Why Study Abroad in Paris?

My first visit to France was with my family when I was thirteen. We were the classic sweaty tourists in late-July Paris, dragging ourselves from monument to museum. But I loved old buildings, narrow streets, and outdoor cafés — everything we walked by was tinged with foreign magic. And when we met French friends of my father who had a daughter my age, I knew I would be back.

I kept studying French and visited over a few high school summers, but I was waiting for study abroad so I could live in the city. It would be my chance to speak French until my accent didn’t mar my words. My chance to drink wine in cafés, take the métro to non-touristy neighborhoods, and meet real Parisians.

While I had a few specific reasons why I wanted to study in Paris, it was less of a rational choice and more of an emotional one. I’d been in love with the city for so long, that the thought of spending time there was a dream come true. Here are some of the more (and less) concrete reasons why I chose Paris:

To Speak French

The easiest way to get better at a language is to speak it, hear it, and live it. I already knew this from the time I’d spent with our French friends, and I also knew I needed more practice before I could be anywhere close to fluent. Since I’d started studying French in middle school, speaking it was a comfortable challenge — something I’d already made progress in and knew I wanted to keep working on. Of course, there are other study abroad programs in other French cities, so my other reasons for choosing Paris are specific to it.

To Spend Time in a Beautiful City

If I ever make a list of stunning cities, Paris will be near the top. The historic buildings, tree-lined boulevards, myriad gardens, the Seine cutting through the city and forming two surprise islands — it’s hard to argue against these aesthetics. What’s more, because it was built before cars were invented, Paris is highly walkable (assuming you’re measuring within the bounds of the périphérique). Even better, as you make your way through the city, each neighborhood has a distinct character.

To Learn More About French Culture

American media has a tendency to idealized French culture — carelessly beautiful women, artists in cafés with their endless cigarettes, fine wine, renowned food. It all adds up to a half-glamorous, half-bohemian lifestyle that had me entirely enthralled.

While the rational part of me knew French life couldn’t be this dreamy, I’d fallen for it years ago. What was most fulfilling about my study abroad experience was deepening my relationship — I took a course on architecture in which we toured the city and visited specific buildings. And another on theater where we read French plays before seeing them performed in a variety of venues. Rather than being on the outside of the city looking in, I was immersed in its offerings.

You Never Know What Will Happen

No, this isn’t the part where I say I fell in love with a Frenchman who is now my husband. My study abroad program had us take a single course at a French university while the rest of our school time was with the American cohort. This meant that we glommed together and spent most of our time wandering Paris and speaking English in a sort of extended tourist outing.

I was lucky in that I already had a two French friends, and I was able to tag-along to their truly “French” life. While I did spend a good amount of time exploring the city, I only lived in Paris for one semester — from September to mid-December. In order to have truly felt like I was committing to this adventure, I would’ve needed to stay longer. This is one of the reasons why I decided to move back in 2018 and have another go.

When I think back on my study abroad experience, it’s a distant blur. But I’m grateful for the way my French improved and all I learned about the city. And instead of worrying that I didn’t make the most of my time, I see my experience as a stepping stone to my current Paris life.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Paris, it might be helpful to make a list of reasons why you’re attracted to the city. Is it to speak French? To have access to its museums and rich cultural history? Or simply to go on an adventure? What’s your why for studying abroad in Paris?

Photo is from a French classroom which will be dramatically different from a US university setting. 🙂

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How to Earn Money as an Expat Student in Paris

I’ve had almost every student job imaginable since I’ve been in Paris. I’ve traded daily English lessons for my apartment and picked up a child after school while speaking exclusively in English. I’ve cleaned Airbnb properties and met guests to hand over the keys. I’ve done babysitting, dog sitting, cat sitting, and housesitting. 

As a student, you’re legally allowed to work “up to 964 hours per year, or the equivalent of 60% of the maximum working hours permitted.” That’s around 20 hours per week. 

If you’re an expat student in Paris who wants to start earning an extra euro or two, below you’ll find several different options that aren’t soul-crushing and actually kind of fun.


