So after my last installment, you've found your family. Now what?
1. Start saving. Seriously. Get a second job or something. The girl before me came with about $3,000 saved up. I came with next to none. She did a lot more travelling than I did. Paris is not a cheap place to live and you won't get paid a lot. Bring as much as you can. While you're at it, look into a credit union, or a bank with international partnerships. For instance, Bank of America partners with BNP Paribas here, and allows you to withdraw money with lower international fees than some other banks.
2. Get your visa. They say not to get your plane ticket first, because your visa may be delayed, and you can't enter the country without your passport. However, you can't get your visa more than 3 months before your arrival in France. So I'll leave that decision up to you.
Please note that all of these are based on my experiences in the summer of 2010, and your consulate may have different requirements or they might have changed. Please check with your consulate for confirmation.
First, locate the French Consulate that serves your area. For my consulate, in Miami, there was not a lot of information about au pair visas specifically - just work visas and student visas. As an au pair you will get a student visa so follow the instructions under this heading if no au pair information is found. I needed several documents, including the long-stay visa application (available online), my au pair contract from the family, approved by the French labor department (they should do this), a certified copy of my high school diploma (this will cost you, be prepared), a letter (in French, make friends with Google translate) explaining why I wanted to come and study in France, an ID photo (get several, you need them for a lot of things in France), my passport, and a self-addressed envelope. You will NOT need to register with campusfrance since you're not a "real" student, if you will. Your au pair contract should act as your proof of accomodations and finances so you will not need these either.
Second, you will have to make an appointment, probably online, and probably well in advance, to come in person to your consulate to turn these pages in. So you live in Tallahassee, which is a 10 hour drive from Miami? Tough. Make it a family vacation and bring the whole clan. You will probably need to print out the confirmation of your appointment; even if they tell you you don't need this, print it and bring it anyway. They can be picky.
Bring photocopies of everything.
According to this, the processing fee for a long-stay visa (what you want) is $143. I have heard that some prospective au pairs were only charged the student fee of $72 at their consulate. I was not. Have $143 ready just in case.
3. Got your visa paperwork turned in? Book your flight. You're probably going to be arriving in Paris for the beginning of the school year, meaning late August or early September. July and August are the two vacation months in Paris and therefore the most expensive times to fly. If possible, shoot for early September; flights drop by a couple hundred dollars between August and September. Try studentuniverse.com, a site that gives discounts on some flights for students and those of us under 26; you'll just have to fax in proof of enrollment or age and once they confirm they will book your flight. I found my flight in September for $500 on this site; the cheapest I found in late August was $800. Also, you probably won't be able to book a return flight yet but do that as soon as possible too, because summer flight prices will start high and only go up.
4. Packing. Pack a few days or maybe a week or two in advance; you'll probably have to eliminate things to get it down to your desired number of suitcases. Use space bags, they are a lifesaver.
Things Parisians wear:
- Black pea coat. Fitted. Don't try to buy it one size up to "accommodate for layers." You will just look like a bag lady compared to all the svelte French women who have obviously experienced more winters than this Floridian. One that covers your butt is nice too, nothing's more miserable than your butt being cold.
- Black anything, for that matter.
- Down jackets (I call them puffers but apparently no one else does). They smell funny but they look warm. Only in very cold weather though, may not be worth the extra space they take up. I survived without one.
- Blazers. Black or navy. Rolled at the wrist, over anything.
- Boots. Any style, size, color. They love boots and will wear them from October through April regardless of what the temperature is actually like You can even wear brown boots with that black pea coat, colors don't seem to be as big a deal as Americans make them.
- Scarves. There is a difference between light summer scarves worn for appearances (foulards) and the warm winter scarves (echarps). They wear them both. You will begin to wonder how you ever survived without a scarf.
- Converse All-Star sneakers. In grey or dark blue, not black. Almost always high tops, but with jeans, who can tell the difference?
- Skinny jeans. Dark wash. Even on people who aren't terribly skinny. If you think you can't wear them, spend some time in Paris. You will likely change your mind.
- Pants that aren't jeans. Weird, I know. Like these strange sort of pleated, kind of baggy, ankle length trousers. Wait til you get here to get a sense of that one because many Americans seem to have trouble with this. I'm still not sure how they do it.
- Oxfords. You know, those menswear-looking flat lace-up shoes that no one in America really knows how to wear? They rock them.
- Ballet flats, in spring.
- Layers. Think a jacket over a sweater over a dress over leggings with a scarf thrown over it. Topped with a hat. I'm still working on this one.
Things Parisians don't wear:
- Sweatshirts. (Not entirely true, I did see a woman wearing a grey zip-up hoodie, under a black blazer with dark wash jeans and black high heeled boots. Nothing sloppy about it.)
- Athletic shoes (unless running)
- Shorts (without leggings underneath, anyway...I still plan on wearing mine when it gets warm, Parisians be damned)
- Flip flops.
Things you also might want to bring:
- Laptop equipped with Skype. You will likely use it often.
- Dental floss and Listerine. It's expensive here, IF you can find it. Stock up
- Adapters. They are fairly affordable. You probably won't need a transformer for your computer or camera charger. Mine didn't work anyway. If you rely on a hair straightener, plan to buy on in France. No one I know has had success with American appliances.
Wear your heaviest stuff on the plane. I wore 2 sweaters, all my jewelry, and my Uggs, even though it was 90 degrees outside when I left. Once on the plane I took it all off and switched to flip flops. And if you get to baggage check in and it's a few pounds too heavy (a few, not 10), a little panicked "but I'm moving to Paris" may garner some sympathy from well-meaning airport employees and they may let you slide. But be prepared.
Alright, I have a rule that when attempting to manipulate airline employees comes into the picture, it's time to wrap it up. On the bright side, I will continue this in a third and final discussion on costs ( I will, I promise!), and I have also purchased new batteries for my camera so P365 can continue yet again.
Au revoir for now amigos.