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A Year in France

I’m spending a sabbatical year in Europe and would like to be home based in France. I cannot afford Paris’ rents and would like to find a small town or city with a train station, from where I can connect to travel around France and other countries in Europe. I’m not planning on having a car and will totally depend on public transportation. I’d like to add that I love the small village life, but since I’ll be alone, it would have to be a place not only with public transport, but also some amenities and things to do.
I will appreciate immensely any suggestions.
Thank you!
Syl

Posted by
21301 posts

Syl,

We have some folks here who are very knowledgeable about France (I am not one of them), and I'm sure you'll get lots of suggestions. I'm a weather-driven traveler, so I'd be thinking long and hard about my preference for avoiding cold in the winter vs. avoiding heat in the summer. In truth, I wouldn't choose to spend the whole year in one place, because France is a very large country, and I'd feel too limited if pinned down to one area for day-trips.

A quick way to check on the availability of non-stop flights from any airport is to go to the airport's Wikipedia page; alternatively, you should find similar information on the website FlightsFrom.com. Next to Paris, I think Lyon and Nice may have the most flights, but I haven't verified that.

Are you aware that (assuming you're American or Canadian) you'll need a long-stay visa in order to remain more than 90 days in France during any rolling 180-day period? Actually, the limitation applies not just to France but to all the Schengen-Zone countries in aggregate.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you acraven!
I’m with you regarding weather, and my plan is to stay in different places for a period of about 3 months because of that. So winter in the South and so on.
I was born in Spain and still have my European Union passport. I think that helps.

Posted by
6511 posts

Once you decide where you might want to base, this website for longer term rentals (>1 month) has been mentioned on here. Sabbatical Homes.

Posted by
1878 posts

A very good choice might be Arles in Provence. Provence is well-connected by train, and nearby Marseilles is a major airport. For trains journeys within Europe, nearby Avignon is a hub as well. (I assume that you have the immigration/visa thing addressed as nations impose restrictions about how long you can stay, depending upon your nationality. I as a U.S. citizen cannot just go to France for a year, without a special visa, for example).

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you vftravels for your suggestions. I have a European passport. I’m not sure if I still need to request a visa if I won’t be working?

Posted by
87 posts

Syl, I believe you can exercise your right of free movement by being self sufficient (or working, looking for work, retired). I assume that means you'd have to show some kind of bank statement or pay stub if questioned, which you likely wouldn't be. I'm not an expert, but I am currently traveling Europe for more than 90/180 on an EU passport, which I haven't had to show.

I'm also no expert on France, but you might consider a near-Paris suburb. I spent about 10 very affordable days in Franconville and enjoyed the easy access to Paris while being in a quiet neighborhood with a market full of locals. I can't say I'd really recommend Franconville itself, but I'm sure there are more atmospheric places on the RER lines.

Have a great time!

Posted by
8505 posts

You don’t need a visa. Just use your US passport exiting and entering the US, and your EU passport when entering and exiting the EU. You need to travel with both.

Small villages have little going for them except in summer, and even then unless you have family or a group of friends. Have you looked at Lyon as a base.

Posted by
21301 posts

I found the weather in Normandy and eastern Brittany (didn't get very far west) great during July 2017. The days were mostly partly cloudy and there was sometimes a bit of rain, but it was a fabulous break from the heat I'd been dealing with in other parts of the country prior to that.

I haven't been to the west coast of France; I imagine it is cloudier and thus a bit cooler than the east, but I haven't done the research yet to verify summer conditions there.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you all for your input, please keep it coming.
Regarding passports, whenever I travel to Europe that's what I do, exit the US with my US pass, and enter Europe with the other one and vice versa. The thing is that I've never spent more than 20 days over there since I used to live in Europe, (I was born there) and back then I was not a US citizen.
My only concern is getting back into the States, won't they want to see where I've been for a year? I won't have any stamps on my US passport, and I don't know if they like it that we travel on another passport, even though I know it is legal to hold double citizenship.

Posted by
28107 posts

They're seen it all before - it won't be a problem

Posted by
2916 posts

Here are some suggestions for bases, taking into account transportation and smaller-sized cities: Arles (as mentioned); Montepellier; Bordeaux; Nimes; Tours; Nantes; Annecy. I believe these are all cities, of various sizes (I think Annecy is thew smallest of these, and Bordeaux the largest). Someone mentioned Lyon, which would be great, but it is the 3rd largest city in France. Another small city which I think is great is Besancon, but I don't know what the transportation situation is like.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks Robert, these are fantastic! Many of them I've been looking at already, the others I will research.

