Helpful Quick Bits: Early Passport Renewal

My US passport isn’t expiring for a couple of years, but I’ve decided to renew it anyway. Here’s why:

As a non-EU spouse of a UK citizen living in France, I will be applying for an EU Family Permit and residency card in the UK to not only be able to visit the UK, but perhaps if we decide to settle there at a later time. This permit may take the form of a sticker or “vignette” in my passport. Were my passport to expire soon, I would then have to reapply and get my sticker restored in my new passport. So, why not start with a new passport that will outlive my need my permits?

…besides which, several countries require a passport be valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry in that country. Better safe than scrambling!

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Where to Land Continued: Hurray!

Hurray! Stuart and I have finally come to a decision about where we will settle as a newly-married international couple. It is actually the decision we had started with, but now, having taken time to consider all our options, it is the obvious choice.

And the winner is…France!

The Reasons Why

I’m sure this does not come as a surprise if you’ve been following this blog. I’ve been leaning that way all along. Even though it is mostly irrational and somewhat of a bigger challenge for me, something in my heart keeps saying, “France” and I’ve decided to listen…even though it is a little scary. In addition to the dream I had about Paris being “home” and the knowing I had that I would be moving to France a couple of months before meeting Stuart, I also had some astrocartography done which revealed the region in which Stuart and I will live as a very supportive area for both of us. I also had a psychic tell me that my destiny lies in France…and since I already knew intuitively that was true, I take it as a confirmation. I release expectation, though, because who knows? Maybe my destiny lies in France because I have to go to France to learn my destiny lies somewhere else.  : )

As for the logical reasons, first of all, it allows us to be together sooner rather than later. And hello, we’re middle-aged newlyweds. We don’t want to wait an additional 6-12 months on top of the time is will take to organize this venture in order to start our life together! As mentioned in my earlier post about France, as a non-EU spouse of an EU citizen, I can arrive in France without obtaining a special visa and apply for a Cart de Sejour once there. (FYI: This option doesn’t apply in all situations; most folks will require a passport…even fiances.)

Second, as a result of our deliberations, we discovered something miraculous and wonderful called the EEA Family Permit. So, should we decide we’d like to settle in the UK after all, we can do so by applying for the currently-free family permit, available to UK citizens (and their spouses) exercising their treaty rights in the EU, which Stuart is doing by working in France. We therefore bypass the rather complicated and expensive UK Spousal Visa.

Third, France has the winning climate and a location for easier travels to other European destinations. France will give us the best of everything.

As for the Negatives

The language, the lack of choices in the grocery stores, the difficulties in establishing work and collaborations there…none of them need be as daunting as my mind tries to tell me. I musn’t forget my potentials, all that I have so far achieved in this life, that I am the creator of opportunity, and that I will be with my thoughtful, talented, loving and kind Stuart. This chance holds too many gifts to forsake it out of fear. And as for the negatives of which I am as yet unaware, I shall endeavor to see them as gifts…and forgive myself when I forget. I know the little challenges will be balanced by little triumphs.

I will without question miss my friends and family, my sweet house, and many of the things with which I have identified in the US. There will probably be periods of homesickness and grief, but these will be balanced by unexpected pleasures and newfound joys. And even better, I will not be one of those people who wonders what would have happened if.

Looks like this is really, truly happening! All I can say is “Holy Merde!!!!”

A Hard Choice? Selling My Home

One of the big decisions that comes with relocating is whether or not to sell my house. In 2007, right before the plummet of the US housing market, I purchased my first home. Now, several years later, it has lost 16% of its value. It is a common story many people share these days and one complicated by my sudden international marriage. So much for the American Dream!

The fact that I even have a home is somewhat of a miracle to me, one I worked hard for. You see, my home was purchased through Habitat for Humanity. In addition to income qualifications, it took me 200+ volunteer hours of building houses and working in their retail store. I did all this despite 8 weeks of mononucleosis, my father’s death, and then shingles. It was quite a year. Though I’ve often wanted to pull my hair out, homeownership has been an incredible journey of personal growth and inner strength.

