School SystemMaternelle (from 3 yrs):
French children can go to school from 3 years old and most do.
Elementaire (from 6 yrs):
School is compulsory from 6 years old. Children can go to a public or private school. Home schooling is not very common (.03%) and there are sometimes calls to ban it altogether.
Public schools are very good here however and are free. You can enrol your child no later than the start of the school year during which he/she will turn 6. The school year starts in September (la rentree). There are four terms and each term is roughly 6 weeks long with 2 week holidays in between. Summer holidays are July/August. There are no school uniforms.
School days are generally from 8:30 to 4:30 with a half day on Wednesday. There is no longer school on Saturdays. Lunchtimes are 2 hours long from 11:30am. Most children eat in the canteen (more info here)
To enrol in a public primary school:
Step 1: Get all the necessary documents ready. You will need the child's birth certificate, proof of address in France, vaccination certificate or health booklet (obligatory vaccination is polio/diphtheria/tetanus).
Step 2: Go to the mairie (town hall) of the area you will be living in, armed with your paperwork. If you are enrolling from overseas, you should be able to go to the mairie website and enrol online.
Step 3: The mairie will send you a letter of enrolment (usually to the address you provided proof of). Your child will be allocated to the school closest to where you will live.
Step 4: Call the school and meet with the headmaster (Directeur) with the above letter, copy of birth certificate, copy of vaccination certificate. You will also need to provide a copy of insurance against injury / accident for your child.
Note: If your child has allergies like mine, you will need to see the school doctor (medecin scolaire). This is also the case if your child needs any medications. You will need to take along a copy of your prescriptions from your home country. We got a letter from our General Practitioner before we came about our son's asthma.
See my blog posts about school in France here and about enrolling in school here
There are several types of visa you can get to enable you to live in France. We opted for the long stay holiday visa which is valid for one year.
To get this, we had to:
- State we would not work while in France
- Provide proof that we can support ourselves without working for a year
- Provide proof of child's enrolment in school
- Provide proof of accommodation for the whole period
- Provide passports, birth certificates and what we had for breakfast (pretty much)
On arrival in France and within the first the month, we had to send a form to the Immigration Office (OFII) to inform them that we were here. Then they sent us a letter to arrange an appointment to get the carte de sejour (internal requirement of the visa). We had to take all the same information plus proof of address, immunisation records. The appointment includes a medical exam and chest x-ray.
We made it through all of this.
The more you can learn of the language before you move, the better. French people prefer to speak French in general and appreciate if you make the effort to as well. Start off with a "Bonjour, excusez-moi de vous deranger" (Hello sorry to disturb you) if speaking to a stranger. To us, it sounds overly polite but it is normal for the French.
See my info on hacking the French language here.
Opening a bank account
One of the first things we did when arriving was to open a bank account. This meant signing about six different forms, an hour long appointment and the account took about two weeks to be operational.
You will need to request to have a bank card. This is called a carte bleue and is part of the Visa network. It is usually a debit card, meaning the money needs to be in your account in order to purchase something (as opposed to credit card). There is a monthly fee for having a card also.
You can also request to have a cheque book. In New Zealand, it is almost unheard of to have one these days so we were not sure at first. It is normal in France as some merchants do not offer payment by carte bleue or only above a certain amount.
Once the account and card were up and running, we attempted to make a purchase over the internet. Internet purchases were not authorised with our card. First, we needed a French cell phone number in order to receive secure codes.
There are limits on how much we can purchase with the card in a month. Each cardholder has a limit. If the limit is reached, the card will decline (Embarassing!).
What you will need:
- piece d'identite: ID, usually your passport including,
- visa de long sejour: long stay visa
- justificatif de domicile: proof of address