You have been accepted to teach in France– congratulations! However, moving to a new country can be all kinds of exhausting. Here are some things I did to stay organized and on top of everything before leaving for France:
- Make Copies of everything, and invest in a fancy file folder to keep everything in. This will save you SO much hassle in the long run. For reasons I can no longer remember, I made 7 copies of everything- my passport ID pages, my visa, my birth certificate, apostille, and translations, my university diploma, arrête de nomination, and OFII papers, for example.
- Get in Touch with your School- Once you receive your school placement in the mail, get in touch with your prof référent. Introduce yourself, ask a bit about their expectations, the job itself, what you can prepare in advance, etc. Additionally, ask if they have any leads on housing (they may!) or if you are able to stay with someone until you find a place to live.
- Get in Touch with Other Assistants- Facebook is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Reach out to other assistants in your area, and make some friends. If you’re a blogger, start searching for other blogs! It’s fun to read about everyone’s different experiences.
- Locate an official birth certificate and sent it to your state’s Secretary of State to receive an Apostille stamp– When preparing for my assistant year, this process costed me $10 and a semi-lengthy application process. The apostille stamp is basically an internationally recognized symbol stating that my birth certificate is official. France requires you to have this so you can enroll in its social security system. As a lectrice, this was already done. All I had to do was make additional copies.
- Translate your Birth Certificate- After receiving the apostille stamp on your birth certificate back, find a certified translator in the US, and just check this one off your list. Don’t leave it until you get to France. (I sent my birth certificate along with $50 check and self-addressed/stamped return envelope to a certified French translator in Madison, WI. He also notarized it upon completing the translation.) Again, for my lectrice position, all of this was already done, so I just needed to make more copies!
- Finalize Student Loan Repayments– If you have student loans, weigh all of your payment plan options before leaving the country. Initially, from September-December 2013, I was paying my loans on a gradual repayment plan. Then, in January 2014, I deferred my student loans until I finished my assistantship program and through the summer months. Finally, when I began my job as a lectrice, I applied for income-based repayment. Now, every month I transfer money back to my US bank account using Transferwise (if you want to sign up, use my provided link to get your first free transfer!) If you cannot afford monthly payments, I highly recommend income-based repayment, because the interest rate is lower than if your loans are deferred or on forbearance. For example, I wasn’t actually required to pay anything on income-based repayments, but I was accumulating less interest overall– it makes a huge difference!
- Translate your University Diploma- This was ONLY required for my lectrice position. I had someone in France translate the document for 40 euros while I was job searching in early 2014. However, if being a lecteur is something you’re interested in doing, perhaps send your diploma along with your birth certificate to be translated in advance!
- Apply for your visa- For the assistantship, I waited until I received my arrête de nomination at the end of June to schedule an appointment at the French Consulate in Chicago. For my lectrice position, my contract was sent directly from France to Chicago, so once I received an e-mail from the Chicago Consulate themselves, I then scheduled my appointment. For more information, see your regional consulate’s website.
- Apply for an international Driver’s license: This isn’t completely necessary, but something I think could come in handy if the opportunity presented itself. You can do so for $15 at AAA.
- Suspend/Cancel Phone Contract- My iPhone was already unlocked for international use, so this was the phone I brought with me to France. During my assistantship year, I initally froze my contract with Verizon for six months and then tacked those six months on to the end of my contract (I still had to pay for a couple of months even though I was out of the country but I at least had a phone and plan ready to use for the summer months between my assistant and first lectrice year.) When I left again at the end of the summer to go back to France, I let my Verizon contract run out in November 2014 (still paying those final few months of September, October, and November). Now my plan was officially canceled, but I have a Google Voice number to use when I’m in the USA. Additionally, my phone plan with Free works in the US for calls, texts, and data at NO EXTRA CHARGE.
- Set up a Google Voice Number- This can ONLY be done in the USA. This is a great way to text US numbers for free, as well as list a number if you are planning to job search/interview while in France.
- Get New Passport Sized Photos- The US and European sizes are actually different; there are a bunch of machines all over France where you can purchase passport photos, but if you need US-size ones, you can usually do it at Walgreens.
- Book a Plane Ticket- It’s very much personal choice if you decide to book roundtrip or one-way. Although round-trips are initially cheaper, if you’re not sure what you’re doing or when you’ll be leaving, it may be worth it to only book one way. Are you going home for Christmas? Book a roundtrip flight for December. For my flight bookings, I recommend using Skyscanner, IcelandAir, Kayak, or Opodo!
- Notify Your Bank About Your Overseas Move to avoid blocked cards. Some banks will block your cards if they see random, suspicious use overseas. Don’t let that happen to you. Additionally, it may be an idea to increase your credit card spending limit and increase your daily cash withdrawal limit (you will probably need to pay a lump sum in cash when you first arrive for a security deposit, etc.) I thankfully have credit cards with no overseas ATM withdraw fees– a huge plus!
- Finalize Medications, Prescriptions and Insurance- Even though healthcare in France is amazing, I ordered an advancement of all of my medications before leaving the United States until I was settled into the healthcare system (thyroid and birth control). I had to pay a bit out of pocket, but for me it was worth it.
- Buy an STA Student/ Youth Card- If you have a student ID, BRING IT. You’ll save loads of cash, even just at the cinemas. Unfortunately I lost mine, so I bought one of these instead. This has gotten me plenty of museum and cinema discounts in France and has paid for itself many times over.
Am I forgetting anything? Have fun!