I am so grateful to have a mortgage without interest. That’s the Habitat deal. However, if I am ever to leave this house, I have to pay back both the 1st mortgage and the 2nd mortgage… the interest I haven’t been paying. If I were to sell now, the good news is that I might just about break even.

This is yet another big decision in a long list of decisions I now have to make as the new spouse of a nonresident alien.

“So don’t sell. He can move here,” you might say. There’s much more to that decision, such as tax implications and culture shock, which I addressed in another post.

“Then rent it out while you are in Europe,” you might be thinking. “Create an income.”

If only that were an option! You see, under the Habitat agreement, I am bound to live in the house two weeks out of every month or risk default. Renting it out is not allowed. While I understand the importance of having such provisions, it all rather sucks now that my life has taken a totally unexpected twist. I’ve fallen in love with my book designer!

The first hurdle we had to face was me being able to travel to Europe for six weeks in the first place. Fortunately, I suspected I’d be traveling earlier in the year due to the recent publication of my book, so I had already spoken to Habitat about the possibility of traveling. They graciously agreed to make allowances for me to be away longer than two weeks providing I met certain criteria, but I suspect it isn’t an exception they would repeat.

So now we must decide whether keeping the house and all it provides is a good enough reason for Stuart to uproot his entire life to apply for a CR1 Immigration Visa or whether to sell and lose not only my home of 6 years but the nest egg it was supposed to hatch for me.

Certainly the standard of living we’d enjoy here in the US in an interest-free mortgage home would be much better than what we’d have overseas. And in a couple of years, we might even have enough equity in it to actually make a profit if we wanted to sell.

But do I want to be so attached to a house here when my life might actually be waiting for me over there? Do I want to make a decision based solely or mostly on economics? Do I want to subject Stuart to US taxation? Or do I want to dream big and dare to fly? Cautious and smart or carefree and wild? Will I come to regret my decision? I guess that in itself is a choice. So whatever we decide to do, I’m deciding now to be at peace with my choice…today, tomorrow, and forever.

My life has taught me that there are no mistakes. Regret only occurs when we believe our own stories, when we are hooked by the thought that we should have done “it” differently. We fail to embrace the reality of what is and move further from truth as a result. I just need to keep remembering this.

And as for this “decision”, I can spend all the time in the world weighing the pros and cons and get worked up into a mental frenzy, but there is something far more intelligent and peaceful poised to deliver the right choice at the right time if I just get quiet and create space for it. So while I allow my mind to do its protective thinking thing here, grateful for it, now…I think it’s time to enjoy some fresh air and sunlight!

Where to Land Continued: USA

Last post, I discussed the various pluses and minuses of relocating to the UK as the non-EU spouse of a UK citizen who is currently living in France. Today, I’m clicking my heels and asking, “Is there really no place like home?”

I’ve lived in the US my whole life. Though I’ve been lucky enough to do some traveling, I’ve never been gone for long. In fact, the longest trip outside the US was actually to the UK with my sister in the 80’s. We stayed 3 months, and I’d never been so happy to see the backside of a country upon my return. But I’m a different person now…happier, more mature, more cultured…I hope.

I love America and the ideals for which it stands…or at least stood. Let’s face it. It isn’t what it once was. It has entered a rather ugly adolescence of violent crime, political bickering, biased media, and corporate greed. It is tainted by an absolutely dreadful educational, health, and corrupted financial system with imbalances and senses of entitlement bordering on the insane. Will it continue the plunge into the shadowy depths  of overweight, undereducated sheeple led by a government of bullies, manipulators, and liars before it re-emerges as an adult nation with a better sense of responsibility and the intentions of our forefathers…which I’m sure it will…one day?

That said, it’s home to me and therefore “the devil I know”. Here I have a house, a business, friends, and family. I live in a great city, one of the best, which has isolated me from a lot of the worst parts of US living. My life has been good.

The question is, if we were to go through the 6-9 month process (the longest of all three possibilities) of applying for a CR1 visa for Stuart, would it be worth it?

Yes: Stuart could eventually become a US citizen (and despite everything I’ve written so far, this is still a pretty awesome country). That would make things a lot easier legally and financially should something happen to either of us. Eventually, Stuart and I would both be able to come and go as we please, too.

