Thursday, July 23, 2009

What to do and When to do it

You want to Teach English in France, and you’ve decided to become a Teaching Assistant in France? Great! It’s a good job that doesn’t pay much, but it’s enough to get by. You’ll work 12 hours per week, and the rest is up to you to spend as you like! There are about a million different administrative and bureaucratic steps that need to be taken to make your visit successful, enjoyable and profitable. The following is a list, in approximate order, of the things that need to be done. I’ve tried to make this as easy as possible, but face it, it’s not easy. This is a list of what you need to do, and when you need to do it. (also see below for a list of helpful links)

I want to warn you first that this is strictly to guide you along your way...everyone’s experience is WILDLY DIFFERENT, so don’t expect things to go smoothly. The most important reason why there is so much variability is because the people in charge of enforcing the bureaucratic rules in France oftentimes don’t know the rules themselves. You might have to do a fair amount of arguing, convincing, and begging in order to get what you are entitled to. If you have a difficult time with anything, your best resource is your fellow assistants, who are available to you in a variety of different ways. The best resource, I have found, is the assistantsinfrance.com forum.

Please note that you will need multiple copies of every single form that I allude to in this discourse. Please make copies of everything, including your passport.

1.Apply. The program application usually comes online at frenchculture.org in October/November, and the rolling deadline has them due between mid-December and mid-January (check frenchculture.org for precise dates). You should begin the application process immediately, by downloading the application packet (or filling out the html version), getting your medical visit and asking for your letters of recommendation. You need to give your teachers professors AT LEAST THREE WEEKS to fill these packets in, so don’t delay. You should probably try to get them to your recommenders by the Thanksgiving break, or at the very latest, the week after. Submission of the packet must conform to their stated guidelines and be submitted BOTH electronically and physically, the physical packet including the Summary Page, Medical Report, Dependant Waiver (if applicable), the letters of recommendation, the Annexes, and of course the application itself. Make sure you follow the guidelines as stated by the “Application Guidelines” pdf. Also make sure that you are on-time with your submission...the French are notoriously cranky about late and incomplete bureaucratic submissions. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).

2.Mid-May: You will not receive a reply either positive or negative until mid-May at the earliest. In my year, we were alerted first by email in mid-May with acceptance/rejection emails and an approximate placement, and then by snail-mail in June with more precise information about our placement. Some people weren’t sent their packets until August/September. This is positively annoying, but the only thing you can do about speak with the program coordinator who may have better information for you. Be aware though, that any information that you don’t have is not actually his/her fault...it’s the fault of the school or académie with whom you will be placed for not filling our their paperwork in a timely fashion.

3.Mid-June to Mid-July: You will receive your “Arrete de Nomination” that will tell you where you will work (the académie and the precise location(s)). When this happens, you should take the following steps IMMEDIATELY:

Visa: Schedule an appointment with the French Embassy/Consulate to get your visa. Only in rare cases will you be able to apply by mail without difficulty, so be prepared for a personal visit. The French Embassy in Washington and several consulates have an online reservation system for appointments, but others may not. Be sure to check early. When you go for your appointment, you will need the following documents: Valid Passport, 2 long stay visa application forms, an English translation of the long stay visa application form, two passport size photos (see the web for their guidelines), and your “Arrete de Nomination.” Make sure that you apply as an “Assistant de langue,” because this is your special visa category and because the application is free. You DO NOT need proof of health insurance as with some other categories of visa. They will also ask you about the date of your intended arrival in France. The program begins on October 1, but frankly, you should ask for the earliest date possible for you. We asked for September 1 and got it, and I’m under the impression we could have pushed for earlier. Technically, you cannot enter France before the commencement of your visa, but chances are slim that the agent at Charles de Gaulle will actually look at your visa. You will have three months from the beginning of your visa to apply for your Carte de Séjour. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).

Write to your school(s). I cannot stress this enough, because this is very important. Why? By far the most difficult aspect of coming to France for many of us was finding a place to live. If you contact your school before they leave for summer vacation, they may very well have a place for you to live for dirt-cheap. My wife and I looked for an apartment for six weeks before finally settling in a relatively small, expensive place before finding out that her school offered a 50 sq. meter apartment for peanuts. It’s this kind of info that you want to have early. You school should also tell you basically what will be expected of you, and it is good to get to know the secrétariat early-on because they are your most important resource when you arrive in France and start teaching. The packet you will have received in the mail will suggest some more questions for you to ask as well.

Get in touch with your fellow assistants. We were sent a group email in early July, and everyone began to speak to one another through an official listserv and a Google group. Here you will find people in the same area, people who are looking to share an apartment, people with similar interests, or more generally a support group for all the difficulties you might have over the course of the year. You can also try the assistantsinfrance.org forums which can be very helpful.

