If you’re living in France, and your income isn’t very high, you may be eligible to receive rental assistance / housing benefits (CAF).

If you meet these criteria and think you’re eligible to receive CAF, you’ll want to start the process as soon as possible after you move into your apartment in France.

Because of the large number of documents required, and the huge number of students and families applying for CAF money, it can take up to several months for the office to process your documents.

Another thing to think about is the fact that CAF will only pay your stipend starting in the second month that you live in an apartment. So, if you have the choice to move into a place on August 31 and pay a small amount of rent for August, or move in on September 1, move in on August 31. You won’t get any money for that one day’s worth of rent for August, but it means your first payment will be for September, not October.

CAF will also backdate your payment to the month you’re eligible, even if you don’t receive your carte de séjour for a few months and they take a while to process your paperwork. As long as you’re deemed eligible, you’ll get a payment for each month, even if you don’t see any money at all until you get a huge deposit in February or March.

How do you apply for CAF?

Before you apply for CAF, you’ll want to make sure that you’re eligible. You can do this by running a simulation on the CAF website, entering your past earnings, current income, and information about your roommates into the CAF calculator.

If you live with other people, you may want to try entering your own information and fraction of the rent first, to see what your eligibility would be if you were living by yourself. Then, try entering the data with your roommates’ information and the full rent. Remember that CAF will apply equally to all parties’ portions of the rent payment. Depending on whether or not your roommates work, there could be a large discrepancy in what you will receive. If this happens, you may want to try asking a CAF counselor, but there isn’t necessarily anything you can do in this situation.

In order to apply for rental assistance, you’ll need to go onto the CAF website and fill out an application. Now, most applications can be completed online, and you can upload documents by PDF without ever having to leave your room.

If you need help or have questions that the website can’t answer, the Cité Universitaire and other university campuses around Paris usually have a welcome table with people from the CAF office available to answer your questions and help you fill out forms during the months of September and October. There are also several CAF offices throughout Paris.

Once you begin the online application process, you’ll need enter information about your situation (student, whether you live alone or with roommates) and your income from the fiscal year two years’ prior (i.e. You’ll need 2010 and 2011 information to fill out the CAF in 2013; for 2014, you’ll need 20011 and 2012 information, etc.)

If you live with roommates, you’ll need to include all of their information on the form. If some of your roommates are French, they may also need to get copies of their parents’ tax declarations. If their parents are claiming a deduction for giving their student son or daughter a “pension alimentaire,” it can affect the student’s eligibility.

Aside from the normal personal information, you’ll need to include your global net revenue for the tax year in question (2009 for 2011, like I said previously). If you had a job in your home country, this means your net wages (after social taxes, meaning that you can subtract Social Security and Medicare taxes from your gross income before you report it if you worked in the US) will go on the top line. The second line, “frais réels,” will be 10% of that number (it’s an automatic 10% deduction, like the standard deduction in the US). The rest of the lines are mostly about social security and disability benefits received, so they will all be 0 unless you have a medical condition or dependents and received state aide.

After you’ve completed your section, you’ll need to have your landlord fill out the “attestation de loyer,” with his personal information and information about the rental: whether it’s furnished or unfurnished, the length of the lease, how many square meters it is, what the rent and utility payments are, etc. Note that if your landlord signs this document, it opens him up to inspections by tax authorities, who want to ensure that he is declaring all of his “revenues fonciers” on his taxes. If he is not declaring the income, as is the case with some host families and people who rent their apartments directly to students American programs, he may refuse to sign it.

When you apply for the CAF, you’ll also need to upload a copy of your carte de séjour if you’re a non-EU citizen, which you won’t have at the beginning of the year. To make the process go a bit faster, you can include a copy of your visa, which will set the process in motion before your medical visit. Then, once you go to the OFII office, you can follow up with a copy of the yellow OFII sticker serving as the “premier titre de séjour”.

Still need help applying for CAF, or want more information? Check out the Student Resources page on the CAF website.

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