Guide for English Language Assistants in France
Part 1: The
Application | Acceptance E-Mail | Waiting
Part 2: Figuring out your Arrêté de Nomination | Obtaining your Visa
Part 3: Packing & Bringing Money | Arriving: The Paperwork Nightmare
Part 4: Teaching Tips & Lesson Plans | Vacations: Travelling
Part 5: Before Leaving France | Staying in France: Renewing, PACSing, Unemployment
If you'd like to skip ahead to the page of useful documents and links, click here. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail.com. Also try searching the assistantsinfrance.com forums, as most of your questions have probably already been answered there. This page refers to the American application process and the French Embassy in Washington D.C., so if you are not American, your country will have different procedures, deadlines and contact people.
I started writing this guide in May 2006 when I learned that I’d be teaching English at the secondary level in the académie of Grenoble (city of Annecy) for 7 months through the French Embassy of the United States. This is a chronological journal of my experience beginning with the application process. If you are interested in teaching English in France, please visit the French Culture Website for the current application for American citizens. The application is available in October and the deadline is in January. About 1,500 positions are available each year.
In order to qualify for this program, you must:
- be an American citizen or permanent resident and already have your passport at the time of application (however, as of 2010 American-French dual citizens are NO LONGER eligible to apply though other EU-American citizens are still eligible),
- must have completed the majority of your elementary, secondary and university studies in the United States or in American institutions,
- be a native speaker of English,
- be between the ages of 20 and 30 as of October 1,
- have completed 2 years of university by October 1 or already have a degree, and
- have a basic proficiency in French (3 semesters in college or level B1) and/or lived abroad in a Francophone country if you do not have a university major or minor in French. (Students from all fields of study are encouraged to apply, however please note that all applicants should demonstrate good French-language skills as well as an interest in education.)
- pay a $40 application fee by debit or credit card online.
You will spend 7 months in France (or the overseas départements) teaching English 12 hours a week and you will receive a salary of about 780 € a month (after health insurance is taken out) if you are placed in mainland France or Corsica, about 1,000 € if you are placed in Martinique, Guadeloupe, or French Guiana, and about 1,200 € if you are placed in La Réunion.
I would recommend doing this
program while you are still a student in college, especially if you
are under 25, because there are so many discounts for young people
in Europe. But if you do wait until you graduate, you can try to defer
your student loans until you get back. You will need to talk to the
financial aid office at your university about this, but you may qualify
for an Economic
Hardship deferment if you can prove that you make less than a certain amount.
This program is also open to native speakers of English from several countries – however, the number of positions for each country varies greatly. The qualifications and requirements may be different for each country as well, so if you are not American, check with your local French Embassy. Below are links to the assistant specific pages for the other anglophone countries as well as the approximate number of positions available.
- Canada : 300
- United Kingdom : 1,200
- Ireland : 60
- Australia : 65
- New Zealand : 40
- India : 50
- Jamaica and the Bahamas
Citizens of South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, and Barbados are also eligible, but I could not find any pages on the assistantship program on the embassy websites. The official CIEP site has applications for these countries, but the deadline dates are not specified.
There are also official teaching assistant programs for Americans to teach English in Spain, Austria, Finland as well as through the Fulbright Program, and several programs for UK residents to teach English in 20 countries through the British Council.
Things to Know
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.
- 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.
As of July 1, 2008, all EU citizens, except those of Bulgarian or Romanian citizenship, were granted 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!