Hindsight is 20/20: Opening a French bank account

Opening a French bank account will open a variety of opportunities for you in France. It’s essentially your golden ticket to your life in France because without a French bank account, you cannot hope to have

1. Your paychecks – most companies have gone paperless now, and your paychecks are more than likely going to be directly deposited into your account. I know this to be a fact if you are going to be a language assistant.

2. Get wifi and a cell phone plan – Again, most companies have gone paperless, so most cell phone companies will take your payments directly out of your bank account.

3. Open your assurance maladie account – Even though the taxes for your health insurance should come straight out of your paycheck, they still require you to send in a copy of your RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire), which is essentially a copy of your bank coordinates. You will get this once you open your bank account.

4. Open a CAF account – As I mentioned in my post that explains what CAF is and why it’s important for people living in France, you must have a bank account to open a CAF account so that once you do start receiving rental assistance, they can directly deposit the money into your account.

5. Get rental insurance – Again, payments most likely will come directly from your bank account. Unsure of what exactly rental insurance is and why you need it? Check out my post about it here.

So, how do you go about getting a French bank account? Though it can be a bit of a hassle, there are ways in which you can simplify the process.

  • researching your options before hand – which banks are available in the city in which you will be living; what type of accounts do they offer; what sort of documents do they require for opening a bank account; do they have any fees attached to the type of account; do they offer any accounts specifically for young people. You can even ask your référent for advice on which banks are in the city and what they offer. If you are only planning on living in France for less than a year, then many times banks offer a one year free checking account for young people. This is the option that I went with when I opened my checking account with Crédit Mutuel.
    • Some French banks – Crédit Mutuel, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas Banque, Société Générale, La Banque Postale (Yes, the post office has a bank!)
  • see about having a local go with you when you open your bank account – this can be your référent, a friend, one of the teachers with whom you’ll be working. I had my référent go with me, not only because he offered to do so but also because even if you consider your French conversation skills to be at a considerable level for having a decent conversation, it is a different system. Plus, if you do it the day after you arrive much like I did, then you will be severely jet-lagged and will only comprehend half of the information. So, it’s nice to have a local with you just in case you don’t understand something and need to have it cleared up.
  • making sure you have all of the necessary documents with you before you go – You will need the following documents to open a bank account in France:
    • Proof of identity – copies of your passport
    • Proof of residency – This can be a utility bill (which you probably won’t yet have in which case you can use…), a copy of your lease, or an attestation d’habitation (a piece of a paper other than a lease that shows proof of residency). This is what I used when opening my bank account because having lived in a foyer, I did not have a lease nor did I have any utilities bills. You should also give a copy of your visa, carte de long séjour, because if you are a non-EU citizen, you will need to show proof that you are legally in the country.
    • Proof of earnings/status – a copy of your arrêté de nomination (your contract) will be sufficient
    • Sometimes they might also require a copy of your birth certificate, so I would bring it with you just in case.
    • Money – because you just can’t open a bank account with no money. What I did is pull some money out of an ATM using my American debit card to deposit in my new bank account.

Now, when you actually go to open a bank account at the bank in which you’ve chosen to open an account, it is very possible that they will require you to make an appointment. So, once you have done that, then you need to show up to your appointment on time with all of your necessary documents.

They will ask you what type of bank account you are looking to open and for what you will be using it for. This is your chance to explain your situation. If you are like me, then you are a language teaching assistant here for under a year fulfilling the terms of your contract. So, you will need a checking account from which you can use to pay for basic needs, like a cell phone plan, a wifi plan, paying for groceries, etc. etc. you know, the basics. It’s also important to emphasize that you will be here for less than a year (if you are indeed going to be there for less than a year), and you need to ask about the possibility of closing fees when you do so at the end of your contract. Chances are that you will not be in France for the long term, so you don’t need anything fancy. You definitely don’t need a savings account. They will ask you for all of the documents noted above in order to open your account.

As I mentioned in my post about renter’s insurance, you can also invest in your renter’s insurance through your bank at this time, if you so choose. You will have to explain where you live, whether or not it’s furnished, how big it is, etc. If you choose to invest in renter’s insurance through your bank, then they will include it in your account information and have you sign a contract for the insurance. The beauty of this is that your monthly payments for this insurance come directly out of your bank account.

After they create the account with all of the necessary documents, then you will most likely have to sign papers, saying that you agree to the opening of said account and that you understand all of the terms and conditions of said account.

