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8 Secrets of Budget Living for Students in Paris

Author: Michael Taylor

Paris is known for being an expensive city, and it's true that prices here can be among the highest in the world. Fortunately – at least for Americans wanting to study abroad in Paris – the dollar is strong these days, with the euro clocking in at $1.10 in July 2015, compared to $1.35, or even $1.50, not so many years ago. That means Americans now have at least a substantial discount in costs when they travel to Europe. So it's a good time to study abroad on a budget!

Despite the high overall cost of living in Paris, it's actually a great place for students to live on a budget, according to research by Paris Unraveled, a website for English-speaking students in Paris. Rent may be high, but many French government policies are designed to allow students and young people to live comfortably in the city, even with low or no income. There are numerous benefits to being a student under age 26, and youth discounts are ubiquitous, from cinemas to the opera.

Here are eight ways you can save (or earn) money if you're studying in Paris on a tight budget:

[Prices are in U.S. dollars, converted from euros at the exchange rate of $1.10 for 1 euro.]

1. Get a carte Imagine R.

The carte Imagine R is the unlimited monthly transportation pass for students under 26, and it gets you a 50% discount on the cost of an adult pass. For approximately $40 a month, you can ride the metro, bus, tram and RER commuter railroad in Paris and the surrounding areas. During holidays and school vacations, you can also use the pass to travel outside of your ‘zone,' meaning you can use it to go to the airport or to Disneyland Paris for free. (Starting in September 2015, all unlimited metro passes will be ‘dezoned,' so you'll be able to travel anywhere within Paris or to the airport without paying extra.) Unlimited monthly passes for nonstudents and the over-26 crowd will cost about $80.

2. Eat meals at a CROUS restaurant.

CROUS restaurants and cafeterias are subsidized cafeterias run at different universities throughout France that allow students to eat well-balanced meals for the low, low price of $3.50. You have to set up an account on your student ID or using a cell phone app called Izly to pay (not all CROUS accept cash), but the meal includes an appetizer, a main course with fish or meat, a vegetable and a grain, plus a dessert or cheese selection.

3. Get cultured for free.

Most French museums and monuments are owned and operated by the government, and the vast majority of them offer free admission to students under 26. You do have to be an EU resident to benefit, but showing your student ID from a French university is proof enough that you live in France. The ID just needs to show your birthday as proof of age.

4. Travel by train for up to 60% off.

The SNCF is the national train system, and train tickets can be quite pricey. If you plan on doing a bit of train travel, though, you can buy a Carte Jeune for youth 18–27 for $55, which lets you purchase tickets for 25% to 60% off, including the high-speed TGV.

5. Apply for CAF (Caisse des Allocations Familiales)

Rent in Paris can be expensive, but if you have a real year-long lease (not a sublet) and low income (as a student), you may be eligible for housing assistance, called APL (Aide personnalisée au logement) from the Caisse des Allocations Familiales. Once you've had your visa validated in France, you can apply for assistance by declaring your current financial situation, your past financial situation from two years before and the amount you pay in rent. Students can receive up to $220 per month in assistance starting in the second month they are in their apartment.

Tip: To receive your assistance faster, send your CAF application as soon as you arrive in France, and they will process it while you're waiting for your appointment at the Office Français d'Immigration et d'Intégration (OFII) to validate your visa. CAF can't pay you until they receive a copy of your titre de séjour (residency permit) but this way, you'll receive your money a few weeks after your OFII appointment. (See Study Abroad: Budget for France for more details on visa requirements.)

6. Work up to 964 hours per year.

Before you can get your visa, the French consulate requires you to have proof of enough res to last through the year, but once you arrive, you can work part-time, up to 964 hours per year (about 20 hours per week). Many students get part-time jobs teaching English or working in tourist-area cafés and restaurants, some netting enough to pay the rent and even have some left over for baguettes and cheese. Note that the consulate does not allow you to use a part-time job in lieu of proof of sufficient financial res.

7. Take advantage of Tickets Restaurant.

If you do get a job, most companies offer Tickets Restaurant, which are vouchers that you can spend in restaurants, cafés and even in grocery stores on prepared food items like packaged meals. Tickets cost about $10, and 50% of their cost is paid by the employer, while the other 50% is taken out of your paycheck. Then, you can use the tickets to buy meals, using up to two tickets at a time.

8. Take reduced-price, noncredit French classes.

The Mairie de Paris (Mayor's Office) and several nonprofit organizations offer inexpensive French classes at night to help you improve your French. The courses are noncredit, which means you can't use your enrollment to obtain a student visa, and the quality can vary greatly. They also fill up very fast, so you'll want to check with the Mairie of your local arrondissement for the signup dates and try to enroll as early as possible, normally starting on September 1.

The Bottom Line

Even in an expensive city like Paris, students can live on a tight budget by taking advantage of French government programs and the many other student deals for meals, transportation and cultural pursuits.

For more, see Study Abroad: Budget for Paris. You may also be interested in: Study Abroad: Budget for London and Study Abroad: Budget for Florence.

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