France is the largest country in western Europe and has a population of over 60 million people. It also has several overseas territories, with islands in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, as well as on other continents such as Africa. France shares borders with Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland Luxemburg and Spain. It is also just a few miles across the English Channel from England – and is connected to England via the Eurotunnel (a tunnel that goes under the sea).
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France has a temperate climate making it a very pleasant country in which to live and study. It’s chic and smart with a countryside bursting with chateaus and vineyards, as well as being a gourmet’s dream destination. With stylish cities such as Paris and Nice, and beautiful countryside, not to mention the mountains and beaches, France has something to offer everyone. The French Alps offer some of the best skiing in the world (although the cost of skiing in France is rather high – so students beware!) as well as extremely stunning scenery in both winter and summer. Beach life is a definite bonus of living in France – the French Riviera along the Mediterranean Coast in the south offers wonderful warm climate and some amazing coastline and fantastic beaches. The Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of the country offers large rollers great for surfers!
France is currently ranked as being the wealthiest nation in Europe and the French enjoy a high standard of living, with good healthcare facilities and a high level of public education. France is a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the G8, G20, NATO, OECD and the World Trade Organisation.
The currency in France is the Euro.
French universities are public institutions and enrolment is open to any student holding a French baccalaureate or its foreign equivalent – for example ‘A’ levels in the UK.
As well as having universities, France also has specialised schools – some of which are public and some of which are private. They are prestigious institutions and very selective in their admissions, enrolling much less students than the universities. Specialised schools – also known as Grandes écoles – train students for professions in engineering, management, art, and architecture. Graduates from these specialised schools are in high demand in the French workplace, and indeed worldwide.
As with many other countries in Europe, the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is implemented to help with the admissions procedure, although each institution does set its own admissions policy.
The academic year begins in September or October and ends in May or June – exact dates vary between institutions and programs. Students are assessed throughout each semester with tests – they then have exams at the end of each semester in February and June.
Once you have been accepted at a French university if you are an international student the university will send you a letter of acceptance allowing you to apply for your student visa at your local French consulate. If you are from a country within the European Union member you will not need to get a student visa.
International students make up around 10% the total enrolments in French universities.
Tuition fees at French universities vary slightly according to the type of institution and the program – however as the costs of university education is supported by the French government to the tune of around €6,000 a year per student – the tuition fees in France are generally affordable.
At French universities Masters degree and PhD program costs are slightly higher per annum then those incurred for bachelors degree programs – but they are still rather low, maybe reaching €400 per year.
Tuition fees are considerably higher at the grandes écoles, for example tuition fees for a business school can be €5,000- €10,000 a year, and at an engineering school they can be as high as €15,000. If you do attend a grandes école you should qualify for a specific student loan – and these are often given with a 0% interest rate. It is worth bearing in mind that due to their prestige both in France and worldwide, these institutions can often guarantee a higher salary for its graduates then to those who graduate from the ordiniary French universities. This can make the higher tuition fees an investment worth paying.
France is a country that is rich in culture – with an abundance of art galleries, theatres and historical monuments, chateaus and palaces. All of France's cultural sites and attractions offer student discounts and decent subscription rates. Eating could be described as a national hobby – as France is certainly Europe’s gourmet capital! And although meals can be very expensive – it is also possible to get a decent “Prix fix” meal of the day in most French bistros. There are also the university restaurants that offer decent food at a very reasonable price.
To live in France as a student you should budget for around €1,000 per month – obviously this varies according to whereabouts you live for example it is very expensive to live in Paris – particularly in terms of finding reasonably priced accommodation. French students and international students are eligible for housing assistance.
International students can work in France without having to apply for a temporary work permit as long as they have a residence card marked “student”. Whilst studying international students are allowed to work up to 964 hours per year. Students from the European Union and European Economic Area are also entitled to work as long as they’re enrolled in the student social security scheme.
The one exception is Algerian students who are subject to the Franco-Algerian agreement regarding employment legislation. This means that they have to apply for a special permit and their annual work allowance is approximately 800 hours per year.
International students are advised to have medical insurance if they are studying and living in France, and this costs around €200 per year, although this may seem like a sizeable expense if you ever need medical help in France you’ll be reassured to know that the World Health Organisation has named France as having the world's "best overall health care"!
There is a national student healthcare system which postgraduate students can join once they have registered for their classes at the beginning of the academic year. This means that if you are covered you will be reimbursed for a portion of your medical expenses in return for a low basic payment. It is mandatory for all non-European students to join the student healthcare insurance plan. If you are a European student you are exempt if you are in possession of a European health insurance card that is valid for the entire academic year or if you have a certificate of private insurance providing full coverage for medical risks.
The two largest student group health plans are MDE (La Mutuelle des Étudiants) and USEM.
Students from member countries of the European Union do not need a visa to study and live in France.
International students (ie those from countries other than those in the European Economic Zone, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, San Marino, and the Vatican) must obtain a long-term visa marked étudiant if they intend to study in France for more than 6 months.
After the first year of study, visas are automatically renewed, provided the student holding the visa is able to produce the required documentation.
If you are an international student and are going to be living in France for longer than three months you must get a student residency permit within two months of arriving – this is different from a student visa. The one-year visa is valid for three months from your arrival in France and allows you to enter the country once. Within this three-month period you need to contact your local French police station (French Préfectures de police) however, in some cases you may be able to apply through your university.
To get your one-year student visa you will need the following documentation:
1. A passport valid for a period of three months beyond the last day of your stay in France.
2. Visa application forms.
3. Passport photographs.
4. Letter of admission from your French university.
5. Financial guarantee that you have enough funds for the duration of your stay (around €450 per month) this amount can vary so check with your French consulate.
6. A letter from your French university confirming that your accommodation and tuition fees are fully paid.
7. Medical insurance certificate. If you are under 28 years old and staying in France for more than 6 months you need to join the social security system through your university to enable you to use the French student healthcare system.
8. Proof of your residence in France.
There are a couple of other types of French student visa:
1. A Schengen visa which allows the international student multiple entries to France for a stay up of up to 3 months.
2. Temporary long-stay visa which is valid for 3- 6 months and allows the international student multiple entries to France and is valid for the duration of the stay.
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