Real Life: Moving to Perpignan as a Family


Real life stories

Real Life: Moving to Perpignan as a Family

Lockdown prompted Hannah and Dan Jones to fulfil a long-held ambition to live abroad, and now they’ve found the perfect spot in France, there’s no stopping them…

Hannah, why did you come here?” my French teacher asked me, in French. I’m sat in a mandatory lesson with about 12 other adults, we’re all attending in order to get our visas approved. The world is well represented in the room: Colombia, Sudan, Turkey, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Ukraine. Answering the same question, the people before me have said, “escaping conflict, and to find safety”. This is awkward. What do I say? “For fun? For the cheese? Because England is too rainy.”

People in my village have asked this too. Why did you move to St-Féliu-d’Amont? A tiny village near Perpignan with just one shop and a primary school, a thousand miles from everyone you know? It was a slow process of narrowing down all the places in the world we could move to, until we settled on this obscure village which is actually perfect for us.

I’ve always wanted to travel and before I had children I had an epic adventure, cycling through Europe and the Middle East with my husband Dan. We’ve considered living in loads of countries. I had a gap year in Palestine and was interested in moving to an Arabic-speaking country. We considered Australia or New Zealand; integration would be much easier in an English-speaking nation, but it’s just too far away for family to visit us.

When we had our children- Percy in 2014 and Eric in 2017- our plans were put on the backburner. We just wanted sleep and for our lives to be as simple as possible.


Beach, Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones

Fast-forward to the beginning of the lockdown, we now had two boys out of the baby stage and a lot of time for reflection. Brexit had happened and, while neither of us would have chosen that, we knew we were lucky to still have the freedoms of other Europeans due to the fact that Dan’s mum is French. Like many people during lockdown, Dan’s job became remote. Even when things opened up again he was told there was no need for him to physically be there, which started the thought process of, “if I’m not needed in Liverpool, I could be anywhere, right?” He asked his boss and was told: “It’s not that simple I’m afraid -you know, tax and stuff.”

So he started looking for remote jobs based in Europe. Whenever we’d discussed moving to France, the biggest hurdle was getting a job. Dan speaks good French, but surely they would always pick a 100% French person over him? However, with a remote job, he could start it in England, and move over when we were ready, and we always had the option to come back if it wasn’t working. And we could move anywhere we wanted in France (providing it had good internet). I hardly know anyone who has chosen where they live because it’s nice. Almost everyone lives where they live because they were born there, or they moved there for a job or for a partner.

Dan was offered a fully remote technical writing job with a company based in the Czech Republic. “We’re moving to France!” we excitedly told our families. That night, I stayed up Googling various French cities and booking language lessons. The next night I cried about leaving all my friends and family, a job that I loved (leading art projects in primary schools) and a fun side-line being a comedian on the northwest comedy circuit. This state of flux continued for the next eight months.

It was exciting to have the whole of France to choose from, and we quickly started narrowing it down. I disregarded all of the north because I wasn’t going to learn a whole new language for the weather of Cornwall. I’d rather just move to Cornwall. We wanted to be by the sea, and the Mediterranean seemed to be the best bit. If you’ve ever turned up at a beach and realised there’s actually no beach because it’s high tide, let me recommend the Med. It behaves like a massive lake.

We quickly learnt that the east was much more expensive than the west, which is how we eventually arrived at Perpignan, the furthest west and south you can go along that southern coastline.


Snow- topped Canigou mountain, Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones

Then the big house sort began. Every single item we owned needed a decision on whether it was staying or going. Our bins were overflowing and this led to one moment of madness when I was found aggressively trying to shove a large rusty frying pan into a public bin next to our local bus stop. Another low moment was when I was sat on my sofa reading to my kids when a guy turned up to buy it. Sorry kids. A month before we left, Dan flew over to try and find us a house to rent. Ideally, we would have set up a load of house viewings in advance, but that seemed to be surprisingly difficult. Dan had one full day to find a house. Miraculously, he completed the task by 10am! The second estate agent he visited had a house that had just come on the market and wasn’t yet online. “If you want it, I won’t show it to anyone else,” the estate agent said. Dan couldn’t view it because it was occupied, but it fitted our specifications so he said “yes!”. It all seemed to be coming together. Now we had an address, we could apply for school places for our boys at the local mairie and arrange for our stuff to be shipped.

