France Guide

France Guide

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Getting out there

Thanks to the evolution of the low cost airline, getting out to France is now really easy and can be quite cheap if you book in advance. The low cost airlines may not serve all the destinations required but there is a great railway infrastructure in France which allows you to get almost anywhere relatively quickly and without breaking the bank. It is a good idea to get yourself 'une Carte 12–25', which will entitle you to a minimum of 25% off all trains. It costs around 50€ and is valid for 1 year but is well worth it.

Getting around

Most cities in France have excellent public transport whether it is buses, trams or the Metro. Prices will vary from city to city but in general you will be able to get some kind of transport pass for a monthly fee. The price is usually more favourable for students so don't forget to show your student ID. Whichever method you choose to pay for travel, don't forget to validate your ticket. If you get stopped without a validated ticket you will be made to pay the fine! This applies not only to the major trains but all public transport.

During your year abroad in France we really do suggest that you make the most of the great rail network and take time to visit the rest of the country, or at least some of it. There is a great choice of things to do ranging from the Mediterranean coast to the French Alps, both of which are really worth the effort. If you have friends based around France why not take the opportunity to go and visit their city.

Life in general

Espresso, cigarettes and the baguette, these are just a few of things synonymous with life in France but there are many other aspects of French culture that you may not be aware of. The first thing to note is that there does not exist a single model for everyday culture in France. Beliefs, attitudes and everyday life will change from city to city and even town to town. We will not divulge too much into the nuances of French culture because we think it's more fun and beneficial to discover it for yourself. To get the most of your year abroad it is essential that you keep an open mind and be willing to adapt to a new style of life.

Business opening hours are not the same as those in England, shops are generally open later but will be closed for a couple of hours in the afternoon, at which time cafés and bars will be packed with people enjoying their lunch. Also please beware that for the most part shops are closed on Sunday, so if you want to eat make sure you go shopping on Saturday otherwise it's cereals all day.

Food, Drink and Going Out

As you probably know, the French are famous for their culinary skills and good wine. Whilst out there we really do suggest that you make the most of it. Eating out can be relatively cheap depending on where you are. Keep an eye open for special offers and 'les menus' which will get you the best value for money. Like French culture, the food and wine will vary from region to region so give your local produce a try!

If you are looking for a night out on the tiles we suggest that you make a trip down to the supermarket first. Beer and wine is much cheaper if you buy it from a shop, so stock up before you start your 'Soirée', get some friends round and have a bit of a party before heading out to town. Nightclubs and bars are in general open much later than in England so people don't tend to go out as early. Time your run, make the most of the cheap beer and catch the last bus/Metro into town. If you are on for a big night, in most nightclubs you can buy yourself a bottle of whiskey/vodka which can work out relatively cheap if you share it with some friends. Most bars will stay open till 3am and clubs till 7/8am, so if you stay out late enough you will be able to catch the first bus home!

Telephone and Internet

The international dialling code for France is +33 and to make calls to England it is +44.


Once out in France we suggest that you get a 'pay as you go' mobile. There are many different operators to choose from including SFR, Orange and Bouyguestelecom which are the three major ones. In most cases you will be able to buy just the sim card which you can put in your existing handset, so will save you the trouble of buying a new one. We cannot specifically recommend any of these services as the pros and cons will change depending on the needs of the individual, however we do suggest that you shop around and look at all available options as there are contract types that do not exist in England which might be of interest to you.

Something to bear in mind, is that top up credit in France is valid for a certain limited period only, ie 5€ is valid for 7 days, 15€ is valid for one month; and if you have not used all your credit by the end of this period, it is wiped out, which can be rather annoying!

You will need to make sure you bring a photocopy of passport and proof of address when purchasing either a sim card or a mobile phone; the French love their paper work!


