Make a few copies of all of your documents and your ID & credit cards
(in case they get stolen). Leave one copy at home with your parents, and
put your copy in a different suitcase as your originals. These are the
official documents you will definitely need to bring with you:
Passport with Long-Stay Visa
OFII Form stamped by the consulate that issued your visa
Certified copy of birth certificate (No more than 3 months
Official French translation of birth certificate (You can get this
done cheaper in France, or you might not even need it at all)
Arrêté de Nomination
Any other documents your académie sent you (make sure you
have the address and phone number of your school!)
Birth Certificate: If you need to give a copy of your birth certificate (when applying for social security, for example), it will probably need to be less than 3 months old. You should order another certified copy of your birth certificate
from your county clerk before leaving for France in order to avoid having to do so once you are in France. You may or may not need it, but it is better to have it just in case.
If you want to
get translations done in France, you can go to the Mairie (or l'Hôtel
de Ville) in your city and ask for a list of official translators, or
American Embassy's list of certified
translators. If none of them are close to you, you can mail your
birth certificate recommandé (registered) or some translators
will work with just a copy of your birth certificate.
Personally, I needed a certified
copy of my birth certificate that was less than 3 months old and a translation
into French (but not official) for my carte de séjour (which new assistants will no longer be getting!) and I needed just
a plain copy of my birth certificate and a translation into French (but
again, not official) for social security.
Other documents/papers/cards to bring:
Hostel reservations (if needed)
Directions from airport to hostel/orientation/city, etc.
Debit and credit cards
International Student ID Card / Your university student ID (you will
be eligible for student discounts in France too)
Proof of health insurance (if you don't have the ISIC)
Vaccination records (for your medical visit - but most places don't
Teaching materials (the Carnet also gives some suggestions about teaching
materials to bring and your school may ask you to bring some things
too), such as:
Maps of US and your state/city
Pictures of family, friends, high school, Thanksgiving, other "typical
Newspapers, magazines, catalogs, ads
Yearbook (or a few pages copied from it)
Flashcards for pronunciation, info on US states, etc. (I found cheap
ones at Barnes & Noble in the children's section)
You should make some sort of accomodations for when you first arrive
as well, such as youth hostels or foyers,
if you don't already have a place to live so that you will have a definite
place to go when you leave the airport or train station.
Bringing Money: Try to bring a debit or credit card
so you can withdraw euros from an ATM and have some cash to deposit into
a French account. Keep in mind that most banks will only allow you to
withdraw $300 (about 220 €) a day, so if you need more money than
that right away, you may have a problem. You can talk to your bank and
try to get this limit raised. Every time you withdraw money in France,
you will be charged a service fee for using a different ATM (usually $1.50)
and an international fee (1% of the total amount). If you plan on bringing
traveler's checks, make sure you get them in Euros and not US dollars.
Some French banks don't really know what to do with traveler's checks
in dollars. You might also want to get a letter from your bank stating
that you have sufficient funds to support yourself in France (some French
banks might want this before they'll let you open an account, but I don't
think it's necessary - you can always go to another bank.) You probably
shouldn't deposit most of your money right away because it can take 10
days to get your carte bleue as well as your PIN, and you won't
be able to get any money out of your account until then.
Transferring Money: You could try an international bank
transfer if you are putting a lot of money into your French account (you
will have to pay a fee at both banks though - usually more than $30 AND
30 €), but if you only plan on putting 100 € in your French
account to start out, then it's not really worth it. Another option for
large amounts of money is XEtrade.
Their rates and fees are usually better than using banks, but you do need
to have a lot of documents ready to send to them as well as make a phone
call verifying your account info.
For smaller amounts (such as 500€),
you could use Paypal. You can open
two Paypal accounts, one connected to your American bank account and one
connected to your French bank account. Then simply Send Money from your
American Paypal account to your French one, choosing Euros as the currency
and Service/Other for the reason. The only fee for this is 5 € which
is taken out of the total sent to your French account. Depending on if
the funds are coming directly from your American bank account or being
billed to an American credit card (whichever you have linked to your American
Paypal account), this can take a few days to complete. And once the funds
arrive in your French Paypal account, you have to transfer them to your
French bank account, which can also take a few days.