No: I alone cannot meet the financial requirement to bring him here. It would involve getting a sponsor, which we do have, but I’m not crazy about the idea of burdening a loved one.

Yes: Because of current exchange rates and the fact that Stuart’s income is the Pound, our standard of living would be significantly higher here…and wow, wouldn’t I like to experience that for once!

No: Enter US taxes…on worldwide income. As it is, because we married this year, I will no longer be getting what would have been an over $500 tax return unless we choose to file jointly…and we can only elect to do that once in a lifetime. But frankly, I can’t see dragging Stuart into the US tax system prematurely.

Yes: I’d be near friends and family. Business relationships and musical collaborations would go on as before.

No: Obamacare. As a single, poor person, I was really excited about Obamacare. I would have had health insurance for the first time in 12 years for a whopping premium of FREE. But now that I’m married, that premium has jumped to over $4000…and that’s just for me. And if we don’t buy, we face increasing penalties. Compared to the healthcare systems of our other options, the US doesn’t stand out.

Yes: From coast to coast, America can’t be beat for landscape, cool cities, an abundant lifestyle, and all the things that make America the amazing melting pot it is. And…we both understand the language. And…I already have a driver’s license.

There’s always culture shock to consider too. But of course, that will happen for one of us no matter where we go.

So…now that I’ve summarized the pros and cons of life in our three countries of choice, what do you think? Where would you go? France, the UK, or the US?

Where to Land Continued: UK

Last post, I talked about some of the variables associated with living in France. This time, I will be ruminating on the pros and cons of relocation in the UK.

If, as an American, I applied for a spousal visa in the UK, it would cost upwards of $850. There would be postage fees and costs associated with obtaining my biometrics in Charlotte, a city two hours away and the closest immigration service center to me.

One of the good things here is that having applied for a Visitor to Marry visa not that long ago, I am quite familiar now with the UK visa process. The applications aren’t that different…just much longer in the case of a spousal visa. Since the visitor visa, once spread all over my floor, when compiled was about two inches thick, I’m thinking the spousal visa will end up being even thicker.

Do you have any idea what goes into these applications? I certainly didn’t. In some ways, it feels like everything under the sun…bank records, tax documents, birth certificates, divorce decrees, proof of marriage, what I’ve eaten for the last 3 years, and oh, something really fun called a financial requirement form. It looks like a real nightmare to fill in, but I won’t go there right now. (I’m just kidding about the what I’ve eaten part).

Now, one would think that since I had to have my biometrics taken for the visitor visa a few months ago that I would have already met that requirement. Not so! Apparently, I would have the joy of doing that all over again. No biggie; just a pain.

Stuart is currently in France. We are lucky though because he is contracted by a UK company and is paid in the UK, so establishing proof of income won’t be an issue. The challenge is that Stuart will have to find a place for us to live. While finding something is not an issue, timing certainly is. This application process can, according to a friend who went through it several years ago, take as little as three weeks. It can also, according to a recent article, take up to 12 months. Why should Stuart uproot his life in France now when it could take a year before we got visa approval?

Enter the cousins. We are blessed that Stuart has generous cousins, a married couple, who have offered to open their home to us so that we can take the time to find a place of our own. This makes everything so much easier. With an address, we can now apply for our visa without Stuart having to rush to relocate in the UK.

Apparently though, getting a UK driver’s license…I mean licence (that’s another thing…all those misspelled words over there!) is no less joyful an affair than trying to get one in France. The success rates are about even…44% passing. However, the fact that the test would be in English and not a language I barely understand is a definite plus. In fact, being in a country where I understood the road signs, the mail, the food labels and everything else would certainly make life easier. Documents wouldn’t need to be translated either.

The other benefit of living in the UK is that it would be so much easier for me to re-establish my client base, and I could be teaching workshops in no time. Plus, I could schedule book signings and increase my book sales there.

Sounding pretty good, ain’t it?

The main drawback of life in the UK is…well…life in the UK. It’s cold, it’s depressing, and it’s expensive. We’d relocate to the sunniest coast, but even in the height of summer, temps don’t generally break 70F. That’s practically still winter!