Posted by
21301 posts

I found Annecy beautiful but scorching hot when I was there (it's not in the mountains) and extremely touristy. It's not the sort of place I'd want to spend a great deal of time. Montpellier was more pleasing to me, not that it would be any cooler at the same time of year.

Posted by
6511 posts

I stayed in Annecy for 2 nights and I enjoyed it especially when, like other touristy towns, the day trippers weren't there. However, I don't think it's an ideal base as it's not a particularly good public transport hub. As much as I like a short visit there I don't think I'd want to spend 2 or 3 months there dependent on public transportation.

Posted by
11973 posts

This starts with what do you like? In France, there's a little bit of everything and much of it is dirt cheap compared to Paris.

Do you like mountains with snowy winters? Deserts with hot, dry summers? Forests? Coasts?

My favorites are mountains and oceans, I'm not particularly fond of desserts so Provence is too hot and dry for me to enjoy a whole year. I love the coast but Riviera would be too crowded for me in the summer. Loire Valley likewise would have very large crowds in the summer. The Atlantic coast might be too wet most of the year for you. Burgundy and Alsace can get pretty cold for much of the year. I loved the Pyrenees but, except for a handful of places, most towns may be too small for your needs.

If I were to recommend a somewhat happy medium, I suggest looking around Bordeaux, Dordogne Valley, Lot Valley or the Ardeche. I think they all can get quite warm in the summer but not quite as frigid in the winter.

Posted by
1129 posts

If you want to stay NEAR Paris in a nice suburb, try Mantes-la-Jolie. If you want to stay in a cool village with virtually no English but 3ish hours from Paris via train, try the Perche city of Nogent-le-Rotrou. I spent an amazing year there. It is also 1 hour from Chartres and from Le Mans. But if you want better amenities, try Chartres or Le Mans. Le Mans isn't small by any means, but neither is Chartres.

Posted by
511 posts

If you do plan on spending three months at a time in any given location, I'd pick my summer and winter destinations carefully. Getting lodging for the prime summer vacation period may be difficult. And heed the caution about the winter destinations, as the small villages in touristic areas can really roll up the sidewalks or have half the services shut down completely.

Nice has the 2nd most flights after Paris. You might want to check out Antibes, Villefranche-sur-mer, or Menton for the winter months, as it has the most mild weather with the lowest winds. Or even a less touristed neighborhood of Nice, like near the Port and Pl Garibaldi.

You could do the Northern regions in the summer, maybe Strasbourg or Colmar in Alsace, or Brittany or Normandy. Provence is do-able in the spring/late spring, before the summer crowds and after it starts to warm up. Specific suggestions may depend on your interests and priorities.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you guys, lots of good ideas. Now I need to do more homework.

Posted by
8889 posts

have a European passport. I’m not sure if I still need to request a visa if I won’t be working?

If you are and EU citizen (not quite the same as saying you are are a "European citizen"), then you have the right to live and work in any EU country for as long as you like, no visa required. You would need to register your address with the local authorities (same procedure as for a French citizen), and pay French taxes. The plus point, you would be covered by the French health system.

As for the US government, I don't see them caring how long you are out of the country. Plenty of US citizens live in France. US tax is another matter. The USA is the only country which taxes its citizens even when they don't live in the country, if you plan to go back you would need to sort that. If you never go back to the USA, they can't touch you (yes, I know you are not supposed to advocate breaking the law on this site, I didn't say Syl should do that).

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you for the additional info.
To clarify since some people keep posting about the extended stay visa needs. YES, I have DUAL citizenship, I was born in Spain, and am a US citizen. I do have a EU passport and a US passport.
But was not sure if I had to do something since I haven't lived in Europe for a while.
I'll buy traveler's insurance so hopefully won't need to use their health system if anything happened.
I will be living off my savings, and file taxes for that year in the US as always.
Since the idea is to stay in different places within France for about 3 months each, I won't have a permanent address, but I'm not moving there, just travel for one year.
Also, in my plans is to at least come back to the States twice to see family, so I'll be "in and out" I guess.

