June 29, 2010

Who would win in a fight, Spain or France? So #2 has a new job which entails travelling to the EU and US (alternating) four times a year. This means a minimum of 30-35 hours of economy-class travel for him each way, every time. I made the comment that it would make more sense to move to the EU or east coast of the US. Since we've already lived in the US, we have hypothetically decided to move to Europe. Help us narrow down options!

Before I go any further, this is highly hypothetical and would be at least a year from now, so we have time to see if the job/company is a good fit. We want to be where it's warmer in winter than here, so have narrowed our choices to the Mediterranean coast of Spain, up between Barcelona and the French border, and to the Cote a'Azur in France (my personal choice would be Spain). The main reasons are climate and proximity to the ocean - we want to be warm and close to water. Things we have to consider (and this is where we need advice and/or other items for consideration that we haven't thought of yet): * School for the kids (there are no English-language schools in Spain where we want to be except in Barcelona, and we don't want to be in a big city) - they could be immersed in a public school but I don't know how well equipped schools are to teach Spanish as a second language. * Visas - #2's company don't have a home base as such; they are spread around the world. I don't know how sponsorship would work for getting into the EU. * Cost of living: what is a "normal" salary for a skilled professional software engineer in that part of the world? Trying to see how #2's salary matches up so I can work out if we can afford all the living costs. * How easy is it usually to access beaches in those areas? How much of the coastline is privately owned and restricted? * Language: I know a little Spanish, the kids will learn fast. I don't know that I want to learn Catalan, which is less useful than straight-out Spanish or French, but it looks like the schools in that part of Spain specifically teach a percentage of their day in Catalan. Comments? * Bureaucracy: being an immigrant often means lots of paperwork. I've heard stories about the hassles of being a resident alien in Austria and Switzerland. How hard is it to settle in France or Spain in terms of setting up tax numbers, buying property (I've read up on it, but it gets confusing quickly), getting kids into schools. * Kid-friendliness - that one's a biggie, obviously. I get the impression that those two regions are relatively Anglo-friendly because so many Brits move there, but some anecdotal evidence would be nice too. I'll share these with #2 to add to the piles of pros and cons. We're saving up to go there for a holiday when we can afford it, so we can see the area in person. Anyone else stayed in those areas?

  • I think France would win, due to their higher military spending. I have no information at all on which would be a better place to live.
  • I can give some info on France. * School for the kids: some listings These schools vary from being very expensive (if completely private) to moderate (if mixed public-private). * Visas: Normally, the company should sponsor. It's time-consuming. Do either of you have a European grandparent? * Cost of living: Salary for a software engineer - depends to some extent where you're living. On the Cote d'Azur, for someone with 10+ years good experience and an advanced degree (e.g. MSc), I'd expect a salary of 70K+ euros. For rare talents, up to 90K maybe. This is assuming no people/project management role. * How easy is it usually to access beaches in those areas? I think the Cote d'Azur has been overdeveloped, but there are still plenty of accessible beaches. What about the south-west coast of France? Or above the Spanish border on the Med - somewhere like Perpignan or Narbonne? (Good rugby country) * Language: Catalan is becoming more and more standard in Catalonia. There does seem to be a reasonable crossover with Castillian but I know very little of either language. * Bureaucracy: Run away, run away! Don't look back! I got a French tax number quite quickly (within a month). Social security/medical took much longer but there's a temporary measure in place after about a month. Buying property - I didn't find it too bad but I've never bought anywhere else. From making an accepted offer on a house/apartment, allow for at least four months before moving in. Three months of this is statutory. Getting kids into schools - for the bilingual schools, I think you'd need to book around February for a September start, maybe even earlier. * Kid-friendliness Both France and Spain seem good to me. I know that there are many family-oriented advantages in the French system.
  • Lived in Alicante (Mediterranean coast, south of Barcelona) for about three months in 1998, and for what it's worth, I loved it. Spanish trains between the various big cities are (well, were) excellent. Note that the Spanish economy is _seriously_ down at the moment, and not likely to recover any time soon. That may impact you, depending on whether you were going to need to get a job of your own. Tourism in Spain is huge (the number of visitors annually exceeds the native population) which makes beaches really crowded May to September, summers are really hot and the entire country pretty much shuts down through August. Catalan is mandated (as you have noted) as an official co-language in the area you are looking at moving to but I wouldn't see that as being a big deal. Given the number of visitors, Spaniards deal with them by pretty much over looking them (it seemed to me) in their every day dealings. I got a real sense while I was there of two parallel societies, co-existing simultaneously. So you might find it very hard to get a sense of "settling in". Don't know how important that is to you. My sense of France, as opposed to Spain, is that there is Paris and then there is everywhere else. That is, the regional areas of France are more neglected in terms of services, support and general influence than regional Spain. (comments anyone?) Loved Spanish wine, loved Spanish open markets. But that economy. Don't underestimate the impact, even if you are well off, of dealing with a society in serious socio-economic upheaval.
  • I doubt I can get a job in the international schools, unless I go back for Honours/Masters, and even then they ask for experience in the US or British curriculum systems. I figure I can tutor in English. In Spain I could even probably tutor in math or similar, I could pick up the language quickly enough. I know no French, though. Thanks, you guys - that's all very helpful. More info always appreciated. Oh roryk, that salary sounds spot on for what #2 is earning when converted to Euros - would that make for comfortable living, including paying for private school?
  • Oooh, oooh! I vote France. I also vote you adopt me. Anecdotal from a friend of mine with two girls who lived in Martigues for eight years--she and the girls loved it, the kids got a great education, and they speak and read beautiful French.
  • > That is, the regional areas of France are more neglected in terms of services, support and general influence than regional Spain. (comments anyone?) I don't know regional Spain well enough to compare, but I have noticed a marked improvement in the regional bus services around the Cote d'Azur over the last four years. Buses are both more frequent and cheaper - an improvement that I marvel at. > Oh roryk, that salary sounds spot on ... - would that make for comfortable living, including paying for private school? Spain is still cheaper than France in cost of living, though the gap has narrowed a lot over the last decade. The fully private schools can be very expensive in France as they get no state subsidy. If you can find a "semi-private" bilingual school, it's more affordable.
  • Yeah, I saw the equivalent in Spain. My problem is I can muddle through the Spanish-language sites and work out what they're saying, but I have no French whatsoever. I'm slowly learning more though.
  • Not helpful, but eerily related: an ad that showed on my Gmail pointed to this. Don't know how that got targeted to me; I am so not moving anywhere.
  • I think that was meant for me. We've contemplated up and moving in with the kiwis but with the current economic situation we've put those plans on hold for a bit. I toured NZ in the early nineties and fell in love with the place. Do they need undertakers in NZ? Do people die in NZ or have you guys solved that mortality issue?
  • Nah, we live on forever on our pure (ha) clean (snicker) air. Coincidentally, years ago I worked for an answering service, and one of our clients was an undertaker who is somewhat skeazy and used to pop into the office and chat up the girls. Recently I started noticing him driving around town in a tastefully decorated car with UNDERTAKER all over it in bright green letters. Then in yesterday's paper he was in court for officiating weddings without a license. So Hoser, you should move here and take that dude's place.
  • I have a friend who bought a house, circa 1400's, in France. The government kept asking when he wanted to naturalize. Finally, he just ended up selling the house after having rented it to an art coop from Lambertville, NJ that didn't bother paying rent... Wholly different situation, but you get the idea. France seems to welcome immigrants and pretty much everybody else.