Moving is said to be one of the most stressful things that happen to us (some reports rate it at number two and three.) If there were an app to help navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy involved in immigrating to France it would have made someone rich. Such an app doesn’t seem to exist. But the good news is, there’s Stephen Heiner. His day job is running Writerly, a business he founded (in France) that creates content for businesses and brands. But his calling is being an invaluable resource for American expats, helping them figure out how to move, adjust, and enjoy life in France.
Growing up in Kansas City, where he moved with his family when he was nine years old, the out-going Heiner discovered a decidedly entrepreneurial spirit. After selling his test prep company in 2012, he spent a year researching how to move to France. Heiner points out that most people move for a job, significant other or school. But he just wanted to move, “not quite sure of what was next or how long [I] would stay.” He didn’t find much useful information in English, so he decided to document the process, and then began sharing the information he’d gathered for free.
He was thrilled that he could help so many people, and soon he had grateful expats buying him coffee when they got to Paris. With so many people asking him to consult them on the process, it began eating into his professional work. Since many of the questions and issues were the same, he decided to package FAQs into two video courses (focused on the Long-Term Stay, and Profession Liberale visas) as well as a blog. The American in Paris addresses immigration, legal and cultural issues, helping Americans adjust to life in France.
This October, Heiner’s project moves into a new phase, as he launches The American in Paris as an online magazine that offers up advice and articles on immigration, while expanding its scope to other aspects of life as an American expat in France. As a resource for Americans who live, or aspire to live, in France (as well as longer leisure stays), he and his team of writer/editors will feature lifestyle and travel articles. The focus will move beyond Paris to help Americans seeking to move to other French cities.
Running a content creating business, a blog, and an immigration consultancy doesn’t keep the irrepressibly social and affable Heiner from organizing and hosting a series of meet-ups. His Shakespeare book club is plowing through the Bard’s works, the Great Books club covers musts of the literary canon (one week’s assignment was read by members in eight different languages), and his Hitchcock meet-up has gone through all the Master’s American films and has begun on his British Oeuvre.
What are the top 5 issues he gets asked about (again, and again, and again)?
- Driver’s Licenses. “No, I don’t have a French Driver’s License (and probably never shall),” is one article he wrote about navigating the quicksand of French DMV (and possibly the only driver’s test anywhere that has trigonometry!). France only has reciprocity from a limited number of states. After one year of living in France, driver’s licenses not from these states will no longer be recognized, and you have to go through the entire process to get a new driver’s license. Heiner’s tip: Find US states that French DMV recognizes and has reciprocity with, and get your US license switched to that state before you move.
- Opening a bank account. For the sake of space, let’s just say, it’s complicated.
- Taxes. Let’s say, it’s really complicated. The US and France have a tax agreement, but depending on which country your income is from, or both, there is a fun-house maze of rules to navigate, and Heiner points out that there are precious few English-speaking tax accountants who specialize in this sort of thing.
- Can I work remotely on a visitor’s visa? The short answer, yes. Since remote working has become accepted this past year, he’s seen a spike in people moving and inquiring. However, Heiner strongly advises against thinking you’ll just move and get hired. There are more than enough Europeans with your skills. And unless you are entrepreneurial, don’t assume you can just start a business. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.
- Citizenship vs. residency. Most people he deals with are under the impression that Citizenship offers vastly greater benefits that residency. His reply, “unless you’re hell-bent on voting, go for residency”. Seems citizenship complicates tax implications big time. People think they need citizenship to live in France forever. Not so.
While many Americans intent on immigrating to France think there is a “deport button” and anticipate a grueling interview to renew their visas, Heiner points out “the French are happy to have you.” He reminds us that, “the US has the longest relationship with France of any other country.”
But Heiner doesn’t just advise on paperwork and bureaucracy. He also offers tips on socializing. “Social etiquette is completely different. It’s important to have French friends, and you have to cultivate it longer, but friendships here are deep and lasting, well worth the effort. One of the keys is to make the effort to learn the language.” [Heiner’s recipe was a combination of classes, tutors, and a cool Alpine language -ski school.]
He also encourages expats to, “Stay curious. Even when you’ve settled in.”