Moving to France for almost a year is quite an experience. This program
is a great way to spend time in France without having to work or study
full time (and get paid to be there!) However, there are a lot of things
about this program that you should know before you apply and accept
your position, especially if you're not an EU citizen.
First of all,
you may or may not receive your paperwork from France on time, which
would delay your getting a visa (and you MUST get a visa, but it's free).
In most cases, you must go to the French consulate to get your visa
- you cannot get it by mail; and therefore, you must pay for transportation
to the consulate as well as lodging if it's far from where you live.
(Click here to
see which consulate serves your permanent address.) And of course, you
must pay for your own plane ticket to France.
You may have to find housing
when you arrive, or it may be provided for you by your school. If your
school decides to not help you find housing, it may be very stressful
for you to find a place to live as well as expensive if you have to stay
in a hostel for a while. You will have to open a bank account in order
to be paid, and you must register with the Office of Immigration shortly after your
arrival. In order to do so, you need to have a medical visit, which will be scheduled for
you. The medical visit is mostly a chest X-ray and they will also check
your weight, height and eyesight. (However, American women should be
warned that you will not be given anything to cover up with during the
chest X-ray - you really do have to walk around topless). British and
Irish assistants don't need to register with the Immigration office or have the medical
exam because they are already residents of the EU.
Success in this program depends more on luck than preparation, because
it's really up to your school to help you or not. You could arrive in
France with no clue how to use public transportation, no place to live
and no one to help you, so you need to be prepared for the worst. You
need to have a lot of money saved before going to France too. If you
rent an apartment instead of living at your school or living with French
people, you will most likely need two month's rent as a security deposit,
which might exceed 1,000 €. Plus you might not get paid
for your first month of work until November, depending on when your paperwork goes through.
Finding an apartment is
also extremely difficult if it's hard for you to speak French on the
phone, or if you don't even speak French that well. Some people will
be patient with you and talk slower, but others won't even care if you
don't understand them. I do recommend this program to people, but I
also think it's important to know about the stressful things that could
happen. I was homeless for a while when I first arrived in France, and
completely miserable, but as soon as I found a place to live, everything
turned out great. If you can survive the first week or two of finding
housing, opening a bank account and filling out mounds of paperwork,
then you will be fine for the rest of the year. Plus you will be paid
780 € a month to work only 12
hours a week (and possibly even less than that), including seven weeks of
Renter's insurance is a legal requirement in France, so make sure you sign a contract with an insurance company or your bank. In many cases, you will have to get insurance before you can even sign a lease for an apartment. If you are renting a room in someone's house or apartment or living in foyer, you will need to make sure to take out the insurance on your own because it's unlikely that anyone will remind you about it - and you do not want to lose everything if there is a fire or someone steals your stuff. I paid 95€ a year for my one bedroom apartment in Chambéry, with the furniture and everything else I own valued at a maximum of 15,000€.
France offers assistance to people with low incomes, so you may get extra money each month from CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales). I was paying 280€ to rent a room in an apartment, but I received 160€ each month (minus the very first month) from CAF, so it made life a little easier. But as with everything in France, it takes time for the paperwork to go through, so even if you do receive CAF, it might not be until a month or two before you're scheduled to return home! Other sources of extra income are babysitting and giving private English lessons. I did both and managed to make an extra 140€ per month. Assistants are allowed to get a second job as long as it is approved by the school and the salary is not more than 30% of the assistant salary but good luck getting all the paperwork approved...
Assistants do not make enough money to have to declare income tax (it is not a pay-as-you-earn scheme like in the US), but there is another tax that you might have to pay: the taxe d'habitation. This is basically an occupancy tax on the apartment that you are renting on January 1st (as long as you signed a lease and are not subletting or just renting a room in a person's apartment), but it is not due until October/November of the same year. For most assistants, that means you will receive the bill at your permanent address in your home country after returning from France. This tax can be more than one month's rent, but you won't know the exact amount until you receive the bill. The amount varies depending on the city where you live, how big your apartment is, your income, etc. For a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Annecy, my taxe d'habitation was 550€ and in Chambéry, it was even higher at 736€.
Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to this
program, but I do believe this is the best way to live abroad and I
am glad I decided to do it.
All EU citizens, except those with
Croatian citizenship, have full working rights in
France. If you are an EU citizen, or have dual nationality with an EU state,
then you do not need to obtain a visa in order to enter France legally
and you do not need to register with the Office of Immigration once you are in France.
In short, life in France will be very easy for you!
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