The Good Life France talks to Susana Iwase Hanson, Founder of Provence Living and President of Provence Living Consulting who lives in beautiful Cotignac, Provence.
I asked Susana to tell me a bit about life before Provence: “Born in Tokyo, lived in Asia, London, California… married a Brit and moved to England but the weather didn’t suit me. Then I worked in Hong Kong but when I had had enough of that life I got divorced and moved into our holiday villa in Theoule-sur-Mer in Cannes, where I met an incredible Frenchman and two kids later we moved here to Provence where life is much less superficial and more relaxed. It’s cheaper too.
I am trilingual and tricultural (American, Japanese, French), I make and teach how to make sushi, look after holiday homes and my two girls who are aged five and nine and I serve as the Vice President of the local Parents’ Committee. My French husband works for the Ministry of Education and Labour.”
Hang on I say as Susana reels off places and names – back to the French husband, where did you meet him?
“I met my Frenchman in a restaurant bar across from the Palais des Festivales in Cannes on a warm summer evening in 2003. I was living in Théoule-sur-Mer. He was vacationing with a colleague and had made the long drive from Savoie for the weekend. He was so cute that my first words to him were: ‘Are you gay?’”
I ask her if she always intended to live in France and what planning she did to start her new life here?
“It started with the purchase of a holiday home in Théoule sur Mer while living in the UK. At the time I had had enough of the hard-work and hard-play lifestyle of Hong Kong and wanted to take a long break and write a book while gazing at the Mediterranean Sea. I took intensive French courses for four weeks but having a French lover is probably the easiest way to learn! Two children and a move to Provence later I have yet to write THAT BOOK but it’s in the planning.”
So, what do you in the meantime Susana?
I have a Master’s degree in International marketing (UK) and an East Asian languages degree from University of California at Berkeley (USA) which really doesn’t help contribute to finding one’s profession in the Var (where there is little work). So, I registered as a “Conseil des Affaires” with Auto-Entrepreneur status which allows me to do quite a lot without a clear definition of profession.
I do property management, interior renovations, help newcomers and new property owners with admin (bills, opening up bank accounts etc) and translate documents (non legal). My background is in publishing, teaching and finance – very varied. For fun I run “Provence Living” on Facebook but hope to turn this into an internet magazine one day. With our audience’s help, I can and will.
Susana is a lady who is very determined and fast-paced and I ask her how she found dealing with the famously ponderous French bureaucracy when registering to work.
It was a bit more cumbersome than I expected and there were quite a few hurdles to overcome. First, the new laws require that you are qualified to do what you want to do. That doesn’t mean EXPERIENCE. It means you have a degree, certificate or diploma to prove you are qualified. Once you declare you are going work in a particular vocation, you cannot change your mind later, it’s too complicated. And if you are already covered by Social Security (say, by your partner), prepare to be taken OFF this coverage and come up with your own (RSA [Revenu de solidarité active – a form of welfare] your own mutual [health insurance], etc). You pay around 23-25 per cent of your earnings towards charges/taxes. If you don’t put this amount away each month, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by a fat bill at the end of every quarter.
You need to be super organised and have a system of filing, keeping track of what you bill and what you earn and what goes into your bank account. You suddenly become KNOWN to the government which means you also have a higher likelihood of being audited (or your bank account does), particularly if you are a foreign national. Some people I’ve spoken to have said that they find all the paperwork and declarations, jumping through hoops really discouraging. Some people give up and work “on the black” but if any expat plans on being here long term, it’s vital to get into the system and do it all right, no matter how much of a hassle it is with paperwork. Being prepared to do LOTS of paperwork is what it’s all about here.”
I ask her if she’s settled in France and what makes her stay?
It took me 11 years to learn French and I’m still not that great at it. But living in Cotignac is great – I feel like I hit the jackpot living here.
I love that we live in a small village (population 2100) where the community works to support each other. We try hard to patronise our local businesses and keep our cafés and restaurants bustling. The visitors make up the difference in the summer (when the population jumps to over 10,000) and there are entertaining events organised throughout the year. It’s a bonus that it’s one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.
Susana Iwase Hanson, Provence Living Consulting; Email: email@example.com