If you’re enrolled in a master’s program in France, you may want to stay for another year without necessarily knowing what you want to do.
If that’s the case, you’re not alone. It’s hard to figure out whether you want to return home after living abroad for a year, or if you want to try to live in France for another year or longer.
Regardless of your reasons for not being sure, here are 5 things you should know if you’re thinking about staying in France for more than a year.
1) You don’t have to finish your degree to renew your French student visa.
If you want to stay in France for a second year but aren’t sure what you want to do, the easiest way is to avoid completing your degree the first time.
Students who complete at least half of their credit hours and who can prove they attended classes and made a serious effort to succeed can have their student visas renewed for a second year, even if they didn’t complete all of the requirements for the first year of their degree or pass all of their classes.
There are a few reasons for this. Student course loads are typically heavy, especially in Licence and Master 1 years, and it can be difficult for foreign students to complete all of the requirements. Heck, many students, even French students, don’t pass all their classes the first time around.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for French students to repeat a whole year of school if their grade average is below passing – 10 on the scale of 20 – and Jean Sarkozy famously repeated his second year of law school (L2) three times a few years ago. If he can, why not you?
When I was working on my second master’s degree at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, I intentionally didn’t finish my master’s thesis, which enabled me to stay in France for a third year while I was engaged to my husband.
2) After two years in French university, you’re eligible to get a salaried worker visa.
According to French law, students who complete at least 2 years of higher education in France – usually at the Master’s level – are automatically eligible to get a salaried work visa to stay in France. Meaning, if you do a two-year master’s program in a French university, you’re eligible to stay in France and work for a French company without them having to sponsor your work visa.
In practice, it can be tricky to get a work visa even if you’ve completed the requisite two years of education. The infamous May 31 circular, issued in 2011 by the Sarkozy government, tried to curb this practice of allowing foreign students to stay, claiming that they were taking jobs away from unemployed French citizens. During the period following the publication of this circular, until it was repealed a few months later, many students – who finished school in June and tried to get hired by French companies – found themselves in limbo.
Fortunately, the government (and the new president, François Hollande) has recognized that students who graduate with Bac+5 (your level of education after an M2) or from the grandes écoles are NOT taking jobs from unemployed French people, who often have a very low level of education. That being said, it can be administratively complicated to switch over your student visa, and patience is recommended.
3) If you’re planning on staying, you should get a cheaper 2 year cell phone contract.
Most French cell phone companies offer one-year and two-year contracts, and the two-year contract is often less expensive by several euros per month. Over time, this adds up to more than a hundred euros during the course of the contract.
If you’re not planning on staying in France for more than one year, or if you’re not sure about your plans, the best thing to do is to get the one year contract. Even though cell phone companies TECHNICALLY have to cancel your contract without fees if you’re leaving the country, most of them haven’t gotten the memo on that yet. This means that if you try to cancel before the end of your contract, you could find yourself with a bank account that keeps emptying mysteriously because your phone company keeps withdrawing funds. Or, you could return to France to discover that you’re on the black list, and you can’t get a cell phone because of unpaid bills that you never should have owed in the first place.
But, if you are planning on staying, you could save a significant amount of money by getting a two year contract.
4) You don’t have to give your landlord notice that you’re staying in your apartment.
Finding an apartment in Paris is hard enough, and you don’t have to do it twice. In France, leases are automatically renewed, and by law, your landlord can’t require you to ask his permission to stay. If such a thing is written into your lease, it’s an invalid clause. And, as a student, you only have to give one month’s notice before you move out.
This means, of course, that you’ll be liable for rent in the summer months, even if you’re not staying in Paris. You may be able to sublet your apartment (even if it’s prohibited in your lease) at your own peril. But it also means you won’t have to find a new apartment with everyone else in September.
5) You have to renew your visa at least 2 months before its expiration date.
If you have a student visa, or a “visa long séjour valant premier titre de séjour,” you’ll have to renew it in order to stay in France. Two months before it expires, you’ll have to go to the prefecture’s website to make an appointment to renew. If you’re leaving France for the summer, note that it’s MUCH easier to renew your visa than to get a new one. So in that case, go online even three months in advance to make sure you get an appointment before you leave.
As long as you set up your appointment before your card expires, don’t freak out if your appointment is after your card’s expiration date. It happens sometimes, and in spite of my personal visa saga, it’s the date that you make the appointment that matters.