Important sidenote: If you are an American citizen, then all foreign banks are required by the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act to report on your earnings in your foreign bank account, so the bank will require you to fill out a tax form that allows them to do so. If they don’t, both you and the bank both could be heavily fined by the U.S. Government. If the bank with whom you are opening an account does not do so, then you need to bring it up during your account appointment, because it is absolutely required. If you want information about this, then you can visit the IRS website to learn more.

Once you fill out all of the necessary forms, of which you should get a copy that includes your account number and the Terms and Conditions of your account, then you should be able to deposit some money into your account. You will also receive a copy of your RIB. This is highly important. You will need to guard your RIB with your life, because you will need it for several other things. It also has your bank account coordinates on it, so you definitely don’t want to lose it.

Your debit card and your PIN will be sent to you separately in the mail, and it could take up to two weeks time. So, be patient. This is also why I advise that opening your bank account is one of the number one things that you do when you move to France.

Once you receive your debit card and your PIN, in order to activate your card, you will most likely have to go to the bank itself, insert the card into an ATM, and enter your PIN to activate it, at least that was my experience when I opened my bank account.

If you do the necessary research and preparations before hand, then opening your bank account should not be too much of a hassle. If there are moments during your appointment when you do not understand, then ask them to please repeat more slowly. Yes, it could be embarrassing and a little stressful, but your bank account is not something that you want to mess up. So, you must make sure that you understand everything that is going on.

Many assistants do this every year, many of whom do it without anyone else’s help. So, I promise, you can do it! I wish you good luck!

 

Beer, Butter, and Swans: Quirky adventures in Cork, Ireland

Sometimes, you’re just sitting on a park bench chatting it up with some of your friends while the sun beats down on your face. Oh sun hugs, one of my favorite things. Sometimes, birds join the party, not unexpectedly so. Mostly ducks and pigeons, of course, but also the occasional swan. But, what is it with swans? You want to like them because they are just so majestic and beautiful, but if you don’t already know, then I’ll clue you in on a small fact. Swans are actually evil. Don’t let their beauty  fool you. You know how I know this? Because for some reason, it appears as though European swans are the worst of the lot, even in the lovely Ireland, where I had the unique opportunity to witness a two minute battle between two swans. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was at least a good 30 seconds, and the best part about it all, other than the fact that I was shocked beyond measure and didn’t know if I should fear for my life or burst out in laughter, was that the one that ended up losing, didn’t just fly away. No, it walked on water for a good five seconds. It’s normal for a bird to glide ever so slightly over the water as it flaps it wings viciously, but have you ever seen a swan walk on water, barely using its wings at all, in what appears to be slow motion? Thank you to the Lough, a lake or oversized pond of sorts about a twenty minute walk southwest of the city center in Cork, Ireland and its city of birds, I can now properly say that I have.

Traveling is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get, like one great Forrest Gump once said. Okay, so I altered the quote ever so slightly, but I really do think that it holds true. My experiences with this idea never cease to end, and they weren’t any different throughout the rest of my time in Cork, Ireland.

Though I spent my first full day in Cork by myself, a couple of friends came in around noon at the Cork train station. After checking into our hostel, we only had half the day to explore the city.

Cork is a beautiful city to explore. The city center is actually quite small compared to other cities and is, therefore, quite walkable. You don’t really need to take public transportation everywhere to get to where you need to go, such a beautiful change from a good majority of the cities in which I’ve traveled so far.

Though it was kind of chilly and a bit rainy (because you know, it’s Ireland.), the weather was still decent enough to walk around in, and the sun even came out for about an hour or two for us in the late afternoon.

When in Cork, you must happen by the English Market, not only is it one of the hot spots of the city, but it is a fantastic place to get some of the best potatoes. I never knew potatoes could taste so amazing. Throw them together with some spicy sausage and some garlic mayonnaise, and the foodie locked inside you might burst out with deep appreciation. Also soda bread, that’s a thing, and it’s delicious. Buy some. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Our first day together consisted mostly of hitting up a few sites, the first of which was Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a cathedral that was actually quite recently built, as far as cathedrals go, having been built in the 18th or 19th century, if I remember correctly.

If you are obsessed with European architecture, especially beautiful churches with stained glass windows, much like myself, then it is definitely worth the 5€ for adults or the 3€ for students. There’s also a tiny (meaning that it looks like a miniature version) labyrinth on the grounds, intended for meditative prayer that you can walk through.

Our explorations of the city streets also took us by the Red Abbey Tower, an old medieval tower of an old abbey, one of the last pieces of Medieval architecture still standing in Cork, a cool thing to explore if you are into medieval history.

