Hindsight is 20/20: What is CAF and why is it important for expatriates in France?

If you are a future TAPIF assistant or just a future expatriate of France, you may have heard the acronym CAF thrown around a time or two throughout your preparations. So, what exactly is CAF, and why is it so important for those whom live in France?

CAF is short for Caisse d’Allocations Familiales, an organization that exists to help people in France with living costs, most of the time this means rental assistance. No matter how much you’ll end up paying in rent, believe me, you will want assistance from CAF.

First things first, knowing where you are going to be living. You must be living somewhere before you can apply. Haven’t found housing yet? Check out my blog post about how to find housing in France here. You have a few options regarding housing: finding housing at your school, if they offer it, finding housing on your own, and living in a foyer. I outlines these details in my housing post mentioned. Once you decide where you will be living you can expect the following.

1. Chances are that if you find housing on your own through a private landlord or a company that owns many properties, you will have to apply for the CAF by yourself. (I would heavily advise against renting out a place that isn’t eligible for CAF). However, this should be one of the questions that you ask the landlord before signing the lease. You must be specific about asking about whether or not you will be applying to CAF by yourself or if the landlord will do it for you/help you with it. Then, there are even more specifics about it. You must ask them if they would rather the CAF money go straight to them or if they’d rather have the reimbursement come to you and you pay full month’s rent. This is very important because it can take a few months for your CAF to go through and for the reimbursements to come through to you. So, you must be aware of what the expectations are from the landlord. If they agree to have the CAF come to them, then chances are you will pay the landlord what you would be paying if you had the CAF the entire time, but if they landlord would rather not wait for the CAF money to go through, then chances are you will have to pay the full amount of rent by yourself each month, which can be a great burden on your salary because the reimbursement most likely won’t go through until 3 to 5 months after you first apply. So, this should be your first priority.

2. If you choose to live in a foyer, then I have good news for you. As I mentioned in my post about finding housing, the great thing about foyers (at least in my experience) is that they help you apply for CAF, and not only that, but they allow you to pay the amount of rent that you would with the assistance from CAF throughout the entire time you will be renting, even if it hasn’t gone through yet. For example, even though my CAF didn’t fully go through until the end of February, I’ve been paying rent as though I’ve been receiving it the whole time since October, because when the CAF does finally go through, the foyer itself will be reimbursed, not you. This makes it extremely easy because you don’t have to worry about paying full month’s rent, reimbursing the foyer, or getting confused by the paperwork required to apply for CAF. The foyer opens a new CAF account for almost every person that lives there, so they definitely know the ropes by now, not allowing much room for confusion or missing paperwork.

So, in the case that you do have to apply for CAF yourself, don’t stress too much. It can be done. Many assistants who choose not to live in a foyer do it every year, and they come out on the other side just fine.

So, secondly, here are the steps to applying for the CAF if you are tackling it by yourself:

1. See if you are eligible for CAF – your eligibility for CAF is based on a few things.

  • Where you live – as I mentioned above, you need to make sure that where you will be renting from is eligible for the CAF.
  • Your earnings in previous years – This is why I mentioned in my post about what to pack you should bring copies of your last two years’ tax returns. Your eligibility and the amount of assistance that you receive is based on how much you have earned in the past.
  • How much you will be making while you’re living in France – if you are working as an assistant, you will be making so little that you will definitely qualify. Unfortunately, you can’t provide proof of your income until you receive your first paystub, which means that your CAF won’t go through until you submit that. However, you make so little that this will be a major factor in your eligibility and how much assistance you receive.
  • Whether or not you are currently a student/were a student in the past – This one can be a little tricky. If you were a student in the past, you receive more assistance than if you were working. Just a little advice: if you are like me and worked while you were a student in the last few years, don’t even worry about submitting your taxes from those two years and just say you were a student, because saying you were a student even if you did work will get you more assistance. However, if you are a student currently and you claim that you are a student rather than saying that you are currently working, you get less assistance than if you were to say you are an apprentice/a young worker, such as a language assistant.
    • So, to clarify: student in the past rather than worker = more assistance, current student rather than worker = less assistance. So, for the past two years, I would say that you were a student (if you had been) and say that you are a worker currently. It can definitely be confusing.
  • With whom you live – CAF takes into account all of the salaries in one household as if they were one singular salary, even if you split all of the expenses in the household. So, if you are looking to have roommates for your time in France, then I advise living with other assistants or young workers, not only because then you will be living with people who are in the same boat and can help you out, but also because it will help you qualify for more assistance with CAF. If you live by yourself, like I do in a foyer, then obviously, you will qualify for more assistance.
  • Whether you have a valid carte de séjour (aka your visa) or a valid EU passport – This should be easy to understand. You have to be legally in the country in order to receive assistance from the country’s government.
  • Whether you have a French bank account – you cannot apply to CAF if you don’t have a bank account to which they can send the money.

