PARIS IS POSSIBLE. You do not need a French relative or a dowry of millions. You only need ingenuity and thirst. If you’ve got those, this storied city, the matron saint of expatriation, will be yours.
This guide is for Americans with insufficient funds and little tolerance for endless preparation (or any preparation), for those who rely on that special brand of luck crossed with tenacity and patience. Here’s how to begin: Save no money. Make no plans. Just get on the plane.
Once you get there, as an American passport-holder you’ll have 90 days before your tourist visa expires, so you’d better hit the ground running.
1. Find a place to stay.
Start your sojourn with free accommodations through CouchSurfing. Beyond being completely free, CouchSurfing also guarantees that you’ll meet people who physically live in France, who have a roof, and who pay rent.
You’ll avoid the pitfall of befriending only transients and hobos. Not only will you emerge with a set of Parisian friends, you will gain passage behind the doors of the city and into the lives of its locals. You’ll dispel the stereotypes that keep the timid at bay and grow wiser for it.
Still, finding the right people via Couchsurfing is never guaranteed. Here is an in-depth guide to improving your odds.
2. Make money.
For short term employment without papers, you’re restricted to working under the table. France respects its bureaucracy and finding work for cash will take some pavement pounding.
Check the bulletin boards at the American Church, American Library, American University in Paris, and the Real McCoy Cafe. They all post job opportunities for teachers, tutors, nannies, babysitters, and day laborers. For more stable income and to stay legally for more than 90 days, you’ll need a visa.
3. Get a visa.
Multiple types of visas enable you to work. You can become a student and get a student visa, which will allow you to work for 20 hours per week (full-time for an English teacher).
You can become a student by signing up for French classes at any of the many language schools, or you can take a regular course at one of the universities, many of which are surprisingly affordable.
If you don’t want to be a student, you’ll need a work visas.Normally, employers will not expend the energy to get you a visa. But, if you are an American between the ages of 18 and 35 and you want to work in the French private sector (including ESL teaching at a private language school), the French American Chamber of Commerce will sponsor your work visa.
Once you receive a job offer, the FACC will guide your visa application from start to finish. It’s surprisingly easy. Once you get this visa, you’ll be able to access the French national health system, too.
Note: Once you arrange a visa of any kind, you will have to fly to your home consulate to get them to stamp it into your passport. If you are from San Francisco, you’ll have to fly all the way there. Home consulate means home consulate. New York or Boston will not suffice.
4. Find long term lodging.
The bulletin boards are also great for lodging, especially if you want to work in exchange for a room. Otherwise, expect to pay an absolute minimum of 350 euros per month. FUSAC, both in its biweekly print publication and on its website, offers the most apartment listings aimed at foreigners.
The print publication is available for free at English speaking establishments across the city. By advertising to the Anglophile community, landlords are prepared for people who cannot provide multiple guarantors or a year’s rent up front.
Craigslist is a good source for international roommates, while Colocataire will connect you with French roommate seekers. Scared off by high prices? Sharing small spaces here is no faux pas. Get creative.
5. Minimize all expenses.
Lastly, make your dollar count, but stay healthy. The cheapest lunch in Paris is a 150 gram bag of peanuts and a carrot salad from Franprix (a convenience store with locations all over Paris). For about 1.50 euros, you’ve got over 1,000 calories, nearly 40 grams of protein, and all the vitamin goodness of carrots.
You won’t have to eat the poor man’s lunch for long. If there’s one thing you’ll do in Paris, it’s learn how to live right. No matter how broke you are, you’ll find a way to eat the food that perfumes the air and drink the wine that colors cheeks. Not sure how that’ll happen? Don’t worry. The city will help you. That’s why you’re here.
Bulletin Board Locations
The American Church of Paris
65, Quai d’Orsay
Metro: Alma-Marceau, Invalides
American Library in Paris
10, rue de General-Camou
Metro: Ecole Militaire, Alma-Marceau
The American University of Paris
6, rue de Colonel Combes
Metro: Alma-Marceau, Invalides
The Real McCoy Cafe
194 rue de Grenelle
Metro: Ecole Militaire
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Tom Dibblee is a writer and traveler from San Francisco. Since graduating from Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, he's lived in San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Paris and New York City.