I don’t want to deter anyone, yet in all honesty, moving abroad can be terribly expensive. Unless your job is relocating you and fitting the bill, there’s no way around this one. However don’t bother buying lottery tickets or playing Blackjack in Vegas, I’m gonna tell you how we are doing it.
During the time I spent waiting to get an approval from Antz HR team, I spent months researching moving abroad online, putting together all the necessary documents, and talking to people who have lived abroad. I have read so many helpful blogs that share their experiences as an expat but never found anyone in my particular situation. Some of my favorites are:
First, here’s a brief background on us. We are textbook American middle class; too poor to be rich, too rich to be poor. Typically, a move abroad is funded by your employer but we are moving voluntarily which means we have to pay for everything ourselves. Start saving now, pay off your debts and cut all the extras (daily lattes, mani/pedis, expensive clothes, etc.) the more time you have to prepare, the easier it will be. It wasn’t too difficult for me to stop daily Starbucks runs and give up mani/pedis but it was hard not to travel for an entire year. We were tempted so many times over the past summer to take a trip since people asking to house swap with us in New York, London and Australia. The goal is to trim your costs well in advance and create a realistic budget for what you plan to spend monthly while you are abroad. My high estimate will be 2000 euros monthly for living expenses not including our mortgage and Los Angeles utilities.
|Building Charges €150|
|Gas – Water included|
|Groceries/Dining Out €600|
|Metro Monthly Pass/Pass Navigo Découverte €146|
|Spending Cash €400|
|Museum visits/Ballet Classes – (10 class punch card) €150|
|Household Shopping – Toiletries €150|
I asked people who lived in France what the typical cost of things were so I had a strong gauge of our expenses. This is actually less than what we spend in Los Angeles. I am excited to turn in my car lease because for the first time in sixteen years I won’t have a car payment! We will be getting a monthly metro pass. We are in a unique situation because in Los Angeles we spend a hefty amount monthly on tuition however, in Paris Olivia will be attending public school. We are also cutting back on Liv’s after school activities like Taekwondo and cheerleading. I will continue ballet classes (I found the perfect ballet school in le Marais) and I’m hoping to find a volleyball club. I am used to going grocery shopping every week and Target (for household supplies) every two weeks. Without a car I will no longer be buying things in bulk, so we should be spending less on food and household items. I plan to continue my Amazon Prime in Paris and I’m replacing online shopping with traveling. Oh, how I miss French food!
Now, here is the tricky part, staying in France for more than 90 days requires a visa. We got our visas, differently.
Antz will be working remotely for his company so technically he didn’t have to apply for a French work visa. I hired Stephen as our visa consultant so we had someone to ask questions and give us advice. We also hired an expat tax advisor to make sure we were clear on our tax obligation. More on taxes later… Halfway through working with our visa consultant, Antz company told him they would assist him in getting an intra-company transfer (ICT) visa. From what I understand, he will be transferred to his company’s office located in Paris instead of being an outside employee. They only require him to work out of the Paris office twice a month. This was great news because now his company was semi-sponsoring his visa although we are still on the hook for the $1,300 fees. Liv and I are attached to his visa as family members but I had to write a statement saying I promise not to work while in France (like that was hard). If you’re applying for a long stay tourist visa (carte de sejour) you must show that you have enough money in the bank for a year abroad. What that magic number is, I’m not sure but we are showing his pay stubs as proof of income. Expatica is an excellent comprehensive website that breaks down the necessary documents needed. Once you get approved for a visa in America you aren’t done yet! You must register at the police prefecture and French Office of Immigration and Integration in Paris and have a health exam (which requires an x-ray) at your local maire (town hall) a few weeks after you arrive in France. We will also register at the American Embassy.
Our visa appointment is scheduled for January, eep!! I have been putting together our documents for months. I paid someone to translate our birth certificates and our marriage license into French. I plan on using Olivia as our good luck French-speaking charm at our appointment.
So here’s the bad news, because we are spending more than 170 days in France, even though we aren’t expats, we are still considered residents of France so in 2019, we will have to pay French income taxes. We are going from a 28% tax bracket to 45%! That sucks but our tax adviser will be able to apply for a foreign earned tax credit so that should help take some of the sting off. Antz HR team are keeping him on American payroll so he will continue paying social security, medical benefits, contributing to his 401k, etc. I highly recommend going over your finances with a CPA or tax advisor so you have an understanding of your tax obligation. You must file for taxes in both America and France even if you don’t owe any taxes.
In the spirit of keeping it real, here’s a breakdown of our expenses. The first and most important expense is getting your passport.