Really into towers? Not afraid of tiny spaces? Really want to be that obnoxious person that tries to make a song out of church bells? Then, the Shandon Bells Tower is definitely a place that you don’t want to miss! By paying only 5€ for adults or 4€ for students, you can climb all the way to the top of the Shandon Bells Tower of the St. Anne’s Shandon Church in Cork. On one level, you can actually ring the bells yourself. The church has even been so kind as to provide songs for you to try out on the bells. On another level, you can witness the bells actually being rung, with ear muffs provided by the church, of course. Then, once you get all the way to the top, you get the most gorgeous view of the city while still hearing the bells sing their songs. It’s a pretty fantastic experience, if I do say so myself.

Cork’s quirkiness doesn’t stop there though. Despite the unfortunate lack of time I had in Cork to fit this gem into my schedule, there is a butter museum in Cork! Now in what used to be the old home of the Cork Butter Exchange, this museum takes you through the history of dairying in early Ireland, the development of the dairy industry in Ireland in the 20th century, the history and the production of Cork butter, and the history of the great Cork Butter Exchange. Additionally, it’s only 4€ for adults and 3€ for students! Who knew that butter was one of Ireland’s number one exports? Who knew that Ireland even made butter? I, most definitely, did not.

Lastly, don’t forget to hit up Franciscan Well Brewery, a craft brewery slightly northwest of the Cork city center. As a former beertender myself, living in France has put a large dent in my craft brew consumption over the past 7 months, as it’s the land of the wines, is craft brew scene is basically non-existent. So, needless to say, I was in a beer heaven of sorts at this place.

Founded in 1998, Franciscan Well Brewery was built on the grounds of an old Franciscan monastery that dates back to 1219. Local legend claims that the well from which the monastery got its water back in the day had healing powers, and people would come from all over to drink from it. Now, how cool is that? As a history buff and a storyteller, I adore a good legend. You can learn all of this and more through a guided tour of the brewery with free samplings for only 10€.

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Unfortunately, the brewing does not brew with water from the well in modern day, however, they do brew amazing beer. They have three main brews: Rebel Red, Chieftain IPA, and the Friar Weisse.

Rebel Red, my personal favorite, is a red ale with a bit of a caramel finish named after Cork County’s nickname (because apparently each county in Ireland has its own nickname. Again, who knew? The things you learn in Ireland), Rebel.

The Chieftain IPA, brewed to honor the king who founded the site of where the present-day brewery is, King Diarmund McCarthy Mor, is not overly hoppy, so even the likes of Stout lovers can enjoy it.

Lastly, the Friar Weisse, a German style wheat beer, offers anyone who tastes it an enjoyable bit of citrus with some added clove.

So, even though this brewery is still growing, it’s definitely a not-miss stop, especially for my fellow craft brew lovers out there.

 

Cork is a must on any traveler’s bucket list. Cork’s quirkiness meshes well mine, as I’m sure it will with many people’s, and I can’t help feeling that I’m going to need to go back there some day. Besides, where else would you get the opportunity to participate in an unusual combination of travel experiences? Beer, butter, and swans, my friends….The unknown side of Ireland.

 

My failure is my success.

Despite having been working with my collègiens here in Laval, France for the past 7 months, it still appears as though I don’t know them or really know how to teach as well as I thought that I did.

As I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, teaching is difficult, and just when you feel like you’ve finally found your footing, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet again, sending you slamming on the ground, leaving you with a sore tooshie.

This was my experience last Monday. As I was going into my second to last week as a English teaching assistant here in France, the teacher with whom I work with at the middle school said she’d like to try separating the class into two groups, with me taking half, and then we would switch after 25 minutes. Splitting the class into two groups is something that I do often with my high school students, but I had never before done it with my middle school classes. However, I thought it was a good idea because it would give me the opportunity to challenge my teaching skills with the middle schoolers as well as to spend some individual time with them.

I failed. I failed big time. Middle schoolers are still very much children, so I actually ended up spending half of the already split in half time with them just managing their behavior (or rather, attempting to).

A few students would not stop talking repeatedly, even after asking them to be quiet and listen while I was teaching. Then, they even went so far as to say rude things to me and about me in French (because some of them still don’t fully realize that I speak and understand French). Then when I asked for their carnets (a handbook of sorts that allows the teachers to write notes to each student’s parents about their behavior), one student gave it to me, at which point I set it on the teacher desk (my mistake. I should’ve kept it in my hand), and I spent almost a full five minutes demanding the carnet of another student. I had two options: continue to stand there even though I was wasting the time I had or give in and just not take it from said student. If I just stood there and waited (which is what I ended up doing), I waste the rest of the class period. If I give in to the student, then the students will never learn to respect me, which was still important to me even though I only had two weeks left at this point. However, I was unsuccessful, despite my waiting and insistence, because of his straight up direct refusal during which the bell rang and at which point said student got up and walked away despite my demands while the other (without me seeing) stole his carnet back off the teacher desk and ran out of the classroom.

