AN ERASMUS IN FRANCE: TIPS ON STUDYING IN THE CITY OF LIGHTS
It was about this time last year that I first moved to Paris. I was moving over to work in Disneyland (scroll back far enough and you’ll get the entire insight into it) and hadn’t a clue what to expect from the year ahead.
It was one of the most incredible years of my life and made me realise why I’d chosen to study French law in to begin with. There is no place on this earth like Paris. The city has a character that bursts from every monument, every little cafe tucked into street corners and every mouth-watering patisserie in the place. My year studying in Paris was by no means easy, but certainly worth it.
That said, there’s a lot of things I wish someone had told me before I started out. I felt like my first few months were spent playing catch up on administration simply because I had no idea what I was doing. With this in mind (and now that I’m living in Brussels and finding myself trying to adjust to a whole new city all over again) I’ve decided to put together a post on a few things that might help anyone who is about to start a year of study in Paris or indeed anywhere in France.
How to deal with the CAF grant: Okay so you probably have very little of an idea about this one and to be honest, I still don’t really understand what it’s all about now and I’m finished with it. This one is the most trying of all of your future Parisian administration issues and therefore the one you should definitely start early. Basically, you will need many, many documents before they release the money they owe you. You will need to register online, to show them photocopies of your passport (as well as the real thing), photocopies of your birth cert (some say translate it into French, don’t bother – it’s time consuming and a waste of money), an attestation de domicile, an attestation de scolarité and proof of a French bank account so that they have something to transfer money to. They will not accept an Irish account. It’s not even physically possible – it won’t be acknowledged online so you’ll find yourself in bother from the moment you start out.
So here’s how to deal with CAF!
Attestation de Domicile: From the moment you land in Paris, make sure you get a letter from your landlord saying that you live in Paris and will be living there for a year. This is your attestation de domicile. Make several copies – you’ll need them all.
Setting up a bank account: Now you have to set up a bank account. Everything you do administration-wise from here on in will require one, so it’s important to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
To set up a bank account you need to go in and book an appointment with a member of staff. They’ll tell you what to bring along of course, but usually you have to show proof of address (see? Attestation de domicile needed here!), proof of identity (passport) and proof that you’ll be attending school in France. This is called an attestation de scolarité.
Attestation de Scolarité: This will be given to you on your first day of starting university. The colleges are well used to dealing with Erasmus students so they’ll already have a pack with your documents sorted. Make several copies of this too – you’ll need every one of them again!
So once you have your various attestations photocopied and your bank account set up, you can start registering for CAF. Go to their online site, www.caf.fr and click into the section for students wishing to claim the grant. Even this part is hard to find, so the way it currently is (I’ve just checked!) is to the right of the screen under Accès directe: “Pratique : étudiants, faire en ligne votre demande d’aide au logement“.
After landing into the CAF office, the chances are they’ll make several mistakes or lose documents, so you’ll have to come back about three or four times before you get any money into your account. That’s the frustrating part. They’re also closed every second week, so you’ll have to check if they’re open first via their website.Once you’ve registered and completed your form online, you can print out the necessary documents and go into the CAF office, one which will be located nearby in your area. Note: If you are with BNP you may need to talk to CAF about registering online. Apparently sometimes the website doesn’t recognise the code… it’s easy to fix but incredibly annoying if you don’t know what’s going on.
NB: Mention on your first trip to the CAF office that you are a student but that you are not working in the country. You are an étudiant non-salarié. Apparently the CAF document online automatically assumes you’re working there so double check when you go into the office. It’ll save you a lot of grief later (trust me, I speak from extensive experience).
Alright I’ll move on from CAF. I wish you the best of luck with your CAF endeavours. I can’t stress enough how important it is to register online early though – CAF backdates i.e. you’ll get a backlog of money owed to you once you make it through all the obstacles the office throws your way, but these only kick in from the moment you register online. There’s a few theories about this one, some say they backdate to the date you begin your rent, but just to be sure you don’t get caught out, get on it early.
Oh and once you’ve CAF, you also get an Erasmus grant too. Most universities sort this out for you which is a relief!
Now that I’ve talked about bank accounts and grants, I’m going to write about keeping connected – mobile phone contracts and student transport cards! Oh the joys of more admin work…
Most of the French networks make you join bill pay and a lot of my friends who joined networks other than Sosh ended up getting large phone bills with secret added on costs for going over their limits. Just a heads up! Oh and cancelling the contracts are easy – most websites will have an online webchat option with their customer service and they’ll let you cancel from the moment you explain that you’re an Erasmus student leaving the country!Mobile phone contracts: To set up a mobile phone, your best bet is to go into Orange and buy a cheap phone or bring over one that is unlocked. There’s a network called sosh.fr and they’re ran by Orange but it is a super cheap network for students where you can buy a phone and sim card all online for about €40. They’ll charge you 5 euro a month, but you’ll get free texts and a few hours of calls to anyone in France.
NB for mobile phone contracts – you’ll need your attestations, your passport (bizarrely enough) and proof of your bank account. You get a pack from your bank with mini attestations (I know, more of the same) which’ll serve their purpose for things like this!
Student Navigo transport card: This is your transport card and you’ll use it to get on metros, buses and RER trains around the city. It’s free for students to travel anywhere at the weekends too with the pass, which is great for getting out to the airport, etc! Basically this one is easier than CAF but not to be taken for granted either. You can pick up a student Navigo form at any train station info desk and fill it out and send off. It requires the usual attestations and passport photos. That’s another thing I’d recommend actually – bring any spare passport photos you have to France with you. They’re cheap enough to get out there, but your university, your Navigo card and a few other things will require them.
The Navigo will take money out of your account every month so again, you need a French bank account. You can cancel it easily by sending off a letter at the end of your time in France (30 days before you want to stop paying) but it’s better to get it early because the last three months of your 12 month contract are free, so you may find that you can’t benefit from the extra months because you’ll be off home. Fill the form out very carefully too – the Navigo card crowd are notorious for taking weeks to send you back your card, and if you get your application sent back for a stupid error, you’ll have to wait longer again for it to come. Meanwhile you’ll be paying full price for trains and buses… not fun.
This post has gotten very long and I don’t want to bore people too much, so I’ll stop here. It’s just something that I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while but never really found time!
Another few tips include booking flights home early (the prices sky-rocket the closer you get to the holidays, and yes, you’ll want to head home for most of them), work is plentiful in Irish pubs or through babysitting (French families love to hire English babysitters to teach their children another language), many universities have French students who want to improve their English so it’s very easy to set up coffee groups where you speak half and half in French and English (win win) and finally the most important piece of advice I can give is to do something new or something touristy every week.
When I first landed I thought I had plenty of time to see all the sights and soak in Paris, but with study and nights out you find that these things can get a little pushed to the side. I ended up leaving quite a bit to my last week in Paris and although it was a lovely send off, I tried to see things during peak tourist time and didn’t get the same Parisian experience that I had throughout the year.
Anyway, have a ball. Enjoy every bit of your Erasmus in France and I hope you have an incredible year. Take many photos, drink plenty of wine and have a croissant or pain au chocolat at every opportunity.
If anyone ever has any questions, please do message me – my details are all up on this site. I’d be more than happy to help! Even if you think it’s a stupid question. In fact, especially so.