Passport renewal – $140 per person ($60 for expedited service)
Our passports were set to expire in August 2017 so it was time for us to renew but when applying for a visa, your passport must not expire three months before returning to the States. We ordered passport cards which can expedite the lines at customs. The normal processing time is 4 – 6 weeks but ours arrived in two weeks.
Visa photos – $8 each/ $15 for non-members (we found AAA to be the best)
We needed at least four photos per person for the visas and also spares in case we lost our passports. P.S. The embassy requests NO SMILES which took many tries.
Visa fees – €1000/$1315
When I began filling out our visa applications, I had many questions and wasn’t sure if we had all the necessary documents. I found Stephen from his great blog about his experience moving to France and now he offers his expertise to expats. I didn’t originally budget for his fee but I also thought, why wouldn’t I hire someone who knows the ins and out of applying for a visa and can answer all these questions I have? I bombarded him with questions, sought his advice in every one of our specific scenarios and had a Skype meeting for moral support. Stephen helped tremendously and I felt much more confident approaching our visa appointment.
Long-stay tourist visa costs – $120 per person (Children under 6 are free)
You can only make an in-person visa appointment at the French consulate closest to your state so some people may have to add the cost to fly in for the appointment. The earliest you can request an appointment is three months prior to your departure date so schedule the earlier the better. The fee is actually 99 euros and the consulate only takes credit or debit cards (No cash, checks) Here is a link to the Los Angeles French consulate. Jordan gave me the tip to dress nicely to give a good impression. Read all about our appointment here.
Certified French Translator – $350 for 4 documents
I found certified translator, Odile Barth, from the LA French consulate website. She’s very nice and fast. You scan and email her the documents and she will mail the translations to you. It was strange seeing our birth certificates in French. If you need to order copies of your birth certificates, you have to go in-person to the County Recorder Office. I needed Antz birth certificate so I waited in line for over an hour but the kind woman really helped me out. I started chatting about our move and she asked if I had our marriage license. She really saved me because the marriage license I planned to take to our appointment wasn’t an official embossed version. The documents were $14 a piece, I think. Make 3 copies of everything!
This place was hell, I went at 8:15 am and left after 10 am.
Getting There Expenses
It’s absolutely nuts that a one-way ticket cost more than a round trip fare. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away I worked in the airline industry so I had the privilege of flying for free or extremely discounted fare. I searched every discount website there was. After ruling out a couple for shady reviews, here’s what I found, the more layovers, the lower the fare. Right now Wow Airlines (which I really like) has the lowest economy fare but they have a layover in Reykjavik. We are traveling with our huge iMac computer and eight heavy suitcases with our entire lives packed in them, so I wasn’t going to risk losing anything or missing a connecting flight.
We got lucky when it came time to purchase our airfare. I checked fares daily for a year and waited the recommended fifty-four days before our departure date. Norwegian Air‘s premium class was offering non-stop flights at the same price as economy on other airlines. We saved a lot of money not having to ship our things because premium class includes two check-in bags per person in the fare. I am an over-packer so having to limit myself to 44 lbs per bag, for a year’s worth of clothes and shoes will be close to impossible. We should be completely packed by next month but I anticipate being closer to 50 lbs but it’s still less expensive if I prepay for overweight luggage online than at the airport.
Remember, you are required to bring airline tickets reserved in your name to your visa appointment at the French consulate. This is where shit gets real. Buying airplane tickets is not only expensive but it commits you financially and physically. I couldn’t bring myself to pay $500 per person for non-refundable tickets so I took a serious gamble that our visas will get approved. However, if we don’t get approved for our visas I will purchase return tickets and enjoy a looooooong trip to Paris.
Airfare – $2,068.50 Norwegian Air ($689 one-way premium fare)
I am so excited to fly Norwegian Airlines! They have super reasonable fares and since I’ve been following them on Instagram, I’ve seen they offer affordable flights to many of the places I plan to visit in Europe. Their premium class fare cost the same as other airlines economy fare and since it’s a special occasion, it’s nice to upgrade our seats.
Excess Luggage – $100 (excess beyond 44 lbs)
Thanks to Norwegian’s premium fare, we are able to check our six bags for free so we should only need to pay for our Mac computer box. We aren’t paying to ship anything but the lowest quote I got when I inquired was $2,000 for an International MoveCube.
