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The Pitfalls of Being a Part-Time Expat

Spending part of every year in another country is an exciting lifestyle. It’s an opportunity to experience a different culture, learn a new language and meet new people. Being a part-time expat is a good way to test the waters and see if a place could be your future, full-time home.


I’m privileged to have a home in the US and a home in France. However, this didn’t happen without making some serious compromises. To make this lifestyle economically viable and to simplify my life, I downsized my US residence in Portland, Oregon to a 700-square foot, one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit (ADU).


As a part-time expat in France, I enjoy the culture, the food, the lifestyle and being a part of the community. I enjoy all this without the bureaucracy, tax burden and other challenges of becoming a full-time resident. You can read more about The Perks of Being a Part-Time Expat here.


Although I enjoy being a part-time expat, juggling life in two different countries comes with its own challenges. By sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, I hope I can help you decide whether this lifestyle would work for you.


Always being in transition mode

When I leave my home in France and head back to the states, there isn’t much to do except cover the bed and furniture with sheets, turn down the heat and empty the refrigerator. When I leave my home in the US, it’s a different story. I Airbnb my ADU with the help of an onsite manager. This means packing away all my clothes, toiletries, food, dishes and any other personal items I don’t leave for the guests to use.


All these things get packed away in my one IKEA wardrobe, one small kitchen cabinet and the storage attic. Everything in the other cabinets, drawers and closets must be cleared out for my guests. It’s a lot of work. But it’s all worth it, because the income from the Airbnb makes this lifestyle possible. If you’re interested in renting out your home to fund your travels, read How Airbnb Funded 3 Months of European Travel.


Increasing complexity, time and costs

I strive to simplify my life so I can spend the majority of my time on what matters most. However, having two homes gets complicated and has resulted in increased time and expense. There are double the number of utilities and insurance payments, plus twice the maintenance, although expenses for my house in France are a fraction of what they are in the US.


Living in two countries means duplicating one’s day-to-day life essentials so they are in two places, especially toiletries, medications, vitamins/supplements and clothes. The other option is to bring these items back and forth on each trip. It’s important to keep track of what I have at each home because not everything is available to buy in France, whether it’s at a store or online. DHEA supplements are not sold in France. And my foot cream is three times the price on French Amazon versus US Amazon. Clothes are often less expensive in the US. On every trip to France, I stuff my suitcase with as many of these items as I can given the airline’s luggage limitations.


Coordinating two separate wardrobes is also a challenge. Since I vary the time I spend in each country, I need clothes for all seasons in both homes. What helps is a capsule wardrobe. With fewer clothes, colors and styles to choose from, I can easily coordinate and swap out pieces between my travel capsule wardrobe, my clothes in France and the ones in the US. You would think being a part-time expat would require more clothes, but if you keep your wardrobe simple you won’t need to duplicate it or to buy more clothes.


Following with the 90/180 Schengen rule

Due to the 90/180 Schengen rule, Americans can’t spend more than 90 days in France out of every 180 days. And no more than 183 days in a calendar year or they could be considered a resident. Residency is not something you want imposed on you. Before becoming a resident of another country, you need to have all your ducks in a row when it comes to visas, taxes, finances and estate planning.


In order to spend as much time as I can in France (without becoming a resident) and to be in compliance with the 90/180 rule, I need to plan my travel dates out a year or more in advance. Having my life planned this far in the future, precludes spontaneity and occasionally results in missing major events with friends and family.


Surviving long-haul flights

I’m okay with long-haul flights in economy. I’d rather spend my frequent flyer miles on more flights than on a seat upgrade. What I don't like is the horrible jet lag I feel once I arrive, especially when traveling to Europe. In this day and age, I never know how long the trip will actually take. Flying overseas, I try to book an itinerary no longer than 20 hours door to door. On my last flight, I happily booked an Air France flight to Rennes, France (only 35 minutes from my house) via stops in Seattle and Paris. My flight to Paris was delayed by six hours resulting in an eight-hour layover in Seattle, plus a 16-hour layover in Paris as my flight to Rennes was rebooked for the next day. So my 19-hour, door-to-door trip turned into a 40-hour endeavor.


Missing friends and not being able to commit to year-round activities

Perhaps the greatest downside of being a part-time expat is missing out on events and get-togethers with friends because I'm not living in one place year-round. I’ve made friends and connections with people in France, and I want to deepen those relationships. I want to be there for my friends in both countries, but that’s hard to do from a distance.


Being away for three to four months also prevents me from making any annual commitments like enrolling in a gym or Pilates classes, joining a volunteer organization or a social group. I sometimes feel like a digital nomad with roots in neither country.


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Only time will tell if I choose to continue the part-time expat life. It’s certainly an excellent way to get to know a country from the inside out and discover whether or not it’s a good fit. If you think this might be the lifestyle for you, read, The Perks of Being a Part-Time Expat.



1 Comment


Guest
Mar 07

I really enjoyed reading this and agree with everything you’ve written. They are many of the concerns that I’ve had and seeing them in writing has been a real eye opener. Thank you for your insight; I so enjoy your newsletters!

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Hi, I’m Lori Cronwell. As a writer and frequent traveler, I admire the values most Europeans embrace: choosing quality over quantity; residing in smaller, more sustainable homes; working less and spending more time with friends and family.
 

Those values were key in my decision to drastically downsize to a 700 sq. ft. accessory dwelling unit (ADU) with the goal of creating a simpler, more sumptuous life with time for travel.
 

Slow travel, that is. Spending more time in one place — even if it’s just a week. You'll not only spend less, you'll discover a deeper and more meaningful travel experience.

Please subscribe below and join me on a journey to find affordable ways to explore Europe in the slow lane and to live a more European lifestyle every day of our lives.

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