Well, in the blink of an eye, we have lived in Paris for six months. We are at the halfway mark of our year abroad and those 183 days went by in a flash. 183 days is a significant number for our family because that happens to be the number of days Antz company has allowed him to work remotely. We discovered this just two weeks before our departure date last February. This added to our stress and anxiety but since we put in so much hard work to get approved for our visas, set up a home exchange, took Olivia out of her French school in LA, and we set everything up to be in Paris for an entire year, we just left not knowing what would happen with Antz job.
Let me explain what the 183 day rule is. There is a treaty with France and the US so that either country can collect income tax from residents living there past 183 days. So in our case, if Antz were to continue working past six months, he would have to start paying into France’s tax system (paying for social services, income tax, etc.) while also still paying income taxes in the US because he is employed by an American company. This article explains it better than I can. To me it sounds like double taxation but there is an exclusion up to the first $100,000 of income in the US. Which for us means he would pay 45% of his income in taxes in France but only 28% past $100,000 in the US. So basically 63% of his income would have gone to taxes for our 2019 tax return. This was not the best case scenario for us financially. Also, his company was not able to set him up as an international transfer employee on a work visa due to the high expenses to add him to European payroll. We even requested to have him work freelance as an independent consultant but that didn’t work either. So his company gave him two choices, return to the US in 183 days or separate from the company. He did both. It was the hardest choice to make, Antz has worked for this incredible company for over 18 years. He was at the top of his career as a Senior Art Director. His company had premium benefits, generous salary and bonus, 401k, profit sharing, traveling to industry events and parties, summer Fridays meant he had every other Friday off, and he worked with some amazing people. I can’t tell you how difficult the decision was. I mean, France is rad but it’s not perfect. We are renting here which feels unstable, but in LA we owned our house and we put so much work into making our house lovely. Every month I worry about the currency conversion which varies so much that sometimes we pay $150 – $200 more depending on the day I pay our rent. We are in the process of getting a French bank account but it is honestly a nightmare. There is also a language barrier that makes simple tasks challenging. Liv is a wonderful translator but even she can’t help with adult things like setting up our cell phone service or making an appointment to have the heat turned on in our apartment. There is crime here like any large city, and if I walk through certain parts of town alone, I feel vulnerable. I had a car in LA so I never had a guy follow me making lewd comments like here. Once I had to call Antz to meet me on our street because a guy wouldn’t leave me alone. There is terrorism here so when we walk in crowded spaces, I can’t help but feel tense or worry about large trucks driving by. There are more grumpy, rude people in customer service than I ever dealt with in LA. I recently tried to make an appointment over the phone but six out of ten people hung up on me when I asked if they spoke English. That is on me, I need to step my French up. I hate the constant smoking, I get I am in a foreign country but blowing smoke directly in my face is infuriating. I also have to deal with renewing our visas every six months which is a headache. However the benefits still outweigh the cons for us. Liv attends a wonderful French school that is only a ten minute walk away for FREE! This is our number one reason for being here. She is attending such a great school here, her French is impeccable and I love that she gets a hot lunch everyday in a cafeteria and after school activities are included in her daily curriculum. She gets a half day on Wednesdays so she can go to ballet, which frees up our weekends for travel. That is our other major reason to stay. Traveling here is so easy and affordable I can’t see going back to LA only to wait all year for Antz to get a few weeks off of work so we have to cram a vacation in a short time and spend half of our travel budget on a long flight from LA. We have traveled more in the last six months than we have in six years. My main goal is to visit 20 countries and they are all just a train ride or a short flight away. I also am looking forward to having actual weather!
Living in sunny Los Angeles for 40 years was nice, but we rarely had thunderstorms or more than a few days of cold enough weather to bundle up. I have never been in Europe during the fall so I am excited to wear coats and scarves. I am also excited for the lovely Christmas markets coming soon! Well, it’s not like I need to sell living in Paris, my point is moving here comes with huge sacrifice. The first was leaving his job but finding a new job here in Paris won’t be so easy. Everyone I know keeps telling us that French jobs do not pay well. So we had to have a back up plan to keep us going financially. We used most of our savings to move here in March and even though we are saving a lot by not paying tuition or a car payment, it’s still expensive living in Paris. In the end, we realized we weren’t happy in LA and that is most important to us. The bottom line is he made great money in LA but he was working long, stressful days and we only had weekends to spend time together. Most of his salary went towards our bills and tuition so even if he made less here in France, our expenses are less. We also spent all our time in our cars which caused our lifestyle to be toxic and unhealthy. Since moving here, we spend so much more quality time as a family (I am sure it’s mostly because we don’t have a TV!) and walking everywhere is pretty awesome. So, we agreed we would stay in Paris as long as possible!