Start looking for an apartment. You need to know that finding an apartment in France is VERY VERY DIFFICULT, because you will be looking for an apartment at the same time as all of the French students (provided you are planning to live in a location near a university). Do not assume that you will arrive in France and find an apartment within days. It took us six weeks, and we were about average. If you can group up in twos or threes, it becomes markedly easier. Be prepared for the worst. Decide early on what you are looking for (cheap studio, nice 2 pièces, etc.), and explore all options (Please see below a list of my favorite hosing options). (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).

Start looking for a temporary place to stay (if you plan on looking for an apartment in France). You will need a place for at least three weeks, and I would recommend providing for six-eight weeks. Avoid youth hostels for this length of time...it’s cheaper just to find a vacation rental. (Please see below a list of my favorite hosing options).


Start preparing the paperwork you will need to get an apartment
. This is possibly the worst of it. In order of importance, YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING (assume that there are no exceptions): Identification (passport +visa + Carte de Séjour if applicable), your “Arrete de Nomination (including an official statement about how much money you will make),” a French bank account with a Relevé d’Identité Bancaire (RIB), a “Caution Solidaire,” (basically a guarantee by someone in France with a French bank account that he/she will cover the cost of your rent if you are unable to pay, see below), the bank account information and RIB from your caution solidaire, the latest statements from your American (or other) banks showing the amount of cash on hand, yours and your “Caution Solidaire’s” proof of income and possibly tax returns, birth and marriage certificates (if applicable), previous rental contracts and letters of recommendation translated into French by any previous landlord a plus. You will be required to pay the equivalent of three months rent when you sign a lease, so be sure that you have this money on hand and can have it transferred to your French bank account. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).


Will you have enough money to survive? You won’t be paid until November, and in the mean-time you’ll need to furnish enough money to get to France, to pay your bills, and to eat/sleep/survive more generally. Do you have healthcare? What if you get sick before your state coverage kicks in November/December? Will you be happy with such a profound change in your life? These questions need to be answered before you take the plunge.


Think about your banking options. The easiest, and costliest option is to open an international account with HSBC before you leave. It’s best if you do this in-person, and explain to your agent that you will need HSBC to open you a French bank account when you arrive in France. It is impossible to open a French bank account without an address in France and a personal appearance at the bank (in other words, no internet banking options without an account opened in France). The HSBC account will cost you quite a bit in fees, so if you don’t want to pay a bank for that, you will have to wait until you get to France.


Book your flight. As with all things, you’ll get a better deal if you think ahead. You might get lucky with a last minute flight, but the odds are stacked against you. Remember, if you’re students you can use STA. com and StudentUniverse.com, both of which will save you some cash on your flight. Think about getting your International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or the equivalent for young adults who aren’t students.


Put together some lesson plans. After all, this is why you’re coming! You may or may not need them, but it’s good to be prepared. The FATP people recommend bringing postcards and photos of your home area, which is a good idea. Think more broadly about cool things to bring from the US that young students would be interested in. I’ve found that the most excitement comes from talk about American celebrities (movie/tv actors and musical artists) and comparing teenage life in France and the US. They didn’t much care for my lesson about suburban Maryland, but maybe you come from a more interesting place. Visuals are always good.


Get your Birth Certificate officially translated. I didn’t need an official translation for any of my documents (my half-hearted translation seemed fine to them), but many people did, so be prepared. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).


Get your “Vaccination Calendar”. It reports on all the vaccinations you have had in the past, ensuring that you are up-to-date. I had never heard of such a thing, and I was yelled at, mocked, and ridiculed by the doctor who did my medical checkup. At least I still passed.


Think about what to bring. You won’t be there for the warmest summer months, so your clothes should be geared towards autumn, winter and spring. I know the allure of a French shopping spree is strong, but clothes are much less expensive in the US and the first major sale season you will see in France won’t begin until January. In addition, cameras, computers and bicycle helmets are helpful. We brought camping equipment because it’s what we like to do. Sheets and towels aren’t necessary, but if you’ve got room...Generally, it’s more convenient to get aspirin, antacid and allergy medication in the US. In terms of food’drink, it’s always a good idea to bring Peanut Butter (it’s relatively more expensive here), baking soda and bourbon whiskey (although I've been laughed at for mentioning baking soda, it costs about 3 times as much in France and is more difficult to find). Cigarettes are cheaper most places in the US (they average about 5.50 Euro per pack in France). Check with US customs for regulations.


Last things before you leave. Make sure you have a place to stay when you get to France, and preferably, have found an apartment for good. Being homeless with a bunch of baggage is not fun.


