Zoe in San Francisco: "It's like living in a melting pot of totally different countries"

Expat interviews
  • Zoe in San Francisco
Published on 2015-09-03 at 00:00 by Expat.com team
French expat, Zoe moved to San Francisco a few years ago following several trips to be with her husband. She recently obtained her green card. Zoe enjoys taking pictures of the city and updating her blog.

Where are you from, Zoe, and what are you doing nowadays?

I'm from a small town in the Southern part of France near Valence. I was studying in a Business school when I first came in the United States to learn English and work as a receptionist intern. After my graduation, I flew back to the United States to be with my boyfriend. I had several visas but I finally married him to stay here.

What has attracted you to San Francisco?

Expatriation was the only way for me to stay with my boyfriend. So I didn't really choose the country or the city. However, I feel pretty lucky to live in such a beautiful place. San Francisco is a big city but everyone is really kind and each neighborhood has its own atmosphere.

How long have you been in the country?

I first came in March 2012. I stayed few months in an English school before I met my husband. After that, it was pretty challenging: I flew a couple of time from France to San Francisco, then I applied for a long stay tourist visa which allowed me to stay six months per year in the US. I consider myself as a « full-time » expat since I got my spouse visa last year.

What were the procedures to follow for a French national to move there?

The easiest way to come to the US is with an ESTA (visa waiver program for specific countries). However it's limited to 3 months. If you want to stay longer, you need a visa. You have multiples choices depending on whether you are coming to the US for a job, an internship or as an investor (all these details are available on the US French Embassy website).
I had several visas, but none of them allowed me to stay permanently. When I married my husband, he was in process of obtaining a green card. Hence, I got a spouse visa and a work authorization called EAD. After a one-year process, I finally received my green card.

Are you currently working?

I just quit my job to focus on some personal projects. I'm currently revamping my old blog and updating it with the pictures of my recent trips. I also plan to add some sections related to expatriation (how to get a visa, things to do before you trip to the US...) and guides to discover the best places in the US. Before that, I was working for a French company as a tours coordinator for the US and Canada.

How do you find the US lifestyle? How about the expats living there?

We have a couple of French friends here but a lot of them went back to France because they didn't get their visa. Also we used to have a monthly French get-together in a French restaurant near Finance District. It's always nice to speak our native language and meet people with the same culture as us. There is actually a big French community here.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

It was pretty hard for me to improve my English during the first months. I only interacted with my husband (who is French). So I didn't have lots of opportunities to improve my English. However, the different work experiences I had help me to improve, but it's not perfect yet. It took me some time to understand some expressions, but the more I stay here, the more I feel integrated.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available?

Finding an apartment is not that hard if you have a large budget and if you are on the spot to schedule a visit as soon as possible). We are young, and obviously, the prices are too high to buy anything in the bay area. Last year, we moved to a single-bedroom apartment which is enough for us. Before that, we used to live in a small studio in downtown San Francisco.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

I was kind of surprised to see the large community of Asian people here and the diversity of nationalities. It's like living in a melting pot of totally different countries. Sometimes, you can totally forget that you live in the United States. People don't speak English. Living in San Francisco is like a permanent travel. Even when I work, I feel like I'm on vacation all the time.

What does your every day life look like in San Francisco?

I have household chores like everyone. I am an addict of social media and I like to share my expatriation experience with the daily pictures I take. I spend also spend a lot of time working on my blog, going out and taking some pictures of San Francisco.

How do you spend your leisure time? What are the activities that are accessible to expatriates there?

There are lots of free events in San Francisco: meet-ups, street fairs, parades, concerts... You can always find something fun to do during your spare time. We also try to travel a couple of times per year. Flight tickets are cheaper than in Europe. Thus, it's easy to plan for a week-end trip to Los Angeles, Las Vegas or even San Diego.

What are the differences between life in the US and in France?

I would say the mindset. In France, we have the reputation of being pessimistic and always complaining. That's true: it's one of our strong French habits! It seems that American people are always happy and deal with their different problems in an optimistic way. I can't enumerate all the differences between USA and France. It's two totally different cultures, so you have to come here and make your own judgment.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Definitely food! As a French national, I miss our food and all the specialties we have. Of course, there are lots of French restaurants but, come on! It never tastes the same than in France and, to be honest, French restaurants are way overpriced.
The distance from our family and friends is something that could be depressing. You miss all the birthday parties and events and sometimes you feel that they grow apart from you and forget you... Out of sight, out of mind.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in San Francisco? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

San Francisco is a very expensive city. Rents are high! I used to live downtown but the rent was increasing every year and then we had to pay US$ 2,600 per month for our tiny studio. So last year, we choose to move to another neighborhood. Beside that, life here is not really expensive, especially due to the fact that salaries are higher here than France.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates?

I often saw people saying "I want to live in the USA because I went there for a one week vacation and that was nice" or "I watched a lot of US series and movies! I love USA".
Expatriation is a long and hard process. You have to get a visa, which is not the easiest part. They will not give you a visa only because you want to come here.
You should be prepared to see your family only once a year, have some troubles to be understood by the locals, etc. But if you are well prepared and if you have a good project, don't hesitate! Maybe it will take some times to succeed but it's worth it.

What are your plans for the future?

For now, we will stay few more years in the US. We have just obtained our green card this year and we are trying to figure out whether we can stay enough time in the US to become citizen. Maybe in few years, we will move to the east coast to be closer to our family.

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