If you are interested in getting a fixed line in your apartment which can work out much cheaper than a mobile, then again there are many different service providers to choose from. Until just recently France Telecom had a monopoly on the market however with the change of legislation many new operators have appeared who offer better rates and services than previously available. The best value for money can be found in the all inclusive packages which will offer internet, phone line and TV (a bit like digital) for a monthly fee of around 30€. Again there is a wide choice but we can recommend the Freebox from personal experience, however we do advise that you shop around find the best option for you.


If you do not feel the need for internet or a phone line in your apartment then there are always other options. In most towns and cities you will be able to find an internet café or a wireless zone nearby (McDonald's offer free wireless internet in some of their restaurants), again the price may vary but shouldn't be any more than 5/6€ an hour. Many of these internet cafés will also offer international phone service which is usually quite cheap, or alternatively you can use a payphone. However unlike in England, French payphones do not take money, you either have to use your bank card or buy a phone card.


Making sure that you control your finances will help you to enjoy a stress free year abroad. It is advisable that you open a bank account whilst out there as it will save you any charges that apply when withdrawing money with your English card. It will also allow you to transfer money and pay bills more easily.

Opening an Account

Opening an account may prove a bit more difficult than in England. French banking is slightly more bureaucratic so the whole process will usually take a bit longer. To set up a bank account you will need the following things:

  • Your passport
  • Your residency permit ( titre de séjour or carte de séjour if you are from outside the EU)
  • A proof of address (eg your telephone bill, electricity/gas bill, rent contract/receipt, etc.) including your name and address.

Check with your bank in your home country if there is an associated bank in France, which may simplify some operations. Otherwise, if you do not have particular needs, it is probably better to choose one of the main French banks because of the larger network of their branches. The major banks in France are:

You can also open a bank account at the Post Office (La Poste, The main advantage is the network of post offices which means you can access your account from almost every village in France.

Most banks have special offers for students and young people (usually under 26) to attract new young customers. As you can get lower account costs for credit cards, etc it's worth your time to find out about these offers.

Again we suggest that you shop around and find an account that suits you.

Banking hours

Standard banking hours are Monday to Friday from 8.30–9am to 4–5.30pm. Some banks also extend hours on one day a week, while others (usually small branches) close for the day at 12–2pm. Some branches open on Saturdays (usually from 9am–1pm), but if so they are usually closed on Monday.

Post offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 6–7pm, and on Saturdays between 8am and 12pm. An exception is the post office in the Rue du Louvre, Paris which is open 24 hours a day every day.

Standard Services

Check the conditions on your account to avoid bad surprises. Even a few days of overdraft (découverts) in a permitted limit can be expensive. Unauthorised overdrafts mean a bank can block your credit card or withdraw your cheque-book. Depending on the bank and your income, there are different overdraft schemes; if necessary, you should negotiate this when opening your account. We highly recommend that you do not take an overdraft option, getting stuck into your overdraft can be very expensive and banks are less lenient towards foreign students.

Bank statements (relevés de compte) are usually sent monthly. Sometimes, you can opt for more frequent statements. Most French banks provide good phone services (eg for checking your balance) and internet banking. Access to these services is usually without additional charges.

A chequebook is usually provided free as standard on a current account and will be sent in one to two weeks. Credit, debit and cash cards can cost between 15–45€ /year and will be sent in one to two weeks.


The French health care system is one of the best in the world, offering high quality services and being easily accessible at the same time.

EU/EAA citizens: If you are citizen of one of EU/EEA countries (which includes all 27 EU members) and moving temporarily to France or looking for cover at the start of longer stay, you are automatically entitled to free basic health care in France due to reciprocal agreements among EU countries. Since the 1st June 2004, European citizens who are traveling within the European Economic Area are given a European Health Insurance Card, which simplifies the procedure when receiving medical assistance during their stay in a Member State. The European Health Insurance Card replaces forms E111 and E111B, E110, E128 and E119.

