Here goes a post to cover some of the practicalities of moving abroad to do a placement for a year, from the big things like finding somewhere to live, down to remembering to bring plug adaptors.
Originally the other intern and I had planned to live together, either just the two of us or with other students. For flatshares, we got told some sites to consult: leboncoin, appartager, housinganywhere, and some sites to avoid. In theory it seemed simple enough- we both needed to be in a similar area and had a similar budget in mind, however after many solid days of trailing through these sites we had still found nothing. For me the next logical step was to phone estate agencies in Toulouse and ask directly if they had any properties. This in fact proved very time consuming and everyone I spoke to (in my best very polite French) were unwilling to help. Another friend in Toulouse found this to be the case too- they don’t really cater to students, many only do rentals for a year or longer. The ones who were willing to help wanted enormous deposits- 9000€ for a three-month let, which of course had to be from a French bank account.
Thus, a dilemma was born. Paying for accommodation required a French bank account but acquiring a French bank account required a proof of a French address- I couldn’t get one without the other. (See: banking fiasco).
It seemed the only remaining solution was for us to split up and find separate living arrangements. I then resorted to Airbnb, feeling fresh out of other options. I booked flights to Toulouse, made appointments to visit several promising-looking Airbnb properties and went for a weekend-long property search. I eventually found a studio flat in a really nice area, visited it and booked it on the same day. Of course, another advantage of Airbnb is the security in terms of paying rent and deposits, and the fact that you don’t need a local bank account to pay.
Retrospectively, I can say up to this point all has gone well with the logistics of accommodation and would recommend using Airbnb for year abroad accommodation to anyone. In the three-month period I only hit one problem: the night before I was due to move out (how typical)- my flat was burgled. Other than this one-off, the rest of the stay was fantastic.
One thing I did learn is the importance of viewing the properties beforehand if you can. This does seem strange for Airbnb, but when I explained I would be staying for three months, most people were more than happy to show me round, and those who couldn’t kindly gave me the street address, so I could visit the area. This is not only to ensure the property does actually exist, but to get a feel for the area and to see what your journey to work will be like.
If you’re lucky enough to be doing a paid placement it is common to find that the receiving business will only pay into a local bank account, or if your placement is unpaid a local bank account is still the best way to avoid hefty conversion fees which can mount up if you use an English bank account overseas. This can be a tricky process.
In most banks it’s necessary to book an appointment in advance and take the following documentation with you:
Convention de stage
Attestation d’herbegement (signed statement from your landlord to confirm you live with them)
Copy of your landlord’s identification
Proof that your landlord owns the address
After looking into this process and the previously-mentioned catch-22 situation regarding needing a local address, I opted to open account with Credit Agricole’s English speaking service Britline. All the registration is done online, with just a phone call to discuss what services you need, and you can receive all your documentation and cards etc to an English address before you go. So far I can’t fault the service and have found reassuring to know that if I experience any disasters that I can contact them in English.
Another product which came in handy at the start of my placement before my Britline account was set up was a Caxton card. Essentially the same as any foreign exchange card, you can top up the Caxton using a mobile app and convert into any currency you want. The charges are not bad and in some cases you can even get paid into your Caxton account as well. Another bonus is the super-simple registration process and small amount of documentation needed. The Caxton would be a great solution for anyone travelling, not only for stagiaires.
Although your workplace and the university should definitely have you covered by insurance for your time away (of course check this), I decided to take out some insurance which would cover my phone, laptop, camera, debit cards, etc while I was away, as well as covering myself in case of illness, and which would insure me and my belongings for any other travelling in Europe during my year abroad. For this I used Endsleigh, who specialise in student insurance, and their Study Abroad Insurance. The policy I opted for was super cheap but covered everything I needed and thus far has been relatively stress-free, which is more than can be said about some other aspects of the move.
One really useful piece of advice I received was to make scans, photocopies and printouts of everything- especially as I had no access to a printer before starting work. This includes copies and scans of your convention de stage, passport, birth certificate, student card etc. As well as this, a set of passport photos was invaluable- I needed one handy as soon as I landed in Toulouse to buy a travel card and since then have got through another four for various bits and bobs.
Potentially forgotten things
- Plug adaptors
- Check if your accommodation includes bedding/ towels
I hope at least some of the above advice has been helpful, even if much of it is the same advice which has been repeated by everyone you mention your placement year to.
As always, get in touch if I can be of any help, and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.
A la prochaine,