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Where Should I Retire?

Jan. 29, 2022, 3:44 p.m. EST

I told friends I was moving to France for a year. It’s now 4 years later, and I’m building a house in this village of 1,200 people.

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By Silvia Ascarelli

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To find out about clubs in a smaller town, Garell recommends starting with the mayor’s office. She never dealt with a mayor’s office in the U.S. but discovered how helpful the one in Bize could be after an English friend suggested she go there to get some photocopies made and faxes sent. (Which the municipal office was willing to do for free.)

Getting permission to live in France

Americans can spend up to 90 out of 180 days in France and the rest of the European Union and Schengen area with just a tourist visa stamped into their passport upon arrival. Anyone staying longer needs to apply for a visa before arriving. Among the many documents required by France are a French address as well as proof of health insurance and enough money to live on. But it’s not unheard of to be told something is missing and to come back again.

When Garell went to the French consulate in Los Angeles with her documents, she quickly realized one thing: that none of the other applicants was greeting the interviewer with a cheery bonjour , standard practice in France.

She did — an icebreaker — and conducted most of the conversation in French. 

Then there was another stroke of luck.

“Bize-Minervois?” she recalled the official asking. “I vacationed there every year as a kid; my grandparents were there. You’re going to love it.”

She left with her visa.

There was more to do once she arrived in France, including a tuberculosis test and a vetting of her language skills to see whether she needed free French classes. (She took a two-week intensive French class in France before deciding to move.)

Health insurance and a driver’s license

Garell arrived with travel insurance that offered limited coverage (though it did include repatriation in case of death) and cost $2,000 a year. Once she paid French taxes for the first time, she had standard, taxpayer-funded French health insurance and the accompanying carte vitale . She has supplemented it with a private policy that costs about 800 euros, or just over $900, a year.

When she broke her toe in the fall of 2021, her only costs were 5 euros for an X-ray and 12 euros for a walking boot.

The driver’s license was an easy one for Garell. Colorado is one of 13 states in the U.S. that have agreements with France to accept the other’s license. Otherwise, it’s expensive and challenging: You need to go to driving school and then pass a written test in French. 

One of the hardest rules to grasp may be “priorité à droite,” or when to yield to cars on the right. Those on the right have priority — unless one of a range of signs is present indicating otherwise.

She’s thinking about taking some driving lessons just to get that down pat.

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I’m looking for safe, friendly cities to retire abroad on $2,500 or less a month. Where should I retire?

See all of the “Where Should I Retire” articles here

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