The Overseas Driver’s License Conundrum

With my visitor for marriage visa, I decided to get an international driving license. It cost me about $15 from AAA and is basically a translation of my current driver’s license into many different languages. It’s a very cool thing that could come in very handy in a foreign land were I ever pulled over. Ironically, I never got to use it while I was visiting…mainly because Stuart has, like most of Europe, a manual transmission, and I don’t know how to drive one (which apparently to many Europeans means I don’t know how to drive). So Stuart did all the driving. Still, if and when I do return to France, I will be bringing my international license with me as it won’t expire for a whole year, and I can learn to drive a stick shift fairly quickly…so he tries to convince me (while I try to convince him an automatic is sooooo much easier so let’s get one)! But as my international license will expire next August…

…here’s what I’ve learned so far about driving overseas as it pertains to my situation:

About France. Everything I’ve read online has confirmed that the French driving test, which must be taken in order for a US citizen to get a French license (unless they have a license from a limited number of states who have an exchange agreement with France), is a very challenging, time-consuming, and euro-eating process–a “racket” if you will. The tests, of course, are in French…which I have yet to learn…and the passing rate is abysmal.

In the UK, things aren’t much different than in France. The plus is that the tests are conducted in English. Of course, in the UK, they do that funny little “other side of the road” thing, but I’m pretty sure I can hack it.

The rub is that if things proceed as we are now planning, I’ll be going to France to be with Stuart. That means, within one year, I will need to have my French driver’s license. But if we later decide in that first year to go to the UK to settle, I will also have to get my UK driver’s license within a year of landing there. You see, it seems I can’t exchange my current US license in France or the UK, nor can I exchange my future French license in the UK. That means two packages of driving lessons and really difficult driving tests in the next couple of years, and I can think of a very long list of things I’d rather be doing with my time and money…especially as someone who has been driving for 30 years without a single ticket!

So here comes my inspiration to relocate to Florida. Florida is one of the states that has an agreement with France. I can swap my FL license for a French one! There are at least two other reasons to relocate to Florida…the weather (since I’d be moving in winter) and the lack of income tax (which as a US citizen, I will still be required to file whether I owe taxes or not–oh, the joys of the expat).

Hmm…Jacksonville is only 6 hours away. I would just have to sell my house and close my business…which I’m doing anyway…pack all my stuff…which I’m doing anyway…but somehow keep out certain stuff I’d need in FL…drive to Florida, find a place to live…probably furnished…submit my change of address to everyone, open a bank account, register to vote, get my license, find a short-term job, hang for a while and…voila!

…then pack everything again, have all my things shipped overseas, have my mail handled by an international mail forwarding service, sell my car, get on the plane, arrive in France, and do a victory dance.

Is nothing ever a piece of cake??? Mmm…cake.

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!

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…