Few cities in the world are as enticing as Paris. Countless prospective students around the world dream of that rose-tinted Parisian life: walking to class along the Seine, a flaky croissant in one hand and an indulgent chocolat chaud in the other, perhaps having a lively discussion about literature or art.
The reality of Paris is, of course, not as picture-perfect (when is it ever?). However, as a student in the city of lights, you’ll get to experience something much better: an authentic Parisian life. It may be gritter than you imagined, but we guarantee that those riverside strolls and flaky croissants will never get old.
For a city that attracts millions of expats and international students, Paris is not necessarily easy to settle into. French people tend to do things a certain way, and it can take some time to figure things out. However, this makes the moment when you realize you have become a Parisian that much more rewarding.
Culture & Immersion
Paris is a bit of a strange mix. As a city, it’s both fully, proudly, stereotypically French and extremely diverse and cosmopolitan. It may take a while for you to get a grip on this blend, but in the meantime, enjoy the beauty of the city and the incredible cultural scene.
Once you have covered all the tourist basics (you’re not not going to see the Eiffel Tower, are you?), you can start discovering "your" Paris. One of the best ways to do this is to simply walk around. That’s how you find the city’s hidden gems and local secrets, which is the single easiest way to start feeling like a Parisian.
Culture Shock & Support
Parisians can be tough to crack. They can easily come off as unfriendly or even rude, especially to smiley Americans. More often than not, this is simply a matter of cultural difference rather than any actual hostility.
French people take longer to develop close friendships and enjoy their small talk. Be patient and persistent with your French classmates, and you will find them to be lifelong friends.
Meanwhile, you can always turn to Paris’ huge expat community. Look for meetups online or turn to your university's international society to meet other new arrivals. You’ll be an invaluable source of support to each other.
As a general rule, French youth culture relies less on going out clubbing and drinking than in other places. After all, Paris drinks are expensive, so you’re much more likely to be invited to a daytime coffee or to a small gathering at someone’s flat. French people love to host -- always bring a bottle of wine.
Shops in France tend to close early (around 6 PM) and the vast majority of commerce shuts on Sundays. Some shops may also be closed on Mondays. Plan your weekly grocery shopping around this, lest you find yourself with nothing to eat on a Sunday morning.
As soon as you start enrolling in your university, you might be overwhelmed by the bureaucracy. Do you really need to send that document by physical mail, and pay by cheque? Yes, you do. It’s not the most fun thing about living in France, but you get used to it. Staying organized helps with all the paperwork.
Insider Tips on Studying Abroad in Paris
French people take their greetings seriously, especially “la bise”. When meeting friends or acquaintances, or when being introduced to someone, you should greet them by giving an air kiss on each cheek.
Always accompany this with a “Bonjour” -- or “Salut” (pronounced sa-lew) in a more casual setting -- and a “ça va?” (how are you?).
Many museums don’t advertise this very obviously, but most major ones are free for residents under 26. Just show your carte de séjour (residence permit) at the ticket office or, if you are an EU national under 26, your passport is enough. Over 26? Wait for the first Sunday of the month, which is free for everyone.
The good thing about moving to one of the tourism capitals of the world is that you will never run out of informational resources about the city. Combine this with your university's support for newcomers and you will have more than enough help to plan your trip.
You can enroll in a university in Paris in one of three ways: by enrolling directly with them, by doing an exchange program with your university, or by paying a third-party organization to help you with the process.
There are many universities in Paris, but the largest and most famous by far is the Sorbonne. It is actually made up of 13 independent universities with separate campuses across Paris and its suburbs. Look up each individual university and its courses to decide which one is for you.
Many universities have student accommodation, which is usually the cheapest option (although not cheap, per se). Places in these are limited, however, so many students end up renting privately. Studios can be expensive, but you can find flatmates on websites like Le Bon Coin and A Partager.
The Paris Metro is by far the easiest way to get around the city -- just keep an eye out for pickpockets. If you are under 26, you can buy an Imagine R Pass, which allows for unlimited travel for €324 a year. Otherwise, a Navigo monthly pass is your best bet.
There is also a bus network, which can be useful for getting around locally. That said, the city center of Paris is extremely walkable, so you can save a lot of money by getting around on foot.
Paris is an expensive city to live in, and yet it consistently ranks near the top of the best cities in the world for students. The key is to know where to save money and to embrace living like a local.
Cost of Living
The biggest cost of living in Paris is, of course, rent. A studio flat in a non-central area will cost about €1,200 a month, plus utilities. If you share with flatmates, you can expect to pay closer to €600 - €800, depending on where you are staying.
Leave the restaurants for an occasional treat, and shop at budget-friendly supermarkets, which can be found in every neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, French staples like good-quality bread (from the boulangerie, of course), cheese, and wine are fairly affordable.
Your visa will depend on the length of your course:
- Three months or less: Short-stay visa
- Three to six months: Temporary long-stay visa
- Six months or over: Long-stay visa
The cost of visa processing is €99. For a long-stay visa, you will need to apply for your residence permit (carte de séjour) within two months of arriving.
Can You Work While Studying in Paris?
Your long-stay visa entitles you to work 964 hours within a year -- about 18 hours a week. You might struggle to find a job if you don’t speak French, so you should definitely take some language classes if you intend to work to support your studies.
One of the best things about studying in France is that it is actually pretty inexpensive, especially when compared to the American system.
At a public university like the Sorbonne, a Bachelor's degree costs €170 a year for EU students and €2,770 a year for international students (€243 and €3,770 for a Masters, respectively).
If you do need support, then there are several scholarships available for international students. Look for French government scholarships, but also for those from individual universities in Paris and international colleges with Parisian exchange programs.