New Year is a wild time; everyone announcing their goals/intentions/mindfulness projects, etc, there isn’t a lot of space left for those of us who had to hunker down and just get through January. But hey, that happened, and we are officially 1/12 of the way through 2019 already. Wtf.
Anyway, in lieu of announcing any big plans for myself, I’m just going to dump an enormous resource that I compiled for anyone interested in knowing what goes into becoming an au pair when I went through the process in 2018. Idk, people who don’t have concrete plans for their lives and are leaning towards a gap year might find it useful too 😉
So, you’ve decided to become an au pair in France. Congratulations! You must be so excited to pack your bags, jet set off around the world, and, if you chose Paris like moi, soak in the posh Parisian lifestyle. But did you know that there are about 47 hoops to jump through before you can even think about packing? If you didn’t, you will soon, and when I realized how out of my depth I felt at times, I was really grateful for resources like Ashley’s blog and The Local for being able to give me both concrete steps to follow and general insight into au pairing. Now that I’ve had my feet on French soil for several months now, I’ve realized how useful I could make my experience to others, and I especially want to encourage anyone and everyone considering a move abroad to go for it—in fact, my general solution to anyone’s problem tends to end up being “just move to another country!” but that’s a whole separate can of worms 😉
For many au pairs, getting the proper paperwork and documents in order before they leave will be the first time they’ve organized an international move, particularly if you’re taking a gap year. While many studied abroad during college, a vast majority of that process tends to be handled by a study abroad company like IFSA-Butler. These companies partner with universities to streamline the process of traveling and living abroad to study as international students for a semester or academic year, a bit analogous to the way travel agencies take care of all the odds and ends of planning an international trip.
In this post, I’ll cover all the notes I took throughout this process, the mini (and not so mini) fuck-ups that led to parts of said notes being heavily underlined and/or circled and just generally touch on associated costs because trust me, you don’t want mine to be the final word on anything tying back to mathematics.
Without further ado…
- Choose your country and city
For me, Paris made sense because I wanted to live in a big European city, learn a third language, and its location puts me in close proximity to all the wonderful European friends I’ve made while traveling.
- Apply for your passport
If you’ve already had a passport and just need to renew, the process will be a little different than for those who are applying for their passport for the first time. While most US post offices offer the services, you can go online to confirm that your local one is on the list and proceed to the best course of action for yourself there. Fees will depend on whether you’re renewing or applying for your first passport and what kind of passport package you’re getting. To renew just my passport, I paid $160 and my passport arrived in the mail about four weeks later. American citizens will find that this page has all the information you’ll need whether you’re renewing or applying for the first time.
- Find your family
You’ll hear the word “agency” a lot when talking about becoming an au pair: “Oh, did you find your family through an agency?”
…Not really, because I did most of the leg work and I think it’s best (read: cheaper) that way. Also, I’m a bit of a control freak. I came across https://www.greataupair.com/ when I started looking for families and had a wonderful experience with the website. I’ll make a separate post to talk about how GreatAuPair works and how to confidently choose your family, so for the sake of brevity now I’ll just say it’s basically an online forum that you can join as a prospective au pair or host family to connect and get to know one another.
- Sign the contract *scan it onto your computer* and send it back to your family
Forewarning: The contract is going to be in French. Obviously, this makes sense because it’s getting sent to the French government for approval, but if you’re like me and took Spanish for years and years, an entire document in French is really jarring. That said, this is why Google translate and family/friends who speak French are good to have on hand. The contract should clearly outline your working hours, accommodation, wages, and anything else the family is providing for you during your stay (Navigo pass, French classes, French SIM card…).
- Get the rest of the materials together—ASAP
Your French family needs a bundle of additional documents:
-Translated copies of your high school and college diplomas
-Translated copy of your CV/resume
-A photocopy of your passport
-An official health certificate signed by your doctor within three months of your departure. For example, if you’re moving to France on September 1, the certificate won’t be valid if it’s signed before June 1. If you’ve had a physical within the last year, simply stop in to your doctor’s office and explain what you need to the receptionist. I had mine signed and ready for pickup within 48 hours. This also needs to be translated.
If you haven’t had a physical in the last year, you’ll need to schedule one. Give yourself a window of time as medical appointments oftentimes need to be booked days or weeks in advance. On the day of your appointment, bring the certificate along and ask your doctor to fill it out after the appointment.