Not only was I completely frustrated, but I felt completely embarrassed, especially when telling the teacher what had occurred. It made me feel better that she said that she has trouble with the same students, but I still felt like I had completely failed, because I basically had.

I went home and was so frustrated that I almost cried. It was not a good moment.

Moments such as these teach me that I’m still learning though. I’m still a student myself. During this class time, I realized that even though I am more comfortable teaching than at the beginning of my contract, I have no idea how to actually manage classroom behavior and teach through the terrible behavior. I felt at a complete loss and as a complete failure, especially because in addition to not being able to discipline said students, the rest of the class was robbed of a proper lesson with me due to the behavior of those few students.

Despite frustration, I’ve grown just a little bit more because of my failure. I have to ask myself how I could’ve managed their behavior better. How do I properly gain the respect from my students, not just here in France but in future teaching positions? What do I need to do to make the expectations that I have for my students clear?

I’ve tried very hard this  year to be a resource for my students as well as someone that they can look up to and feel comfortable having fun while learning. However, that’s difficult to do when you are also trying to establish respect with your students at the same time. How should I go about creating a balance between the two?

These are all questions that I still don’t have answers to and will probably be continuing to ask for quite some time.

Despite the unanswered question though, situations such as these make me reflect on my progress, what I’ve managed to learn and what I still need to learn. It’s a reminder that I am and always will be a student myself, no matter what age I’m teaching, what I’m teaching, or where I’m teaching.

My failure pushes me to want to succeed and to learn even more. My failure is making me better, at my job and as a person. So, though I was frustrated, I’ve decided to look at it in a positive way, knowing that I can and I will do better next time.

 

Hindsight is 20/20: Investing in renter’s insurance, a requirement when renting in France

Renting an apartment or house in France means that you are absolutely required to invest in renter’s insurance, aka assurance d’habitation. When I first encountered this, I was severely confused, because back home in the United States even though renter’s insurance does exist, it is not required and most people don’t invest in it. However, it is a legal obligation in France if you are renting. Also, some places might not even let you sign a lease until you can prove that you have insurance or that you plan to get insurance.

It covers fires, accidents, water damage, break-ins, and responsabilité civile. La responsabilité civile, the civil responsibility, policy is a policy that exists in France to cover you if you cause harm to anyone or their belongings. So, if you accidentally break someone’s window because you thought it would be fun to throw around a ball at someone’s party, then you’re covered.

I was severely confused as to 1) what this is and 2) why it even exists. I have no idea why it exists in the first place, but it is required. It’s usually covered in your renter’s insurance though.

So, you need to invest in a renter’s insurance policy. Don’t worry. This is actually a lot easier than it appears.

You can get your insurance through a couple of places.

1. Through your bank – Because the assurance d’habitation is required in France, most banks offer it, and it is usually rather cheap as well, depending on where you live. So, depending on which bank you decide to open an account with, you should be able to get insurance from them. I have an account with Crédit Mutuel, and I pay less than 5€ a month for my insurance. I did have to pay an 11€ fee just to have the insurance, but it shouldn’t be that much every month. Even if it was though, that is still extremely cheap.

You will most likely have to sign a contract for a year of coverage, however, when you close your bank account, you should be able to close your insurance account without being charged the rest of the contract if you say that the reason is that you are moving out of your house/apartment.

I chose to go with my bank because my monthly payments just come straight out of my bank account automatically. So, I don’t have to worry about remembering to pay it.

2. Through private companies – Since I went through my bank for my insurance policy, I am unaware of any specific private companies that may offer this. If you will be a TAPIF assistant, then I’m sure your référent will be able to point you in the right direction or you can google it. As I’ve said throughout many of posts in this series, Google is your friend.

The price you pay for insurance will vary according to the city you live and where you live, whether it’s a house or an apartment, how big it is, etc.

You should also look at the specifics for the length of the contract and what will be required of you if you break contract, such as when you leave the country after 7 months of the one-year contract.

 

Overall, I think the simplest option is getting insurance through your bank since it is rather cheap and automatic, but it is definitely up to personal preference and needs. So, do your research and choose the best option for you.

 

Getting renter’s insurance is actually one of the least complicated parts of the whole process of moving to France. I can assure you of that. So, have confidence and good luck!