Expat Stories: Relocating from the UK to France.
Meet Ellis: Ellis Thwaites and her family moved to Aix-en-Provence in south-east of France from West London in January 2022. She has been kind enough tell us about her experiences so that we can share with any other families that are planning to move from the UK to France.
Can you tell us why you decided to move to France?
I’m actually from France originally, but I haven’t lived there for more than 20 years, and over the past few years my Australian husband and I have been talking more and more about scaling down our busy London life styles and relocating permanently to France – essentially we were looking for a little more joie de vivre.
Our older children have already left for University, and our youngest is currently studying GCSE’s so our relocation to France was somewhat dependant on finding a school in France that would continue with her GCSE and A-level options.
And were you able to find any international schools in France offering the UK syllabus
Some of the British international schools will offer GCSE/A-Level examinations or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). The IGCSE is equivalent to school years 10 and 11 in the UK, so it’s a transferable qualification should older children choose to return to the UK for university, for example.
Some international schools in France will teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, which is offered around the world. This internationally recognised certification can be used for university admission in many countries and gives a good general grounding in key subjects, similar to GCSE level in the UK.
We particularly wants to live in the south-east of France near Marseille which has very good international links by air and TGV (train). We discovered IBS in Aix-en-Provence which suits our daughters schooling needs very well.
Did you get to visit France prior to moving?
We had planned to spend a lot of time there in the 12 months building up to the move, but then COVID happened and we were only able to travel there once or twice which made it difficult in terms of finding somewhere to live, organising bank accounts , mobile phones, insurance etc – but we managed in then end.
It was a shame that the children didn’t manage to get to know the area better before the move, as that would have relieved some of their anxieties.
Ah COVID! So please tell us about moving home during COVID.
We were very worried about how the COVID pandemic would impact on our ability to move to France, however we were very lucky to be recommended to Provence Movers who are a boutique international mover specialising in removal services from UK to France. They gave us an all-inclusive quotation for the removal which was very reasonable, and they were able to book us in for the dates that we wanted. Unfortunately our relocation to France did get delayed for 2 months because the original buyer for our property in the UK fell through, but Provence Movers were able to re-schedule for a move in January 2022 .
Our relocation consultant explained that after January 1st 2021 considerable additional paperwork required in order to transport our household goods and personal effects into France – otherwise we would need to pay extra import tax and duty and VAT. Provence Movers were awesome and collectively we managed to get everything in place before the move started.
The removal service itself was very straight forward, we have 3 guys that came to get everything packed up and moved out into a large truck. We bought a “consolidated service” which is a bit cheaper than the direct service, and so after our collection, the truck went on to make a few other pick-ups also for deliveries in France – our delivery was going to be the last one so we would need to wait about 5 – 6 days before our stuff arrives which suited us fine.
And how was your journey into France?
We drove across on the Eurotunnel who advised us very precisely what documents and COVID tests that were needed. Whilst most passenger transport was restricted during this time as it was a COVID lock-down on both sides we were allowed through due to the fact that we were permanently relocating to France and we had all the supporting documentation. Interestingly the Provence Movers truck made it across with very little trouble because cargo and freight has been moving around Europe and the world quite freely throughout the whole COVID pandemic.
We arrived in Aix 4 days later with a few stops en route, and Provence Movers arrived the day after – it was actually the same team that did the collection in London. We didn’t have a permanent address at that time, so we just had delivery to a storage facility close by. All in all the removal went extremely well despite COVID and BREXIT doing its best to stop us.
Now that you are living in France – What are the four things you like most about living there?
Down here in the south-east of France you can tour vineyards and castles, hike, cycling, skiing is only a couple of hours away, or just relax on any of France’s Mediterranean beaches. The food, fresh produce, markets and wine is world-class.
Definitely the work, life balance is vastly superior to our lifestyles in the UK, and if COVID has taught us one thing its that working from home can be efficient, so we are able to carry on with our UK careers. But above all I think that France is of course different, but not too different.
What advice would you give to anybody thinking of moving to France.
In order to embrace the culture, and the lifestyle you’ll need to learn the language – its really not that hard, 50% of the words are the same as the English just with a different accent. And don’t take things too seriously, we have enough pressure in life (specially over the past year), so take some time to enjoy and lap up the lifestyle.