France is an increasingly popular destination for international students. In 2020-21, there were 370,000 international students in France, compared with 324,000 in 2016-17.
Having spent six years living, working and studying in France, I can highly recommend it. The country offers high-quality education, rich culture, world-class gastronomy and an enjoyable way of life.
For those considering studying in France, here are some key tips and words of advice from current international students about how to study abroad in France and what to expect from your time there.
1. Understand student visas
There are both short-term student visas (three months or less) and long-term student visas (for more than three months). The visa that you apply for will depend on your nationality and how long you are planning to stay. Do check with your own embassy as well as your chosen school, which will be able to provide a lot of support and advice.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your school, friends or any good connections to get information. Whichever administrative process you need to follow, make sure to always get started at least two months before the deadline, as it is quite time-consuming,” recommends Youngsu Jung, an international student from South Korea who is studying at the Grenoble School of Management.
2. Stay on top of applications and paperwork
There is a lot of administration required to study in France. You will often be asked to prove your identity, sometimes with documents such as your birth certificate. It can seem complicated, but once done, you will gain a lot of advantages, such as registration into the social security system.
You should also aim to open a bank account as soon as you arrive in France. It will help you with a lot of the administrative steps, especially insurance and CAF (which stands for “Caisse des Allocations Familiales”, a form of financial support in France for international students).
“Before we arrived, the international office (at our university) was very helpful in telling us what we needed to prepare, how to apply for a visa, how to find an apartment, and how to apply for social security and CAF,” explains Shuhan Chang, a Chinese student at ESSCA School of Management.
3. Learn the language
French is the only official language in France, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to communicate with the locals in English or any other languages fluently. At most universities, most teaching staff will speak English, but learning the local language is always a great idea.
“Start learning French. It will make your life much easier if you understand basic, everyday concepts, like ordering a pain au chocolat in a boulangerie,” recommends Yelyzaveta Lytvyniuk, a Ukrainian student at the Grenoble School of Management.
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4. Immerse yourself in French culture
If you are coming to France from a country outside Europe, you might encounter a few surprises, so spend some time getting to know the local culture. Working hours can be limited, and most things are closed on Sundays. Compared with many countries, France also has a lot of public holidays.
Additionally, take some time to meet domestic students at your university as well as other international students.
“I recommend that you need to expect to do things in the French way – join school clubs and talk to local French people and embrace the culture,” recommends Marx Zhou, a Chinese student currently at the Grenoble School of Management.
5. Take advantage of student benefits
As a student in France, there are a lot of benefits available to you. You can access some social security, housing subsidies and basic rights protection, so do ask your university’s international office for some assistance.
Students can also take advantage of various discounts at museums, theatres and cinemas. The national train company, SNCF, offers a young person’s railcard for those between the ages of 18 and 27. The Campus France website is a great resource to discover further information on the various benefits available.
It is worth exploring what benefits and deals your respective school can provide. “At ESSCA, the school has a bank account with HSBC and will give you a gift card of €80 for a few months after opening an account,” says Shuhan Chang.
6. Choose your location
France is a diverse country, from Paris to Bordeaux to Marseilles to Lyon. There are historic cities, beautiful countryside, miles of coastlines and dramatic mountains to explore. The various parts of France can vary significantly in their climate, customs, food and ways of life, so be sure to choose a location that suits you.
“Make sure you know which city and style of campus suits you the best,” advises Alexandre Dupuis from Germany, studying at ESSCA School of Management. “Angers, where ESSCA has a campus, is a small and pleasant town. But it is really easy to explore lots of nearby places such as Brittany and the Loire Valley,” he adds.
7. Understand student accommodation
In France, there are various housing options. However, whether you decide to stay in university-provided or private accommodation, do investigate the possibility of getting CAF, the government finance support scheme.
In addition, try to arrange your accommodation as far in advance as you can. The process can be time-consuming and challenging if you start your accommodation search only once you are at your chosen school.
Diana Quezada, who is from El Salvador and is studying at the Grenoble School of Management, advises: “Start looking for a place to stay as early as you can, and try to find something close to school – it makes everything much easier. Do make use of the school’s support, and ask teams such as international services to help you find the best platforms and sources of information to find good accommodation.”
8. Make the most of it
In summary, France is a wonderful country to live and study in. It offers the chance to mix with students from all over the world and fully immerse yourself in the French way of life.
Use it as a great opportunity to experience a different culture, learn a new language, try different cuisines and explore diverse landscapes and cities. French universities and business schools are good at putting on social, sporting and cultural activities, so make sure to take advantage of all these.
“Studying at a French university will not only help you to grow as a student, but it will also help you to grow as a person. You’ll get out of your comfort zone, experience a new culture and meet some amazing people,” concludes ESSCA School of Management student Luca Sven Taouss, who is from Norway.
As one of the most popular study destinations in Europe, France has a lot to offer international students. Here are eight things you should know before you choose to study there