I have no idea where last year has gone. A fresh new batch of language students have left the UK to start their Year Abroad journey. It seems like 2 minutes ago I was stressing out about finding somewhere to live, and worrying if my French was good enough to survive in France, but now it’s someone else’s turn to do all that. It’s an exciting time. Nerve-wracking, but exciting.
My time has been and gone and I now have the gift of hindsight. They say you shouldn’t regret the decisions you made, and overall, I don’t. But there is one teeny tiny thing I would have done differently. How many of you who are studying in France have heard of CAF? It’s not something I knew much about before I left for France, but it’s quite important.
So, what is CAF?
CAF stands for Caisse d’Allocations Familiales. All students studying in France are eligible to apply for free money to help towards the cost of accommodation. That’s right, the French Government is willing to help you pay rent, and if there’s anything we students love, it’s free money.
What do you need to apply?
You’ve probably been advised to take multiple photocopies of identification documents (Passport, birth certificates etc.) and you’ll need these for the application. You may also need a French translation of your birth certificate. Not everyone is required to provide one but for some reason I was. Please comment or contact me if you know me as I have contact details of a translator who offers student discounts.
How do you apply?
First, you need to apply online. Then you’ll be asked to hand in hard copies of the relevant documents to your local CAF office. Beware, the application process takes a very long time (like everything else in France), so you need to start ASAP. This is where my regret comes in to play. I kept putting it off, I had the ‘Oh I’ll do it tomorrow’ attitude. I wish I’d started the process sooner. There may be a lot of to and fro-ing between you and the CAF office, but trust me it’s worth it. Accommodation isn’t cheap, so every little helps.
How much money do you get?
This depends on the size of the property you’re renting, and your monthly rent. In total I received around 700euros and I didn’t apply until late November. So be sure to get in there quickly for the maximum amount. What happens if you put it off for months like I did? Well, after you leave France you’ll end up with a bunch of money stuck in your French bank account, with no easy way to access it from the UK.
How frustrating is the process?
Very. It’s probably the most annoying thing I’ve ever had to do. Luckily, every other ERASMUS student feels the same way. You’re all in the same boat, so you can all complain about it together. It makes for a wonderful bonding exercise! But it’s those experiences, dealing with the French authorities and offices, which really improve your confidence when speaking French. And you get money for it. So it’s not all bad.
Good luck to everyone who has started their year abroad this time! I hope you all have a blast.