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ESSENTIALS: MOVING TO FRANCE
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EDUCATION

Studying in France: what you need to know

France is one of the most popular study destinations in the world, with nearly 300,000 foreign students. Relatively low tuition fees and the chance to live in France are certainly appealing, but France’s confusing higher education system can be frustrating to navigate.

Studying in France: what you need to know
France is home to 300,000 foreign students. Photo: Simone Ramella/Flickr

So, you want to study in France?

The very thought can conjure up images of lecture halls where Durkheim or Sartre once probed society and the meaning of life, dank sheds in which Marie Curie discovered Radium, or cafés in which Camus once plotted his works of absurdism.

France certainly has a strong intellectual tradition, and whether it’s to improve your French, for the richness of cultural activities, or just to try something different, there are a range of options for international students.

When it comes to the practical side, there are frustrations, but it’s doable, and well worth the effort. We’ve put together this guide to help you through the process.

Applying to a university and visas

How you go about choosing a university program in France will depend on where you’re from. 

Anyone from an EU or European Economic Area member state won’t need a visa to study, and can apply directly to the university or graduate school of their choice. 

Otherwise, you’ll need a student visa. You can get one either at a French consulate or via Campus France

Campus France is an online portal run by the French government that assists students in their university applications, from choosing a university up to visa processing. 

They have a number of regional offices around the world and can also provide extensive information on degree programs.

France recently simplified the notoriously tedious process of applying for a Carte de Séjour, or residency permit, for non-EU nationals. 

During your first year of studies, you only need to show your visa as proof of your residency status. However, you still need to register with the immigration office within 30 days of arrival and undertake a medical examination to validate your visa. From your second year of studies onwards, you will need to apply for a Carte de Séjour.


The Sorbonne University in Paris. Photo: Pierre Metivier/Flickr

Language level

Many universities now offer either bilingual programs or programs taught entirely in English, which is of particular appeal for those wanting to learn or improve their French while specialising in another academic discipline. 

However, if you decide to undertake a degree program taught in French, you will need to have at least an intermediate level of French. Many universities require the B2 (intermediate) certificate in the Diplôme d'Études en Langue Française (DELF) or sometimes the C1 (advanced) certificate, (the Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française or DALF), depending on the course.

Find out more about French language courses at the CIEP website.

The French higher education system

France used to have a complicated system of degrees and diplomas, but as part of the Bologna process degrees are being standardised into Licence, Master and Doctorat levels, which correspond to Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees, requiring three, two, and three years respectively to complete.

The large majority of higher education institutions in France are state-funded, meaning there is only a nominal tuition fee of around €200-€400 per year, depending on the level of studies. 

Many business schools, however, are privately owned, and tuition fees for non-EU students can exceed €15,000 per year.

Under the French higher education system, anyone who has obtained their baccalauréat, or secondary school certificate, is entitled to enrol at a public university, but there are often competitive exams at the end of first year for a limited number of places in second year. 

There is also a parallel system of elite, selective institutions known as grandes écoles, which have no real equivalent in the English-speaking world, but can be compared to graduate schools. 

Unlike public universities, they have highly selective entry examinations, and are often semi-private, meaning they can charge much higher fees.

The French academic year corresponds roughly with most other northern hemisphere academic calendars.

The autumn semester usually begins in late September, followed by a spring semester starting in early February. 

In addition to holidays around Christmas and New Year, some universities may have a spring break and holidays around All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and Easter. 

Exams are normally at the end of each semester, and there are usually three months of holidays in summer, running from the beginning of July to the end of September.

Students revising outside a café in Paris. Photo: Arslan/Flickr

Cost of living and housing

The cost of living in France is similar to other countries in Europe, but Paris, which is the most popular destination for students, can be very expensive, and it can be extremely difficult to find housing. There is often a crazy scramble for accommodation just before the beginning of each academic year in early October. 

The Cité Universitaire Internationale de Paris is a large student residence in the south of Paris with dormitories representing a number of different nationalities. 

The Fondation des Etats-Unis and the Maison des Etudiants Canadiens cater to American and Canadian students, while the Collège Franco-Britannique caters for British and Commonwealth citizens. 

Those whose nationalities are not represented can make a general application to the CIUP. Be warned, however, that places are limited – and many students apply up to a year in advance to secure a spot. 

Only students in their third year of university and beyond can apply, and the maximum stay is two years.

