August 23, 2010
Somewhere in France
I’ve spent the weekend exploring a wonderful place in the south of France that definitely has something for everyone.
I recognize that there are a lot of people interested in expatriation… but they’re picky. Maybe they don’t feel safe in some countries, don’t want to deal with poverty or infrastructure challenges in others, etc. In short, they want something that looks and feels just like home.
If this sounds like you, then Sophia Antipolis in the south of France is one possible solution for you. I spent some time there over the weekend looking at housing, schools and generally trying to get a handle on the quality of life for expats; specifically, I had those with families in mind.
To give you an idea of geography, Sophia Antipolis is a village nestled between the snowy Alps and the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea northwest of Antibes. This is one of the largest cities on the French Riviera.
The surrounding area is probably one of the most international places I’ve ever been… and if you’ve ever spent a few weeks’ vacation in the Côte d’Azur, you know that the Mediterranean coastline along the south of France is absolutely gorgeous.
Just a 20-minute drive from the seaside resort of Cannes, which has 320 days of sunshine each year, Sophia Antipolis is first-world with great infrastructure and technology, but with the charm that comes with so many smaller European cities.
To put it mildly, it’s just as modern, quaint, and sophisticated as Zurich, Chicago, or Vancouver. The weather is spectacular, the scenery is gorgeous, and the local culture is vibrant.
Most of all, the region is flourishing with English speaking expats numbering in the tens of thousands. Sophia Antipolis was designed to be France’s version of Silicon Valley in a way– the government figured that global knowledge workers and professionals would flock to a beautiful place with great weather.
They were right. Today, Sophia Antipolis is home to about 1200 institutions and enterprises that are on the cutting edge of technology. Prominent companies such as HP, IBM, Accenture, Infineon, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, and Orange have large operations in Sophia Antipolis, and employees hail from 60+ countries.
While I always think people should learn the language if they’re moving somewhere, you could probably do just fine for the rest of your life in this area and never learn a single word of French.
I met many British nationals, and there is a vibrant community of expats from all around the world, making it easy to build English-speaking relationships.
The city attracts many young people and feels like something of a mix between Silicon Valley and a college town like Berkeley or San Diego. Thousands of students attend the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, and if you’re a skilled worker there are employment opportunities at the firms in the area.
For those with families, I can’t stress enough how great the lifestyle is. Schools are spectacular, based on the British system, and there are a lot of great activities for children– Sophia is even bordered by a large national park, and it’s within a half-hour of the Nice airport.
Speaking of which, I should mention transportation options; even if you travel a lot like me, it’s a great place to be. The airport in Nice, for example, has more than 100 destinations in 33 countries… so getting around is not a problem.
So what’s the drawback? It ain’t cheap, at least nominally. Make no mistake, the south of France is not Ecuador or Indonesia.
On a value-adjusted basis, however, I find the cost of living in the area to be quite reasonable once you factor in the cleanliness, fabulous quality of life, culture, and weather. This is definitely expatriation without any sacrifices.