Paypal accounts connected to French bank accounts can also add a foreign bank account, but the opposite is NOT true for Paypal accounts connected to American banks. It may be a simpler option to simply open a Paypal account with your French bank, then add your American bank account and "send" money between the two by using Paypal's currency converter. The exchange rate is slightly worse than what you will find on xe.com but it is the easiest way to transfer money. Keep in mind though that Paypal accounts connected to European Union bank accounts have a yearly limit (on how much money you can receive) of 2500€ so you will not be able to send a large amount of money through Paypal.
In Your Suitcases: I wouldn’t recommend buying
new clothes before you leave, especially since you will want to pack
light. I would recommend buying more socks and
underwear though (I brought almost a 30 day supply), so that you won’t
have to do laundry as often. Buy some space bags so you can vacuum the
air out of them to make more room in your suitcases. Bring travel size
bottles of bathroom stuff, like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc.
because you can buy normal size bottles when you get there (and still
use the small bottles for when you travel throughout Europe). Put ID tags
on the inside and outside of every piece of luggage. Most major airlines
today only allow 50 pounds in the two suitcases that you check in, but
you probably don't want to bring that much with you anyway since you'll
have to carry it all yourself. If you plan on using the low-cost airlines
in Europe, make sure to check their weight restrictions because they don't
allow very much luggage.
Adaptors/Voltage: If you are bringing electronic equipment
that needs to be plugged in, such as a laptop, mp3 player, digital camera,
etc., you will need to check if they can handle the higher voltage in
Europe. Look at the transformer and make sure it says something like AC
100 - 240 V. If it says this, you will only need a plug adaptor for Europe.
If it only says 100 V, then you will need a voltage converter in addition
to the plug adaptor. For other electric equipment, such as hair dryers
or straighteners, you will most likely need a voltage converter as well
since the majority of American ones are only 110 V. It is possible to
find dual voltage hair dryers (I found mine at Target for $17), but you
might want to just wait until you get to France and buy a cheap hair dryer
there. If you plan on travelling to the UK, Ireland, Italy or Finland,
you will need different plug adaptors too. The other countries in mainland
Europe (I think) all use the circular two prong plug.
What you might want to bring if you can spare the extra weight
in your suitcase (these can be hard to find or are more expensive
in France): batteries, film, plug adaptors/voltage converters, sunscreen,
socks & underwear, towels, medication (pain relievers and antacids
- and any cold or flu medicine that works for you; French medicine did
not work for me at all), deodorant, disposable razors, tampons & pads,
pantyhose & tights, floss, contact lens & saline solution
What not to bring: binders or folders (paper size is A4 in
France, not 8.5" x 11")
What to buy when you get there: umbrella (it rains a
lot in certain places); hair dryer (you can bring your American one, but
it's probably better to use a French one so you don't need the voltage
converter); French shampoo & conditioner (water is hard, so you'll
have a filmy, oily layer on your hair if you use American products that
are designed for soft water); office supplies; large French-English dictionary
Remember! PACK LIGHT! You do not want to have to drag
three heavy suitcases (that weigh more than you do) around random cities
in France when you aren't even sure where you are going. I was only going
to bring two suitcases, but one of them weighed too much, so I transferred
some things to a third suitcase to take as a carry-on (with my laptop).
That was a big mistake. It was hard to go anywhere without another person
to help me carry all of my things. This may not be much of an issue if
you have housing and can unpack right away, but I did not, and had to
drag my stuff with me from Lyon to Grenoble to Autrans, where I finally
was able to shove everything into 2 suitcases and leave the third behind
before heading to Annecy.