So a month ago we decided to sell our house. It was heartbreaking to do but really I couldn’t think of any other options. Our tenant was only renting during the summer and she was paying $1,000 less than we listed it for because she was able to pay cash in advance. We couldn’t live here and not have a stable long-term renter in our house. There are also so many expenses of being a landlord which would have been difficult to handle from abroad. Since our house has increased in value recently, I met with our real estate agent who happened to be in Paris on vacation with her family to discuss the idea of selling. She was so positive about it we put together a plan just to see how things would work out. Antz was going to fly back to LA at the end of August due to the 183 days deadline being Sept 1st so we decided that if the house sold in a month, we would stay. If the house didn’t sell (my worst case scenario), I would pack up our apartment in Paris and return to LA with Liv. Thirty days is an insane timeline but our agent was confident we could do it. This meant that Antz had to begin the process of getting our cat Lola legally documented to travel to Europe. He had to take her to an USDA accredited vet for an exam and she needed an official microchip implanted. Then she needed a rabies shot and there was a 21 day mandatory waiting period. We had to keep the house furnished so it would be staged for the open houses. We had four dates scheduled and a deadline of Sept 17th to accept offers. I was super nervous because after two open houses we only received one offer for an insultingly low amount. In order for my crazy plan to work we had to get a magic number and I was sweating when the final day arrived. The offers slowly began to come in that afternoon. All of the offers were over our asking price but nothing was close to our magic number. The good news was since there were multiple offers we could counter everyone and ask for over our magic number. We only got one person to agree to our counter offer but we got a little over our magic number!! I had to go to the US Embassy to sign the escrow paperwork with an American notary. The visit was intense, many French guards were quite mean at the entrance. I had to go through several security check points and they took my phone and held it during my visit. I managed these shots before they confiscated my phone.
My poor husband had the daunting task of selling all the things we no longer needed, (we felt like we gave away most of our furniture for next to nothing but this was our cleansing period) cleaning out the house (he must have donated and thrown away one hundred bags) and garage of twelve years of overwhelming stuff in two freaking weeks! Then he had to pack up the house, move our stuff into storage at my Mom’s house and ship our remaining items to France in a storage cube.
Our entire lives worth of stuff had to fit in this 7 foot storage box. It will be shipped to France via boat and won’t arrive until January! I will lose my mind if my breakable stuff gets damaged.
I can’t tell you how stressful this was for Antz, all while he was still going to work everyday and dealing with Lola’s stuff. The sad part was we were apart for a month which seems short, but he missed Liv’s first day of school.
To add to our agony we discovered that Antz cell phone wouldn’t make calls in LA so we could only communicate by FaceTime calling on wifi and texts for thirty days. This guy wins at life. We both had our moments of doubt, frustration and sheer panic but he rose to the occasion physically and mentally in a way I never could. He was running on two hours of sleep by the end of the month. He also had to contend with flying back to Paris with our not so friendly cat Lola. I took two wise precautions for her flight. The first was ordering her these claw nibs (her pink fake nails) so she wouldn’t be able to scratch Antz or the carrier. The second was booking Antz in a premium economy seat on his flight with Air France. It was double their normal fare, but he had more room for Lola and fewer people around to disturb.
Anyone interested in flying a pet from the US to France? This is a long, tedious process and we didn’t have a day to spare to get everything done. The first step is taking your pet to an accredited USDA veterinarian. Our regular vet wasn’t accredited but there was one nearby that they recommended.
Los Feliz Small Animal Hospital
3166 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039
I made our appointment online before Antz flew back to LA. The first day he returned he picked up Lola from my best friend Aimee (who was happy to say bye to our cranky feline) and he got her an official microchip inserted. Even if your pet has a microchip in case they get lost, this is a special chip that is registered with the US to track pets abroad. Then she had to wait a mandatory 21 days before getting a rabies shot. It’s important to know that even if your pet has been vaccinated for rabies (like Lola has) they must get another rabies shot 21 days after the microchip has been implanted. We were happy to find out Lola lost weight since her last appointment so she was just under the 8kg restriction. So this put our timeline right on schedule. I made an appointment with APHIS which has an office in Los Angeles to get Lola’s health certificate endorsed. You must make an appointment, no walk-ins.
