Last winter I had a free week between house sits in England and was looking for a way to pass the time. I have a friend living in Nice who invited me to fly down for the week. Figuring it was a great way to escape the cold, damp English winter, I agreed. It was a very spontaneous winter escape. But then I accidentally fell in love with Nice! But what about moving to Nice? I wondered, “Could I actually live here or is that an impossible dream?”
Six months later, I’ve moved to Nice. Or, I should say, I’m in the process of moving to Nice. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy thing, and I was right! It seems great dreams never are.
I arrived in France quite ignorant but hopeful, visualizing the dream of my ideal life in a charming little French apartment. Now I’m slightly less ignorant and even more hopeful. I’m so close to grabbing that dream I can almost taste it!
Here’s how it happened…
Valuable tips on moving to Nice – maybe it’s not an impossible dream?
Visa options for moving to Nice
France is one of the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Zone. This limits US citizens (and others) to a maximum stay of 90 days within a 180-day period anywhere within the zone. When the 90 days are up, you need to leave the Schengen Zone for 90 days before re-entering.
Since I have no interest in being a permanent nomad or hopping over to Croatia every 90 days, I have decided to apply for a 1-year long stay visa for France. This will allow me to live in Nice and travel freely throughout the Schengen Zone for the duration of my visa.
The long-stay visa application process is not easy! In the past seven weeks since my arrival, I have been totally focused on the preparation required JUST TO APPLY for the visa. Once the preparation is done, I will need to apply in person at the French Consulate in Chicago, which is closest to my “legal” US address in Minnesota.
The first pieces of the puzzle: open a French bank account and secure an apartment with a minimum one-year contract. Other requirements for long-stay visa approval include the promise to NOT work while in France and bank documents showing sufficient funds to support yourself while in the country.
(The exact amount of “sufficient funds” is a bit of a gray area, but I’ve read that the Chicago consulate looks at your monthly rent plus 800 Euros as being “sufficient”.)
Moving to Nice – the apartment rental search
During my extensive (obsessive) research prior to moving to Nice, I found that apartments are much more affordable than most people imagine. For example, a small studio or one bedroom in the Old Town area starts at around 450 EUR (about $540 USD) per month. With my budget of 450 to 600 EUR per month, I was pretty confident I’d find something easily and quickly.
I was so wrong! It’s not that easy!
I found one online prior to my arrival in Nice that rented for 520 EUR per month, but it was long gone when I got here. After a few weeks of disappointment, my dream of living in Old Town was starting to seem unrealistic with my budget so I expanded my search area. I spent many days just walking the streets of Nice, getting to know the neighborhoods as I tried to picture myself living there.
But, unwilling to let the dream die, I decided to bond with those who know the Old Town area best – the Realtors. One office was highly recommended so I popped in one afternoon and asked about a few apartments advertised in the window. The realtor, Fatima, speaks perfect English and offered a viewing later that day.
Finally, the “Old Town” apartment hunt was on! (Stay tuned for Part II of Nice apartment hunting and the Leboncoin scam!)
During the viewing, Fatima patiently explained a few things about the French system. In order to be financially “qualified” for an apartment, realtors require an income of three times the monthly rent. Since I technically won’t have an income, I’m required to deposit funds into a “frozen account” in the amount equivalent to ONE YEAR of rent. This is not a damage deposit but is simply a fund the apartment owner can tap into if I decide to stop paying rent. French law makes tenant eviction a long and difficult process and favors the rights of the tenant, so this is his insurance.
But first, I needed to open a bank account to set up the frozen account to be approved for an apartment…
Moving to Nice – opening a bank account
I remember back to the days when I opened my bank account with the Northwest Airlines Credit Union. It was SO easy back in 1985! A Credit Union representative came into the office, we filled out a form and signed on the dotted line. Very simple.
Not so simple here in France in 2017! First of all, very little business gets done during the month of August and, unfortunately, I arrived in late July. I spent the first few weeks wandering around in a daze, unsure which puzzle piece to attack first.
Once I regained my focus, it took me a week to even get an appointment at HSBC to begin the process of opening an account. They required copies of my taxes (US and Taiwan), the last 3 months of bank statements (US and Taiwan), a letter from my friend Maureen verifying that I’m staying with her, a copy of her passport (even though she banks there), a copy of her utility bill, a document stating how a large sum of money landed in my account (real estate deal), a letter from my old landlord in Taiwan, and a pint of blood since I didn’t have a first-born child to offer as a sacrifice.
All of that paperwork is then sent to Paris for approval, which takes another 2 weeks. In the meantime, I was apartment hunting and needed to set up a “frozen account”. But I couldn’t do that until I had a bank account. (Chicken vs egg situation…)
So, in order to speed up the process, Fatima suggested I set up the frozen account directly with the real estate company. Fortunately, they arranged it in 3 days rather than the 3 weeks projected by HSBC. Finally, some progress!
Valuable tip: Set up a bank account with an international bank in your home country and then transfer the account to France! I didn’t have that option since there are no HSBC branches in my area.
International wire transfer
I was completely ignorant when I jumped into this step of the process. When I lived in Taiwan, I did a few international wire transfers to the US but I requested them IN PERSON at my bank in Taiwan and it was quite simple.
My current situation required me to wire funds from the US to France, while physically being in France. I called my US bank to request the transfer and found I was missing an important document – the secret code. In order to get the secret code, I need to fill out a form have it notarized and then MAIL the original document back to them. Once the secret code is issued, I’m able to request an international wire transfer over the phone.
But I needed to wire funds to the real estate company for the frozen account and I needed it done NOW!
Thankfully, my US bank made a “one-time” exception after I explained that I needed the wire transfer urgently for an apartment.
Valuable tip: DO NOT USE your bank for international wire transfers. The rates are horrible! I lost a few hundred dollars in the transaction due to a bad exchange rate. Do your research! (My research results coming up in a future post…)
Moving to Nice – cost of living
Finally, after seven weeks of connecting the pieces of my new life, I’ve moved into my new home. It’s the charming little French apartment of my dreams. The large French windows overlook the fish market and interesting, historic buildings across the plaza! Home at last!
So I threw my Turkish rug down on the floor of my unfurnished, totally empty apartment. I laid there for a while, exhaling deeply, so relieved to finally be home!
And then I got up and started organizing the utilities, wifi, and all the rest. I now have a better idea of my actual total monthly expenses.
Real Cost of Living in Nice
Rent – 510 EUR / month
Electricity – 35 EUR / month (flat rate)
Wifi and cable TV – 18 EUR / month
Renter’s insurance (required by the government) – 19 EUR / month
Total – 582 EUR / month
Misc stuff (going out money) 600 EUR / month (budgeting 150 EUR /week)
Grand total – 1182 EUR / month (about $1420 USD)
My “miscellaneous” budget will probably decrease once I settle into my apartment, shop at local markets, and cook at home a little more. Also, skipping that extra glass of white wine at Shapko will help reduce the “fun money” budget!
So, it seems the pieces of my new life are fitting together nicely, and now it’s time to turn my attention to the Long-Stay Visa Application. After all of this work, they simply CAN’T deny my visa application and crush my dreams!
Will it end up being the “Impossible Dream”?
(Stay tuned for the rest of the story – Apartment Hunting in Nice, The Long-Stay Visa Process, and many Nice Travel Tips!)