However, beware that you may have to pay import taxes in
order to receive things that your family ships to you. France has been cracking down on packages received from outside of the EU in the past few years (to make sure that taxes are paid on online purchases). I would recommend calculating the estimated cost of taxes you'll have to pay before deciding to ship a box. It may actually be cheaper now to just check another suitcase at the airport even if that means carrying the extra weight with you.
End of September: Arriving in France &
the Paperwork Nightmare
Please take my advice and arrive at least a week before orientation or
October 1. You need to find housing and open a bank account as soon as
possible, plus visit your schools and meet the people you will be working
with. I waited until September 26 to arrive and had no real contact with
my school, and then had to go to orientation for the next 3 days, so I
wasn't able to get to Annecy until a Friday night. I had no cell phone,
no bank account and no housing set up for me. I managed to stay with some
nice Americans whom I had found on couchsurfing.com,
but not having a place to live made my stress almost unbearable. Having
no contact with anyone because of a lack of a cellphone and internet access
was also very frustrating.
Get your passport stamped when you enter France. You will need to show this stamp to the OFII in order to validate your visa, which will serve as your residence permit. If your passport did not get stamped or if you entered the EU in a different country, you just need to include your flight itinerary in your OFII paperwork to prove the date when you entered the EU.
The following are summaries of things that you (might) need to do during
your stay, some of which you must take care of during your first month
Orientation: Your orientation will most likely be in
the main city of your académie. It may take place the week before
October 1, and if it is, you will receive the information about it
before your arrival in France. It will last 1-3 days and the académie
will provide lodging if needed. Check CIEP's site (primary or secondary)
for information. At the orientation, you will
meet the other assistants in your académie,
learn about the French school system, get some tips on teaching English,
and get information about applying for social security and your carte
etc. However, I've heard that some orientations are pretty useless
and don't provide much information, so be prepared with any questions
you may have. And you might receive an attestation
de stage to
prove that you did go to the orientation, but you don't really need it
Carte 12-25: If you are under 25, you should buy the
Carte 12-25 so that you
can save money on train tickets in France (usually 50% off, sometimes
only 25%). You can buy this card until a day before your 26th birthday,
and still have it be valid the year that you are 26. Currently, this card
costs 49 €, but it is well worth the money if you plan to commute
or travel by train a lot. You'll have to buy this card in France at an
SNCF train station (the SNCF website will not deliver to US addresses)
and you'll need to put your own photo on this card (just as you did for
the ISIC), so make sure to either bring some ID photos from home or take
a bunch once you get to France. There are photo booths in all of the train
stations and in most supermarkets and they are much, much cheaper (4 €
for 4 photos) than buying a bunch of ID photos from Kinko's in the States
(or you can buy one set of photos and make copies of different sizes and
color on your scanner and printer).
Riding the trains in France can be a bit stressful if you don't pay attention
to the signs and announcements. Sometimes the final destination listed
on your ticket will not be the same as on the screens (so look for the
departure time instead). Make sure you're sitting in the correct class
(there are big 1's and 2's on each car so you really shouldn't screw this
up...) Look at the screens at each stop to make sure you are actually
going in the right direction. I almost ended up in Geneva instead of Annecy
when I took a train from Grenoble because I didn't know the train would
split apart at one of the stops, with the front half going to Annecy and
the back half (where I was sitting) going to Geneva. Always remember to
validate your ticket and show your Carte 12-25 with your ticket if the
conductor checks it. Don't put your feet on the seat facing you or you
will be fined. You aren't supposed to use the bathroom while the train
is at a station; you can only use it while the train is moving. Another
aspect of the 12-25 card is the carte de fidélité called
Gagnez à Voyager, which allows you to accumulate "S'Miles"
that you can redeem for several things, including more train tickets.
You can also accumulate more "S'Miles" by using the card when
you buy things at Monoprix, Casino and Géant.