4. When you get to France, August/September/October


Take a day or two to relax, see the sights and catch up with your jet lag. Drink some wine...it helps.


Get a cell phone and a number. You will need this for the most basic operations in France. Orange is more expensive but has better coverage (at least in the Ile-de-France)...SFR and Bouygues are cheaper but have poorer coverage. I have been told that SFR has a better coverage network in the south, but I can't confirm that.


Send your form letter to ANAEM declaring your presence in France. They will then send you a date at which you will take your medical exam. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).


If you still need a bank account with a French bank, make an appointment ASAP.
If you want to rent an apartment on your own, a bank account is necessary. It is also necessary for your salary. The French equivalent of credit unions are definitely the way to go, and Crédit Mutuel (www.creditmutuel.fr) even has a division for “Enseignants.” I have Crédit Agricole (www.creditagricole.fr), which has been just fine so far. You will need to call first (or make an appointment online), and the turnaround time is about one week. When you go for your appointment, you will need the following: Passport and visa, recipissé for your Carte de Séjour (if you have it already), birth certificates with a translation, your “Arrete de Nomination,” and proof of address (in France, a lease is ok, but it’s preferred to have a utilities bill in your name. EDF and GDF are good, and so is France Télécom if you have a landline), and finally, some cash to deposit in the account. If you do not have a proof of address yet because you have not signed a lease or you are staying with someone/at someone’s apartment, you will need their information and possibly their presence in person. They will need to write you a letter attesting to the fact that you are staying in their apartment, they will need to copy their ID card, and they will need to attach their proof of residence (EDF, GDF bill). If they are willing to come with you to the bank, they will still need to bring this information with them, but it will certainly help you in your communication with the bank associate. Make sure to ask for a Carte Bancaire, which will be delivered either to your address or to your local branch, depending on preference. You will also need a Relevé d’Identité Bancaire (RIB), of which you should probably keep about a dozen copies. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).


Find an apartment. Make sure your dossier is complete in searching. (Please see below a list of my favorite hosing options). (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).


Visit your school to meet your secrétariat and possibly some of the other English teachers. Obtain your “Procés Verbal d’Installation” because this is important (means that you have shown up and assumed your functions). I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions for them, but you should also be sure to tell them what you require. If you don’t tell them early, then they might very well give you 25 students per class and expect that you will know what to do, which is not always the case.


Get your mandatory medical checkup
. This is a profoundly embarrassing procedure that reminds me of both the middle ages and science fiction. Alas, it’s necessary for all Carte de Séjour applicants. You have already declared to ANAEM that you have arrived in France. When you see the secrétariat at your school, they should have an appointment for you to get your medical. If they don’t, you need to press them to get one for you, because it’s the first step in getting your Carte de Séjour. You must then keep your appointment, and bring with you your IDs, your “Arrete de Nomination,” your convocation for the medical visit, and ideally a “Vaccination Calendar” that reports on all the vaccinations you have had in the past, ensuring that you are up-to-date. I had never heard of such a thing, and I was yelled at, mocked, and ridiculed. But I still passed.


In an ideal world, ANAEM and your académie will then communicate to set up your medical exam and your appointment to get your Carte de Séjour
. This is not always the case, and I would recommend taking the initiative yourself. You will need to make an appointment at the Préfecture de Police of the location where you live. If you live in Paris, this will be at the Préfecture de Police on the Ile-de-la-Cité (don’t let them tell you otherwise...Assistants de langue have a special status and are not supposed to go where the other visa types do. I learned this the hard way by waiting 4 hours in the rain only to be told I wasn’t supposed to be there). If you live in the Paris region, you go to the préfecture départementale. If you live outside of the Paris region, you’ll have to go to either the préfecture or sous-préfecture, mairie or the commissariat de police. Most places you will have to make an appointment first, so look at anaem-social.fr for phone numbers. I recommend doing this as soon as possible, because the next steps become markedly easier with a recipissé/Carte de Séjour. You will need your passport with your visa, your “Arrete de Nomination,” a copy of your “Procès Verbal d’Installation,” a proof of residence, your original birth certificate and a French translation, the certificate from your medical checkup, four passport photos, and in some places a self-addressed stamped envelope. (Please see below for a complete list of forms you will need to complete your dossier).

* As of June 2009, the procedure for students and Assistants de langue have changed. Apparently, you will not be required to obtain a carte de séjour anymore, just an OFII form. See the following link for more info: http://www.assistantsinfrance.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=59&t=35395


When you have found an apartment, make sure to get renter’s insurance
. It’s mandatory in France. You can get this at your bank, or you can go to a private company like MAIF, MAAF, AXA, etc.


