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MOVING TO FRANCE

Seven things to know before becoming an Au Pair in France

It's a popular way to find work and improve your French all in one go, but there are some things to think about first. British Au Pair in Paris Isabella Solari shares her tips.

Seven things to know before becoming an Au Pair in France
Photo: AFP

Whether you want to do something meaningful during your gap year, are trying to learn French or you want to immerse yourself in a new culture whilst also forging lifelong relationships, being an Au Pair is an incredible experience.

But before you start, there are some things you need to know and some questions you need to ask.

 

 

1. You should use a reputable agency

There are numerous websites out there on the internet, but I would recommend going with a well-known reputable agency, such as GreatAuPair or AuPairWorld.

It isn’t necessary to pay fees for all the sites, but you may find that you have greater peace of mind and feel more comfortable with an agency that you pay for. That being said, be careful not to get ripped off. You shouldn’t have to pay more than €33 for any agency and it isn’t obligatory; for example, AuPairWorld is the most commonly-used site and it’s free.

When browsing the websites, make sure to use the filters to find families suited to your criteria.

For example, some jobs require you to have a driving license and the ability to drive in France and some will require you to have a certain level of French.

Think about what you want – do you want to live in a big city or the countryside? Do you want to look after babies, toddlers, or older children? How many hours are you prepared to do a week? All of these factors are listed on host families’ pages on these websites and you should think carefully before choosing a family, which brings me to my next tip…

2. Ask lots of questions in your interview

Once you’ve selected your family and set up an interview, use this as an opportunity to ask as many questions as possible.

Remember, you’re going to be spending the majority of your time with these people, maybe even living in their house and they need you more than you need them, so you can be picky with your selection. Use this interview as a chance to interrogate the people you’re going to be working with.

Try to get a sense of their personalities, hobbies, and interests as well as their typical routine and the parents’ careers.

It isn’t uncommon in France, particularly in cities like Paris, for the parents to go to work early in the morning and then return home at 8 or 9pm, so expect to work evenings, early mornings and even weekends, depending on their jobs. I work for two Air Traffic Controllers who don’t work conventional hours so I often work until 9pm or even in the middle of the day to have lunch with the kids.

Once you’ve got a sense of their routine and what your job entails, do be sure to set boundaries.

An Au Pair should not be cooking meals for the whole family or cleaning the house. Establish what the parents’ priorities are – most parents want an Au Pair to teach their children English, to tutor them, and to accompany them to school or other activities when they are working.

If there is any mention of “small household tasks”, this is a red flag. I know of multiple Au Pairs who were told that and ended up ironing, washing clothes, and cooking for the whole family.

If possible, get to know the kids before you start working. You want to know who you’re going to be taking care of and small children are notoriously difficult to look after but at the same time, it can be an extremely rewarding job getting to witness their first words, steps, or other milestones.

3. Consider learning a bit of French slang

Even if you have absolutely no knowledge of French before starting as an Au Pair, I assure you that this won’t be the case by the time you leave.

You’re going to be immersed in a French-speaking country with French speakers and living with French people. You’ll quickly pick up the argot (slang) spoken by the youngsters after spending time with French teenagers or children.

Even though your main goal is to teach English to the kids, they’re sure to speak French when you’re around so it could be useful to inform yourself of some of the most commonly used words to ensure that you always know what’s going on and so you can stay in control of all situations.

Living with a French family has taught me all the things textbooks never could, notably the argot words, including verlan (which is a dialect spoken by the French youth that involves reversing words eg meuf = femme).

READ ALSO Verlan: How France's 'backwards' language works

 

Some of the most useful slang terms you might benefit from knowing include:
Bouffer – to eat
Un truc – a thing
Un type/un mec – a guy
C’est nul – that sucks!
Nickel! – perfect
T’inquiète – don’t worry!
C’est n’importe quoi – it’s nonsense

4. You get lots of freebies!

Along with being provided with accommodation, French law stipulates that Au Pairs are also provided with meals and a salary (often referred to as pocket money) that depends on the number of hours worked.

You’re also entitled to access to the public healthcare system in France. If you’re an Au Pair in Paris, you’ll most likely work for a middle-class family that only eats organic (bio) food, so you’re guaranteed to eat well and try new foods during your stay – and all for free!

Also, if you live in a big city like Paris, you’ll probably be provided with a Navigo pass, which is a travel pass that enables you to travel all across the region of Ile-de-France.

Sometimes, your host family will even pay for your travel costs to go back home, and you’re entitled to at least two weeks of holidays per year. If you’re really lucky, you may be invited on holiday with your host family for free in exchange for helping take care of the kids.

5. It can be beneficial to join an Au Pair Facebook page

Chances are that at some point during your stay you’ll get homesick or feel lonely, and what better thing to do than join a group online full of other Au Pairs in the same situation who understand exactly how you feel?

There are tonnes of groups on Facebook full of people from around the world (I’ve made friends with two Americans, an Austrian, and a Thai girl from Au Pair pages).

You’ll broaden your horizons and be able to make lifelong friends from around the world. You’ll probably have lots of spare time during the day whilst the kids are at school, which is the perfect time to meet for a coffee with a fellow Au Pair.

6. Your Au Pair Family is essentially your second family

Your host family is there for you in any situation, whether it’s crossing the minefield that we call French Bureaucracy, or you need to see a doctor, or you need a shoulder to cry on.

Make the most of having them there and don’t be afraid to open up to them if you have any problems. The chances are that you’re as close as a family, sometimes even too close as you’ll witness marital problems, sibling rivalry, and family disputes.

7. It will be the best decision you ever make!

If you have chosen your host family wisely and immersed yourself in French life, being an Au Pair will be the best decision you ever make.

Not only are you being provided with free food and accommodation, but you’re also learning skills that will set you up for life and forming lifelong bonds. It looks great on your CV and your French will improve much more than it ever could with any textbook.

Isabella, 20, has been living in Paris as an Au Pair for two years while studying French and International Relations.

 

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PROPERTY

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)

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