Housing: Finding housing will probably be the most
stressful part of this program. You can try using websites such as appartager.com
(where, incidentally, I found my French boyfriend, but not an apartment)
and colocation.fr, but it's hard
to actually find a place to live until you are in France. You can also
try your local Bureau Information Jeunesse (BIJ). Apartments for rent
are listed in several immobilier announcements that you will find throughout
your town, such as Top Annonces
or Paruvendu. You can also try
looking on leboncoin.fr for housing,
as well as for furniture or kitchen stuff. If your school does not provide
housing, and you are not having any luck finding an apartment, see if
there is a Union
des Foyers pour Jeunes Travailleurs nearby. They provide housing
to people under the age of 30, and the rent is usually reasonable. If
you are in Paris, you need to give yourself 4-6 weeks to find an apartment.
You can check the American Church
in Paris and
the FUSAC magazine (FrenchUSAContacts)
for ads aimed at anglophones, and also the Particulier
à Particulier magazine, which comes out on Thursday mornings,
but you need to be very quick in order to find something.
If you decide to go through a real estate agency, be prepared to pay
about one month's rent in agency fees (and only pay AFTER they have found
you an apartment). Stay away from companies that charge 180 € for a list
of apartments because usually these apartments don't even exist or they
have already been rented. You can also try to rent an apartment without
going through an agency, but be careful of scams, especially in the Paris
region. Never pay your security deposit in cash and be wary of renters/landlords
who only have copies of official documents (electricity bill, passport,
etc. which can be easily faked) instead of the originals.
Be aware that renter's insurance is a legal obligation in France, so make sure to take out an insurance policy for the value of your furniture and belongings. 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 get 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.
CAF: The Caisse d'Allocations
Familiales (CAF) helps low-income people pay rent, so you will most
likely qualify. Once you have your housing, there's a calculator on the
website so you can figure out how much money you might get back. You will
need your residency permit before you can receive any aid, but you
might be able to start the paperwork process earlier. I sent my paperwork
to the CAF office at the end of December, and two weeks later I received
a letter saying that I had been refused because I didn't have my Carte
de Séjour (the old residency permit)yet. When I finally received my carte de séjour in February, it still
took another 4 weeks to receive my benefits from the previous months.
CAF will not give you anything for the very first month however, so the
first month you can receive any money for is November. And some CAF Offices
will only back-pay for 3 months prior, so make sure to get your paperwork
in as soon as possible even if you don't have your
residency permit yet. This whole process should go faster for the new assistants since the carte de séjour is no longer required. As soon as you have the registration stamp in your passport from the OFII, you should be able to receive CAF.
You do not need to be on the lease in order to receive CAF! If
you live in a host family, for example, it's called famille d'accueil on
application. For a room that I rented in a woman's apartment at
€ a month, I received 160 € back from the CAF. For a studio
apartment a friend of mine rented at 350 €, she received 240 €
back each month. You should be paid around the 5th of each month. And
keep in mind that your income from the previous year plays a large part
in determining how much assistance you will receive this year. CAF's "calendar"
changed in 2008 - you no longer have to fill out the déclaration
de ressources each year if you file taxes in France (so this will most
likely only apply to renewing assistants). The old system used July
1st to June 30th as the CAF year, but beginning with 2009, it will follow
the regular numerical years. Income reported for 2006 will be used until
December 31, 2008. Then as of January 1, 2009, the income reported for
2007 will be used and so on. The new system means that you will have
to report your income from two years prior instead of one.
Bank account: Once you have housing, the next thing
you should do is open a bank account, and for this you will need your
passport and proof of residence in France (a copy of the lease, a bill
in your name, or if you haven't found a place to live yet you can ask
someone at your school to write a letter explaining the situation). Keep
in mind that banks are closed on Mondays in France. You must have a bank
account in order to get paid (direct deposit only). I've heard that Crédit
Lyonnais and BNP Paribas are not good banks to open an account in if you
are an assistant, so you might want to stay away from those two. I opened
my account with Crédit
Agricole and it took about 45 minutes, but I did have to make an appointment
and sign a ton of papers. I was renting a room in a French woman's apartment,
and I needed the following documents: my passport, my arrêté
de nomination, attestation du logement (letter from the French woman stating
that I did live with her), an electricity or phone bill from the apartment,
and some form of identification of the person I was living with (I took
her passport and they made a copy of it). Make sure they give you at least
one RIB (relevé d'identité
bancaire) before leaving the bank because your school will need it. Two
days after opening my account, I received 3 more RIBs in the mail. A few
days later, I received a confidential code so that I could access my account
online. About 6 days after opening my account, I received my PIN number
for my bank card in the mail (you don't get to choose it). I could also
go back to the bank and pick up my ATM/debit card and checkbook then.