-A one-page motivation letter explaining why you want to be an au pair in Paris. Double spaced is fine, but the letter does need to be in French. If you’re completely on your own, use Google translate and then ask your French family to look it over for you.
-Proof of enrollment with a French language school (I attend L’Ecole L’Etoile and found their website easy to navigate and their office helpful and quick to respond to questions. You basically need to register for au pair classes and pay half a trimester as a deposit in order for them to send you a pre-enrollment certificate. This is the document that you need to send along to your French family). HOWEVER. Many French families will pay for your French classes, so this is a detail to be worked out early on as regardless of who registers you in the course, you will need a proof of enrollment certificate.
*Note: Most of these items can simply be photographed on a Smartphone and then sent along as attachments to an email. Confirm with your family before going through all that and when you take the photos, make sure they’re against solid backgrounds in good lighting.
*Also, try to collaborate with your family on which French course you’ll enroll in, and definitely do your own research as well. Intro classes in anything tend to dicey (hello, college) but there are plenty of resources available to look into which places people actually come out of speaking some level of French, so definitely dig into that.
- Wait for the contract to be approved
This sounds like a joke step but really isn’t—for your visa appointment you’re required to have the approved contract with you in hard-copy form, meaning that however long you were expecting to wait for the contract, add two weeks just to be safe because that thing needs to be snail mailed to you.
For your reference: My contract was submitted on June 6 and got approved on July 17. I received the contract on July 24, just in time for my appointment with the visa center on July 26.
- Book your flight
I could be the patron saint of Google flights because I can’t recommend it enough if you’re willing to travel fairly lightly—the best deals nearly always have the least generous baggage allowance. That said, I found a one-way flight to Paris for 299 USD with WOW Air that included one carry on and a checked bag. If you’re not into Google Flights, I’ve also had good experiences with booking on Kayak.
*PRO TIP* If you’ve ever looked up airline prices, found a good deal, and come back to it only to find that the price jumped significantly, there’s a reason. When you search on a regular browser, your computer’s IP address can be traced. The airline’s algorithm receives information like the dates your looking at and the price and increases it nearly every time you return to the page. An easy way to prevent this from happening is by switching to Incognito mode every time before you look at flights.
- Submit your visa application & make an appointment at the visa center
In order to make a visa appointment, you need to submit a visa application. Fortunately, these steps are consolidated into one place, which in theory streamlines the process quite a bit. Unfortunately, I was [trying to] apply for my visa and set up an appointment at the exact same time that the new VFS Global website was being integrated, so I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the experience. That said, after spending hours longer in that stupid building than I’d originally intended, I can confidently say I learned a few dos and don’ts throughout the process.
The Chicago center is partnered with VFS Global for French visa applications. This link will take you to the official government page for French visas. American citizens will need a visa, so you can skip straight to “2. Start your visa application.” Complete the application and pay the application fee at the end. The fee is 99 euros, so about 115 USD.
After you’ve submitted the application, make your visa appointment. Remember that you need to allow for your French contract to be processed, approved, and sent to you, so I’d recommend booking an appointment at least two months from the date when your French family submitted the contract.
After you’ve booked your appointment, the confirmation page will give you a list of things that you need to bring with you on the day of your visa appointment. This is where shit got really exasperating. Once your visa appointment is set, you receive a list of things to bring with you to the appointment. On the day of my appointment, I sat down with the VFS employee and realized that I was missing crucial things from the list because the checklist I’d received in my appointment-confirmation email didn’t match the one she was working from. Regardless of how unfair it was, she needed to adhere to her list, and I was suddenly unprepared to apply for my visa. I was lucky in that I only needed to run out and have official passport photos taken at a local CVS, but the 30-minute appointment still turned into a four-hour hangry event.
I’m assuming the issue has since been resolved since at that point the VFS Global online system was still very new, but that day was such a hot mess of tempers flaring and lots of cursing and I’m pretty sure the poor employee cried several times. If possible, reach out to your Visa center branch and ask for a copy of the official list of visa application materials to be sent to you. Also, always be nice to the employees. They’re just doing their jobs.
A note on the Chicago location: There is a French consulate and the VFS Global Center. You want to make sure you go to the latter, which can be found at 564 West Randolph Street. When you walk in, go straight up the stairs to the next floor. You’ll come out on a landing and need to go through the first pair of glass doors. Check in with the receptionist and take a seat, but don’t bring a friend—they’ll be asked to leave and wait for you elsewhere. The receptionist will guide you through the labyrinth when it’s time. When leaving, expect to be extremely frustrated trying to find your way back out again. The building has exit signs strung up like a drunk elf was put in charge of stringing up mistletoe.
