The process involved in finally getting to your country of choice is, in a word, exhausting. The bureaucracy of it is absolutely mind-boggling, maddening, and utterly frustrating. Once you get here, it’s no picnic either: I had thought that the nightmarish amount of paperwork would vanish once I actually arrived in France, but little did I know that I had another mountain of forms morbidly waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic.
If you’re planning on studying abroad soon, listen up!
- If you are even considering studying abroad in the future, do yourself a favor and either make sure your passport is current and not near expiration, or get yourself a new one if you don’t have one!
I had made the decision to study abroad in Spring 2015. I applied for said study abroad in September(ish) 2015. You know when I got my passport? NOVEMBER. Save yourself some stress, crying, and more stress by getting that passport stuff done ASAP. The VISA process can be long and grueling, and if you wait until the last minute to get your passport, you run the risk of not even getting your VISA in time for your departure!
- Speaking of the VISA, get that done as soon as your respective embassy has an availability!Having waited so long to get my passport, you can’t imagine the stress and pressure weighing me down when I finally looked up the French Embassy and discovered that the earliest appointment available was, you guessed it, Christmas Eve. Just a little more than a week from my flight. Luckily, I checked the site again in early December and found an earlier slot that someone had dropped, but I was lucky. Get that done as soon as the requirements allow!
- If you do find yourself stuck with an unfavorable VISA appointment date, keep checking the website: People cancel appointments all the time!Refer to my miracle story above. (Side note: your country of choice may not require a VISA, but I know that France does for stays over 3 months. Don’t just assume that your country does or does not require a VISA, and read all the fine print!)
- Take advantage of student travel agencies!Shop around for flight options, and if they advertise “Best Price Guaranteed”, take them up on that! If you find a cheaper flight on another site, use that against their competitor. Additionally, student sites like http://www.statravel.com are awesome because they offer student-only deals. I booked my round-trip flight to Paris for less than $1000, a price that none of the other websites I looked at could beat. Plus, the flight here was actually pretty nice: you don’t need to worry about them booking sketchy agencies, STA Travel sells flights for big-name carriers like American Airlines and AirFrance.
- Either get a global credit card or an international debit card from your bank to save on international feesWith my CashPoints Global card from my bank, my fees stay at just .3%, which is just three cents for every dollar. Link it to your parent’s account so that they can put money in whenever you need it! Bring a credit card as well for those “just in case” situations; sometimes a store may not accept your debit card, so having a backup is sometimes necessary.
- If you’re coming to Europe, invest in a Youth Rail Pass.It’s 50 euros and enables you to take advantage of up to 60% train tickets across Europe. Can you say Hello Barcelona?
- If you’re coming to France, apply for the CAF as soon as you touch down, if possible!The French Government loves to help students, and the CAF is evidence of that: Think the FAFSA, except for your apartment! You must have a French bank account and a French phone number, but those are easy enough to get. The CAF subsidizes housing and makes it affordable for families and students based on your income. Refer to this link for more specific information.
- As for getting a French bank account, often it’s necessary to apply for certain institutions such as CAFIn France, you usually need to make an appointment, and they usually have an English-speaking teller if you’re concerned your French is a little rusty. At Societe Generale, you would need your passport, your housing contract, and either your student ID at your study abroad uni, or your acceptance letter. Piece of cake!
- Bring copies of ALL of your important documents!I’m talking multiple copies of everything: Visa, Passport, Birth Certificate, Credit and Debit cards, IDs, acceptance letter to the Uni – I mean EVERYTHING. Not only is it useful to pack a copy of, say, you passport in every piece of luggage, but it helps to have multiple proofs of identity in case your wallet and/or passport gets stolen. Also, places like the bank, the university itself, and the insurance offices require you to submit photocopies of such documents. It also wouldn’t hurt to keep a digital copy of everything saved on a flash drive or laptop.
- Before you start paying for international cell service with your current provider, research options in your country of interest. Also, unlock your cell phone!Often, the rates will beat those of your current provider, giving you more services for less money. Example: I added international service with AT&T for $30/month with unlimited text, no data, and calling for $1/min. When I got here, I found a service that provides unlimited talk, text, and several gigs of data for 20 euros/month (plus a one-time charge for shipping the SIM card). But, I couldn’t use that service with my phone because I didn’t unlock it. Be wiser than me, friends.
- Research student discounts and benefits in your areaNot only are there special student-only deals in places like France, but often students can get free admission to museums like the Louvre, buy a one-time card for unlimited access to local museums, get bus passes dirt cheap, and get discount cards at grocery stores!
- Speaking of that bus pass…Get one!My apartment is a 20 minute bus ride from campus. Each one-way ride costs 1.8 Euros. The metro typically is the same price. Riding the bus twice a day for a two weeks would cost around 28 Euros. For that much money, I can buy a student bus pass at the transportation office to last for the whole month, giving me unlimited access to the bus and metro system.
- Get a Brita (or off-brand) water filter pitcherEven though France isn’t a third-world country, the tap water here isn’t the highest quality, and it made my stomach pretty sick. But buying bottled water is not only environmentally destructive, but also is a huge money vacuum. Save yourself the money by getting a reusable water bottle and a Brita pitcher.
- Bring a throw blanket and maybe some sheets for when you arrive
Believe me, you are going to be exhausted when you finally reach your dorm/apartment, and the last thing you will wanna do is go shopping for bed linens. Bring enough with you to get you through that first day, and then go pop by IKEA (yes, they have IKEA here)
- Remember: In France, Lunch is cheap, Dinner is expensiveYou can easily spend only 3-5 euros/day on a really good lunch here in France, and around 2.5 euros/day at government-subsidized student restaurants, but after 5pm the prices skyrocket. Most people in France eat out for lunch and cook for dinner, and that’s a good practice to follow. Groceries are dirt cheap here, but lunch tends to be cheaper even that cooking for yourself. Save your cooking for dinner to save on $$$
Be smarter than me, learn from my mistakes, and ensure maximum fun during your entire study abroad experience!
Stay classy, stay smart,
P.S. – Feel free to ask me about anything you have questions about or that I didn’t address! I’m happy to help 🙂