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Accommodation in France: Understanding the CAF

Written by  Jordan Stevens Monday, 02 April 2012
A Room with a View A Room with a View ~ Phil Moore
During my second year at university I attended several Year Abroad meetings and I was so carefree, sat in those lecture halls anxiously anticipating our great, foreign adventures. When I first heard about CAF, I was eager to obtain this generous amount of free money from the French government but by November of my first semester away, the process had become the bane of my life. The process is long, slow and frustrating but the financial benefits are definitely worth the month or so of tearing your hair out.

What is CAF?

Whether you are a native French student or an English student on your Year Abroad you may be eligible to receive CAF (Caisses d'Allocations Familiales). It’s a sum of money that is allocated to students by the French government to help pay for your student accommodation – the amount being dependent on the type of accommodation and your income. You should be able to receive CAF living in any type of accommodation (e.g. a house share, student halls or a private residence) as long as you are the contracted tenant.

The application can be a bit tricky and as anyone that has lived in France before will know; the administrative processes are often much, much, much slower than those in the UK. To begin the application you will need to start gathering together several documents:

  • a photocopy of your passport
  • a professional translation of your birth certificate
  • your French bank account details (the payment can only be made to a French account)
  • a document that proves your tenancy (ask your landlord and they’ll know what you mean)

However, as a word of warning I’d advise anyone to check which documents are required by asking at their local CAF office before doing anything. On top of the documents listed on the CAF website I was asked, for some reason, to simply write down in my own words that I had sufficient funds to pay my rent. Further to this, despite my host university having suggested a translator (which set me back €25); I later discovered that some of my friends hadn’t even given a copy of their English birth certificate, let alone a French one!

You can only receive CAF from the second month of your stay (i.e. if you move in on September 1st, you are only eligible from October 1st). I was only in France for one semester and still managed to get three payments so it’s worth it even if you’re not there for the whole year. In total I received payments for November, December and January totaling over €600 – half of my rent for those three months!

A few tips to help the process…

  1. Be quick! Start your application as soon as you’ve opened a bank account. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the Year Abroad madness but the quicker you apply, the more money you’re likely to receive.
  2. Don’t jump the gun! Before you fill out any forms, do any translations or request any documents, check with your local CAF office exactly what is required of you. I’ve learned that the regulations can be different in various parts of France.
  3. Be direct! If you have any problems with your application, try and get it sorted in the CAF office itself. It can be scary if your French isn’t up to scratch but it’s much better than waiting for weeks for a solution via post or email

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