Universities outside Paris (and even those located in the suburbs around Paris) often have subsidised student accommodation, either on-campus or nearby. You can also find more information about living in dormitories funded by the national student welfare office, the CNOUS.

SEE ALSO: How to live on a student budget in Paris

Financial aid and working

The French government offers a large number scholarships each year to international students. These are normally advertised on the websites of French embassies and consulates around the world. Campus France also has a search engine for scholarships and grants 

Students whose universities are part of the Erasmus program can apply for the scheme through their universities. While the scheme is largely limited to universities in the EU, there are a number of non-EU universities who are also involved.

Means-based rental assistance is available to anyone with a valid French visa or Carte de Séjour (residency permit), including non-EU citizens, and are managed by the Caisses d'Allocations Familiales (CAF).

Students are legally allowed to work up to 19.5 hours per week during the semester, and full-time during the holiday period. 

Non-EU citizens no longer need to apply for a separate work permit, and can work as long as they hold a valid student visa or residency card, except for Algerian students, who are covered under a separate agreement. 

Students who have completed a Master’s are also eligible to apply for a six-month temporary work permit to allow them to find a job after their studies, but this provision was recently tightened and many applications were refused.

Student life

French universities tend not to have the same level of student activity that collegiate universities in the English-speaking world do. 

Yet there are many extra-curricular activities and social events organised by student unions, or bureau(x) des étudiants (BDE). 

French medicine students from the Normandy region at a gala. Photo: Gaëtan Zarforoushan/Flickr

As the fourth most popular study destination in the world, and with 12 percent of the student population hailing from abroad, there is often a dynamic cultural diversity on French campuses. 

Most universities make an active effort to welcome them; with international students’ offices, student associations and buddy programs to help ease the transition for international students.

There are many benefits extended to students in France including generous discounts for food, entertainment and transportation. 

Eligibility criteria can vary. Some benefits are only available to student card holders, while others are available to anyone under the age of 26. 

Many public museums in Paris, for example, have free entry for EU residents under the age of 26. 

Other benefits require the purchase of a student card; for example, the 12-25 rail card issued by the national rail company, SNCF, is valid for one year and costs €50. It offers up to a 60% discount on rail travel throughout France. In 2011, the offer was extended to those up to 30 years of age.

Bon courage with your studies.

by Jonathan Li

SEE ALSO: Tips on how to survive at a French university

Browse thousands of English-language jobs in France


University of Strasbourg. Photo: Sam Nimitz

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For members

PROPERTY

Bedbugs, mice, and mould: How to handle infestations in your French home

Pests (of the animal and fungal kind) are a common part of the experience of living in France, particularly in the cities - here's what you need to know if you have unwelcome visitors in your home.

Bedbugs, mice, and mould: How to handle infestations in your French home

From the horrors of bedbugs and mice to the health risks of mould, there are certain things that no-one wants to share their home with.

If you are renting, then first you need to know whether this is your responsibility or the landlord’s.

Rental law

The basic principle is that landlords are required to provide tenants with “decent housing” – this is defined by a law (found HERE) passed in 2002. Essentially, a dwelling can be considered indecent if it presents obvious risks for the physical safety and health of the occupants, and that could certain include an infestation of mice or severe mould, which can lead to respiratory problems.

If any repair work must be done, the landlord must inform the tenant, either by registered mail or in person. The landlord must specify the nature of the work, and how it will be done (ie start date, duration, level of access needed). While the tenant must allow access to the home for work being done, the tenant can refuse access for non-urgent work on weekends and holidays. 

If the repair work lasts more than 21 days, then the property owner must grant a reduction in rent that is “proportional to the duration of the work.”

The tenant has the right to bring a case to the administrative tribunal if the work makes the use of the dwelling impossible or dangerous to live in. In these cases, the judge may pause further work from being undertaken, put a stop to it altogether, or allow for a termination of the lease if the work makes the dwelling uninhabitable.

Mould

Mould (moisissure) affects between 14 and 20 percent of dwellings in France, according to data from the National Food Safety Agency (Anses). It can be found anywhere in a home, whether that be on ceilings, walls, carpets, in bathrooms and even in closets. Typically, mould is accompanied by a smell. It might also cause black or green spots to appear, or the walls or floors to swell or peel. 

First steps – If you are renting, then the first thing is to determine who is responsible for dealing with the mould.

The tenant must deal with it if they were responsible for causing the problem – for example, if the tenant obstructs air vents, fails to repair damage caused by his/her personal appliances, fails to heat or ventilate the home or allows mould to spread without responding. 

On the other hand, the landlord has a legal obligation to “provide decent housing” – this means that the home must have an efficient ventilation system, proper insulation and be completely protected against any water infiltration, whether through the windows, walls, roof, or floor. If these things are not in place, then the mould is the responsibility of the landlord.

Legal options – If you’re renting and you’re sure that the mould is the responsibility of the landlord then the first step is of course asking them to deal with it. Hopefully you have a nice landlord who puts the work in hand in a timely manner. If, however, you have the misfortune to have an unhelpful landlord then things can get complicated. 

If a polite request hasn’t worked, the next step is informing the landlord of the mould issue via lettre recommandée (registered mail). You may need to call an expert to determine the cause of the mould, which will help you enclose proof of who is responsible for the repairs. You can find an example of the letter to send HERE

If the housing is no longer “decent” – as in it poses a physical or health-related danger to the occupant – then the tenant can demand by registered mail that the landlord take action (citing the legal requirement to provide ‘decent housing’) and request that the work be carried out at the landlord’s expense within a given timeframe. 

If the landlord refuses or fails to respond to the registered mail, then the tenant officially has the legal recourse to take the issue to the administrative tribunal who can require the owner to begin work at their own expense. 

The second option for the tenant would be to contact the town hall (Mairie), to request an intervention with the municipal service for hygiene and health (SCHS) to certify the state of the housing. If the request is honoured, then intervention must take place within three months.

The report will then be sent to the landlord via registered mail, and in the 30 days following, both landlord and tenant will have time to write out their points of view regarding the state of the dwelling.

If you are seeking further assistance throughout the process, you can always contact ADIL (the departmental agency for information on housing) for free legal advice.

Practical options – If you either own your property or you don’t want to get involved in the lengthy and complicated legal process, there are some practical options you can take.

If the mould is minimal – meaning the area does not exceed 3 square metres, you will likely be able to get rid of it yourself using a sponge, dishwashing liquid, white vinegar, or bleach. 

For walls, you might consider using a chemical anti-mould product that you should be able to find in hardware stores, or repainting using anti-damp paint. You can also eliminate excess moisture with a dehumidifier. 

If you are a property owner, you might qualify for a renovation grant. Under certain conditions, energy renovation works, such as installing a mechanical ventilation system or improving insulation and waterproofing works might be eligible for public financial aid. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to access France’s €20k property renovation grants

If you’re a tenant, you might choose to simply move on. 

If you have a three month notice period this can be reduced to one month if you can obtain a medical certificate from your doctor stating the need for a change in residence because the mould in current residence is affecting your health. 

To find a professional to treat the problem, you might consider a plumber (un plombier) if the mold is resulting from a leak, or a roofer (un couvreur) if the problem is coming from the roof. The first step would be to request a “diagnostic humidité” (a moisture assessment).

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Bedbugs

Unfortunately, bedbugs (punaises de lit) are a common problem in France. According to a 2021 study by IPSEE, 4.7 million people or seven percent of the French population dealt with these pests in the last five years. 

While all regions are affected by bedbugs, they are particularly common to urban areas and the Paris region in particular – even some of the capital’s fanciest hotels have suffered infestations.

First steps – First learn how to recognise a bedbug – they are approximately four to seven milimeters long and brown to purple in colour.  

If you have bites on your arms and legs, and/or traces of blood on your sheets, then you might want to check for bedbugs. Concentrations of small black dots tend to be a sign of bedbugs.

They tend to inhabit dark, narrow and inaccessible spaces, and they often spread by being carried from one place to another in furniture, clothes, and luggage.  You might be at risk of bedbugs if you have travelled recently, or stayed in a hotel or other accommodation where bedbugs are present. You are also at risk if you recently bought second-hand objects, like used furniture, or if you live in a shared building an another apartment has bedbugs.

The French government has also opened a dedicated phone number –  0806 706 806 – for answering any and all questions about dealing with bedbugs. 

Legal and administrative options – The first thing is to determine where the bugs came from, as that affects whose responsibility the infestation is.

Sometimes bedbug infestations occur in common areas of apartment buildings, in this case, it would be up to the building ‘syndicate of co-owners’ (syndicat) to pay for treatment. 

The cost of the treatment would then be divided according to the number of apartments treated. In extreme cases, where the entire building is impacted by the pests, including in common areas, then the disinfection expenses would be charged in addition to usual building fees.

It is not unheard of to come across a situation where one apartment sought to exterminate the bedbug issue in their private space, but the neighbour has not dealt with it and therefore the infestation continues. In this scenario, if that home is deemed the source of the bedbug proliferation then legal action can be taken against the owner by the other owners in the building.

If you’re a tenant then your landlord should pay the costs as a home infested with bedbugs is not considered ‘decent housing’ – although if the landlord can prove the presence of bedbugs is due to the tenant, then this can allow them to waive their responsibility to cover the costs of the pests’ eradication.

A similar process to the one described above for mould would transpire if the tenant wishes to force the landlord to take action – the tenant should send registered, dated mail to the landlord to ask that the infestation be dealt with professionally and for the dwelling to be brought into compliance.

If the landlord does not respond within two months, the tenant may refer the matter to the administrative tribunal for an opinion.

Practical options – While you can take some steps on your own, like washing all bedding and linens at 60C or freezing at 20C for at least 72 hours, you will likely need to call in a professional to get rid of the bugs completely. 

To find a professional exterminator, you can consult the government approved list HERE. On the website, you can select your département and you will be given several options of qualified pest control professionals who specialise in bedbugs. If you want to find your own exterminator, you can try searching key terms like “débarrasser des punaises de lit” (get rid of bedbugs) or  “l’extermination des punaises de lit” (extermination of bedbugs) or “traitement punaises de lit professionnel.

If you’re renting, then your landlord may be responsible for costs, but if they’re dragging their heels and you can’t bear the bugs any longer you may decide to go ahead and pay for the pest-controller yourself.

If you do this, keep all receipts and quotes, and take photos when possible. You may still be eligible to gain compensation from your landlord for the work.

Mice and rats

Sadly the rodents in France are not as friendly and benign as Ratatouille might have you believe. 

French cities are in a constant battle to control the pest populations. In Marseille – as well as Toulouse, Vincennes and Limoges – the city invested in a plan to train ferrets to flush out rats. The city of Paris has a variety of rodent-killing operations but it’s still believed that rats outnumber people by roughly two to one.

READ MORE: Marseille recruits ferrets to deal with its rat problem

So it’s not particularly unusual to have to deal with mice or rats in your home. 

First steps – Look out for droppings (usually about the size of a grain of rice), as well marks or footprints, any signs that food in cupboards has been nibbled and a foul, urine smell. 

Legal options – Similar to bedbugs, landlords are required to “provide the tenant with decent housing that does not reveal any obvious risks that could affect physical safety or health, free of any infestation of harmful species and parasites […]”

This means that by default it is up to the landlord to implement all necessary measures to eradicate pests such as rats and mice, by calling in a pest control company, according to the rental organisation Check and Visit.

However, the landlord may not be responsible if they  can prove that the tenant does not maintain the dwelling sufficiently so as not to encourage the appearance of pests.

As outlined above, the tenant can send a registered letter and take action with the administrative tribunal if the landlord fails to respond.

If you buy a property and then discover it has a rodent infestation then there’s unfortunately not much in the way of legal recourse. 

For those living in the city of Paris, you can also report a rat or rodent (including pigeons) infestation to the préfecture. This will alert pest control to the presence of an “animal nuisance.” You can learn more HERE

Practical options – If the infestation is bad you may need to hire a professional exterminator, but there are some steps you can take first. 

The obvious one is to make sure there is no food to attract them – so clean up crumbs, don’t leave food out and keep items like cereal and biscuits in secure plastic, metal or glass containers as mice will have no problem nibbling through a cardboard cereal packet.

The next is to try and find where they are coming in and if possible block up any holes and use steel wool to block gaps behind radiators or next to pipes where the rodents might be coming in. 

The French newspaper Ouest France made a list of natural ways to keep rodents at bay, which include using peppermint, laurel, lavender, eucalyptus and sage essential oils, as apparently mice don’t like these smells.

The classic advice is get a cat, but you don’t have to go to those lengths to dissuade mice from entering your home. In fact, simply using cat litter can repel the pests, as they do not like the smell.

If none of these work, you probably will need to call in the professionals and it’s worth shopping around as costs can differ greatly from one company to another. Pricing will depend on the surface area, extent of the infestation, techniques the company plans to use, and the technical constraints present. Good exterminators will not only kill the rodents already there, but will also figure out how they’re getting in and show you how to block up entry points.

To find one, try searching terms like “dératisation” or “traitement souris” (for mice), “traitement rats” (for rats), or “traitement mulots” (for voles). 

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