Cell phone: You will most likely want to buy a cell
phone after you arrive in France. I would suggest going to France Telecom/Orange
and buying the Mobicarte through Orange.
This is a non-contract cell plan (similar to a pay-as-you-go plan), in
which you just pay for the phone (the cheapest ones are 49 €), and
add money/minutes to it when needed (I started out with 30 € valid
for two months). You can choose among some plans, such as the simple plan
(55 euro cents a minute at all times), the weekend and night plan (cheaper
calls at off-peak times: 35-55 euro cents, but more expensive calls during
peak times: 65 euro cents), etc. This way you will not have to sign a
contract (which requires a bank account anyway) and be stuck in it after
you have left France. But keep in mind that although the Mobicarte does
allow you to make international calls, it is expensive (80 euro cents
a minute to the US) and you will probably empty your account in a relatively
short time. So if you want to talk to your parents back home for a cheaper
price, you will either have to use a phone card (télécarte)
in a phonebooth, or use Skype on your computer (if you have internet).
Of course, you can also send text messages (10-13 euro cents each to phones
in France; 15 euro cents to phones abroad); and remember that receiving
calls and text messages is always free for you as long as you are in France.
If you leave France, it costs money to receive calls as well. You can
buy minutes in several locations (some ATMs, tabacs, FNAC, etc.) and on
the internet. Be sure if you purchase prepaid phones that they do indeed receive coverage in France.
Internet/Television/Telephone: There are several internet
providers in France that offer package deals so that you also will have
"cable" TV channels and telephone service. If you just want
a regular land line phone, go with France
Telecom. However, if you also want internet or internet/television,
the price generally starts out at 30 € a month. Sometimes it can
take a month for the service to be installed though, so decide quickly
and get the process started as soon as possible. Depending on where you
live, you will be either dégroupée or non-dégroupée.
Dégroupée means that you can receive the cable
tv channels and non-dégroupée means that you cannot.
I registered with Free and managed to
get my internet working within 10 days. I live in a dégroupée
area, so I have about 150 TV channels (which I can watch on my computer
too - I think this is only currently available through Free
and Neuf though), free calling to land
lines and cell phones in North America, as well as internet with wifi.
Shopping: Obviously you will need to go grocery shopping
soon after you arrive. The major difference between grocery stores in
the US and France is that you will need to bring your own bags or buy
them in the store. Not all stores will give you free bags to carry your
stuff home. You will have to bag your own groceries too. If you've ever
been to Aldi in the States, that's what it's like (Aldi is in Europe too,
of course). Most stores are closed for lunchtime, so don't plan on getting
anything done between 12 and 2pm. Remember that over-the-counter medicine
and contact solution are not sold in grocery stores in France. You must
go to a pharmacy and an optician for those.
Post Office: Again, the post office will most likely be closed during
lunchtime. Stamps to the US cost 87 cents and they can be used on postcards
as well as letters (up to 20 grams). Stamps for France cost 58 cents,
and stamps for EU nations and Switzerland cost 70 cents. You use the
87 cent stamps for all other countries in the world, including countries
that do not belong to the EU but are located in Europe (such as Norway
or Iceland, for example.)
Public Transportation: Figuring out public transportation
can be strange for Americans from rural areas. However,
it is really quite simple and cheap to use buses, trams, and subways in
France. You can probably look at the maps on your city's website if you
want to be extra prepared, as well as figure out how much to pay and where.