Providing childcare is one of the easiest and most common ways to earn extra money as an expat student. There are a lot of French families who want their children to learn English, and a great way to do so is through an English-speaking babysitter:

  • Au pair “lite:” one of the biggest benefits of being an au pair is that your “host family,” or the family you’re working for, provides your housing. If you don’t want all of the responsibilities of a traditional au pair, like dinner, bathtime, and bedtime, keep your eye out for what I like to call au pair “lite.” I’ve had several of these types of positions. One was 10 hours of English lessons/babysitting per week in exchange for a tiny apartment. Another featured the same hours but in exchange for a salary.
  • English lessons: this doesn’t mean you’ll have to come up with a strict lesson plan. If you cringe at the thought, opt for families with younger children, who will learn much better through games and simply speaking in English around them. Those 10 hours of English that I mentioned above? Those were 10 sweet hours of simply speaking in English while playing with a 5-year-old. 
  • After school pick up: my favorite childcare student job in Paris was so simple that I couldn’t believe someone paid me to do it. I was required to pick up a 10-year-old from school, walk him home, and stay with him until his mom got home from work. All in all, it was about an hour and a half per day. The caveat? I was required to speak in English the entire time, which wasn’t a problem. 

If you’re interested in childcare and have control over your class schedule, you’ll want to try and keep your Wednesdays free. Most French children don’t have school on Wednesdays, or only for half a day, so, it’s a great day to get in those hours!

You can find childcare jobs in several different places online. First and foremost I would look on Facebook for groups of au pairs, students, and parents in Paris. Then, you may want to check out other websites such as MisterBilingue, Mômji, or Angloinfo. You’ll find a lot of French families who are looking for a helping hand who can also teach their kids a new language. Or, you may find Anglophone families who are looking for a babysitter who can speak their language. Either way, it pays to be an English-speaking babysitter in the French capital. 

Pet sitting and dog walking

Another one of my favorite student jobs in Paris was dog walker. If you miss your pets from back home but don’t want the responsibility of owning one here, the next best thing is pet care! I’ve walked dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and it is one of the easiest and most rewarding student jobs I’ve ever had. Pet care is a great option if you don’t like kids or don’t want to teach English:

  • Dog walker: there are several different dog walker jobs out there. I’ve had everyday gigs and others just one or two days a week. Some people will want to pay you hourly, others, a weekly flat rate. Dog walking is also a great way to get outside and enjoy the city – while getting paid for it.
  • Pet sitter: whether it’s for a dog, cat, or both, pet sitting is another easy way to earn extra money as an expat student. Most pet owners will require that you stay in their house or apartment, but I have also come across some people who are willing to take their animal to you. However, most people who want a pet sitter will also want you to be their house sitter – but more on that later. 

I’ve had great luck as a pet sitter in Paris, and, in addition to being a way to make money, it also gave me the opportunity to explore certain areas of the city I would have never gone to. And, for those of you with teeny tiny apartments, it will give you the chance to stay somewhere with a little bit more room, while getting paid to do it.

I found most of my gigs in a Facebook group called Paris Expat Dog and Cat Owners.

Housesitting and Airbnb

If you don’t want to work with children or pets, you may consider housesitting or working as an Airbnb cleaner and/or greeter. I’ve done all three in Paris and, again, it’s a nice way to earn money and explore different areas of the city:

  • Housesitter: as mentioned, a lot of potential pet sitting jobs will involve housesitting as well. But, there are also people without pets who are simply looking for someone to water their plants and keep an eye on their place while they’re out of town. Sometimes you’ll be asked to stop by a few days a week to check in on things, other times you may be asked to sleep there.
  • Airbnb: Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, but did you know it has more than 50,000 Airbnb listings? What do all of these properties have in common? They need to be cleaned between each guest. Some Airbnb properties will also require that someone be there to meet the guests for a key handover. 

