The Planning

We took two years to plan this trip. That was driven by life events, not the amount of work involved, which would probably expand to take as much time as you’re willing to spend. There’s always one more potential rental to look at… and it might be even better than the one you’ve already decided on!

(If you’re in this for the pictures, you’ll want to skip this post!)

How long to stay French tax law says that if you stay more than 183 days in a calendar year, they can tax all your income. We pay enough in the US without paying the French too, so we initially started looking at July to June for a long stay. However, rentals in France are much more expensive during July and August, when the French are taking their vacations. September through June became the plan. But wait – we got here in late August. Well, the Île de Ré was calling, as discussed in a previous post, so we tacked on a little “vacation” there. Why not?

We had originally planned to stay just in one area for the whole time. We were having a tough time deciding which one, when a chance conversation at a party caused us to think about shorter periods. Two months seems a reasonable compromise between really getting the feel for an area and seeing several of them.

Where to go We have taken a number of trips to France, visiting Paris, the Dordogne, Provence, the Loire Valley, Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, and the Île de Ré. I think we’ve already mentioned once or twice that we like the Île de Ré (no, it was fifty times, you say?). Of the other places we’ve been, the Dordogne region and Brittany are our two favorites – the Dordogne for the food and the scenery, Brittany for the scenery and great hiking. We did a seven-day bike trip through the Loire Valley and barely scratched the surface of the many chateaus and vineyards to visit there. So Brittany, the Dordogne, and the Loire Valley were on the short list. We decided not to spend time in Paris both because it’s very expensive and because we want to see more of the country.

Lyon is reputed to have the best food in France, so that was an easy pick! Some internet searching turned up Narbonne as a desirable town to visit in an area with plenty to offer for a longer stay, so that completed the list. Of course, all of these were contingent on finding rentals that looked appealing and fit the budget.

Ideally, we would start in the north in the summer, go down to the Mediterranean in winter, then go back north as summer rolls around again. That was, in fact, the original plan. However, Lyon is the only large city we’ll be visiting and we won’t need a car there, so it made more sense to go there last and turn in our car as soon as we get there. So instead of a nice circle, we’re doing more of a… squiggle.

How to get around We frequently travel by train in France, but that wouldn’t work for some of the rural areas we’ll be staying. An eight-month car rental would be pretty pricy, but fortunately we found a less-expensive option: leasing a brand-new French car through Idea Merge and Eurocar TT. Who would have thought that would be cheaper? Our Citroën had a mere 3 km on the odometer when we picked it up. Even better, the price includes all necessary insurance.

Getting a Visa (aka Paperwork!) By far the biggest hurdle was getting the long-term stay visa from the French government. We need one because we are staying more than 90 days. There’s a pile of paper required, all to be taken to an in-person appointment, after filling out several forms online, of course.
∠ Application form, dated and signed. They didn’t mention that the date was supposed to be the day of the in-person appointment and the box for the place where it was signed was supposed to be the city where the appointment occurred, so we had some corrections to make. (I didn’t know anyone still used that adhesive correction tape…)
∠ ID photograph. CVS’s photo computers allow you to choose the size photo you need and automatically check that the photo meets the specific requirements (size of head in the shot, not smiling, etc.) We had to choose French passport size, as French visa wasn’t an option.
∠ Travel document, valid for at least three months after the planned date of return, issued less than 10 years ago and with at least 2 blank visa pages, and photocopy of passport pages
∠ A note, dated and signed by the applicant, stating that he/she does not intend to have in France a paid professional activity. Do they really think this will deter someone who is planning to work on the sly?
∠ If retired, pension certificate. What the heck is a pension certificate? We both receive pensions, and neither of us have a “certificate.” All J had was an email saying congratulations on your retirement and we’ll process your pension.
∠ Accommodation – Proof of residence in France of the host (rental agreement or property deed). This was the majority of our paper, since we are staying at so many places.
∠ Funds – Proof of enough resources to cover all expenses during trip (pension certificate or last 3 bank statements)
∠ Travel health insurance certificate (covering any possible costs for medical repatriation, and emergency and/or hospital treatment, for a minimum amount of €30,000, valid in France) for the first 3 months. We bought combined travel and health insurance through Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. We were amazed to find that the travel and health insurance (for more than the minimum required level) was a mere $1400 for the two of us for the whole ten months. That’s quite the bargain compared to what we pay at home…which, of course, we have to keep paying.

I’d read many horror stories about the visa application process, but none of them applied to us – they completely changed the system a couple of months before we applied. One lesson we did take was that the people in New York were really hard to deal with and the ones in Boston were not, so we went to Boston. Of course, with the new process, maybe New York is now fine…

Our interview went smoothly, though we did take far more paper than needed. The instructions said to bring two copies of everything. Did that mean the original and two copies, or just two total? To be on the safe side, I brought three total. They only used one. My apologies to the trees…

The person processing our paperwork stuck it all in a package to send to the French embassy in DC, including our passports. The instructions hadn’t mentioned they were taking them, so that was a bit of a surprise. The processor said it would take three to four weeks to hear anything. So we were very surprised when the return package arrived at our house after just a week. Did we do something wrong? Did they want yet more paperwork? Fortunately, no. There were our visas, the first ones we’ve ever received. Who knows, maybe there are more in our future?

Everything I had read said we would need to register with the local officials when we arrived at our residence in France. I’d been wondering how that would work with all our moving around – would we really have to register in every town? The answer – a little slip of paper that came with our visas said we didn’t have to do it. I guess even the French think enough is enough with the paperwork.

Paying the bills at home. I don’t know how people dealt with their bills when they took long trips before e-banking, but it must have been quite a chore. Did you mail checks from wherever and hope they got there in time? Nowadays, you just switch everything to paperless billing and, even better, automatic recurring payments. Setting up some automated alerts on the credit cards and bank accounts also seemed like a good idea, since our ATM cards had been scammed in Italy on a previous trip. M’s bank was smart enough not to give them any money, but J’s gave them over $2000 and required a lot of paperwork to get it refunded.

if you’ve hung in until the end of this post, perhaps you’re thinking you should do this sort of trip too. Go for it! You won’t regret it – you’re far more likely to regret not doing it.

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