Remember to keep your ticket on you at all times so that you are not fined, and to keep a lot of small coins on you since some bus drivers get annoyed if they have to give you change.
Transportation Reimbursement: A new law in France states that employers must reimburse their employees 50% of their public transportation costs for commuting to work from home. If you take an SNCF train to work, you will need to buy the monthly abonnement, but for local buses you may need to buy a yearly abonnement. Regardless of what transportation you take, it must be the longest abonnement that is offered. If
you drive your own car, or take the train but do not have an abonnement, you will not be reimbursed. You might not receive your first reimbursement until
January even if you start the paperwork in October. You can get the paperwork
to fill out from your rectorat or Inspection Académique and you will need to do it every month.
Laundry: Washing machines and dryers are small in France.
Don't expect that you will be able to do a large load of laundry. Some
apartments come furnished with washing machines but it's rare that they
will have a dryer too. If you go to a laundromat, be prepared to pay 4
€ just to wash (and not even dry) one load.
School: When you go to your school(s), you will need
to sign the procès-verbal d'installation,
which is basically the contract saying you are going to work at your school(s).
You will also be given a form to fill
out in order to get paid (so make sure you know your bank account number
and you have a relevé d'identité bancaire), as well as a
form for Social Security (for which you will need a signed and dated copy
of your passport, your birth certificate and translation, and another
relevé d'identité bancaire). You should also make sure to
get a key to the rooms you will be teaching in, a code for the photocopier,
a login/password to use the computers, and a card for eating in the cafeteria
(you may have to pay for your lunches - it depends on your school). You
may also eventually receive a Certificat
d'Exercice, which basically states that you do indeed work at your
Residency Permit (ex-Carte de Séjour): As of June 1st, 2009, long-stay visa holders no longer need to obtain a carte de séjour after arrival in France. The visa will be valid for the duration of the stay in France, and will serve as the residency permit after it has been stamped by the Office of Immigration. Within 3 months after arrival in France, you will need to send to your local OFII by registered mail:
the OFII form (that you included with your visa application and that the consulate stamped)
copy of the ID page of your passport
copy of the immigration stamp that you received at the border when entering France (or the Schengen Space)
Then you will asked to appear for an interview and medical visit in order to complete your file and get your residency permit stamp. You will need to bring:
proof of accomodation in France (just use your school if you still haven't found a place to live)
one ID picture
55 € only if you are also a student; otherwise, you pay nothing if you are just an assistant
When your file is complete, you will receive a registration stamp in your passport that serves as your residency permit. You will then be eligible for CAF and you can travel freely throughout the Schengen Space (for up to 3 months outside of France during your stay in Europe.)
Medical Visit: You should receive a letter at your school
from the Office des Migrations Internationals (OMI) or the Agence Nationale
de l'Accueil Des Etrangers et Des Migrations (ANAEM) telling you when
you have your medical exam. You will need this paperwork in order to obtain
your residency permit. In some cases, a form was sent with your
arrêté that you were supposed to send to the OMI office,
so make sure to bring it with you to France or mail it just before you
leave for France. I mailed my OMI form to France the day I left the US
(September 25), and I received a letter
at my school on October 5 informing me of my medical visit scheduled
for October 18. Depending on your académie, you may have to travel
to the largest city for the medical visit. All assistants in the Grenoble
académie had to go to the city of Grenoble.
The medical visit itself is really short and simple (it doesn't take
more than a half hour), but make sure to bring the letter you received
at your school informing you of the appointment. First, you have to get
a chest X-ray (but you will not be given anything to cover up with so
be prepared to go topless). Then they check your weight, height, and eyesight.
Last, a doctor will check your blood pressure, ask you a few questions
about your health (When were your last vaccines? Do you smoke? etc.) and
listen to your heart. There are no shots involved, and you don't have
to give a urine sample or have blood drawn or anything major like that.
You will also get to keep your chest X-ray. Then you will be given two
certificats de contrôle médical;
one you will have to give to the OFII and the other one you
can keep for your records.
