Nikki McArthur, Toulouse

Who are you?

My name is Nikki McArthur, I moved to France from the UK back in 2004 with my husband and three children.We now have five children (the two youngest were born in France). I’m a freelance proofreader / document formatter and run several other businesses with my husband and eldest son.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We live in a watermill in a little village an hour from Toulouse where we have now lived for nearly 16 years. We moved to France to have a better quality of life for ourselves and our children.

What challenges did you face during the move?

We faced many challenges, firstly finding the right area and house for our family, finding a buyer for our property in the UK, and then big problems with the sale of the UK property, but we got there in the end.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We visited France every holiday and for long weekends over a period of 18 months until we found our dream home. We searched on the internet, and made appointments to view various properties in advance of each visit. We stayed in different regions in the Southwest until we found the area that suited us most.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes there are quite a few, we didn’t realise to begin with as for the first 18 months we were busy renovating, having another baby, setting up a business etc. However, once we discovered Angloinfo, which was a popular platform at the time, we then found there were lots of other expats in the area. I started a mother and toddler group and we also started a gardening club and met lots of other expats that way.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

We have some amazing neighbours who have all been really supportive. We haven’t experienced any negativity. Our immediate neighbours helped me a lot when we were first here as my husband worked in the UK one week in three and I was alone and knew no one when we arrived.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love the peace and tranquility here and the space – there is no way we would have the size of property and land we have here if we’d stayed in the UK, I love that we’re only any hour from Spain and have beautiful views of the Pyrenees at every turn.

It’s a much more relaxed life for us as a family and whilst we are busy running our various businesses, we still have plenty of opportunity to spend quality time with our children who have a lot of freedom here.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Nothing really, it’s hard living as a foreigner in another country, but the advantages outnumber the disadvantages. The biggest problem for us most recently has been the uncertantity that Brexit has presented to all UK expats living in Europe.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

The way self employment is handled here in France has probably been one of the biggest challenges for us. It is not easy, although it has become easier over the years. It feels as though the French authorities would rather people are in salaried employment than self-employment as there are so many hurdles and difficulties to overcome.

Tax rates are similar, but the social charges are very high (cotisations), which makes being self-employed and making a good living difficult.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country?

Well, we are vegetarians and much of the diet in France is heavily meat based. It’s difficult to eat out as not many restaurants cater for vegetarians, but it’s improved over recent years (especially since our expat friends have opened a super restaurant nearby). And the wine, well no complaints there.

What advice would you give anyone following in your footsteps?

Do your homework, join lots of Facebook and internet groups and take the time to find the area that suits you best. Read lots of books on moving abroad, try hard to learn the language as much as you can before you leave and continue when you get there.

I would also advise to rent before you buy if at all possible. Be prepared for any eventuality and be flexible in your approach to earning a living (if you need to).

What are you plans for the future?

We are continuing to develop our various businesses here in France – we run a garden centre and landscaping business specialising in natural swimming ponds, and this year our eldest son has joined us to help develop our holiday rental business, offering yoga and meditation classes, garden design courses and retreats.

I have also finished my first book entitled What Have We Got Toulouse? A Family Moving To France, which covers why we moved to France, how we did it and what it was like in the early years, and is due to be released on 4th April on Amazon and other outlets. I also blog (when I have time).

You can keep up to date with Nikki's adventures on her blog, A Mother In France; find out about the family's landscaping business at www.kingdomvegetal.com, and learn about their holiday rental business at www.moulindenbas.com.

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