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Teaching English in France

A Step-by-Step Guide to Success

By Amber Foster  

Let's face it. Getting a job in France isn't easy for non-EU nationals. But if you have a college education and at least one year of past teaching experience (in whatever subject) there are ways to increase your odds. I taught English for 14 months at a private school in the heart of Paris, and I am proof that Americans and other non-EU nationals can get a work visa in France. What follows is a step-by-step guide for those of you who aspire to do the same.

Before You Go

TEFL or CELTA? I am constantly asked if you need a TEFL certification of some kind before going to France. The answer is simple: Yes! This is especially true for people who lack crucial work experience. Whether you get a TEFL (Teach English as a Second Language) or a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults), employers want to see real, in-class teaching hours under your belt. Which means don't sign up for those Internet training courses that promise you a certificate in only a few hours. Research TEFL certificates and find one that will be recognized internationally. I recommend the RSA/Cambridge or Trinity certificates, as they are prestigious and known by most French employers. (A great site for advice on this subject is www.tefl.com, where you will find this and other useful information for current and prospective English teachers.)

What to Bring

  • Copies of your CV (Curriculum Vitae) and Cover Letter in English. You may also want to have them translated into French. Make sure your CV is in French format (for specifics on the proper form, check out (www.iagora.com/iwork/resumes/cv_france.html). French CVs require having a passport-sized photo in the upper-right corner of the first page. I had mine cut and pasted into the actual document, which is much more cost effective and professional—looking than an attached photo. (Most French do not smile for passport photos.) Cover letters should be handwritten in neat cursive (photocopies are fine).
  • A Cell Phone. If you have a cell phone that will work in France, bring that. Otherwise, pick up one when you arrive. You can get a cheap, rechargeable phone at Mobicarte stores located throughout France. Check out www.pagesjaunes.fr (the Yellow Pages in France) to find the address closest to you. It will cost about 120 euros for a basic phone; you will also need a recharge card, starting at 15 euros. Make sure to write your new phone number on your CV so that employers can call you.
  • Important Documents. These include: copies of your passport and birth certificate, originals and copies of any relevant transcripts (including your TEFL or CELTA course), and some passport photos. Employers may want all or none of these things, but you'll want to have them on hand just in case.

French: Oui or non?

Oui! You don't have to be fluent, but even some basic knowledge tells employers you are serious about living and working in France.

Where Are the Schools?

First, ask your TEFL or CELTA program for a list of schools. Additionally, a few employers are listed in Jeff Mohamed's Teaching English Overseas: A Job Guide for Americans & Canadians. The British Council may have a list of schools as well. You can check out its web page at www.britishcouncil.org or visit them if you go to Paris (9-11 Rue de Constantine 75340 Paris Cedex 07).

What worked best in my case was the French Yellow Pages. However, be aware that the listings in the paper version are much more complete than on the Internet site. Hunt down a paper copy when you arrive.

Final Preparations

  • Buy a 3-week roundtrip ticket to France in September or January. These are the key hiring periods for schools. Three weeks is plenty, because if you haven't found a job by then, you're not going to. Even if you get a job contract you will have to go back to your place of residence to complete the paperwork. You cannot get your work visa while in France. End of story.
  • Go to a big city. It is best to go to a big city with lots of English schools, like Paris. The more English schools there are, the better your chances will be.
  • Book a place to stay in advance. If you're trying to save funds, stay in a budget hotel. A good place to look for cheap hotels and hostels is at www.hostelworld.com or www.hostels.com. Youth hostels also work, although you will have to deal with curfews and noise problems at night.

When You Get There

Okay, you've checked into your hotel, you've got a list of English schools, you've got a phone, you've got copies of your CV and cover letter in hand, and you're ready to go. What now?

  1. Get a good map of Paris and hit the pavement. Use a map that has metro and bus routes listed inside. They are available at any bookstore, or library. The best times to visit schools are between nine and noon and between two and five.
  2. Get a transport pass. To save money, you might also want to buy a weekly transport pass called a carte hebdomadaire which is valid from Monday to Sunday of each week (so it's not a good idea to buy one on a Friday). Automated ticket machines located in the metro are open 24 hours a day and have an English menu. Zone 1 passes cover all of central Paris, where most are located.
  3. Go door-to-door. Visit the schools, hand over your cover letter and CV, and wait for them to call. Above all, don't get discouraged. No matter what they tell you, a few schools do have the capacity to hire Americans, through programs like AIPT (Association for International Practical Training, www.aipt.org). Just keep trying!
  4. Be patient. After a week or so you should start getting calls. Don't harass employers. Give them at least a week to look over your CV and call you. Some employers will want to do the interview on the phone. Others will want to meet you, and then at the end of the interview they will tell you that they can't hire you without a work visa. In the end, it is a combination of preparation, determination, and luck that will land you that dream job in France.

Final Words to the Wise

Teaching English in France is not a good way to make money. In a good month you could work 100 hours, but in slow periods like January and August you may only work 10-20 hours for the entire month. Usually, this averages out to about 1,000-1,200 euros a month, which is enough to cover basic living expenses if you don't live too extravagantly. Don't expect to save money or send money home.

You need at least 5,000 euros with you when you go, as most landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners and will require a two months' advance deposit. It can take months to open a French bank account, since you need your carte de sejour, or long-stay visa, before a bank will let you open a new account. Traveler's checks in euros are your best bet (you can order these in advance from most U.S. banks). Also, your employer will probably allow you to get cash advances on your paychecks until you can get an account. Having extra funds available is essential.

In the end, teaching English in France is a rewarding and worthwhile experience, but you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

Amber Foster lives in Fairfield, CA.