2. Now, you have to apply to CAF.

  • To apply to CAF you must fill out an application that you can find on the CAF website. You can complete your application online, or if you want to complete a hard copy, you can download it from the website and print it off and then send it to the CAF office in or closest to your city.
  • On the application you will need to fill in information about the following:
    • Your personal information – name, birthday, birthplace, nationality, address, whether or not you are working or a student, etc.
    • Your living situation – do you live with roommates or do you live alone? If you have roommates, then you will have to put all of their information as well, because as I mentioned above, CAF considers the entire household as one salary. So, their situation and their income affect how much assistance you will receive.
    • Your net earnings for the past two years (unless you were a student) 
  • Then the second part of the application, the attestation de loyer, is for your landlord to fill out. This will include information about how long your lease, how big the apartment is, whether it is furnished or unfurnished, the rent and utilities payment amounts, etc.
  • The documents you will need to turn in with your application are as follows:
    • copies of your passport (your identification pages) and your carte de séjour (your visa), unless you are an EU citizen, in which case you just need to send a copy of your identification pages
    • A copy of your OFII (office of immigration) stamp if you are not from the EU – you will not get this until you have your OFII appointment, which could be anywhere from December to April. Therefore, your CAF won’t fully go through until after you’ve had that appointment and sent that to them.
    • A copy of your birth certificate – if you come from an English-speaking country, then chances are you do not have to have it translated. If you are not from an English-speaking country, then yes, you need to have it translated. I don’t believe you need this if you are an EU citizen.
    • a RIB, a releve d’identité bancaire – This is a piece of paper that gives your bank account information to CAF. You will get this when you open your French bank account. You need to guard this with your life and make multiple copies because CAF is probably not the only thing you will need it for.
    • a copy of your first paystub – as I said above, if you are working as an assistant, you will not get this until later, so you cannot send it when you first apply. You will just have to send a copy of it later once you receive it.

Once your CAF goes through, you should start receiving direct payments into your French bank account.

3. Closing your CAF account before you leave – You have to close your CAF account before you leave the country. You need to send a letter to the CAF office telling them of the date that you are moving and when to stop payments. This means that you need to leave your French bank account open until the last payment comes through. If you end up leaving the country before the last payment is supposed to come through to your account, it is possible to leave your French bank account open. However, depending on the bank, you may need to look to see that this is possible and what exactly you need to do in order to close your bank account from abroad.

If you are planning on staying in France, then you need to send them the same letter but adding your new French address. You may need to go to the local CAF office in person in order to tell them that you will be moving to a different French address and wish to have your file moved with you. You will still need them to stop payments from your current address, as the amount that you will receive with your new address may change because your living situation will have changed.

If you ever have any questions regarding applying for CAF or the status of your account, you can go to the office in person and someone there will likely be able to help you with any questions you may have. Many other assistants will also be going through the same thing, so I’m sure someone out there will have the same questions as you.

Once you have started the process of applying to CAF, once they receive your application then you will get an account number and an access code to access your account online, which will allow you to view the status of your account.

Assistants do this every year and have succeeded in getting rental assistance. It does take awhile to go through. So, the whole process does require patience, but I can assure that everything will work out fine. I wish you luck!

5 thoughts on “Hindsight is 20/20: What is CAF and why is it important for expatriates in France?

  1. Unfortunately, I was living in a foyer and had to pay the full months rent until my CAF came through- in April!! It was a pretty significant financial burden.


    1. Oh, really? I suppose that not all foyers operate the same way then. That’s good to know. Thanks for the input.


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