12 tips for studying abroad in Paris

Posted in: Paris Planning

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Paris Sorbonne
Heading to Paris for a study abroad program? You'll soon join students like these relaxing at the Sorbonne. Photo: AmitLev

If you’re a university student, chances are you may be planning your study abroad trip. If you’re lucky enough to be coming to Paris, you’ve got a lot to look forward to! Summer students have just descended upon the streets of Paris, and the fall semester and year-long students are on their way. If you’re coming to study in Paris, you’re sure to have an amazing time in the City of Lights. Here are some tips to make your time away from home the best it can be.

1. Plan ahead

You may have heard of the famous perils of French bureaucracy. Before you board your plane, make sure you have EVERYTHING in order—from your administration forms to your French visa. You do not want to deal with French administrative details when you could be enjoying a perfect afternoon at a Paris cafe. Trust me.

2. Get all your finances in order

You may want to check with your bank about fees while you’re abroad. You’ll be shocked by the international fees you can incur if you use your debit card at an ATM here. There may be a French sister bank to your bank (for example, BNP Paribas and Bank of America), or a special travel credit/debit card for you to take advantage of. Related: How to avoid ATM fees while traveling in Paris

Paris Packing

Pack light. Photo: Parimal S

3. Pack light

You may feel like you need to bring two or three suitcases with you, but you’ll never wear most of those clothes. Living in Paris is all about having a few classic items, like your favorite pair of jeans, a blazer and a leather jacket. And save some room for your new purchases!

4. Learn some French!

Seriously, learn at least a bit of French before arriving in Paris. A lot of people do speak English, but why waste this great opportunity to develop your language skills? Before you arrive, you’ll want to know some basic French so that you can get by. While in Paris, do language exchanges! There are many great services in Paris to practice French with francophones, such as Franglish, an informal meet-up in a bar.

5. That being said.. make some French friends!

The best way to practice your French is to make friends. It might be a little hard at first, but talk to your French classmates, or the people you meet out and about. You’ll be surprised how much your French will improve, and how much you’ll learn about French culture.

Paris Apartments

Dorms are pretty much the same around the world, even in Paris. An apartment will bring you closer to the city. Photo: Jamie M

6. Think about alternatives to dorm living

There are so many great apartments around Paris, and so many wonderful flat shares to take advantage of. Why not rent a room in an apartment with French students? Or get an apartment with some friends? You’ll be able to have a real kitchen and host parties, as well as explore different areas of Paris. You can search for flat shares on websites such as Paris Craiglist, WelcHome.com, and Erasmusu.com. There are also several good Facebook groups for Expats where members often post ads for flat shares.

7. Take advantage of fantastic public transport

Paris has a great Metro, bus and bicycle rental system. Most of the time, you can get wherever you need to go within 2o minutes! Learn the basics of the Metro and experiment with the bus—you won’t regret it. And if you like biking, definitely check out Velib, Paris’s bicycle share. You can rent a bike for a day, a week, or even a year. There is no better feeling than returning from a party at night en vélo with the Seine as your guide!

Related: Tips for riding Velib bike share in Paris

Nutella Paris

Nutella for breakfast, lunch and even dinner sometimes. Photo: buz_flickr

8. Nutella is the new peanut butter

Forget about all those anglo food stables. A loaf of sliced whole wheat bread? Nope, the baguette replaces all forms of bread in Paris. You’re in Europe now, and Nutella is the king of spreads. Put Nutella on pretty much everything, but mostly baguettes—it will probably become your breakfast, lunch and dinner at times.

9. Don’t go searching for iced coffee.

On a recent trip back to the States, I noticed that America seems to have become obsessed with iced coffee. I saw signs everywhere for it! Don’t get me wrong, I, too, enjoy them when its hot outside. But in Paris, iced coffee isn’t really a thing. Most cafés don’t even have ice. Ordering a café glacé will probably get you an ice-cream filled, super-sweet treat, rather than the classic drip coffee over ice with a splash of milk you were probably looking for. So, either make your iced coffee at home, or get used to sipping on hot espresso in the summer like the rest of us.

10. Happy hours and cheap spots to drink.

If you didn’t already know, alcohol is pretty expensive in Paris. A cocktail can cost anywhere from €8-16 depending on where you are. So, if you like drinking at bars, get ready to hunt for the cheap ones, and the ones with good happy hours. If you’ve got a good nose, you can find bars in Paris with €4 pints and €5 cocktails.

Paris cheese market

Cheese fans can get a true taste of Paris at the local markets. Photo: The LEAF Project

11. Instead of supermarkets, try the local markets!

France has many supermarkets offering all the basics as well as prepared food. You’ll come to know these places as Monoprix, Franprix and G20. While these are great every once in awhile, try not to rely on them. Paris is full of incredibly fresh markets offering amazing fruits, vegetables and more and great prices. Take the extra time to support local farmers, and practice your French!

Related: 10 tips for budget shoppers at the outdoor markets in Paris

Paris cafe

Follow these tips, and you’ll soon find yourself studying at that cozy Parisian cafe you always dreamed of! Photo: Arsian

12. Have some patience and get out as much as you can

Living in Paris as an ex-pat is not easy. At times, you will surely feel alienated and like a total idiot abroad. But, it will also be an amazing experience and a great opportunity to grow. Have some patience when the going gets rough, because you’ll always remember this exciting time in  your life. You may be tempted to sit at home on Skype talking to your friends and family back at home, or binge-watch Netflix when you don’t have plans. On those days, just get out of the house and walk around. Paris is yours to discover, and you never know what you might find!

About the author

Kaitlin Davella

Kaitlin D'Avella is a freelance writer currently based in Paris. She is American, but has lived in Montreal and London, UK in addition to her native New England. She is an avid budget traveler, having recently returned from a journey exploring parts of India. Read more of her work on her website.

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