Lost in Cheeseland: How to become an expat in France

Lost in Cheeseland: How to become an expat in France

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Whether you're a student or young professional worker, Lindsey from Lost In Cheeseland gives tips on how to move to France if you're seriously considering the idea.

If you're someone who believes that living in France is like vacationing in France, you might want to leave this article now. Life abroad isn't all market-hopping, croissant-eating, wine-slurping, terrace-lounging and baguette-chomping, surprisingly enough. That's part of it, but there's another side which requires much more patience, flexibility and attention to detail; the side that involves paperwork, rejection, more paperwork, waiting, more waiting, and perhaps if you’re lucky, success.

I say all of this because over the last year I've received many emails from readers asking for tips on how they can pick up their lives and move abroad to get their own piece of the French pie. 
"How can I become an expat?", they ask, hoping it’s easier than they imagine. Well… it’s not.  Every expat has their own, very personal experience moving their lives to France, but each of us were each held to the same rules and confronted with the same frustrations. 
I figured it was time to take the conversation off email and post suggestions for those who are genuinely serious and passionate about making the move abroad, two very important pre-requisites.  
These options will not work for everyone so keep in mind it really depends on what stage of your life you are in, your financial means, your career and how well you respond to curveballs. I know much has been written on the subject, and I will be linking to a few friends who have tackled their own lists in order to offer thorough advice. Any additional ideas or recommendations are welcome, and I hope we can begin a useful dialogue. 
{Note: any remarks regarding visas or legal authorization to work in France apply to non-European Union residents}.
For students
Look into your school’s study abroad options and if they aren’t of a long enough duration or not the focus you’re interested in, apply through another university or organization like EF.  I studied abroad in Paris twice, first during a six-week summer program with a focus on fashion and linguistics, and the second a full semester with an internship at the end. 
Some students will also spend up to a year studying at a French institution to dive deeper into the language. Since 1919, the Cours de Civilisation Française programme at the Sorbonne has welcomed foreign students from all over the world and remains one of the most well recognized academic programmes for French studies. (No American price tag for the program, either, and runs between EUR 200 to EUR 2,300). Science Po (Science Politique) also offers exchange and summer programs for foreign students both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Master’s students on the job hunt are eligible for a six-month extension with the Autorisation Provisoire de Sejour (APS) which I first learned about on Anne’s Working in France list.
For In-Betweeners
I can no longer count on two hands the number of people I know who have done the French Teaching Assistantship program through the French Cultural Ministry either during a gap year in college or after completing their studies. Not only does it provide a legal way to live and work in France teaching English to French students for seven to nine months (including the overseas departments – Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, and French Guinea), but it will also contribute to improving your language skills. Anne of Prêt à Voyager and Stephanie of La Belle in France are both former teachers from this program and would be useful resources. 
Another possibility would be to nanny in France for six months to a year with a French family to build your language skills and test the waters. Could you live in France permanently? Check out IAPA, the International Au Pair Organisation, or the UFAAP for more information.

For creative types and independents 
If you have a project that requires or could benefit from living in France (and you can prove it), you might be eligible for the Skills and Talents Visa which is valid for 3 years. It’s by no means the easiest strategy, as the specifics are quite involved, but it’s possible. 
More detailed information, including criteria for an approved project, HERE.

For Professionals
If you’ve recently entered the workforce or have a substantial level of experience and have longstanding aspirations of living in France, target international companies and organizations that have offices or subsidiaries abroad. I would also inquire about the possibility of being transferred abroad, even for a mission with a determined duration, right from the beginning. If you’re not in any rush to move, put in the time in your home country and work toward coming over as an expat (more often than not, the expat perks are far greater than if you were to be hired directly by a French company). 
Or, you can take the more challenging route and apply for positions directly in France. Keep in mind that given the vulnerability of the economy, most companies are still not willing to sponsor non European Union natives for working papers, no matter how qualified you might be. I’ve heard some success stories, but as a general rule trying to move anywhere in the EU without an EU passport or working papers complicates the process tenfold.

I’d be remiss not to include love and marriage as a viable option for making your dream a reality. Easier said than done, of course, but if it happens naturally (as you can imagine, France does not take kindly to sham marriages and are usually able to sniff them out) it’s like a golden ticket. If you’re not currently in possession of a carte de séjour (temporary residency card, renewable annually), you will have to apply for a Fiancé Visa (long stay visa) to come to France. 
You can still get married in France on just your passport, but you’ll be required to return home and apply for the necessary papers to join your French spouse. In some ways that’s less of a gamble because you’ll already have the documents to prove you’re married, but it does mean shelling out money for another round trip plane ticket. {Click here for more information}
No matter how you intend to come over, you should keep a few things in mind. First, after any extended period abroad, going “home” will never be the same. Travelling changes you, almost always for the better, but it does mean moving away from a former way of life. And that can be very hard to accept for some people. It was for me, initially. 
If moving to France is truly something you’re willing to work toward, despite the obstacles you might encounter, it’s going to require patience. I still have trouble with this but as is true for most things in life, the prize is sweet.

Reprinted with permission from Lost In Cheeseland.

Lindsey is an American expat from Philadelphia who moved to Paris for love and adventure. You can read about her musings on Paris love, life, food and more on her blog Lost in Cheeseland.
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