5 Things To Know Before Studying in France

Today marks my one month anniversary of arriving in France, so to celebrate I wanted to pen down some things that I think would have been helpful to know ahead of time. These are all things you tend to discover as you go through the visa process in France, but knowing about them when you first start applying can save you serious time and even money. 

1. Make sure your credit/debit card works in France

It's important to do some online research and make sure your card works in France, as applying for a French bank account once arriving is a lengthy process. 

It takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks to get your bank card, and that's assuming there were no issues with your paperwork. From what I've seen, VISA and Mastercard are the most common cards accepted here in France, but keep in mind for some cards you may pay some conversion fees each time you use them. I've encountered some people who were unable to use their debit cards once arriving in France and had to wait a month or longer before they could actually purchase things, surviving on what little cash they brought. 

My advice is to open up a travel credit card that doesn't charge you conversion fees; I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This is a great way to build credit and avoid being charged extra for each purchase. 

Please note that AMEX is not accepted in most shops/restaurants within France. If you use AMEX, you're better off leaving your card at home.

2. Beware -- The Visa Process is Exhausting

France is the land of administrative difficulties, and this really shows during the visa process. To use my own experience as an American applying for a student visa as an example, I was stuck in a vicious cycle: I needed an apartment to secure my visa, as one is required to submit proof of accomodation, however I needed a titre de sejour (residence permit) to apply for VISALE. VISALE helps students get a garant, which is essentially a guarantee claiming responsibility for your rental agreement. Without this 99% of people will not rent to you.

The trick? You don't get a titre de sejour until AFTER being granted the visa. 

Therefore, I needed a document to get my apartment that I wasn't able to get until after already getting my visa. However, as we established previously, I couldn't get a visa without sending proof of accomodation.

Loops like this are incredibly common and frustrating. 

3. Apartment Hunting is Hard

After reading #2, you may be wondering "Well how do I get an apartment?". After applying to over 50 different places, I have some tips that will help you secure a nice place, with or without a garant.

My first tip is to figure out the lingo. French apartment posts are all quite similar, so you'll see the same words used again and again. 

Here are some words to know when looking up an apartment:

gas heating -- chauffage au gaz

rent -- loyer

renter -- locataire

washer (clothes) -- lave-linge

furnished -- meublé

suitemate style shared living spaces -- coloc (colocation)

My second tip is to use Facebook. There are many expat Facebook groups with people moving in and out constantly, meaning you're likely to find an array of places that are already used to dealing with foreigners. Not only that, but I've found the prices are quite fair, and the person moving out sometimes has goods that they need to get rid of that can be useful for furnishing your first place.

I used another website, Leboncoin, to find my apartment and it was a struggle to find a landlord willing to rent to me since I was not French. The next time around I'm going to go straight to Facebook!

4. Make copies of everything

This is a point I'm sure you've seen many times on forums and other blog posts, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to have multiple copies of your documents. I have a copy of all my school registration documents on both my laptop and a USB, just in case. It is not uncommon for your documents to be 'lost' by the administrative services in France, so make copies of your copies and have everything accessible in an instant. 

I like to keep most of my documents electronic and have a file folder of things that were handed to me on paper.

5. Check the voltage of your electronics

Chargers in Europe are quite different from the US. They are two pronged with a hole at the top and have a much higher voltage. The standard voltage in France is 230V, while American voltage is 120V, meaning you will likely need a voltage converter for devices like hair dryers, straighteners, etc.

If you are really attached to your devices and would not want to purchase another in France, there are many different types of converters sold online that can adjust the voltage. 

I personally got some off Amazon that allowed me to plug my American devices into a French socket. I have not seen many converters being sold in stores here, so I advise that you order in advance and pack some before you arrive. Keep in mind not all converters adjust the voltage, some only change the plug style, so be on the lookout and know the voltage of your electronics before arriving.