Health Insurance/Carte Vitale: You must do paperwork
for the numéro de sécurité sociale, which will provide
you with health insurance while you are in France. When you first arrive,
you will not have health insurance, nor will you have insurance outside
of France (unless you have the International Student ID Card). Sécurité
sociale will reimburse you for 70% of your medical costs (doctor visits,
prescriptions, etc.); but if you'd like to be reimbursed for the other
30%, you must go to your local Mutuelle Générale
de l'Education Nationale (MGEN) office (or any other mutuelle office).
However, I've heard that sometimes the MGEN mutuelle is not worth it,
so it's up to you to decide if you want to get it. There is a person at
your school, called the Intendant, who is in charge of helping you with
the social security paperwork. This paperwork needs to be processed within
two months of your arrival in France.
You should receive your social security
number by the end of November. I received an Attestation
paper at my school on November 21 with my "No. Insee" and
the amount that I would be paid each month (about 770 €). On November
30, I received my Carte
Vitale in the mail. However, I had to send my Carte Vitale back a
week later because they had assigned me a wrong number. Then I was sent
a second Carte Vitale with the wrong number on it a few days later. I
did not receive my actual Carte Vitale (with the correct number on it)
until March 3, but at least I could login to the MGEN website and see
my details. One confusing thing to keep in mind is that MGEN takes care
of social security as well as being a mutuelle. You will automatically
be covered under social security (which reimburses 70% of medical costs),
but it's up to you to join their mutuelle or another mutuelle (which
reimburses the other 30% but costs extra). I did not have MGEN's mutuelle,
but I did belong to Mutuelle Existence with
my boyfriend which costs about 30 € a month.
Going to the doctor: If you get sick in France or need
to go to the doctor while you are there (yearly gynecological visit,
for example), it's actually quite simple to make an appointment. Most
doctors offices don't even have nurses; it's just you and the doctor.
There's barely any paperwork to fill out and if you have your Carte
Vitale, you might not have to pay for anything. If you don't
have your Carte Vitale yet, you can still be reimbursed for your medical
pay by check and the doctor will give you a feuille de soins
that you fill out with your name, address, and SS#. You will find your
SS# on your paystub. You should receive your first paystub in December,
as October and November will be lumped together since October's pay
is considered an advance. Sometimes the SS# is a temporary number however,
so unless it follows this formula, you may want to wait until your real
number is assigned: First set of numbers: 1 for males; 2 for females;
Second set: year you were born in; Third set: month you were born in;
Fourth set: 99 for foreigners (departement you were born in if you're
French). For prescriptions, you also need to attach the sticker from
the medicine box to the feuille de soins. If you do not have this sticker,
go back to the pharmacy and explain that you need it to be reimbursed.
They should be able to give you another sticker. You should have your
regular health insurance (social security) through MGEN, but some académies
use CPAM instead. Make sure you know which one you are signed up with
so you know where to send your feuille de soins!
Your Carte Vitale most likely won't arrive until right before you leave
to go home, so don't worry so much about not having it. If you are too
sick to work, you can get an arrêt
de travail to give to your school to prove that you are not just skipping
work. In my experience, the appointments went by quickly and I never had
to wait long. The doctors were very nice and understanding. One piece
of advice I can give is to bring plenty of cold medicine from home. I
got the flu while in France in January and none of the medicine here seemed
to help me much. I really wish I would have brought DayQuil, NyQuil and
some cough drops. Another thing to keep in mind for American women is
that French doctors will not give you anything to cover up with when you
have to undress (such as when getting a pap smear).
Check the Health Insurance page for more info about the social security
system and doctor visits in France.
Getting paid: If you turn in your bank account information
at the beginning of October, you should be paid at the end of the month
(but not the full amount). I turned in all the paperwork to my school
on October 5, and I was paid 740 € on October 26, 2006. (Though
the amount of this "advance" differs for each académie).