Non EU/EAA citizens: If moving temporarily from a non-EU/EEA country to France, check with your relevant local agency whether there is a bilateral agreement that will cover you in France. These normally cover only limited urgency healthcare and you are advised to get comprehensive private insurance. If you get private insurance, make sure that they provide cover in France, have a local office or partner and read the small print so you know what's covered (and what's not!).

Payment and Reimbursement

A general doctor may charge from 20–25€ for a consultation, a specialist 25–30€. Fees will be higher at night or the weekend – a home visit will also cost more. In France you are eligible to go and see any doctor under appointment. Do be careful though as specialists in certain areas of medicine can be very expensive so always ask before you make an appointment.

Whether you are insured or not you will still be required to pay for your treatment and medication up front. Make sure that you keep a record of all treatments and any receipts or prescriptions relating to the treatments which will be required by your insurance company in order to reimburse the money.


In an emergency don't worry about insurance, head straight to the nearest hospital. The doctors are legally obliged to treat you whether you are insured or not. It is however left to the doctor's discretion to decide whether it is an emergency or not.

Should you ever find yourself in such a situation call on of these numbers (free from any phone):

  • general emergency number is 112
  • SAMU (ambulance): dial 15
  • Pompiers (Fire-brigade): dial 18*
  • Police: dial 17

Below is a general guide to finding accommodation in France, have a read through, you may find some of it helpful.

Living with french people – la colocation ou la coloc

If you are looking to live with french people during your year abroad then there are a few things that you have to do differently:

To give yourself the best chance of finding some flat mates whilst out in France you really need to be out there when your looking. Lots of students understandably want to meet their future housemates in person and phone calls and emails just won't do. So prepare yourself to spend a few days out there when you can go and meet people and discuss what you would need to enjoy a successful colocation. Meeting your future housemates will also help to make sure that you won't be in for any surprises when you get out there either.

There are a few sites that are dedicated to help you find flatmates in France;

With most of them you should be allowed to post an add for free and also send messages to others however if you want their contact details you will have to pay but it is probably worth your while as it really isn't expensive.

Please be careful what information you give out and to whom, there are a lot of strange people on these sites – and never be tempted to take a room where the rent appears to be free, you will be expected to pay in other ways!

Again it is worth while calling people as it makes a good first impression, you must remember that usually many other people will also be interested in the same offers as you so you will have a bit of competition to contend with.

Once you have found some people who you want to live with and who want to live with you, the next thing to do is to work out the terms of the contract. This can be a minefield with lots of potential pitfalls if you are not vigilant.

Sub-letting is really common with french students however if you are going to be sub-letting from another french student make sure that all the legals are correct and present. In order to sublet legally the primary tenant must have written permission from the landlord, which is usually not the case making the sub-let completely illegal and therefore you will have no rights as a tenant whatsoever and could be evicted at any time. We would advise you to leave sub-lets well alone unless you know exactly what you are talking about.

Another common problem is regarding the deposit. It is quite common for people to find replacement tenants for a flatmate who is leaving. If this is the case please make sure that you draw up a new contract and carry out a full inventory 'etats des lieux', ensure that you do not pay your deposit to the departing housemate and that the landlord is up to date with the changes. This is the best way to avoid getting stung for damage that was already done when you moved.

If you follow all these guidelines then you shouldn't have any problems finding yourself a nice place to live. If at any stage you require help with talking to landlords or verifying contracts please don't hesitate to contact us, that's what we are here for.

Housing Benefit

If you have decided to make the most of our services then you will not have to worry about the headaches of finding and dealing with accommodation in France. All our properties are insured for unforeseeable damage and theft of personal belongings. There are however a few other things that you can do to make your stay even better. As a student residing in France you will be eligible for housing benefit which is managed by the CAF (Centre d'Allocations Familliale). These forms can be filled in online or picked up from your local centre. If you require we will help you fill these forms out and get your monthly benefit coming in straight away. In order to do this you will require a bank account. They will also ask for a photocopy of your passport.