up. I couldn’t believe it! So I sent a message. Days later, he and his wife had skyped with us and told us everything we needed to know. He told me how the Ecuadorian culture differs from my Cuban culture, but because we knew the language, we would be fine. He explained that the water is great, and they had fiber optics (faster than my internet in France). He even picked us up from the airport.
Ecuador is a special place. It’s unique and exotic. It also straddles the Andes mountain range which averages from 8,000 to 13,000 feet. After two years of extreme altitude sickness, I said goodbye to our Ecuadorian family, and we came back to France.
Our Permanent Move to France
Our move back to France was smoother than the first.
I knew I didn’t need to pack anything but corn tortillas and jalapeños (a necessity for the Texans that we are).
We knew that once you have a residency card, you had the right to stay. We knew healthcare was good and affordable.
We knew the girls would have an excellent education; a college degree at the price of one semester at a State College.
We also knew that paying taxes (working visa) was the key to a French passport, and that was our ultimate goal!
If you are reading this blog and you have children, you are probably where I was in 2013. There’s a spark inside or curiosity about living abroad. Wondering where do you start? Maybe you were born with the wanderlust gene or traveled in your twenties, and the memories of adventure never faded.
Perhaps you are just dreaming about it, though that’s how it starts, and you want your kids or yourself to experience it. Now, with social media, we see others living lives that seem so different from yours, yet the people aren’t different from you.
Are you like us; so sick and disgusted with our situation we weren’t scared of change? Perhaps you’re older and looking for a more affordable and adventurous retirement option; or younger and figure if people do it with kids, why can’t I?
Been Around The Block 14 Times
We have been to over 14 countries as a family since 2014. Along with those visits, we have endured the cost, difficulties, anticipation, and anxiety of three international moves.
Was it a leap of faith? It feels like it was! In reality, I had educated myself on immigration policies, culture, health coverage, and the educational system. Our first move to France was a sabbatical year, but our move to Ecuador was supposed to be more long-term.
I was able to contact an old friend who answered all my questions. He knew the standard of living I was accustomed to.
Without having a real live person telling me what I needed to know, I don’t think I would have moved to Ecuador. This is why I belong to TCI! A Facebook forum becomes tired of redundant questions.
This is our livelihood—the life of our kids!
Details are Crucial
We need to know the details! I want to help others and be a part of their transition to a better quality of life. We now live in a country where I don’t need to worry about meeting deductibles or exorbitant health care costs. The quality of food is amazing, and my children write in cursive and speak three languages. I have proudly helped families move abroad to Ecuador, Poland, the Netherlands, and France. Many move to other countries after they realize they can be nomadic and enjoy the buffet of this world.
After three and a half years, France is my home. Is it glamourous? Honestly, it is still life with kids! Although I’m still enchanted by old villages, I still have to pinch myself when I get my baguette from the bakery. I still am amazed by old French culture and history. Life gets richer as my language skills improve.
Still, as a busy working mom of two, I am challenged and inspired daily! I didn’t have that before!
So, could I help you move abroad? To France, perhaps? What do you like to know?
by: Maday Miralles-Carnley