Veronique Martin-Place is from Lyon, France and has been living in Chicago, USA, since July 2008. She is a writer focusing on topics such as expatriation, education, travel, France and French culture as well as children’s books. Veronique provides freelance writing services such as article writing, editing and book reviews for online magazines, medium and small publishing companies as well as individuals.
More information on expat life in the USA? Read the Expat Arrivals guide here.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Originally I am from France and I was born in Lyon.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am living now in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Q: How long have you been lived here?
A: I have been living here for more than one year and a half.
Q: Did you move with spouse/children?
A: Yes, I moved with my husband and our two daughters.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved because of my husband job. He is a diplomat… and then I am the trailing spouse, who follows from a country to another. As I was bored to find a job and then dismiss every three years (when I was lucky enough to find one or simply allowed to work), I have created my own portable business. I am a writer and editor.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: What I enjoy the most (especially in the summer) is the lakefront, Lincoln Park and the numerous playgrounds and parks that are scattered all around the city. It is very nice to live in a city such as Chicago with children. There are a lot of fun things to do all around the year.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: The winter is a bit long and cold. But I knew it before coming. From time to time I miss the French food and specialties from my home city, Lyon, which is famous for its gastronomy! But I have found good places where to buy French and European food.
Q: Is the city safe?
A: It is advised not to go in the south and west side of Chicago where street violence is high. Otherwise Chicago is rather safe for a US city. For example, you can walk downtown even after 5pm.
About living in Chicago
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: The Chicago neighbourhoods are very numerous and different. Therefore I advise to have a good overview of the city and then choose one or two prospective neighbourhoods where to search. But the most important is to choose to live in the city or in the suburbs. It will have a real impact on your family way of life. Otherwise for expat families, I recommend to live in neighbourhoods such as Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Bucktown. For single expats, I recommend Wrigleyville or downtown. There are so many! If you wish to live in the suburbs, go to the north (Evanston and up north).
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: It is excellent. Coming from Europe, the apartments and houses are huge. It is really impressive.
Q: What is the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: When I said I was going to move to the US, everybody told me, “Don’t buy anything before leaving; it is so cheap in the US.” Actually Chicago is not that cheap! Accommodations for instance are extremely expensive in comparison to Europe. The healthcare is expensive and all the things in relation with children are expensive too: daycare, after-school programs, schools… What is cheap are fuel and electronics items…
Q: What are the locals like? Do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Locals are very nice. Personally I mix with locals and expats. My daughters attend an American school so it is easier to meet locals this way.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, it was easier but it is a very personal point of view. I also think that is cultural. In the US people are more open. For example, I know more people here in Chicago after one year and a half than after spending three years in Nantes, France (our last posting before heading to Chicago)!
About working in Chicago
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No, because I have a visa that allowed me to work. So it was rather easy. Prospective expats and their spouse must be aware of a very important point: being allowed to work in the US depends on your visa. So if you move with your spouse and s/he is willing to work, double check that your visa allows her/him to do so. According to visas, dependants of expats are not all the times allowed to work.
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: Well, in our case, I am the spouse so I can talk a lot about it! It was not difficult to adjust. The most difficult part was to find a job and we arrived when the economic crisis started so it was even harder for me! Finally I decided to create my own business and I am very happy with that. I think it is a good long-term decision.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: They did not speak a word of English when they arrived. So yes the transition was hard. After six months it was better and after a year they are my English advisors! The language was the main issue for them.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: In Chicago, public schools are managed by CPS (Chicago Public School). The level is in the average and it really depends from one school to another. I believe the level of the school depends on the neighbourhood. Be aware that if you go for a CPS school, school boundaries apply. The other option is private schools whose tuition fees are very expensive. There are two kinds of private schools: those with religious obedience and those with none. Here are some schools that expat children attend: the Lycee Francais of Chicago, the British School of Chicago, the Latin School, University of Chicago Lab School, Francis W. Parker School…
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: The healthcare is very good but extremely expensive. You need a very good healthcare insurance.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expats arrivals?
A: I advise to subscribe to a local newspaper such as the Chicago Tribune for instance (but there are others). So you will know what is going on in the city from different angles (politics, economy, arts) but also where to go to shop as there are a lot of ads coming with the newspaper (especially on Sundays).
– Interviewed March 2010