AVL
Asheville, NC

During my visit for marriage, one of the first things that struck me was how miserable everyone seemed in the cities. Living in Asheville for 10 years, one of the happiest cities in the US, has spoiled me so!

The area of Devon was nicer than the central areas, and I could see myself living in certain parts there even despite those narrow little roadways.

In fact, my whole life, I have wanted to live by the sea. So maybe, just maybe, the UK would be OK if we lived by the shore. And the grocery stores there, after having been in France, Eee!!! Delight!

But I also recall how upon disembarking from the ferry once back in France, the whole sky opened up and the sun shone down gloriously! I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing as I removed my “tea cozy” hat, scarf, and sweater (which I had to wear in September no less!). The whole world was smiling again.

But it would also be much simpler for us to eliminate the third country from a complex-enough two-country life. And it certainly would be nice to ultimately share a country with my Honey and not just be a permanently floating expat. Who knows? Maybe establishing residency and then citizenship in the UK is the best way to do that.

That’s all for now. Next time, considerations for the US…

Where to Land Continued: France

Since my husband lives in France and is self-employed there, it would seem entirely logical for me to relocate there. There are many reasons to go this route and just as many not to, so in order to sort it out, I commence…

First of all, France has a relatively easy process for the non-EU spouse of an EU citizen. I just show up and then apply for my Cart de Sejour, or residency card, within 3 months. No long, complicated forms to fill out beforehand. No 6 – 12 months waiting to reunite. Obviously, this is a HUGE plus.

On the more intuitive side of things, several months before meeting my husband, I was telling people how much I wanted to visit France. You see, a couple of years ago, I had a dream I was riding in a cab in Paris, my face pressed against the glass as I looked up at the buildings in awe exclaiming, “I’m home!”

Then, one day in my kitchen a few months before meeting Stuart, I was chopping carrots and thought, “Wow, I’m moving to France. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But it is going to happen.” And now, here’s this opportunity to realize all of that.

“So, get thee to France!” you may be saying.

There are some negatives to consider. First of all, I don’t speak the language. While I have a good ear for French pronunciation, I remember very little from my two years in high school many years ago. “So what?” you may think. “Learn it.”

I could and am (Memrise), but it will take me several years to become really fluent. Oh, and I’ve forgotten to mention, though my husband has lived there several years, he doesn’t really speak it either! I’ve already come to learn he would be little help in that department (sorry, Honey).

Now, every document, every food label, every piece of mail we receive, every road sign will be in French. And if important papers are not in French, they will need to be translated…such as my birth certificate and marriage license. That is a daunting challenge, though one that excites me all the same. Living in a country where I just don’t understand anything is a spiritual-growth playground for undoing my mind! I guess that makes it a plus and a minus and therefore, the issue of language is cancelled out.

Another negative is obtaining my French driver’s license. Apparently, this is no easy task for an American. The test is in French, requires lots of class time, costs a small fortune, and has an absurdly low passing rate. This is definitely a negative. I’ll write more about this another time, as there is more to this issue.

Positives:

  • I’ll be with my Honey!!!
  • It’s sunny and beautiful.
  • The pace of life is poifect!
  • The most beautiful beaches anywhere are close by.
  • It’s easy to travel to wonderful places such as Italy, Switzerland, Spain…and even the UK (though I would need either a visitor visa or EU Family Permit to go there).
  • Rents…and eventually houses…are more affordable there than, say, the UK (but I have a house in the US with a very affordable mortgage that can’t be beat).

Negatives:

  • While I can work online from anywhere doing what I do, I will undoubtably lose some clients who prefer in-person work, and I won’t be able to get new clients there or teach workshops unless I find English-speaking participants.
  • Working with my current musical and vocal toning collaborators will be greatly impacted.
  • Stuart’s current living arrangement is a rather rustic space in the middle of nowhere (though he is very willing to move closer to a bigger city such as Cognac).
  • The bio shops are teeny and carry very little selection at a hefty price; in fact, the grocery stores we went to were rather sad. Here I am in Asheville, NC, a mecca of whole foods including two EarthFares, a co-op, Greenlife, and most recently, Trader Joe’s. That won’t be an easy adjustment.

I know there’s more, but my head is already turning to cotton, so I’ll continue another day…