Again, I found most of these types of jobs in Facebook groups and on Craigslist. Similar to childcare and pet care, once you build up a good reputation you’ll also be able to find more gigs through word of mouth. 

These options are not the end all be all for making extra money in Paris – far from it. Other options include working in a bar, restaurant, café, or even at walking or bike tour companies. Rest assured, there are plenty of ways to make money as an expat student in Paris. 

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

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How to Go to University in France as a Foreigner

When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I was one of those “I’m free!” people. I was so happy to have finally wrapped up my schooling after what seemed like 16 long years. I truly never thought I would go back to school.

Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself in the admissions office of Université de Nanterre in a suburb just outside of Paris. I had already spent one year here studying French in order to a) be able to carry on a conversation instead of just responding with “oui” or “non” and hoping for the best, and b) to obtain the B2 level of French that I need to get into the master’s program I had my eye on.

Say what? The girl who basically ran off stage after she was handed her bachelor’s degree now had grand plans to get her master’s degree? In a foreign country? Guilty.

Why I Made the Decision to go to University in France 

Let me back up a little. When I first arrived in France I was an au pair for a Franco-American family. I was required to speak in English with the children which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I knew next to no French, and a curse because I was able to stay in what I like to call my “English bubble” for too long. 

I was speaking in English with the children, the American mom, and even with the French dad because he wanted to practice. My friend group included other Americans, an Irish girl, and several Australian girls. We spent our time together and we often went to English and Irish pubs with other Anglophones.

In some ways, it was a relief to be able to speak my own language in the midst of a foreign country. Moving abroad is filled with ups and downs, and it can be lonely. Plus, all of the sudden change is…intense, to say the least. My English bubble was comforting and so I stayed there for two and a half years.

After those years of nannying, I decided that I wanted to move on, but that didn’t mean moving back to the US. I wanted to stay in my newfound country but I knew at this point that I needed to start speaking the language, not to mention think about what I wanted to do with my life. I realized that I couldn’t be a nanny or live in my English bubble anymore.

And so I started the process of determining how I could legally stay in France. I found out that if I had a valid visa, I could go back to school for the same price as a European. 

This has now, unfortunately, changed. In 2018, the government announced that foreigners would need to pay 2,770 euros for an undergraduate degree and 3,770 euros for a master’s degree. Most universities disagree with the new rule and refuse to comply, other universities have gone forward with it. Before you decide on which university you’d like to go to, make sure you’re aware of the admission fees for foreigners! However, the new admissions fee for foreigners is still a fraction of what I would have paid in the US.

Things to Consider Before you go to University in France

I started thinking about what I wanted to do for work, as I had lost all interest in the field that I got my undergrad degree in. I finally settled on becoming a writer (how do you think I’m doing?), and so I started looking into master’s programs in French literature. At almost the same exact moment, I realized that I not only needed to prove that I had a B2 level in French, but I would be completely lost at university if I didn’t have at least that. 

I recalibrated my search for a program that would help me learn French as well as give me a diploma with my new French level on it. In Paris, there are two well-regarded programs: one at La Sorbonne and the other at Nanterre. I settled on Nanterre because I had already missed the deadline to apply for La Sorbonne.

I ended up having an amazing year at Nanterre in their FETE program, which I recommend to anyone looking to up their French skills. Not only was I on a university campus (which just made it feel more legitimate), the teachers are qualified and helpful and the curriculum is interesting and relevant. 

I finished the year with my B2 in French and decided that I wanted to stay at Nanterre for my master’s for a few different reasons. I enjoyed my time there, I understood how their administrative procedures worked, and I knew that the admission process would be easier seeing as though I was already in their system.

I headed to the literature department to speak to an advisor to make sure that I had the right requirements. We got to talking, and she asked me about my plans, she looked at my resume, and she also asked me about my interests. She told me that although I had the correct level of French to enroll, I would probably have a hard time with the course material. Did I know that the school had an English Studies department? That offered a bilingual literature program?

My eyes lit up — that sounded right up my alley. 