Luggage – $85 each from Amazon
As much as I like pretty luggage, I ended buying a practical deployment duffle bags. I needed something that was huge without a hefty price tag. I almost bought these bags because I like the brand but the difference in price was $100 and I needed four bags. My Mom (who is a veteran world traveler) gave me a foldable travel duffle to carry our household items (my toiletries that aren’t sold in Paris, Liv’s toys, books and larger items). I used a vacuum sealed ziplock bag to fit our king size bedding.
Carry on suitcase – $245 from Away
I ended up investing in a quality carry-on hardshell bag after seeing Away all over Instagram. Normally I would buy a cute but cheap suitcase from Target but in my experience they never last long and I’ve had zippers break during a trip which is annoying. The suitcase from Away is guaranteed unbreakable and has a built in phone charger. I love their West Hollywood store.
Travel Adaptors and converters – $42.99 – $19.99 from Amazon
Now, I consider myself a seasoned traveler yet when it comes to finding the perfect travel adapter I haven’t found one that is reliable other than my Apple Macbook Air adapter. I have bought super expensive ones and when I tried to use them, they were shaped like a square when every single outlet in the house we rented was shaped like a circle. I have bought cheaper ones from Target and it ended up frying my cell phone charger when we were in London. I did some research and read reviews before buying this one.
I like that there are USB outlets built-in so we can charge multiple devices at once and has the ability to use this converter in several other countries. I did read that the fan can be noisy but we will see. I also bought a twelve pack of adaptors. I already owned this travel adaptor which worked for my flat iron.
I adore travel books however, they are heavy in our suitcases. I had to prioritize how many books to bring with us. I was lucky to find 36 Hours on sale for half off at Taschen. It’s great for it’s practical travel information and it has beautiful photography. I also found this Eurail guide quite useful. I’ve heard nothing but great reviews on The New Paris and Messy Nessy’s chic guide to Paris. My plan is to travel every weekend and holiday.
All together I spent about $800 on moving supplies but I bought everything during the Black Friday sales so I spent half of what was originally budgeted.
Sixt Car Rental – $300 for four days
We will be renting an ugly minivan upon arrival for the first few days. With so much luggage, it would be ridiculous to take an Uber or the metro. There aren’t many choices when it comes to renting a car in France that has automatic transmission. My bestie Aimee thinks I’m crazy for driving in Paris but if I could drive in London, I’m sure I can handle Parisian traffic. I would love to drive a cute vintage Fiat while we are abroad but so far I’ve only found manual transmission available. As much as I’ve tried, Lizzie can no drivie a stickie.
International Drivers License – $14 from American Automobile Association (AAA)
I will be the primary driver while we are abroad. The Int’l drivers license will cover me in most European countries however, it’s only valid for a year. I’ve been a triple A member for most of my driving years yet this year has been the most I’ve utilized their services. Our membership is valid even while we are overseas!
Total Moving Expenses – $3,500 approx.
Our California Expenses
Post Office box rental – $96 annually
I rented a PO box in my Mom’s town so she can pick up my mail for me and forward important parcels. There is a company that will forward your mail and packages to overseas addresses.
VPN Virtual Private Network – $99 annually
This is important so you can access American websites like Netflix and for Antz to connect to his job’s network securely. I haven’t picked which one I will use yet but they are necessary.
Farmers Renters insurance – $515 annually
I highly recommend getting this supplemental homeowners coverage if for anyone who will be staying in your home. This helped me feel at ease about leaving our house furnished.
Utilities/Gardener – $300 per month
Ugh, this sucks! I know this may sound high but I would much rather pay my own bills in Los Angeles than pay bills in Paris and not know the stability of the euro. All my utility bills are automatically drafted from my bank and I know exactly how much they are every month so it won’t be difficult to manage from France. Living abroad could mean so many variables that I may not control (the French are famous for their bureaucracy, and the unpredictable foreign currency market) I’ve heard getting utilities set up for Americans can be difficult. For example, if you want to rent an apartment, you may have to put up to a year of rent in an escrow account and you have to show proof that you have a French bank account. In order to get a French bank account, you need to show a lease agreement. How? Our monthly utilities are gas, wifi, security alarm, and our cell phones. I also made an arrangement with our gardener to prepay him in cash for fifteen months. I will pay electric in Paris but it should be about 150 euros or less.
This best sums up our expenses before we even set foot on the plane. Everyone’s budget is unique and I’m no expert. I am certain our expenses are fairly higher due to the cost of living in Los Angeles. My neurotic worries needed to be at ease so I ponied up for the extra insurance, hired a visa consultant and tax advisor. I hope this post gives an honest insight to the insane list of things to do and cost of making our dream of living in Paris come true.
Feel free to ask me anything or give me your suggestions!