When moving day finally arrived, it was a bit of an anti-climax – it just involved travelling and waiting around. The exciting bit came the next day. We collected a hire car and drove to our brand-new house, which none of us had ever seen, in a city we had been to for one day three years ago. The sat-nav said, “one minute to go!” but we were on a tiny track in a field. At the end of this road, to the right, were masses of cacti and a perfect view of the snow- topped Canigou mountain to the left. Wow!

We drove past the cacti, over a level crossing and arrived in our tiny village. The estate agent turned up with the key and a few hours later the van arrived with all our belongings. We’d made it, we’d moved to France! What now?


Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones

Every weekend of those first few spring months felt like we were on holiday. We spent a lot of time at the beach and were also surprised at how many local festivals there were in the surrounding villages. The most memorable one was in St-Cyprien, where we watched barrel rollers jumping over moving barrels. It’s the kind of thing two pub employees would invent on their break in a pub car park, except it’s a serious cultural sport. We also saw the ancient art of castelling, or forming a human pyramid of up to six layers.

The summer holiday was the hardest point; seven weeks of trying to entertain the boys without playdates because we didn’t know anyone. It was much hotter than we had expected, too. Some days we went out in the morning and sat by a field and painted the view. We’d spend the rest of the day indoors with the aircon on.

The house is a modern three-bedroom one with a small outdoor space that was only built in 2020. Downstairs is open-plan, and upstairs there are three really good- sized rooms. The boys share a room, which gives us space for a shared office and art studio space. My favourite feature is the electric shutters that fully shut out all light at the touch of a button.

Office space, Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones

The boys, who were seven and four, seemed to settle well into the local school. They were thrilled to discover there’s no school on Wednesdays! They went on quite a few little trips, but Percy’s class was chosen to receive a government-funded three-day ski trip! None of us had ever tried skiing before so this felt like a massive opportunity that would never have happened in England.

They both got involved in sport for the first time. Percy was close to writing off sport, when he discovered a lot of French kids do basketball. In September there’s a kind of freshers’ fair for all ages. All the little towns and villages have stalls advertising the different clubs you can join; sports, drama, dance, art, and so on. We saw a few demonstrations, then Percy signed up for basketball and Eric chose rugby.

In July a slip came through our door inviting us to the village’s Bastille Day celebrations. We turned up in the square as the sun was setting on the 14 July. We had no idea what to expect but, it seemed the whole village was there. We were served fideuà, with giant prawns, a side of bread and cheese, and an apple flan along with several drinks all for free. Then the band started playing and our boys danced with their friends from school. At the end of the night there was a fireworks display.

I miss a lot of things about my old life, but I will always be glad we chose to step out into this unknown adventure.

Bastille Day dinner, Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones


  • If it’s possible to go in person, you’re likely to have more luck.
  • Typically, French rentals are for one year if furnished and three years if unfurnished, so if you want more long-term security, it’s best to go unfurnished.
  • If you don’t have a French guarantor there are companies that can provide that service, for a fee.

The unique mix of legal, financial and tax advice along with in-depth location guides, inspiring real life stories, the best properties on the market, entertaining regular pages and the latest property news and market reports makes French Property News magazine a must-buy publication for anyone serious about buying and owning a property in France.


Lead photo credit : St Feliu D'mont, Photo: Hanna and Dan Jones

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  • Harry Jones
    2024-01-03 09:16:50
    Harry Jones
    Is Perpignan not in the EAST of France?


  • Harry Jones
    2024-01-03 09:14:22
    Harry Jones
    Is Perpignan not in the WEST of France?