This is part of a series of articles about the final days of preparing for moving to France and what happens when you get here. This is the first of two promotional series launching our new book, 29 Days to France, a book that all the writers wish they had had before we started our French adventures. It’s now available for preorder, and those preorders come with a free 15-minute Q&A personal session about your French immigration plans. Click here to learn more.
Vince was someone I met first as a visa consulting client who has come to be a friend and now, writer for TAIP. You will find he takes our blog in a more personal direction than we may have previously gone here, and I think that’s a good thing, and a sign of more to come, not just from Vince, but from all of us. -SH
I’d been considering a move from Los Angeles to Paris since Autumn 2016, but through the years, I got sidetracked by one thing or another. Still, it was a fifty-plus year odyssey, all somehow interconnected to finally get to this point…
The Origin Story
I was born in Flushing, New York, in 1969. My heritage is Filipino but for years, I regarded that as a technicality that burdened my existence. I was the stereotypical red, white, and blue American kid, engrossed in girls, sports, video games, movies, and American pop music. I even went to West Point for college for an intense immersion into historic American leadership and subsequently served in the Army for a short stint, until I settled into Hollywood as an assistant director, running film sets, overseeing the logistical planning and execution of making movies and TV series.
Meritocracy was my religion. I was deeply convinced that passion and dedication would result in the realization of my American dreams as advertised; that my brown skin and ethnicity would be non-factors.
All my life, while I had glimpses into accomplishing my dreams — what I affectionately called chasing greatness — I’d find a way to sabotage those dreams, whether it was by pushing the rules of the system, chasing love, not completing personal projects, alienating people by pushing them too hard, or perhaps, innocently making an impish comment at the wrong time for a cheap laugh.
Especially compared to my contemporaries, I felt like a failure. Was my own brain and growing up Filipino the hindrance to myself?
Since I was ten, whether through friends, sports coaches, therapists, psychiatrists, or life/career coaches, I looked to outside sources for support to fill the gaps in my manhood whether it be gathering knowledge, repairing my behavioral flaws, or improving my emotional intelligence.
My family didn’t nurture me. My dad was more interested in horse racing and not feeling emasculated while my mother and sister were more inclined to let Jesus take the wheel than solve complex problems or learn the intricacies of the human condition.
In 2012 I felt I was headed on a path of mediocrity. I plummeted into depression. Rather than have anyone be sucked down into my darkness, it was easier for all parties concerned that I isolate myself to fight my fight, which included breaking up with my fiancée Julia in April 2016. I often thought of suiciding to relieve the pain — for me and my loved ones.
Katia, an old friend from Paris who was vacationing in L.A. with her family, invited me over their Malibu Airbnb for an evening soirée. I was still in my own mental quarantine, but I dragged myself out because anything can happen when Katia is involved. We were drinking a nice Bordeaux when she casually mentioned, “My Paris apartment is opening up in July. Might you know anyone interested in a short-term or long-term rental?”
“Who among my friends might be interested, able, and daring enough to live in Paris for three months?” I pondered. Then, my eyes got big….and on a whim, I said:
“I’ll take it.”
Ici c’est Paris
From July through September 2016, I lived on the east side of Paris, in the 20th Arrondissement, surrounded by an eclectic culture of hipster Parisiens and immigrants from various North African countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. American tourists weren’t generally coming to the 20ème, so I became a local quite quickly. I spoke French as much as possible, forcing myself not to be subconscious about making mistakes.
By the kindness of existing friends and strangers who became close friends, I experienced a bonafide joie de vivre — a pure joy for life — in all of Paris’ distinct neighborhoods.
