One of the questions I get asked the most frequently is: How did you end up in Paris? It’s the second question an American abroad asks another expat when we meet each other, right after “where are you from in the states?”
“What’s your story?”
I also always seem to ask “What type of visa do you have?”
We are all (or maybe I’m alone in this) eternally curious to see if other expats in Paris share our visa struggle. I am always wondering if someone else figured out a new way to be here that I can piggyback off of.
The road to permanent life in Paris is not very well paved, if at all. Each year, my friends and I dive back into the treacherous visa waters and cross our fingers. I am here one visa at a time, as are many Americans living in Paris. This is not to say that you cannot find a way to be here for longer amounts of time, many of my friends have 3 year visas, permanent residency cards or are European so they don’t have to worry about it, but I thought I would give you a little look into my personal journey to living long-term in the city of lights.
Visa # 1 – In 2012, I visited my friend Augusta who was living right outside of Paris and working as an Au Pair. We had just finished college, I was underemployed and lost and as we were standing on the balcony of the Eiffel Tower, she and my friend Allie told me that I should move to Paris and be an Au Pair too. It just so happened that there was a family in Augusta’s agency that was looking for a new Au Pair to start immediately. I spent the rest of the week considering it over wine and beautiful views of the city. I got back home and was still undecided. I emailed my resume to the director of the Au Pair agency just to see what would happen and start a discussion. Less than two days later, I was skyping with a family who wanted me to come and live with them for a year and a half. I decided to go for it. Within two months of my initial Parisian visit, I quit my job and got on an airplane with about $200 in my pocket. I lived here for 15 months on a student/au pair visa. This visa requires the holder to have a signed contract with a host family that included lodging and payment and it also required enrollment in school at least 10 hours a week.
Visa # 2 – After my first 15 months in the city of lights. I left Paris feeling very unsettled and like I had a ton of unfinished business. I ugly girl sobbed in the back of the car on the way to the airport, in security, in customs, in the terminal, on the flight… you get the picture. I was a walking advertisement for Kleenex and waterproof mascara. I moved back to Indianapolis and got a big girl job that I absolutely adored. I worked there for 2 years but at the end of that two-year period, I felt myself being pulled back to Paris. It wasn’t that I was unhappy in Indianapolis; in fact, I am often really homesick for the people and family that I have left behind, but I had this constant feeling like I wasn’t all the way home. Maybe this kind of phenomenon is only understandable to people who have lived really far from home, but it was like I was missing a part of myself, the Parisian part, I guess. So, about 2 months before the 2015-2016 school year started, I called the Au Pair agency that I worked with in 2012 and asked if they had any families that still needed someone, and they did. So, two months later, I came back to Paris in on another student/au pair visa.
Visa # 3 – At the end of the 2016 school year, the family asked me if I would like to continue working for them the following year. It was an ideal set-up, a gorgeous apartment overlooking Notre Dame, a family that genuinely treated me like a member of their family and another year in Paris. There was only one problem and it was that I wanted to live with my boyfriend. Although the family said that both my boyfriend and I were welcome to live in the 19 square meter (205 square feet for you Americans) apartment, he wasn’t convinced and it was decided that I would try to find my own way and apartment in Paris. I applied for TAPIF – the Teaching Assistant Program In France, and was accepted to be an English teacher. I went home for the summer and came back the following October with an “assistant” visa, which, with a signed contract from the French government, allows me to work 12 hours a week within the French school system from October to the end of April. I moved in with boyfriend in our loud and old little apartment and the school year passed by in the blink of an eye.
Visa # 4 – This visa is upcoming. I plan to renew my current visa at home this summer to complete another year with TAPIF. I really enjoyed my time and I learned so much about myself and teaching English as a foreign language that it was a truly amazing experience. It is also a wonderful way to live here in Paris and still be able to dedicate enough time to this blog that I have created. I also pick up random side projects, such as translation, writing blog posts, babysitting occasionally, and teaching English online because I love to stay busy. Obviously. This is the last year that I will be eligible for the assistant visa as you can only do this program twice, and then I’ll be on the hunt for another long stay visa – I’m sure I’ll let you know!
Anyway, I just wanted to share my particular visa journey with you all. Unfortunately for Americans, it’s not always as simple as booking a flight, packing a suitcase and just deciding to be somewhere, as some people make it seem. Unless you’re really rich, and then it’s pretty much that exact thing. For us normal folks, it’s usually hours of research, HOURS of paperwork that occasionally gets misplaced by the French government, and lots of frustration – but hopefully for a really good payout.
*feature photo taken by the amazing Miss Paris Photo