Posted by
8889 posts

I will be living off my savings, and file taxes for that year in the US as always.
Since the idea is to stay in different places within France for about 3 months each, I won't have a permanent address, but I'm not moving there, just travel for one year.

I don't think it quite works like that. If you spend over 6 months of the year in France, or even if you spend longer in France during the year than in any other country, then you are liable for French tax.
If it did work as you say, then you could spend 4x3 months in 4 different countries and pay no tax anywhere, and I'm sure if that were possible plenty would be doing it.

Sorry.

Posted by
21 posts

OK, this is why it is so valuable to get people's input based on their knowledge/experience.
Now, I don't understand, if I don't have an income in France why would I have to file/pay taxes?
Sorry for my ignorance.

Posted by
334 posts

I would contact the France Consulate in the USA for your questions, taxes, length of stay, visas available in your situation, etc

Posted by
21 posts

I did Pab, unfortunately the email address they have for questions is crap. They must have "scripts" cause they always answer the same.
I need to go in person at some point.
I haven't mentioned that my mother was born in France, I don't think this makes a difference but just another piece of info. Before you tell me to get the French citizenship to make things easier, no, I'm not willing to do it.

Posted by
21 posts

I truly appreciate everyone's opinion, but it's funny how this thread has developed into a visa, taxes, and other legal stuff thread that has nothing to do with my original topic: suggestions of places to stay as home bases in France to travel the country and rest of Europe.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge about all these issues, now if you don't mind, I'd love to hear more recommendations of where to stay for 3-4 months at a time in France.
Thank you!

Posted by
8889 posts

Now, I don't understand, if I don't have an income in France why would I have to file/pay taxes?

Sorry not to be answering your original question, but you did ask.
You pay income tax where you live, not where the money is earned. If you, as a US resident, went to Canada for a few weeks or months and earned some money there before returning; or had shares in a Mexican company which paid a dividend (in Mexican Pesos), you would still have to declare both on your US tax return.
It works the other way as well, if you spend > 6 months in a country, then you get taxed by them.

Been there, done that, know the financial pain.

Posted by
8505 posts

I’ve sent you a private message.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you all again, now I'm going to do my homework.
I'll be back to check new messages when there are any.
Take care
Sylvia

Posted by
8505 posts

Is someone given the opportunity to establish residency or forced to establish residency after 183 days? Is residency and taxation one calendar year or consecutive days? For example, most academics take sabbaticals spread over two calendar years. Therefore, in 2019 the academic could spend 182 or fewer days from summer through December 31st. The academic would then spend 182 or fewer days starting from January 1st. Both years taxes would be filed with the home country if the academic doesn't establish residency nor apply for benefits nor pay into any social scheme. Furthermore, a dual national can just come and go without a visa, carte d'identité française, or even a French bank account if drawing on a foreign bank.
If this person changed addresses every three months, where would the residence be? Is this tied to the local prefecture?
And what about French Nationals who come back for extended visits but have no fixed address in France? (Personal experience)
Where am I right and where am I wrong? Maybe I should post this on Expat Forum, but I have faith Bob knows some of this.

Posted by
396 posts

I also recommend Motntpellier. But a smaller town in the south that I really liked but rarely gets mentioned is Narbonne, which has good train connections. For a village you may have to take a bus from a town (as I did for Olargues from Montpellier), or a taxi from a train station (as I did for Sousceyrac, on the Brive-Aurillac line). There are also several pleasant little villages strung out along the Lot on the Figeac-Cahors bus route.

Posted by
5704 posts

I couldn’t live for a year in France without a car! As the Other Bob has said, most of the supermarkets are on the edge of towns and whilst the inter-city trains are good, the bus services in some towns can be patchy.

How key is being close to an airport? If you want to spend quite a lot of time travelling across Europe, then check out the websites of the regional airports to see where you can get to. They all list destinations and the airlines that fly each route.

La Rochelle is a pretty city on the west coast with a decent climate, a great market for fresh food, one of the best aquariums you could visit and some picturesque areas nearby such as Ile de Re, Oleron, Venise Vert, Brouage, Rochefort and Saintes. It has a better micro climate than the slightly wetter Bordeaux to the south. A good base for the summer compared to the heat of Provence but also good in other seasons.