Los Angeles Animal Import Center
222 Kansas Street
El Segundo, CA 90245
No pet can travel abroad on a commercial airline without this document (this doesn’t apply to service animals). If you have a dog, it is also mandatory to show a test for tapeworms and flea medication. There is the choice of flying with your pet in the cabin or the cargo. Air France said they only allowed pets up to 8 kg on board. Well 8 kg means 17.6 lbs and our chunky Lola was 18 lbs at her last vet visit! I am a member of a Expats in France group and I read many horror stories about pets in the cargo of airplanes so I was very worried about Lola’s flight. I was confused when it came to finding an airline approved carrier. If she was going in the cargo of the plane, she had to be in a hardshell crate with very specific measurements. However if she was flying in the cabin, she could travel in a soft-carrier but the measurements varied by airline. I ended up ordering this backpack carrier from Amazon. I knew with all the luggage Antz was bringing and having to carry Lola’s paperwork and his passport, it would be easier for him to be hands-free. I was so worried she wouldn’t fit comfortably in it but a week before his flight, the carrier arrived and he sent me this.
She fit snug as a bug and I also ordered these pet pads in case she had an accident. Antz was smarty pants to use a large safety pin to keep the pad in place when the carrier was upright.
I ordered a harness in case Lola tried to escape at anytime. Antz had to take her out of her carrier when going through security and he held her while they did a thorough check. Luckily, our vet gave him calming medicine to give her on the day of the flight. Antz had a couple of hiccups the week before his flight. He had an appointment with the APHIS to endorse Lola’s health certificate at 8:30 am. Because it was near LAX, he had to leave the house before 6 am to be on time. He was the first person there and when he went to pay the $38 dollar fee, they told him that the vet filled out the wrong form! Antz was livid. I never seen him so angry. Turns out the vet gave Antz the form for pets traveling in the cargo hold but Lola was going to be inside the cabin. At least they were sympathetic and allowed him to return the next day with the correct paperwork, or else we would have needed to make another appointment a month later. So this meant that Antz had to drive to the vet’s office, pick up the correct health certificate and drive out to El Segundo the next morning. This all took place during his last week he was working in his office so you can imagine his level of stress. Once he had the endorsed health certificate you have exactly ten days to leave the country. This is important that you already have your flight set up prior to getting all the forms completed. I booked his return flight only two weeks before his departure since we were waiting to make sure our house sold and he would be able to sign all the escrow paperwork before returning to France. Luckily, there were a few premium economy seats still available. I had to call the airline and let them know we were bringing a pet on-board and they charged us $150 fee at check-in at the airport. Most airlines only allow a few pets on-board so it’s a good idea to let them know in advance. The day of Antz flight home was crazy, remember, his phone didn’t work unless he was connected to wifi, so I was only able to hear from him if he was on Starbucks wifi. Terribly frustrating! Lola decided it would be fun to run outside on the morning of Antz flight. He had to ask our neighbors to come help look for her all morning while he was still packing and needed to take a shower before his ride to the airport showed up. We were down to a few hours before he found her under our neighbors house. He had to crawl under there to get her, merde!
My Mom flew to Paris a few days before Antz so I was hosting her all while he was going through the worst of the drama. It was wonderful to have her here as a distraction from all the stress. She has been amazingly supportive of our decision to stay abroad even though that means she will see us less.
Antz somehow managed to pack up and clean the house with the help of his sister and nephew (Merci Clinnie & Justin!). We sold as many pieces of furniture that didn’t fit in our shipping cube. We gifted special items (our plants, and items I couldn’t bear to sell) to our friends and family.
It’s a hard choice to leave the comforts of our home and move to a different country for such an uncertain future but we can always return. We left Antz Honda Element at my Mom’s house and we are renewing our visas in January. I hope this helps anyone thinking of making the move abroad. The past six months was a great test to see if we could make a life in France viable. It’s challenging, frustrating (more so because we don’t speak French yet) but rewarding beyond all expectations.
I am happy to answer any questions in the comments below.