Getting your Passport
I started getting my passport by going to my county courthouse offices, but you can also start at your local post office or on the US Department of State website. You will have paperwork to fill out, and you’ll need a pair of passport photos. Walgreens offers passport photos at the rate of $12 per pair (as of January 2015). You can also take your own photo and use a passport photo tool offered by the US Department of State. Passport fees vary by type, but all of that information can be found here.
If you choose to take your own passport photo, your background must be blank white. You can achieve this in one of at least two ways: first, you could take your photo in front of a blank white background. No, white-painted bricks often aren’t clean enough. Second, you could take your own photo in front of any generally solid background and then edit it on your computer. Microsoft Word 2010 has a surprisingly good feature for this: insert the photo and then use the ‘Remove Background’ feature. Copy the newly edited photo and paste it into Paint, where you can save it in the appropriate format.
Obtaining a Visa
If you’re a student, you’ll be applying for a ‘Long Stay Visa’. BUT BEFORE you even get to fill out the Visa paperwork, you need to complete a Campus France Application. Now, the Campus France website is not at ALL user-friendly, so make sure you read all instructions (related post) before you hit ‘submit’!
For the Visa itself, first check which consulate covers your geographic area. I live in the jurisdiction of the Chicago Consulate, so that’s where my knowledge sits. General Information is a good place to start, and you’ll be filling out the English version of the long stay visa. Make sure you fill out a Residence Form (there’s a link under step 2 – How do I register in France?). You’ll have a little more work to do in France, but you’ll get some money toward your housing every month. See [[this post]] about the CAF and OFII.
Your Visa appointment must be made online (for Chicago Section). You’ll wait in a little office for a while before talking to a staff person for about five minutes. As long as you have everything listed in the section listed “Requirements” (Long Stay Visa for Studies page), you’ll be in and out in no time. For me, it was a really short visit to Chicago. My parents and I were in town for a maximum of half an hour after driving four hours to get there.
Birth Certificate Translation and Apostille
You’ll need a translated birth certificate for a semester or more abroad. This means you have to have a third party translate and notarize it as well as obtain an Apostille from your birth state. The Apostille is basically extra authentication that allows your birth certificate to be accepted as true and valid in France. I found all of the information I needed through the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s webpage. It takes about ten business days to receive your Apostille.
For a birth certificate translation, I suggest that you contact Deborah Joyce at http://www.xlator1.com/. Her fee is cheaper than any large companies, and she is fast and reliable. I had no problems whatsoever with my birth certificate translation while in France. I recommend her services without reservations.
How much money should you bring? If you’re studying abroad, the answer is, “enough for the first month”. Your bank will probably have a partnership with a currency exchange company, and you can order Euros that way. If you’re studying at the UTBM, they will provide you with the information you need to estimate your first month’s expenses.
Should you open a French bank account? If you’re living there and not visiting, yes. Yes you should. Everything is based around the bank in France. You can’t get a phone, internet, rent lodging, or anything like that without a bank account. Again, if you’re studying at the UTBM, you’ll be helped in this process a lot. There is a whole crew of students who will help you through the process. The UTBM has a partnership with Societe Generale and opening a bank account is cheap and relatively painless because of that.
Travel Blogs and Information I Used in Pre-departure Research