Ultimately, I’m so happy that I decided to speak with that advisor before I enrolled in the French literature program and that she was so honest with me. I would be able to handle the course material now, but that’s because I have four more years of speaking and reading French under my belt. 

Although I technically had the correct level to enter into the program, I did not have the brain capacity or level of vocabulary to seriously study, analyze, and write French texts. And, because I decided to go for the bilingual English/French program, I was able to write my 80-page thesis in English (what a relief!).

I ended up thriving in the English Studies program and I finished my degree with a mention très bien. I also scored because my program was truly bilingual and most of the English or bilingual master’s programs in Paris are at private universities — which come with a much higher price tag. 

So, what should you consider before you go to university in France?

  • Why you want to go to university — if it’s to simply obtain a student visa there are other options, like the intensive French course that I took
  • Your level of French — be brutally honest with yourself
  • How much you want to pay — private is much more expensive than public (don’t forget to be sure of the admission fee for foreigners at whichever institution you decide on!)
  • What you want to study — again, be honest with yourself!
  • Whether you want to go for a license (bachelor’s) or master (master’s)

Tick off these boxes before you start looking into French universities and you’ll set yourself up for success. 

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Did you enjoy this article?  TAIP is 100% reader-supported through tipping.  If you want to leave us a tip of any amount it would be highly appreciated.  These tips help support our efforts to keep TAIP an ad-free environment.  Just like at a cafe, the tips are split evenly among the team. 

student visa

Obtaining a Student Visa for France

Over the summer I gave a series of webinars on moving to France (recordings available on Nomadic Matt’s Patreon).  One of the strategies I suggested for coming to France in the short term (given that some visa windows were indefinitely closed) was the student visa.  A “student” visa doesn’t necessarily mean getting enrolled in a degree-seeking program.  It just means any course of study.  France continued to rubber stamp these all throughout 2020, despite the fact that many of the programs were online, meaning that even though you didn’t have to physically come to France to “take” the course, France still approved you for transit.  I concluded that France wanted to continue to signal that they were making a conscious choice to at least appear to allow education to continue even as they forbade commerce and leisure travel.

One of my friends and colleagues in my years here in France, Molli Sebrier, has gone through the student visa process twice and I asked her to write a guest post on the process.  She also does consulting on the process, so her information is at the bottom of the post should you wish to learn more. – SH.

The first time I ever stepped foot in France was as a student in 2012. I was there to do the elusive “study abroad semester,” which has a reputation of being more about soaking in the culture of wherever you go rather than taking classes. Spoiler alert, the rumors are true. Although I will say I attended most of my classes, they were nothing compared to the workload I was used to at my university. I had an architecture course in which the professor actually took us around Paris to explain treasures like Notre-Dame and Les Invalides. Interesting? Extremely. Do I remember everything about the architecture I learned about? Seeing as we didn’t have any exams, no. 

In addition to 2012 being the first time that I stepped foot in France, it was the first time that I had ever left the United States. I never really considered myself a homebody or uninterested in travel, but an international trip was just not on my radar at the time. I didn’t even have a passport. 

Fast-forward to 2020, and in total, I have about seven years of French living under my belt, three student visas, one au pair visa (when that still existed), and one visa I have courtesy of my French fiancé. I’ll soon find out what the newest chapter in my immigration journey, marriage, will be like. 

Whether you’re in the same situation as I was in 2012, or you have a bit more international travel experience, navigating the world of French bureaucracy can be intimidating. This is the country that is known around the world for its “red tape.” And, to be honest with you, it is a lot to figure out especially if you don’t speak French or have never applied for a visa before. 

In these unpredictable Covid times, the easiest (and most plausible unless you are in a relationship with a French person) way to move to France as an American for more than 90 days is through a student visa. Don’t let the word “student” scare you, especially if you’re not a teenager or in your twenties anymore. You could take a French language course, a culinary program, or simply shoot for another degree…for 1/10th of the price of American schools.

