Living in France, especially Paris, can be quite expensive for anyone on a student’s budget. My rent eats up most of my monthly expenses, even though I have a comparatively low rent considering the neighbourhood I’m living in.
What the Government Offers
If you aren’t making much or any money during your study period, you are probably eligible for France’s rental assistance, known as CAF.
As is typical with all French paperwork processes though, this one is notoriously slow, especially when everyone is applying in September for the new school year. Thankfully the French government will backdate all payments to the month you were eligible. So even if you don’t get a payment until January, you will still get it for when you first arrived in France in September.
Who is Eligible
- is living in France
- is living in an eligible apartment, foyer or Cité Universitaire
- has made very little money in the past couple of years
- is making very little money this year
- has a valid carte de séjour or EU passport
- and has a French bank account
…is eligible for CAF. The requirement for living in France is straightforward – you either do or you don’t. An eligible apartment means that you must be able to have your landlord sign your application form. This is a problem for many landlords who cheat on their taxes (and there are a surprising number of them). If you can, have it in writing before you rent the apartment that the landlord will sign your CAF form. How much money you made in the last two years will need to be revealed to the French government in your application. If you worked, a copy of your previous tax returns, a T-4 (for Canadians) or a W-2 (for Americans) is considered proof enough. If you didn’t work, submit your proof of enrollment in university and that you are a dependent of your parents. If you currently have a job, you will also need to add a copy of your work contract and the last three months of payslips.
You won’t have a valid carte de séjour the minute you arrive in France, but since the payments will be backtracked, this isn’t a huge concern. Just be sure to send your OFII paperwork as soon as you can and attend the mandatory medical visit to validate your visa as soon as possible. As a Canadian, for some reason this process took a ridiculous amount of time, way more than any Americans I knew. Most of them were done with their visits in October. I didn’t have my medical exam until nearly Christmas. If you are from Québec, I understand that your process is much faster than other Canadians. So start the CAF process when you arrive and then you can finish the application process once you have that fancy little carte de séjour sticker stamped into your passport. If you are an EU citizen, then you don’t have to worry about this part.
And lastly, you need a French bank account in order to get your payments. You can also have the payments deposited into your landlord’s account, in which case you would only pay the difference in rent. But if you want to handle the money yourself, then you’ll want to start getting a bank account right away as well (which is also necessary for a phone plan, internet plan and most utilities).
How to Apply
First thing to do is check that you are indeed, eligible. CAF requires a lot of paperwork and you don’t want it to be all for nought. Run the simulator to see if you are eligible and also to see how much you will likely receive. Most estimates are between 90€ and 200€ a month.
Living with roommates does affect your payments as CAF applies to all roommates. Therefore you will likely receive more money if you live alone. If your roommates work or make significant money, this could affect how much money you receive.
After you know you are eligible and have an idea of how much to expect, go to the CAF website and start an application. Many applications can be completed online by uploading the required documents as PDF. If you need any help, in September and October, the Cité Universitaire and most other Parisian university campuses will have a welcome table set up with CAF employees who can answer your questions and help you fill out your forms.
Back to the roommate situation – if they are French, you will need their parents’ tax returns. It seems like you are intruding on personal information but it is what it is. You will also need all of your other roommate’s information for your application as well.
After the usual personal information is over with, your tax information will come into play. Use your net wages, not your gross, and put that in the top line. The second line is your frais réels, which is 10% of your first number. The rest of the numbers will be 0 unless you receive any social security or disability benefits.
Once the math is over, have your landlord fill out the attestation de loyer, which includes all of his/her personal information plus information about your rental (furnished/unfurnished, length of the rental contract, square footage, amount for rent, amount for all other utilities and charges, etc).
When you have your landlord’s attestation de loyer back, you have to wait until you have your carte de séjour to upload online (as a non-EU citizen) or if you are an EU citizen, you can upload a copy of your passport instead.
And that should be it! Like I mentioned earlier, this process takes time. Sometimes, the payments don’t come until basically the very end of your year abroad. Be sure to let CAF know when you leave (if you plan on leaving at all!) and also of any changes that happen to your living situations (like a new job, or a new apartment and roommates).
- If you are a student, be sure to submit the student version when you fill out your application. You don’t have to be a student to apply for CAF but they do tend to give particular consideration to students and the payments tend to be a bit on the more generous side. This means you are more likely to get more money, faster. It doesn’t matter if you are working on the side, just be sure that you are a full time student to use this form.
- Try to arrive in France within the last week of the month. I say this because CAF only applies starting the second month of your arrival. Therefore, if you arrive on August 31, your payments start September 1. If you arrive on September 1, your payments don’t start until October 1.
- What counts as “low income” to CAF? The value for eligibility in 2011 was any amount under 11,138€ a year.
Have any questions?
Ask below and I will try and pick my brain for you. Good luck! 🙂