Sunday, March 18, 2012

Article in Limerick Leader

Making a French Connection
With an estimated 16000 Irish people living in France and many many more with holiday homes there, La Belle France remains a strong attraction for the Irish. With the current economic climate in Ireland, quite a few Irish people are looking to move elsewhere, and France, with her good climate, accessibility and wonderful lifestyle ticks the boxes for many.
Karen O’Reilly moved to France 10 years ago after falling in love with the Languedoc Roussillon on a skiing visit to her sister , Suzanne, who was already living there.
“After training as an accountant with BDO Simpson Xavier in Limerick, I spent 4 fantastic years in Australia as the head accountant for Estée Lauder in Sydney.  I got a taste of the good weather and the lifestyle that matched it and so when I came back to “settle down” in Limerick, I found it difficult. I managed to get a great job in Pat Keogh’s as Financial Controller which I really enjoyed but the travel bug had caught and after a skiing weekend visiting my sister Suzanne in Perpignan in the South of France,  I was hooked.
The ski slopes are only a half an hour from Perpignan and so we spent a couple of fantastic days skiing and then exploring the town, eating outside in tee shirts, sunbathing on nearby beaches ( in January!) walking in the mountains, going to the fab restaurants and trying out the local wines.  Suzanne was just about to set up her own business in property and needed a partner so I didn’t need to be asked twice. I went back to Ireland , handed in my notice, dusted off my backpack and headed back to France.
With no kids at the time, it was an easy move and I literally hit the ground running, starting work the very afternoon I arrived. We ran a very successful property company for 7 years called Bidsinfrance and were insanely busy. The market began to dry up in 2008 and so we set up a private tour company TheFrenchTourCo but alas, French bureaucracy decided to shut it down. At the moment, I am involved in other projects while my partner, Brian Harrington, also from Limerick, runs his thriving building business with a French and expat clientele.”
“Brian could not even say “bonjour” when he arrived in France and being a rather sociable chap, this really bothered him. He went to Perpignan university and did an intensive 6 month course and is now practically fluent. I had a fairly good command of French coming here so it was relatively easier for me on that front. We made a conscious effort to get to know French people and never subscribed to SKY for the irish channels and so were forced to watch French tv which was good for us. Now, our friends are half and half, half French and half expat.”
10 years and 2 children later, France has been good to us. It hasn’t been without it’s ups and downs though .. Having our children has certainly been a very positive experience here and the treatment was second to none. The hospital was like a five star hotel, with a fold out bed for one’s partner if they wanted to stay with you ( Brian stayed with me every night in the clinic), the food was superbe ( rabbit in mustard sauce with all the trimmings stands out) and I lounged in a spacious room with a lovely en suite to myself.
While pregnant, I met my gyno every month and the pregnancy was monitored very closely. My second born was a natural breach birth with no complications. France does have the best health care in the world according to the World Health Organisation  - another very good reason to live here.
The kids are now 7 and 5 and both go to local French public schools. The schools are completely different here – they start school at 8h30 and finish at 17h00. Practically, it is brilliant for working parents as I could leave my kids in school from 08h00 to 18h30 every day as they offer child minding facilities around the actual school hours. Free of Charge.  There are canteen facilities in every school and because you are in France, you get a two hour lunch break. The kids ( they start la maternelle or pre school at age 2) all have a four course lunch, with starters, mains, fruit or cheese and dessert.  The kids are exposed to all kinds of different foods which is brilliant for them and they have themed days where they do Indian food or Irish food etc. The menus are printed on the local paper so you can see what they are having every day.. food is très important here in France!!
France is a great country and where we are living is particularly lovely as we have the best climate with over 320 days of sunshine, we have the beaches on our doorstep, the ski slopes a short drive, lovely villages and fine wines … but it isn’t perfect.
If you are thinking of making the move here, you should bear in mind that the average wage PER HOUSEHOLD in the Pyrenees Orientales where I live is 18000euros ( Source INSEE) per annum. You are not going to get rich in France!!
The taxes are very high here as are the social charges. At the height of the property boom when we were earning good money, we were paying 75% of our income in taxes.
So you’re not going to make a fortune in France but the sun is shining, the sky is blue, I swim in a public outdoor pool every week, the local markets are amazing, my kids are happy, the beaches are close by and I am blessed to be living in one of the most beautiful places in the world ( and the wine is cheap!)
The great thing is we can be back in Ireland in two hours as well .. we probably see more of our family living here than if we were living in Ireland as they visit us and stay with us for a couple of weeks at a time. We do miss Ireland from time to time especially our extended family and “the craic” but it is over 14 years since I’ve lived in Ireland so we probably have a rose tinted nostalgic view of the ole sod.
All in all, La vie est belle here in France..

DO's and DON'T
DO ...
  • Learn the Lingo. There will be no opportunities here for you unless you speak some French. Your life will be much more enhanced as well if you can make friends with your neighbours, chat with the shopkeepers and more importantly, order a glass of wine!!!
  • Be prepared to live on less money. Unless you have another income source like a big fat pension or one of you is planning to commute to Ireland, your monthly income is going to fall sharply
  • Have an open mind, things are done differently in France and not at the same speed that you are used to. Lunch is a two to three hour affair and nobody is in a rush here!
  • Your homework. If you are buying a business ( many expats run B&Bs or gites here), estimate your income then halve it, then  estimate your expenses and double them!
  • Find out if you are eligible to health care in France
  • Research the area you are moving to. No point in going to Brittany if you are seeking sunshine and a lovely climate!! The climate in Paris is not very different to that of Ireland either!
  • Realistically weigh up the pros and cons and ask yourself why are you really moving to France..

  • Think that setting up a business will be easy. It won’t. For the most part, your qualifications will not be accepted in France. My international accountancy qualifications were not recognised here. In fact, they originally refused to accept my leaving cert until I fought tooth and nail to get them recognised.
  • Rush in to anything. Give yourself a year or two to decide whether you really want to move here. Rent out your property in Ireland and rent a place in France. Don’t do anything drastic like selling your house in Ireland and buying a place in France. Call it a “year out” and then there will be no shame if you decide to head back to Ireland
  • Try to make France a mini Ireland by hooking up with Irish TV and hanging out with Irish people in the local Fake-Irish pub. Try to go native and immerse yourself in the culture and people. Allez, you know you’ll look good wearing a beret with a baguette tucked under your arm!
  • Hesitate once you have made the decision. Go for it and Bonne Chance! 


  1. Great article Karen, I would'nt mind another holiday down in Canet Beach again soooooon, beautiful area ,fresh fish and local produce, and great markets xxxxxxGAB

  2. Betty here Karen, when I enter my open ID it refuses to publish, thats why I have to go anonymous everytime.xxxxx

    1. Sorry Betty, that's really annoying for you , esp after you went to all the trouble to get it set up. It's not very user friendly , is it?

  3. Great article's been hard work for you but well worth it!! What a life ye are very lucky! Xx

    1. Thanks Ro! It's not all glam, I can assure you but we do count our blessings.
      So, when you visiting?

  4. your mother says you are fabulous



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