In an effort to help those interested navigate these sometimes murky waters, I’ve come up with this basic guide to obtaining a French student visa. 

Step 1: Determine your program

The most important thing you’ll need to do before you get started on the path to obtaining a French student visa is to find a program. It’s important to note that not all programs will make you eligible for a visa. You will need to be enrolled in classes that are between 18-20 hours per week or more. Here are a few examples of the types of programs you should be looking for:

  • A study abroad or exchange program (if you are currently enrolled in a college or university this is your best option)
  • A degree-granting program 
  • French language program (please note that the program must be FLE accredited)
  • A specialized school in France

You must be accepted into the program of your choice before you move onto Step 2. And, remember, don’t get discouraged if you don’t want to take French classes or go back to college. As mentioned, if you love to cook or are interested in wine, there are several options. Does the famous Le Cordon Bleu, ring any bells? Channel your inner Julia Child and check out their options. 

You won’t be able to apply for your student visa until at most 3 months before your program starts, so keep that in mind as you continue on through the process. 

Step 2: Apply through Études en France and Campus France

Once you’ve been accepted into your program, you’re ready to start the process of applying for your student visa. First, you’ll need to make an account on Études en France, a platform that was created by the French government to make applying for a visa easier. 

Once you create your account you’ll have to follow the instructions on the site. It involves knowing the name of your program and finding it on a list, entering your personal information including your name and passport number, and other administrative information. There is an option for “students not yet accepted,” but I do recommend that you wait until you have been accepted to begin the process as it’s much easier. 

Études en France and Campus France are connected so after you’ve filled in all of your information, you’ll be able to directly submit it to Campus France via the Études en France platform. You will also have to pay a fee of $190 (subject to change) to Campus France. It can take up to 3 weeks for Campus France to review your application. You will receive a confirmation email if and when you are approved.

Step 3: Apply for a student visa via the France-Visas platform

Once your application has been approved by Études en France and Campus France, you will move to the next platform, France-Visas. You already know that you need a student visa, so feel free to skip the “Do I need a visa?” step. Create your account and fill out the application form. Here you’ll note that “Visa applications cannot be submitted more than 3 months prior to the start of your trip for a long stay visa, and 6 months for a short stay visa” as I mentioned! Please also note that you will need to pay another fee of $37.15 (subject to change) when you’ve finished filling out your application.

Step 4: Make an appointment at the VFS Global Center closest to your home

After you’ve submitted your application on France-Visas, you’ll be able to directly book an appointment at the VFS Global Center closest to your home. It’s recommended on the site that you make your appointment at least 15 days before the date of your departure. In my experience, the longest I’ve had to wait to receive my visa was 7 days, but, I was also in Boston.  Your consulate’s waiting time may vary.

Step 5: Go to the appointment and then wait to receive your visa

You’ve made it this far and for that, I congratulate you! But, you’re not out of the woods yet, as you still need to attend your in-person appointment where you’ll need to present a fair amount of paperwork in order to obtain your visa. You will need:

  • France-Visas Visa application form
  • France-Visas receipt of payment
  • ID Photograph (please note that this needs to be a “European-size passport-style headshot” which is 1.4 inches by 1.8 inches)
  • If you are a non-U.S. citizen, proof of your legal status in the U.S.
  • Passport
  • Campus France USA confirmation email
  • Études en France electronic acceptance letter
  • Proof of accommodation in France (this can be an Airbnb or hotel while you look for something more permanent)
  • Proof of sufficient funds for your time in France

Pro tip? Bring at least 3 copies of everything. It’s a lot, I know. But you’ll have to get used it this amount of paperwork if you’re going to be living in France! At your appointment, they’ll ask you pretty standard questions such as why you want to move to France, why you chose your program, etc. Try not to be too nervous and just be honest.

Step 6: Begin preparing for your trip to France!

Now for the fun part: preparing for your long-awaited new life in France. Consider where you want to live, what you want to bring along, and your new daily routine. The road to the French student visa may be long, but it isn’t as complicated as it looks! 

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash