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EDUCATION

How to move to France on an English-teaching programme

For many who dream of living in France, a good way to get a taste of the country is to do a year teaching English. Teaching assistant Bella Dally-Steele explains how to go about this.

How to move to France on an English-teaching programme
You could be teaching English to all levels. Photo: AFP

Whether you want adventure, to delight in the country’s famed cheese portfolio or (if you’re American like me) seek refuge in a foreign country during this particularly volatile socio-political moment, here's how you can make your dreams into concrete plans.

There are numerous paths that young people can take to move to France, including becoming an au pair or applying to a French university, but the one I opted for was working as an English teaching assistant through a program called Teach Assistant Program In France (TAPIF).

 

 

TAPIF is available under a number of different names, depending on your home country, and gives applicants the opportunity to teach in France for about eight months – the perfect amount of time to test drive a life in France and decide if you’d like to stay longer.

For assistants from some countries, you can even renew for a second year of teaching – I began my first year of teaching in Fall 2019, and have just started my second year with the programme.

Here's what I have learned while here

Language

Most importantly, I suggest knowing at least a smidgen of French, and (ideally) a lot about yourself before applying to TAPIF before the annual January 15th deadline.

While as a teaching assistant you will most likely be teaching entirely in English, but in order to have any semblance of a social life, you’ll need a base level of fluency in the native language.

I studied abroad in France during high school and minored in the language at university, and have thus been able to integrate myself fairly easily into local sports teams and the dating scene.

A fellow assistant who has studied French for four years transitioned to life in France with relative ease, but a close friend dropped out because she only had about a year of language study under her belt.

Know yourself

Ask yourself: what do you want from these eight months?

There’s no wrong answer to this question, but depending on what your response is, there is a right approach to your time with TAPIF.

If you want to become a teacher, you’ll want to build a strong relationship with your host school and the TAPIF staff to secure references for your resume (or even a job post-programme).

If your main goal is to integrate yourself into French life, you’ll want to focus on curating a illustrious social life by joining local clubs, rooming with locals or becoming a regular at your neighborhood bar.

A fellow assistant and former roommate of mine knew coming into TAPIF that she wanted to use the experience as a stepping stone to a French graduate degree, so she began applying to universities within the first month of the programme. She just began her first year of graduate school this fall. 

Be flexible

Once you know what you want from your year in France, it’ll be easier to fill out your TAPIF application – these preferences will inform your personal statement of motivation as well as your regional and educational level preferences.

When applying to TAPIF, you have the chance to rank the three academies where you would prefer to work, as well as the level you would like to teach (primary or secondary).

First-year assistants aren’t guaranteed to be assigned to their top choices, so you’ll need to approach this ranking with an open mind and a touch of strategy (don’t, for example, rank the Paris region as your top choice just to copy Emily in Paris – you’re unlikely to receive such a widely coveted assignment).

Pack your ranks with academies that your research suggests are good options for you and psych yourself up about the unique opportunities each has to offer you. Are you preparing for a career in elementary education, and are therefore unwilling to teach high schoolers? Do you need to work in a small town with a slower pace of life to maintain your mental health? Decide what, if any, assignments you must commit to declining for your own good.

Bureaucracy

No matter your background, you’ll need to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the challenging bureaucratic hurdles of France, particularly if, like me, you come from a non EU country. 

TAPIF will help you secure your long stay work visa (visa long séjour valant titre de séjour in French, or VLS-TS for short) by guiding you and your host school through the visa application process, but the paperwork doesn’t end there.

Upon your arrival in France, you will need to validate your visa through your regional Office Français de l’Immigration et de l'Intégration (OFII). You will also need to apply for a carte vitale (which will allow you to get health care), open a bank account and secure a lease, among other things. All of these processes will require a staggering amount of paperwork.

The best preparation for these processes is to print out multiple (I’m talking five or more) copies of key paperwork such as your passport, visa, birth certificate, most recent tax return, work contract, recent pay stubs and any important personal medical documents.

To secure a lease on somewhere to live, you’ll also need many of the same documents from a parent. Keeping a wealth of paper copies on hand will make your journey through the French bureaucratic system infinitely less frustrating, but the most useful tool you can have on your side is patience and a healthy dose of understanding that the system is different from that of your home country.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED How to get a French visa

Social life

Emotionally, only you can know what you’ll need to help you adjust to French life.

Personally, I prefer to immediately immerse myself in the language and community without the safety net of an expat network to fall back on, so I quickly realised that organised social groups would be vital to my integration into French culture. Joining a roller derby team has done wonders for my emotional well-being, but whatever works for you.

Depending on whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you might prefer rooming with a crowd of other assistants or renting a studio space of your own.

Ultimately, your adjustment will also depend largely on the community into which you’re placed and your personal outlook on what could be the first year of your future life in France.
 

Bella Dally-Steele is based in Bordeaux and has just begun her second year with the TAPIF programme.

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FRENCH BUREAUCRACY

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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