10 Sabbatical Hacks for Americans in France

Planning a trip away from home for more than a month or so can seem daunting, especially given how foreign (duh) the laws and conventions of foreign countries may seem! Here are some resources I used to make my stay away easier.

  1. Our apartment/house/camper van: You probably won’t sell or break your lease if you’re planning on being gone for less than a year. But if you’re like me, the idea of paying for two homes is inefficient capitalist treason. It can be difficult to find a short-term tenant for the exact dates of your trip, so this is exactly where home sharing comes in. If you live in California, Pillow Homes is a great service to manage short-term rentals, from booking to cleaning. They aren’t cheap, but in my experience they’re well worth it.
  2. Renting abroad: Here in Paris there is no shortage of tourist rentals, but be aware that apartments go quickly so be sure to book at least six months in advance. Paris Attitude and Paris Address maintain a curated list of apartments that are well-equipped for American travelers. For a longer stay we wanted a less crowded, more residential neighborhood than “in the heart of it”, so we chose the border between the 4th and the 12th. Prices are better a little on the shoulder of the central tourist districts, too. You could probably string together a bunch of AirBNBs for a long while too, but we wanted just one apartment for the entire stay because we brought…
  3. Our pet: Our flights in and out of the sabbatical are booked on Air France, who charge a $200 “pet ticket” fee. If your animal is under 8kg (about 18lbs), he/she/it can come in the cabin with you. There is a whole set of documents you need from the USDA in order to bring your animal into the EU, but this is much better than UK/Australia as there are no quarantine requirements. FWIW, our documents weren’t even checked by customs at Charles de Gaulle — the Douane kiosks were closed. For pet supplies, BHV La Niche and Animalis Bercy are good choices. Our cat is equipped with pretty much all the comforts of home (even a scratching post that looks like the Tour Eiffel, so tourist)
  4. Banking: we looked into getting a European bank account through BNP Paribas, but as you might expect, the conventions in Europe are different: if you’re not working and here for less than a year, it may be difficult to find a bank to accept you for a compte courante (like checking) for simple bank transactions like paying your rent without some minimum account balances and/or monthly fees. We instead opted to use TransferWise to directly wire our rent to our landlord – their fees are likely to be much lower than your US bank (unless you have HSBC or ING). This is convenient but you are exposed to EUR/USD currency fluctuations, which hasn’t worked in our favor since we arrived. 😦
  5. Credit/debit cards: the Chase Sapphire has become our main payment method because it has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and a generous points program for restaurants and travel – both of which we are doing a lot of on this sabbatical! The AMEX Platnium also waives FTFs, and the $450 annual fee isn’t terrible, but it’s less commonly accepted than Chase’s Visa network. The downside is that if you’re into points, there are far fewer airline programs to receive points on Chase’s network vs. AMEX (notably, Chase doesn’t support Air France/KLM).
  6. Mobile phone and data, EU side: we have prepaid cards through Orange; other carriers all have similar programs. Usually you can get a package for unlimited voice and SMS within your home country – but if you’re like me you care more about data than anything else. Once you have the prepaid SIM, packages of mobile data cost around E10/GB, which isn’t terrible. Note that all the prepaid stuff has an expiration date, so there is no advantage to the 3GB for a lower price per GB if it expires with unused data! I find I use about 100MB/day here and I’m pretty addicted. When you visit another country, you’ll get a text with offers for data roaming at prices that are a bit cheaper than you’d pay on your US carrier.
  7. Mobile phone and data, US side: we wanted to keep our US numbers, but didn’t want to pay AT&T a couple hundred bucks over the course of six months for service we weren’t going to use at all. While they have a program for suspending your service for 90 days, they were (at least for me) unwilling to extend that to cover our case. We shut down all the phones and tablets and ported the numbers we wanted to keep to Plivo — who charge about 5 bucks a line per month. The bonus is that you can even write a script to present former callers/texters with additional options for contacting you, and the spam robots can’t follow.
  8. Normal phone service: Let’s face it, your relatives aren’t going to know how/remember to use FaceTime audio all the time. We got a Skype number in Petaluma and gave that to friends, family, banks, businesses, etc. It works great and it’s just a few bucks a month.
  9. Really good Internet: Nearly all of Paris is covered by fiber. That’s right, the City of Lights and of old pierre de taille apartments has better high-speed Internet than our home city of San Francisco. Orange’s is true FTTH and not fiber to the apartment building and copper thereafter — less sure about some of the other providers. At 45.99/month for a reliable 200mbit up/down, this is a great deal. You will need some basic French language skills (or a friend to help you navigate the installation) to accomplish this, but it is sooooo worth it.
  10. Cordless TV: If you’re reading this you probably have already ditched cable/satellite in the US, so the streaming roundup is like: Netflix works great and has some additional content in your local country; Hulu doesn’t work at all (even behind a US VPN), and Amazon works great and doesn’t ask questions — but no additional content. If you’re thinking of BitTorrents, be aware that France has one of the strictest anti-piracy laws in the world, so protect ya neck.

 

All these services are incredibly useful, but required a decent amount of research / trial & error to compile. Hopefully this list can save you some time when it’s your time to pack your bags and GTFO!

 

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