Labour of love: meet the commuters who cross borders
With its beautiful countryside, culture-rich cities and idyllic seaside resorts, France is in many ways an ideal country to live in – but how far would you travel for the privilege? Gillian Harvey discovers the lengths that some people will go to
Two weeks in France … Two weeks in Japan
Neale Cross, 53, Jarnac
WHEN pilot Neale and wife Donna came for a holiday to France in 2010, they had no idea that their spot of rest and relaxation would end up lasting two years.
Originally from Australia, the couple had been living in Japan with their daughters Madison, now 12, and Morgan, now nine.
At the time Neale worked in a “commuting role” in which pilots are given time to return to their home country. This made it possible for him to move his family from Japan to France.
Despite being forced to move back to Japan between 2012 and 2014 when Neale’s contract changed, the family took the first opportunity to return to France when he was again switched to a “commuting role”.
“We love the French lifestyle,” explained Neale, “but I also love my work, and it’s too good to give up.”
Neale currently makes the commute from France to Japan every fortnight, staying in the Far East for two weeks before returning to Europe for a fortnight: “I spend about four days in our house in Okinawa then the rest in hotels when I’m in Japan,” he said.
“Commuting can be tough, but I get to spend a lot of quality time with my family. And I make sure I arrange my leave to coincide with Christmas and birthdays when it’s important for us to be together.”
The family also travel to Japan during school holidays, especially if Neale is unable to travel to France during those times.
Donna, who also used to work as a pilot, now manages holiday home rentals, as well as being the main carer for their daughters.
Despite missing Neale when he is away, she also feels that their current choice is the best one for the family.
“We wanted to settle the girls into one country, and we have all chosen France,” she said.
I travel 11 hours to work so family can live here
Conor O’Gorman, 45, Royan
HEAD greenkeeper Conor and wife Aine, 42, an analyst, moved to the Charente Maritime in October 2009 with their three children, Kelly, now 22, Adam, now 14 and Chloe, now 13.
“We lived in Ireland and were both made redundant,” explained Conor.
“We’d holidayed in France before and had always said we’d love to live here – we took the redundancies as a sign that the time was right!”
However, while the family enjoy life in their chosen country, Conor admitted that finding work has been a struggle.
“I had a contract for a while, which is why we moved to the area we did,” said Conor. “However, when it finished I couldn’t find anything else — work here can be very seasonal.”
Aine started her own property management business in 2012, but Conor was forced to find work further afield.
“A colleague of mine offered me some work on a golf course in Holland and I’ve been there for the past 10 months,” explained Conor.
“I’ve enjoyed it, but with the commute taking about 11 hours door to door, it’s been hard.”
Conor is only able to return to his family home every three to four weeks for a long weekend. “I live on the golf course, and do extra hours to make up the time. I do have holidays, but they need people on site every day.
“It’s nice to travel, but it gets a bit lonely and, of course, I miss the kids and Aine.
“Ideally, I want to get back to working in France and I am looking for a senior position on a reputable course.”
Despite the difficulties of work, the family are glad they have chosen to live in France.
“Work might be a bit scarce, but education and healthcare are both superb here,” said Conor. “It’s not an easy life, but commuting makes living here possible, so it’s worth it.”
I sometimes don't feel part of things here
Ann Wells, 46, Normandy
Agency nurse Ann first arrived in France in 2003 with husband Darren, 48, son Bruce, now 21, and twins Harry and Joe, now 20.
“We were inspired in part by all the TV programmes,” she said.
“First we bought a holiday house in Normandy, then we thought – ‘why not move full time?’.”
While Darren runs a ‘handyman’ business, offering everything from gardening to decorating, Ann travels for a fortnight per month to the UK to work as a nurse.
“I look after people with complex care needs,” she explained.
“They’re often elderly but have chosen to hire help rather than go into a retirement home.”
Despite the fact that she is not a fluent French speaker, Ann has also worked in France, having had her qualifications officially recognised: “I’ve worked in two nursing homes over here,” she said. “But I’ve also commuted to the UK in the past, working for six years as a school nurse.”
Although she enjoys working in the UK, Ann admits there are downsides to commuting to another country. “It is tiring and sometimes I don’t feel part of things over here,” she said. “My French also gets worse when I’ve spent too much time in a non-French environment.”
However, working for a private nursing agency also has its perks. “I was with a couple for about a year, and they were very well off,” she said.
“I spent six weeks working in Sweden during the summer holidays and flew in a private jet!”
She added: “I’m also able to be flexible as to when I work, to a certain extent, so I can be around for Christmas and during school holidays as much as possible.”
Perfect balance of French peace and London buzz
Gerad Kite, 54, Roujan
WHEN acupuncturist Gerad and his partner Johnny, 35, dreamed of escaping the pace and pollution of London while retaining their practice in the capital, they came up with a unique method for choosing their ideal location.
“We decided that we could manage a commute of an hour and three quarters,” said Gerad. “So we literally drew a circumference on a map and drove around that area in a camper van!”
The couple eventually settled on the Hérault department of southern France: “The prices are cheaper, the lifestyle is peaceful,” said Gerad. “There’s also a thriving expat and French community here and lots of people of a similar age so we don’t feel isolated.”
Rather than dreading the commute, Gerad has embraced the private time it gives him, using the hours in the air to write a self-help book.
“Johnny commutes too, but we don’t tend to travel at the same time. I’m in London for four days every two weeks, and he’s there two days every week.”
“We were lucky to find premises in the West End with a living area, which makes everything more affordable.”
As well as working in London the couple also run a training site in France.
“We run residential courses for undergraduates and postgraduates,” said Gerad. “Johnny also practises acupuncture here.”
However, although Gerad loves the peace and quiet that rural France affords, he also enjoys his time in the UK capital.
“I wouldn’t change my lifestyle,” said Gerad. “Living in France but spending a few days in London every fortnight gives me the ideal balance between the tranquility of France and buzz of London.”