Eight ways to save money in France as a student

Studying in France is all about travelling, drinking wine, and making friends... and studying, of course. But life here can get pretty expensive. The good news is there are lots of ways to save money when you're a student, from eating out to visiting museums.

Eight ways to save money in France as a student
Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

Here are some simple tips you might not have considered to reduce your costs and make sure you can enjoy your experience without worrying about money.

Eat at the canteen

Unless you’re used to living in catered accommodation at your university back home, you probably haven’t set foot in a canteen since high school, and you might not have the best of memories. But student cafeterias are an opportunity not to be missed in France. For just €3.30, you get a (very) small starter, a main course and a desert – it’s difficult to find a better deal than that even when cooking for yourself!

You’ll get a hot, balanced meal, with a menu that changes every day, for a more than reasonable price, and you may even be surprised at the quality of the food – this is France, after all.

If you get tired of the canteen, there are also many fast food restaurants (outside of the big chains) and bakeries which offer student meal deals.

Drink at happy hour

On the other hand, France lacks the tradition of cheap, student union-run bars present in countries like the UK. Which can be a problem, because while you can find good wine for not much money in France, other types of alcohol can be very expensive in bars.

READ ALSO The French words international students in France need to know

There is a solution, though, because it’s very common for bars in France to offer a happy hour, which usually lasts longer than an hour, and where you can get a discount on certain drinks. These deals are particularly invaluable if you want a pint of beer or a cocktail without breaking the bank.

And don’t think you have to rush straight out after your classes to take advantage – many bars offer discounts until 8pm or even later.

If you’re not sure which bars have offers, help is at hand – the website and mobile app Schlouk Map allows you to locate a large number of bars which have happy hours. It began in Strasbourg in 2017 but now lists bars in 30 French cities.

Get help with your rent

Students in France are able to apply for help from the state for paying their rent, and this is not limited to French citizens, so even if you’ve just arrived, you could be eligible.

REVEALED: Which French cities are most expensive for students?

The grant is called an Aide personnalisée au logement (APL) – although many people call it the CAF after the organisation which processes applications – and is a monthly sum which depends on your income and the kind of housing you’re paying for. Find out how much your could receive HERE.

It can go a long way to freeing up some of your precious savings or study abroad grants to be used on more exciting things, like…

Travel around France

If this is your first time living in France, you’re going to want to travel outside of your university town and see some of the incredible cities and countryside France has to offer. The most convenient way to do this is to travel by the country’s high-speed TGV trains.

Ticket prices can run high, but if you’re between the ages of 12 and 27, you are eligible for a Carte Avantage Jeune discount card. This costs €49 for the year, and guarantees 30 percent off all TGV and intercité trains.

If you mainly want to visit nearby towns, cheaper discount cards are also available for regional TER train lines.

Or, there is always covoiturage (carpool), which is incredibly common in France. Local company Blablacar allows you to find others who are planning the same journey as you and have space in their car.

Cycle everywhere

In terms of daily life in France, one expenditure which can quickly add up is public transport. There are four cities in the country where students have to hand over more than €300 per year to get around.

A cheaper – and healthier – alternative is to cycle. Unless you’re an avid cyclist, you might want to avoid the hassle of purchasing your own bike, but many French cities offer cycle hire schemes similar to the Vélib bikes in Paris.

In Lille for example, you pay €39 for a yearly subscription, and then have 30 minutes free every time you take a V’lille bike, before having to pay €1 extra every half an hour. Strasbourg’s Vélhop service meanwhile offers 10-month subscriptions for students under 26, meaning you won’t carry on paying once you’ve left France at the end of the semester.

Read the French press

If you’re on a year abroad in France, one of your goals is probably to improve your French, and you might have considered reading the newspaper as a good way of being exposed to the language while keeping up with what’s going on in the world.

READ ALSO 13 simple hacks to make life in Paris easier

To do that, you might not need to take a subscription or buy a physical paper. Many French students don’t even know about this, but most universities pay for a subscription to Europresse, a platform which offers access to hundreds of local and national media sources, and make it available to their students.

You will find PDFs of the latest editions of newspapers like Le Monde, and magazines like Closer, and you can also search for specific articles. All you have to do is log in using your university email address.

Other cultural deals

Very many museums and monuments, including popular sites like the Louvre, are free for people under the age of 26 who live in an EU country. It’s a great way to take in French culture and history without spending a centime. A lot of museums are also free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month.

If you prefer to be sitting comfortably while you take in your culture, many cinemas in France offer discounted tickets for students.

Students can also get discounts when signing up to libraries and médiatheques (multimedia libraries).

Get discounts on shopping

If you prefer to spend your weekends doing a spot of shopping, you could also get money off. You might be familiar with the student discount website UNiDAYS, which offers reduced prices on clothes, beauty products, technology and more. The global website is available in France, so it’s worth checking what offers there are in participating stores.

Some other shops will give you 10 percent off when you show them your student card.

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What to expect from your 2023 French property tax bills

The annual demands for property taxes have begun arriving at households across France - and many people will notice quite a difference to last year's bill.

What to expect from your 2023 French property tax bills

Every year in September and October the French tax office sends out bills to households across France relating to property taxes – these are separate to income tax bills, which arrive over the summer.

The autumn bills are usually made up of three parts; taxe foncière, taxe d’habitation and the redevance audiovisuelle.

However, system changes to all three parts mean that for some people bills will be be much lower than last year, while others will have nothing at all to pay.

Here’s what changes;

Redevance audiovisuelle – this was the TV licence and was charged at €138 per household, with some exceptions for pensioners or people who had no TV.

This year, it has been scrapped for everyone (including second-home owners) so most people’s bills are €138 less than last year.

Taxe d’habitation – this is the householder’s tax, paid by the inhabitant of the property – whether you rent it or own it. This is gradually being phased out, a process that started in 2019. It has been done based on income, with those on lower incomes having the charge scrapped first until it is gradually scrapped for everyone – with the exception of very high earners and second home owners.

So depending on your income level, you may have already had the tax phased out, or it may be phased out for you this year, or you may be paying a reduced rate this year.

These two changes are part of a tax giveaway from president Emmanuel Macron, and at the bottom of your tax bill you will find a note explaining how the charges have changed this year, and what you would have paid without the reductions.

It will look something like this;

Taxe foncière – this is the property owners’ tax and is paid on any property that you own – if you own the home you live in you may need to pay both taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière and if you are a second-home owner you will also pay both.

In contrast to the other two taxes, however, this one has been going up in many areas.

In fact, it’s connected to the taxe d’habitation cut – local authorities used to benefit from taxe d’habitation, so the phasing out has left many of them short of money. In some areas, they have reacted by raising taxe foncière.

This tax is calculated based partly on the size and value of the property you own (which is why if you do any major renovations or add a swimming pool you need to tell the tax office) and partly on the tax level decided by your local authority. 

This means that the actual rate varies quite widely between different parts of France, but in some areas it has gone up by 20 percent.

You can find more about how the tax is calculated, and how to challenge your bill if you think it is excessive, HERE.