Before we went:
If you want to stay longer than 90 days (in a 180 day period) in the 26 European Schengen countries, you need to apply for a long term visa. As a French citizen, I applied for a Passport and then Mark was able to apply for a long-term spouses visa. This required a bit more paperwork and a second trip to the French Consulate in Sydney, for biometric fingerprints and photos. Mark was granted a visa for one year, but once in France, we still have to forward more paperwork to the Immigration Office (OFFI).
Update of our 2013 experience:
We posted the OFFI letter and a few weeks later, Mark was given an appointment to get a chest x-ray and a medical examination, along with an interview with an immigration official. Because he had applied for a spouses visa, it was assumed that he wanted to immigrate to France. This process involves Mark having to obtain 4 certificates (including being able to talk French!). We had to do some quick talking to explain our situation - that we are only here to holiday for 7 months. They were very understanding and issued Mark with all but one certificate, which he had to attend a day course about life in France. Now that he has his certificates, he can now apply to the local council (prefecture) for a renewal. He submitted this paperwork before we left in October 2013. We now await to hear of his appointment in 2014.
Mark attended his appointment at the Prefecture and was issued a 10 year visa. We can now stay as long as we like in Europe.
The main issues for us was luggage allowances and the flexibility to change flight dates, because we were buying Early Bird tickets and we could not book the return date we wanted. Our final choice was Singapore Airlines offering 30kg each check in luggage, 7kg of carry on luggage and unlimited free date changes in the same booking class. The tickets were paid for on a Westpac Platinum Card which offers complimentary 6 month travel insurance!
Update for 2014 and 2015:
Singapore Airlines was great. We are flying with them next year and used our points from this year to reduce our fare by $500.We also got out complimentary travel insurance with the credit card. We have continued to book our flights with Singapore Airlines.
Before we went:
We wanted to buy euros before we left and take advantage of the exchange rate.
Prepaid Cards are the way to go. There are lots to choose from. After comparing fees, we decided on the Commonwealth Travel Card because of an Initial $15 fee and NO reload fees and No fees for inactivity, but it does charge ATM fees.
Credit Cards:We also applied for GE Money 28 Degrees Credit Cards because it has no exchange fees. Great for purchases on the credit card. Please always check the fees as banks change these regularly. Citibank apparently is worth a look due to their good fee structure.
Foreign Bank Account: We needed to pay for the Motorhome with a French Bank Cheque, so we opened a French bank account from Australia so we could transfer the necessary funds before departure! HSBC was the only bank that we could open from Australia for a fee of $200. After reading the experiences of others in opening accounts in France, I think it will be money well spent and a time saver. We also get a Debit Visa Card with the account with free ATM use.
International Fund Transfers: We used Ozforex. They offer competitive rates (saved $3,500 on a 40,000 euros compared to other bank rates) and it is fee free for transfers of over $10,000 (usually $15).
Travel Cards work well but we had issues using the ozforex one (no longer exists) at self pay petrol stations and for Tollways. Its always good to have a backup card or enough cash in the wallet. The HSBC French bank account is great, but it does have a monthly fee of 8eu. It was accepted everywhere and there are no ATM fees. It was also required for direct debit payments for the mobile phone account from SOSH and the motorhome insurance payments.
We joined a few forums: motorhomefacts, routard, French Entree, Le Monde du CampingCar and wildcamping. We bought some camping and Aires books from Vicarious Books and became members of France Passion (free stays at Farms).
Now our main resources for overnight stays are Park4Night and CamperContact. We also follow numerous travel blogs. (see our links page).