Dikran, a Lebanese-Armenian immigrant who spoke five languages, walked me all over Madeleine through Strasbourg Saint-Denis. Andrea and I darted through the streets of Montmartre down to Opéra on his scooter. Alex led me deep into the rabbit holes of the Pigalle nightlife. I picnicked with Nico and Solène at Jardin du Luxembourg, where everywhere in the garden, I saw pockets of genuine community. I played tennis with Thomas in the terre battue of the courts in Montreuil. At Closerie des Lilas, I enjoyed some Sancerre with Hemingway’s ghost where he told me, “Take the time to fall into whatever cracks and crevices happen in front of you and see how it changes your work.” The Cinémathèque Française in Bercy rekindled my love for French cinema, inspiring me to seek artists interested in making daring and genuinely personal kind of stuff, not the types seeking fame or Hollywood significance, like I was surrounded by in Los Angeles. I even directed a short film about love in Paris as an experiment to express my authentic voice.
I acquired a love for getting lost. As someone whose life’s work relied on efficiency and execution, taking the wrong path steered me to discover little gems such as the gorgeous doors in Le Marais or the intimate bar Le Lapis in the 2ème.
I learned the essence of c’est la vie. It was not, how we Americans view this cliché: “Welp, that’s life, I guess I have to suck it up,” shrugging our shoulders to tolerate the misery, but rather, “This is life. Even walking up seven flights of stairs every day is part of it,” with the point punctuated by inhaling a cigarette and a sip of wine.
As music is my church, in two subsequent 2018 Paris trips for concerts by U2, Arcade Fire, and Ben Harper, I was captivated by the Parisiens’ love for music, an energy that vibrated higher than at L.A. concerts.
After my initial 2016 trip, L.A. was exponentially becoming less my close-knit hometown, mutating more into an unrecognizable sprawl of people elbowing each other to snatch higher stations in life; confused with what to do, what to wear, where to be, how to be, and who to know. All of it was a monolith of noise. I yearned for the soul of Paris. Permanently.
Moving to another continent, however, felt intimidating. How does an American even legally immigrate to France? What could I do for work? Could I get a bank account without being fluent in French? Could I play tennis in the winter? What about my cat Maddey? Daunted, I returned to my regularly scheduled programming until answers emerged. The years flew by.
A few notable events shaped my path between Paris 2016 and August 2021: I suffered a two-hour mini-stroke in 2017; I discovered my true personality (INFJ) from the Myers-Briggs test; I worked on a few more meaningless TV shows, one of which prompted me, a day before my 50th birthday, to attempt suicide. (I wasn’t successful.) Upon the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, I came to the realization as a Filipino-American, that I had been drinking the kool-aid of the American Dream my whole life. A sublime butterfly moment in Costa Rica (which I’ll talk about in a future article) jolted me into making the resolution to move to Paris by the end of 2020.
Plot Twists in a Time of Love and Covid
But when February 2020 began, a long-forgotten crush named Sarah found me and we quickly fell in love. Paris took a back seat again, because while she loved the idea of moving to Paris with me, she had never traveled outside of the United States; knowing how tough Paris could be for an American, I thought we’d start with Sarah’s first Paris trip to see how they would get along.
Then we went into lockdown. Paris was canceled indefinitely. Not all was lost, however; the global pause allowed me to develop my coaching practice, Stay on Your Path, which became the solution to making money in Paris. I spent all of 2020 beta-testing my program while Sarah and I waited for the pandemic to subside.
Meanwhile, I intended to reconcile my estranged relationship with my 75-year-old mom but in January of 2021, a massive stroke got to her before I did. She was immediately rendered unresponsive, and I painfully watched her lie in bed for months, barely human, until her passing in July. I was deeply traumatized by how things ended between us, that for much of 2021, I was not my best self.
In April 2021, Sarah broke up with me. I precipitated the situation with some asinine behavior, but in connecting those dots with other selective dots about our relationship on a global level (not incorporating dots that were integral to my narrative), she was done. I reacted with venom, spurred by my abandonment issues, which were already triggered in full tilt by mom’s stroke.
It was a tumultuous first half of 2021…but this unfortunate series of events became the catalyst that reignited my Paris dream into reality. I started to draft a plan…
Paris, I Am Finally Coming
Fully aware that any Paris flat would be a third smaller than a two-car parking garage, I planned to compress my 52-year-old life into five medium-sized boxes. But out of five decades worth of stuff — books, files, photos, memorabilia, a massive comic book collection, DVDs, CDs, clothes, and such — what would make the cut?
