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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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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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