During the 15 months after Bill initially asked “Why don’t we move to France?” we did a lot of online research to make certain that we were headed in the right direction. Before we boarded that Paris-bound Air France flight in Atlanta with our dog Heather and almost all of our possessions in 4 suitcases and 2 backpacks we had looked at dozens of websites, blogs, surveys, and government documents to be as informed as we could. Now that we live here, one online newspaper that we look at daily is The Local that gives news and tips in English on succeeding in another country. In one helpful article they assembled a list of reasons why this land well known for bread, cheese, and wine might just be the best place in the world to retire. Since we’ve now been here for a bit over 2 years I thought it would be interesting to see if we agreed with their list.
First up was the quality of life. We couldn’t agree more and it’s probably apparent since that’s our primary answer to the question we still get about why we moved to France and specifically to Carcassonne. It’s nice to wake up every morning and be able to truthfully say to yourself, “I love living here!” The global banking firm HSBC performs an annual survey of its customers and found France 4th out of 45 countries on this point. Not for bashing purposes but for information only, the US came in at position 26.
Quality healthcare at reasonable prices was next. An online magazine that we consulted frequently called International Living gives 88 out of 100 points to the medical system here. All residents of France must have healthcare, either private or by joining the national system for which you pay 8 percent of your household income. A visit to a family doctor or the dentist is 25 euros, most of which is reimbursed to you.
Affordable housing. If you exclude Paris, people here spend about 18 percent of their income on rent or house payments and pay off that mortgage in 19 years. In Carcassonne a 1000 square foot house (around 93 square meters) sells for approximately 150,000 dollars (about 130,000 euros). The annual property tax equals roughly 2 percent of the value of the home. Large apartments are about half the cost of single family homes.
The rest of Europe on your doorstep. Given that we were buying airplane tickets each year from Atlanta to Paris or another nearby capital city, we can verify the value of this advantage. With the train station a few minutes on foot from our front door, and even the international airport not a lot further, in two years we’ve seen parts of Portugal, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and Jersey plus a whole lot more of France. Airplane tickets go on sale for as little as 10 euros each and our pass for the trains gives us half-off most fares.
A mild climate with lots of outdoor activities. It snows once a year in Carcassonne and that typically melts the same day yet just 50 miles south the foothills of the Pyrenees begin where ski resorts abound. The Mediterranean Sea is a bit over 30 minutes away on the train while we’re 5 minutes from walking along the river or on the tow paths of the 350-year-old Canal-du-Midi. In the summer you can count on one hand how many times we use the air conditioning because it’s too hot to sleep.
Great cost of living. Having read that a couple could retire here on one monthly US Social Security check our interest was piqued. If you click on the Budget tab above you’ll see that we found that figure a bit optimistic but still achievable, yet if you are both receiving benefits then we can confirm a comfortable lifestyle on about 2000 euros per month.
The work/life balance. Although not a direct concern for us as retirees, we benefit by being able to visit with our new neighbors and friends who greatly value family time. So many people have told us that they work long enough to live comfortably and then enjoy their spare time with those around them. There is no pursuit of that last euro, just for the sake of having one more figure in your bank account.
Feeling safe. A survey from Global Age Watch revealed that two-thirds of elderly French residents feel safe walking at night in their towns. Since we have no car we spend a lot of time on foot and confidently go all over Carcassonne as we wish.
With all of that said, there’s no doubt that we made the right decision. I can’t wait for tomorrow!