I hired an organizer to help me purge. I held yard sales and online sales which were part revenue-generating, part pop-up museum, part exorcism, part wake, and celebration of life. The stories behind every item unpredictably triggered me and cathartically so.
An acquaintance named Jimmy showed up at one of the yard sales and introduced me to a book called Foolproof Visas, serendipitously facilitating the next tangible step in my Paris move.
I assumed from old wives’ tales and past experiences dealing with French bureaucracy that getting my French visa would be out-of-reach complicated. Cajoled by Foolproof Visas and the marketing campaign about the author’s online course called Franceformation, and also assured that her approach to prepare my application was virtually guaranteed, (no way was I staying in America for another three to six months to re-start the process), in June, I signed up on the spot and sent her 1900 €.
I found her program courses crude and confusing. Seeking clarification was difficult to come by. I’d soon discover that there were many before me who had similar experiences.
Lacking confidence in her intel’s accuracy, I had to fight through my disdain for doing mundane research and forced myself to obsessively peruse the internet as well as post questions on the Facebook expat pages; these were all things that I had wanted to avoid by purchasing her program. An expat named Virginia led me to TAIP, where the blog entries not only proved incredibly valuable, but the information was FREE.
In July, I made the leap and secured a visa appointment to submit my paperwork for a profession libérale visa. I wanted a September 24 appointment, but December 7th was the only date available, so, all logistics considered, I earmarked the end of January 2022 for my flight to Paris, which was six months out.
Forced into action, I set out to pursue the myriad of required documents. I spent hours writing a business plan for my coaching practice complete with modest projections and a SWOT analysis. I sought proof that I had potential sources of income in France. I obtained a background check from the FBI to verify my clean record. I obtained travel insurance. The whole process was anxiety-inducing.
Not only was I paranoid that I was handling it all wrong, I was also nursing a broken heart, and having already postponed my dream for a year and a half, six more months rotting in L.A. felt like an eternity.
I was, in fact, still emotionally and mentally unsettled about leaving. I was reluctant to release myself from secure (and hard-earned) opportunities of the present in exchange for vague (and uncertain) opportunities of the future, particularly as a fifty-two-year-old, brown-skinned Filipino-American male plunging long-term into a new culture with its own rules and language. Money was a serious concern in particular, having weaned myself from the film business to focus on my fledgling coaching practice.
To add to my endless checklist, I also needed to get my cat Maddey to Paris. An EU-compliant chip and a current rabies certificate were required as part of the USDA requirements of Maddey’s health certificate, the validity of which was tied to a ten-day window within my actual flight, the date of which was tied to the approval of my visa, the date of which was tied to both my appointment and to the whims of the French Consulate.
I started doing mock run-throughs with Maddey in my car to prepare her for a long twenty-hour day in her carrier and her first-ever plane flight.
With six months to go, I started my Goodbye L.A. Tour, meeting old friends while simultaneously paying homage to my favorite L.A. haunts while introducing them to my French homie Antoine, a Parisien who recently moved to Los Angeles from Paris (via Shanghai). Antoine would rapid-fire French at me, giving me moments of oh merde, it’s serious now.
I crammed in as much French as possible, anxious that I wasn’t acquiring French fast enough to be capable of deftly handling the French administration upon arrival. I read L’Equipe and Slate.fr articles; I’d listen to a podcast called Little Talk in Slow French and watched Dix Pour Cent episodes in French subtitles to refine my listening and pronunciation skills.
A month after booking my initial appointment, I checked the VFS site again to see if more dates were available, and voila, September 24 was possible!
It was time to batten down the hatches. Instead of four months, I now had only a month to assemble all my documents before my visa appointment, and, assuming my visa would be approved, only two more months to tie every single loose end before my new life – my authentic path – would finally begin. I was already feeling quite raw, and now, an emotionally and logistically tumultuous period loomed ahead as Paris was becoming very real.
Photo was of me and my mother on Mother’s Day 2021.
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