Should we move to France?
Dear Dr Jules
We are thinking of moving to France later this year. We have been there for holidays over the years and always loved it, and now the kids are independent and doing their own thing we think it is time to follow our dream. What do you think?
Many of us dream of finding our place in the sun, inspired by TV shows and holidays. We feel tired of the old routines and start to look at life in the UK as too stressful and expensive, and as a life we long to break free of. So is moving to another country such as France the answer? Sometimes it can be, but it is a major decision and not one to be taken lightly.
You might remember that song by Sting "Englishman in New York" where he keeps repeating the phrase "I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien". These are words to remember as you weigh up your decision, because you will indeed experience a prolonged period of being an outsider when you move, and this can lead to symptoms of stress such as poor sleep and an increase in consumption (food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc). Being an outsider means not understanding the language, the customs, the culture and the rules. France is famous for its red tape and excessive bureaucracy, with laws changing all the time and many people find it a headache to make progress with everything from obtaining healthcare to getting the phone line switched on. If you are also planning on taking on some renovation work, you could be taking on yet more stress. Restoring an old barn might sound romantic, but will you still be in love with the project when you are living in chaos for longer than expected and going well over budget?
The list of potential pitfalls in migration is extensive, and I don't want to scare you off completely by going into more of them.
If you still want to make the move, then here is some helpful advice:
* Do your homework well in advance of moving. If you plan to work in France, is there work or demand in your field? Whether you want to be self employed or seek a job locally, be aware there are many hoops to jump through, and unemployment in France is still a problem. Many migrants find themselves working long hours, working several jobs at once or being stretched well outside of their normal skill set in order to make ends meet. Life in France is no longer as cheap as you might imagine. Make a list of all the things you will need from finances, buying a car, enrolling your kids in school, getting WiFi in your home, to obtaining planning permission for a building renovation, and spend the time figuring everything out before you hand in your notice and start packing your bags.
* Social support is a vital immunizer against stress, so make sure you have a strong support network both at home and in your new location. Get all your friends and family on Skype and make it easy to stay in touch regularly. Plan your first few trips back and get folks pencilled in to come and visit. Equally, before your move find local groups in France where you can meet new people, join sports clubs, get involved with the community. In short, do not allow yourselves to become isolated.
* Learn the language. Life in another country is daunting enough, but even more so if you can't accomplish the simplest thing such as a shopping trip. If you move to France without some French ability you will quickly find yourself totally reliant on English speaking services and the ex-pat community, which again pushes you towards isolation and increased stress.
* Take care of your marriage or relationship. I see many couples over in France who are not used to spending as much time together as they do now, plus they are coping with increased stress levels for all the reasons I have been discussing here. Make sure your relationship is in a good place and that both of you are equally committed to the move and new adventures (are there grandchildren on the horizon and what will you feel about not seeing them regularly?). If you are not both on the same page, then perhaps it is better to take a step back and work on the relationship before you make plans.
* Once you have done all the homework and made the move, remind yourself regularly that migration is tough and that you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone. Sure it might feel easier at times to give up and run home, and in the short term that might indeed seem like the best decision. Remind yourself of why you made the move and what you are striving for in the long term and know that the first weeks, months and even couple of years will inevitably be tough. It is just a piece of time and you are capable of surviving.
* When you realize that feeling stressed and emotionally bruised is normal, then set yourself small achievable goals and stick with them until you get there. When you get setbacks, see it is a personal challenge to be more creative and find another way: there is always a Plan B! Work together as a team if you are with a partner, and see the challenges as a way to strengthen your relationship.
Moving to France and migrating is a big step. It is a beautiful country steeped in a rich culture and history, so do your homework and make sure it becomes a dream and not a nightmare.
If you are finding it tough to cope with life in France, then counselling can be helpful in providing support and a non-judgemental space to relieve stress and restore coping skills.
For more in-depth help and counselling, consider contacting Dr Jules in person