Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mailbag: Bad time to move to Paris?

A married couple, Alice and Bob, sent me an email asking if they should return to France to live. Neither have French citizenship. One interesting tidbit is that Alice has Australian citizenship and one of her parents was Scottish.

Dear Curtis,

After more than a year of a job search in the US, we find ourselves in a possible 'window' of opportunity to return to Paris, stop living on a temporary basis and start a family. We have no children, no ties to the US. But then there's this whole 'Euro/Global Crisis' thing.

The question we face is: should we give up economic safety and a pretty dull existence for a more enjoyable lifestyle (as far as we're concerned), but real risks related to employment and the future of France (is France the next Greece or even Spain?).

We hesitate between moving to Paris in the next 6 months or moving to a US city with a more European feel for a few years (saving Paris for a better economy). And we wonder when will it ever be "le bon moment"?

As an expert ex-pat, what do you think? Should we wait it out a few years, or pack our things for another adventure?

Alice and Bob

Alice and Bob have quite a dilemma, but there are interesting possibilities here. I don't know what their "window of opportunity" is, so it's difficult for me to be too specific, but here are some rough thoughts.

First, it's true that France is at a very strange point and we don't know what's going to happen. It appears that the next president of France will be Fran├žois Hollande, a socialist with very little national political experience. He's made a lot of promises about spending without specifying where the money is going to come from. The markets are rather nervous about him and it remains to be seen how effective he will be. That being said, the financial crisis is global and France is the fifth largest economy in the world. If they a Greek-style meltdown, they're taking everyone else with them, so I don't know that staying out of France will help. I also don't think France will fall like that (famous last words).

There is never un bon moment in my view because we cannot guarantee the future. You'll have to judge for yourself how good the opportunity is and what steps you can take to protect yourself if it doesn't pan out. It's been my experience that people who don't seize opportunities when they present themselves are less likely to seize those opportunities in the future. It may turn out to be disastrous, but you'll never forget the experience.

Also, if it's a work permit opportunity, you need to find out if your spouse will be able to work. I believe that under some circumstances, the spouse of a French work permit holder is permitted to secure work, however, unemployment in France is currently at 10%, so it will be difficult. Be sure that both of you are as fluent as possible in French to maximize your chances.

If you take this chance, be sure to look into the European Blue Card. France is now offering the Blue Card and if you qualify for it, you can eventually get long-term European Residence Permits and the opportunity to live and work in most EU countries (the UK, Ireland and Denmark have opted out).

One interesting bit is where you pointed out that Alice has Australian citizenship and one of her parents is Scottish. Have you looked into the UK Ancestry Visa? Commonwealth citizens with at least one parent or grandparent with UK citizenship can apply. If accepted, you, your spouse and dependents can live and work in the UK for up to five years. After that, you can apply for permanent residency. After one more year, you can apply for citizenship. With that, you can live and work just about anywhere in the EU. I know you want France and the UK clearly isn't, but it's a road to it and the London/Paris Eurostar makes it easy to travel back and forth.

If you decide to stay in the US and are looking for a city with a "more European feel", may I suggest you check out Portland, Oregon? I love that city and I've quite a few European friends who've fallen in love with it too.

Good luck and let me know how it works out!


  1. I'll offer my opinion since, while I agree that there's never a 'best' moment, there are far, far better moments than this even with the advantage of not having children in the mix.

    We just returned from Zurich, Switzerland, to the US after only one year as my Finnish OH doesn't like the US culture (Boston) and I have a complex love-hate relationship with my homeland, particularly in an election year. Even so, I couldn't leave Switzerland fast enough as these economic times breed nationalism which is witnessed in increasingly right-wing support in many countries and growing discontent with immigration policies.

    Hollande will win the election. And later this year Merkel will be voted out. Spain has a 25% unemployment rate with a youth unemployment of over 53%. The europeans are all dropping back behind territorial lines and either raging at each other, raging at Germany (memories are long...) or, as in one editorial in Finnish I read last week, blaming America for this absolute clusterfuck of clowns in suits who still haven't been able to get things back on track after 3 years.

    When Swiss banking types speak in semi-hushed tones about stockpiling supplies for 3 months for when the banks collapse (note the when, not the if), even without all the gloom surrounding the current crisis, it makes you think about what's really going on and wonder what they know that you don't.

    Never underestimate the value of living somewhere that shares borders to the north and south with countries it has never declared war upon (or at least hasn't had centuries of feudal hatred) and knowing the language well enough to be employed and integrate. The US might be boring, but the EU may just get a bit too interesting by the end of the year if things continue the way they are.

    Choose wisely

  2. Hang on... Alice and Bob? And your name begins with a C? Do you really expect us to believe that they deliberately sent you that email, rather than you intercepting it somehow?!?

    1. Ian: While the names were definitely chosen with a nod towards cryptography, I seriously doubt most of my readers would be conversant in this area :)

  3. Are they f'in nuts? Financial security in the US? As you rightly point out if France does a Greek melt no where is safe.

    Alice & Bob, go now. You can always return. A delay in departing has an awful tendency to become permanent.

    1. Michael - embracing the joie de vivre is fine, but transcon moves are very expensive to begin with, add that to moving to a country where you have no citizenship in a currency zone that is predicted to fail. Add to that that you would have no financial security if you lost your job and couldn't find another one (which is highly probable given the unemployment rates and contracting growth). Merck just closed its R&D shop in Geneva, leaving 1600 folks without a job, many of them expats of 20+ years and many of whom will be forced to return to the US (or elsewhere) as the anti-immigration climate becomes stronger (google for frontaliers in Geneva).

      Relatively speaking, in the US, if you have two incomes, yes, things are a lot more solid. And given the data I've seen for debt, retirement/pensions and medical benefits for EU countries over the next 10 years, I'm not sure Europe will even have the social safety nets and education that are often prime reasons Americans move to Europe.

      Also, as commodity prices shoot up this spring (due to continuing drought in China), so too are the prices of food and other products which is not going to go over well in countries that are already strapped and where prices are already eye-wateringly high (Zurich).

      I'm pretty much a damn the torpedoes kind of gal, but even if I were 25 and invincible again, I think this situation is serious enough and different enough to make even the reckless give pause before leaping.

  4. Much depends on how old Alice & Bob are. If they're in their twenties and without children, they should be adventurous enough to think outside the old-age-pensions box, and (in these days of medical tourism) maybe the medical-insurance box as well. The absence of 100% security really should not hold young people back from trying their luck in foreign places. Old codgers - well, yeah, I guess...