When I returned to pick up my visa a couple weeks later, the list of required application materials had lengthened, so the moral is: whenever possible, double check that you are fully prepared to deal with beaurocracy.
Here is what you will absolutely need at your appointment for a Long Stay Visa in France:
1. The approved contract
2. Your passport. This gets taken from you and sent away as part of the application, which freaked me out but is just part of the process.
3. Two color copies of your passport bio page
4. Two copies of your visa application filled out in English and signed. You must also attach a recent, official passport-sized photo attached to each application. These photos can be taken at CVS or the post office. Regarding attachment, gluing or stapling is fine.
5. 1x additional passport-sized photo
6. Proof of residence. This can be a copy of your driver’s license, rental agreement, utilities bill, deed of a house.
7. Two copies each of your previous diplomas (in English and French just to be safe, so four copies total).
8. Copy of your enrollment certificate in a French language school
9. Copy of your flight confirmation. For those not sure when they’re coming back to the States, I brought my confirmation for my one-way ticket and that was fine.
10. Money for processing fees* This varies from location to location but I paid $115 at the Chicago location.
After the checklist portion of the appointment, you’ll be directed into a room to be fingerprinted and have your picture taken. In another, you’ll pay the processing fee and be asked if you’d like to have your passport/visa sent directly to your home. Keep in mind that this will cost an additional 30+ USD, so if you’re from the Chicagoland area it may be more economical to just pick it up yourself.
You can track your visa status online using the VFS Global; it typically takes around two weeks. Pickup is as easy as walking in, showing your ID, and collecting the envelope containing your materials. Your visa will be attached to one of the pages inside your passport.
- Pour yourself a drink and give yourself a pat on the back
Obtaining a visa is time consuming, fairly expensive, and oftentimes frustrating, but coming out on the other side with a visa that says you’re allowed to go and live in a brand-new country for a whole year is a pretty damn cool feeling. Here’s to you and a great year abroad *clink*
- But before you toss back your first drink in Paris
There’s one last thing. Yes, you have a visa, yes, you’re allowed to live and work in France as an au pair, but there is one final, infuriatingly mundane threshold still to cross. OFII.
There’s a lot of mystique and horror around OFII, so here’s what you absolutely need to know:
- OFII stands for Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration.
- You need to send them a Demande d’Attestation d’OFII (this means you’re requesting an appointment). Apparently, your consulate should give you one sometime during your visa appointment. I never got one but hey, fun fact, they’re available online!
- Print the OFII form and fill it out accordingly and print a copy each of your visa, passport identity page, and the page with the stamp you received upon arriving in France. Send all of this to:
Direction Territoriale de l’OFII
48 rue de la Roquette
*Note that this is just for the OFII center in Paris! If you’re living somewhere else in France, your city will have its own immigration office*
*This link is already a little dated details-wise (sigh), but the core information is accurate and honestly these girls helped me not lose my mind when I was trying to figure out wtf OFII was back in October. An all-around incredible resource, really 😊*
- About two months later (you’ll find that internally screaming in France is quite normal), you’ll receive a blessedly straightforward email with your appointment time and required materials to bring to said appointment. It will likely be during hours you typically work so make sure to tell your family so they can make arrangements.
- Bring all these things, which will earn you your official residence status in the form of an ugly AF sticker in your passport.
- In practice, most people seem to wind up getting their stickers closer to six months after they arrive (hey-yooo) but time is kind of an interpretative, relative thing in France, so as long as you actually do this annoying, administrative thing and don’t kick the can down the road/never do it, you’ll be fine. *CLINK*
Some final stats on the timeframe for from passport to visa (not counting OFII)
-If you begin the process by applying to renew or for a new passport, from start to finish you can expect all of these steps to take about six months.
-If you begin the process with a valid passport in hand, the process will take about four months.
Stay tuned for more au pair-themed posts in the coming weeks! “It’s crazy to think” is a hackneyed expression but seeing as I only have five months left in my contract, yeah, it is pretty crazy to think and reflect and write about my experience here.
Question for readers: Is there anything you want to know or something you’d like me to discuss in an upcoming post? Let me know in the comments!
À bientôt !