You will receive the rest of your October stipend along with November's
stipend at the end of November. I was paid 805.04 € on November
29, which averages out to 772.52 € per month. I received my first Bulletin
de Paye at my school on December 11. It's pretty incomprehensible
(even to French people), but you are supposed to keep these things
for life. You will also need a copy of it when you apply for the CAF.
I received my December stipend on the 19th at a total of 772.52 € and
Bulletin de Paye at the beginning of January. I received my January
stipend on the 26th at a total of 777.24 €. I received my February
stipend on the 23rd at a total of 778.83 €. I received my March
stipend on the 27th at a total of 781.86 €. I received my final
stipend on April 26th at a total of 780.28 €.
Working at a 2nd Job: The rules have changed recently
and assistants are now able to have a second job legally, as long as
these conditions are met: 1) You must have the permission of your school
director; 2) it cannot interfere with your teaching; and
3) you cannot earn more than 30% of your assistant's salary. Ask your académie's
assistant contact person for more information about how to go about getting
your 2nd job approved by the school and rectorat. Then the new company that you want to work for will need to send paperwork to the Direction Départementale du Travail so that you can receive another APT (authorisation provisoire de travail). You can also work under the table, and give private
English lessons (15-20 € an
hour) and/or baby-sit (around 10 € an hour, depending on where you
are in France).
Working during the vacations: In 2008, a program to
voluntary English classes to secondary students
during the winter, spring and summer vacations to reinforce conversational
skills was begun. Language assistants are allowed to teach these classes
and will be paid "vacation time" (though I do not know how much that
is.) If you'd like to work during the vacations, let the teachers and
your proviseur know.
Moving: If you decide to move, you can change your address
at the post office (or on their
website) to have your mail sent to your new address. You're supposed
to fill out the paperwork before you move though, because you will receive
a confirmation code at your old address that proves you are who you say
you are and that you really are moving. This service costs 23 € for
6 months, or 40 € for 12 months. You can have your mail sent to international
addresses too, but that costs more of course. You also need to inform
the OFII or préfecture that you have moved (within 8 days) so they can
change the address on your residency permit.
Driving: If you'd like to drive in France, you can
do so legally with your American license for up to one year after the
start date on your residency permit. It is highly recommended
that you buy an International Driving License though (available from
AAA for $10), and attach a French translation to your American license.
If you are a resident of Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, or Virginia, you can exchange your
American license for a French license without having to pass the written
and road tests in France. These 15 states have a reciprocal exchange that
allow French citizens to do the same in the US. However, if you exchange
your American license for a French one, you will be relinquishing your
American license. You must apply for this exchange license before the
end of your first year of residency in France. If you are not a resident
of one of those 15 states, you must pass the written and road tests
in order to receive a French driving license. If you continue to drive
with your American license after your one year of residency, you will
no longer be insured, nor will you be able to do the exchange program
later. For more information, consult the official
Driving in France document or my Expats page for French
Driver's License & Driving in France.
And a few words about French culture / culture shock:
If you've never been to France before, you might want to read a few books
on French culture. Sixty
Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong
are highly recommended. They offer plenty of personal anecdotes and information
on a wide range of topics, such as history, politics, education, family
life, shopping, dogs, etc. Yes, cars, elevators, refrigerators and washing
machines are smaller in France. People do take their dogs everywhere (stores,
restaurants, buses) and might not clean up after them (watch your step!)
There are no screens on the windows. You probably won't get ice in your
drink. A closed door does not necessarily mean you cannot enter the room.
French people must have a reason to smile. Always say bonjour and au revoir
when entering and leaving a store. It's knowing these little things that
will make you love or hate your time in France. Here are a few articles that discuss French life and culture: All
I really need to know (about the French) I learned in Grande Section
- Expatica article about that may help explain the behavior of your students
in France; Hillary Equals
France - Bill Maher article about stealing what's best from France,
like the healthcare system; and Goodbye
to la belle France? - Guardian article about the fear that Sarkozy
will change France to become more like the US (also has a nice statistical
comparison of the two countries). You can also read expat
blogs of Americans (or Anglophones in general) living in France for
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