As soon as you have found your apartment, get your utilities taken care of
. Ask for the information for the previous tenant, if there was one, including their EDF and GDF accounts and their landline telephone numbers. You will need this to set up your new utilities. Take action on this IMMEDIATELY. It took us 2.5 months to get our internet installed, so get the ball rolling as soon as you can. In France, recent deregulation of the telecommunications industry has made internet ridiculously cheap by American standards...about 30 euros for Internet, Television and Landline Telephone in the same bundle. We have Free, but I would recommend Neuf. There are a bunch of different choices, so don’t worry.


Be sure to monitor the CIEP website for the precise dates/locations of your orientation. Sometimes, the orientation will take place right around the 1st. Others may take place later. These are mandatory.


Show up to work on October 1. Technically, you’re not supposed to do any teaching for the first week (you’re in observation mode) but if you have a bad set of teachers, they may just feel like dumping their students on you.


Taking advantage of French social services.

You’re not technically eligible for social security and Caisse d’Allocation Familiale (CAF) until you work for 90 hours, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting prepared.


Salary. You won’t be paid until the end of November, unless you specifically request to be paid in October (you’ll be eligible for 70% of your salary). In November, you will receive the salary that you are due for the first two months. You will also receive a bulletin de salaire, which you should keep. It contains your provisional social security number, which will be used to set up your healthcare and CAF accounts.


Transportation reimbursement. All public school employees are eligible for transportation reimbursements. It is in your best interest to get monthly passes for whatever public transportation you might have, and bring it to your secrétariat. He/She will make a copy and send it to the académie, and theoretically you are entitled to as much as 50% of the value of the pass.


Health Care. If you have private health care from home, it’s not an urgency, but you’ll want to sign up as soon as you can nonetheless. First, you’ll need to go to your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM), which you can find at ameli.fr. To open an account, you’ll need your IDs (passport, titre de séjour), your “Arrete de Nomination,” your “Procés Verbal d’Installation,” your proof of address, and your bulletins de salaire, a RIB, and anything else you might think helps your case. This should take care of the “programme de base,” and depending on the efficiency of your particular office, you should be sent your account number and your health-care card within a few weeks. Depending on how important health care is to you, you may want to sign up for an additional “mutuelle.” Mgen.fr is the preferred mutuelle of teachers in France.


Get Rent Subsidies
. Despite what they may try to tell you, you are eligible for housing subsidies. Go to CAF.fr and download the rent subsidy application form. You will need to have your proprietaire sign this form and attest to its veracity, so if your proprietaires are shady characters and haven’t declared this as a legitimate, taxable operation, then this might not work for you. It is also necessary to be a signatory to the lease in order to get a CAF, so if you are living with roommates, make sure to sign the lease. If you are subletting, you’re out of luck. You can go in person to their office (most every municipality has one), or you can sign up by mail with the appropriate documentation (we signed up by mail with no problems). Annoyingly, you can't communicate with CAF associates by e-mail, so any complaining/appealing will have to be done in person, on the phone, or by mail. Be sure that they pay you the amount you are due...for whatever reason, assistants tend to get stuck in the bureaucracy without the full "Quotient Familiale," but a little persistence should keep you in the pay.

Renewing your contract. So you liked being an assistant in France? Would you like to stay for another year? You have the option of renewing your contract once. You will be presented with the paperwork from CIEP and your académie in late January early February (if you don’t get it from your secrétariat, you can find it online). The paperwork is due by the end of February. Remember that new applicants have priority over renewals, so you will only be offered a position if it’s still open when the newbies apply. Unfortunately, if you are offered a position, you will most likely have to return to the United States to repeat the visa procedure one more time, because you do not have the option to renew your Carte de Séjour in France once your visa is expire. It is likely that you will not find out about your appointment until the summer, and also possible that you won’t find out until September. Expect for your paperwork to be delayed, and don’t count on being able so speed up the process (unfortunately, that’s just the way it is).


Leaving

a.Technically, you’re required to leave when your visa is up. The chances that anyone will look at your visa are minimal, and even if you are caught, you can claim that you let France and came back without anyone having stamped your passport. Some have theorized that it’s possible to leave the Schengen area (Switzerland, for example) and re-enter on the standard 90 day tourist visa enjoyed by any American citizen. I’m sure this is possible, but I’ve never tried it. Any talk about a 2 month grace period is rumor as far as I am concerned.


b. If you are leaving, it is absolutely necessary that you give your landlord at least two months notice before you leave, in writing. You can get out of your rental contract at any point during your lease, but you must be sure to give the required two months notice.



Lastly, have fun. This is a great experience, and you should take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. Good luck!