Posted by
21 posts

Great suggestions, thank you!
I love to travel by train if possible, hence why I’m looking for a place with a station. So being close to an airport is not essential to me. Being in a town or village with besides a train station, amenities and things to do is. I rather not stay in a big city as Lyon, although it is gorgeous. I’m more into a smaller place, where I can feel less stress from lots of people or traffic etc
Remember this would be my home base while not traveling, so I have a peaceful (not reclusive) setting to come back to. I’d be spending probably 2-3 weeks out of the month ‘home’, during which I’d be just taking day trips nearby or just living day to day with no specific plans but whatever I feel like doing.
I’m looking into a few of the places suggested here, thank you again for the info.

Posted by
125 posts

One small town I really liked was Bayeux in Normandy. It has a train line to Paris (and perhaps other stops). However, as others have intimated, it may be rather rainy and gray during the winter months. I only visited there in the spring and fall, when the weather was pretty pleasant. One plus: I do not think it gets too hot in summer, although I imagine it gets quite a few more tourists. We "windowshpped" about rentals, and they are drastically less expensive than Paris or Lyon. I also liked Lyon, but, as you say, it is quite a big city.

If you are thinking about the southwest of France, I enjoyed staying in Salise de Bearn, although I do not know what kind of rail connections it has (we had a car at that point). Peter

Posted by
21301 posts

I'll second the suggestion to look at Narbonne or the area around it. It's not terribly heavily visited by foreign tourists, though the beach towns (especially Collioure and to a lesser degree Sete) are popular. Perpignan is worth a day or so, and from that city you can get a train west toward the Pyrenees (don't miss the Yellow Train trip from Villefranche-sur-Conflent to Latour de Carol). The craft town of Pezenas is attractive even aside from the (window-)shopping possibilities.

Have I got it right--you're now thinking of maybe four different destinations for about 3 months at a time?

Posted by
64 posts

You might want to check on Facebook, join a group called Americans in France. The woman who runs the site has a business that helps people relocate to France. She’s an expert in the field

Posted by
776 posts

I love Villefranche sur Mer 5 km from Nice, I attended l’Institut de Francais for a month of language schooling and have returned a few times. On the train line along the coast and many buses go through the town. There is so much to do near there. It is a small town with an old town near the ocean and the rest of the town is uphill from there. Yes there are many tourists and cruise ships come at certain times of the year. One year I went in late March, heavenly. Have a great year.

Posted by
28107 posts

This question was raised in December, and resurrected by a spam attack yesterday.

Syl has never returned to the Forums since December so it is possible that she is no longer monitoring these answers.

Posted by
21 posts

Sorry I've been away, thank you for those who have kept recommending places to stay on my year in France.

I now please need some advice on which Medical Insurance to purchase for when I'm in Europe.
There are too many companies out there, and though I've researched the best reviewed, I don't know which one to choose yet. Has anyone here used any of these travel insurance companies?

In my case I would need a policy to cover me while I'm in Europe, and preferably also here when I'm back visiting in the USA for short periods of time every three to four months, so I don't need to keep double health insurance.

Thanks again for the input, I appreciate it very much.
Sylvia

Posted by
9914 posts

Your health insurance may depend on what you've got now. If you are of Medicare age you do not want to mess with losing your coverage. If you have some kind of COBRA plan from an employer it may cover you internationally.

With your research have you narrowed down to a few companies?

I'm also thinking this may be a question from some of the ex-pat forums.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks Pam, I won't be on Medicare for a few more years, and I don't have insurance with my employer.
Yes, I've narrowed down a couple of companies but I would need to call them to ask questions, some things are not quite clear to me.

Posted by
21 posts

I have already found an AIRBNB in Paris for three months at a very fair price, now I'm looking for something similar in Nice for maybe another 2-3 months. The rest, I still need to decide where I want to stay.
Thank you all!

Posted by
313 posts

Sorry, Syl, if this is a repeat of another bit of advice. There's so much content I know nothing about I didn't read all the other posts.

As for getting around by public transportation, being around Paris is a big plus. The majority of the trains spread out from Paris like the spokes of a wheel, so if you were in the southeast and wanted to go to another area, the chances are good that you'd do it by going through Paris. I've never tried the other kinds of surface public transportation.

Good luck -- sounds like a great opportunity.

Posted by
8401 posts

Another place to consider is Rennes. They now have a 2 hr TGV to Paris/CDG.