As a foreign student in Paris, I was able to get reimbursed hundreds of dollars for my flight home to the US, avoid bank transfer and conversion fees and get paid to eat free French meals. How did I do it? It all comes down to a three-step approach:
- Think like a journalist
As tourists, we often allow ourselves little luxuries that are not a part of our everyday routines. But if you’ll be in Paris for more than a few days, eating in restaurants everyday and attending paid exhibits all the time can add up. At the same time, no one wants to spend their stay in Paris eating pasta at home. The trick is to find a balance between the quick-spending habits of a tourist and the monotony of a budgeted routine. That’s why thinking like a journalist may be the best approach.
When you take the perspective of a journalist, you can spend your time in Paris looking for the latest “scoop” and by “scoop,” I mean a free or inexpensive activity to try. Did you know that in September many of the most expensive restaurants in Paris offer extremely reduced rates as part of a national food festival? Or that you can sign up to take a free cooking class at many of Paris’ outdoor Sunday markets? If you think like a journalist, it’s your job to be in the know and to uncover the best free activities Paris has to offer. Plus, you’ll have some fun in the process.
- Get connected
One of my biggest regrets from my study abroad experience in Paris is spending so much of my time with other American students from my program. Not only did I miss out on a rare chance to truly immerse myself in another culture and improve my French, I also ended up spending more money.
Parisians who have spent years in the city know a thing or two about how to save money. Of course, making local connections—especially when you don’t speak French well—is easier said than done. To speed up the process, I would recommend the Cité Universitaire in the 14th district. It’s basically an international community everything a broke student could want: relatively inexpensive housing, access to cheap (although admittedly not always so flavorful) food at the university restaurant, free and inexpensive activities (everything from theater shows to free resume building workshops) and free language discussion groups.
- Ask about special discounts
One advantage of living in France is that cultural activities are often cheaper for students and young people. Those under 26 can get free entry into the Louvre on Friday nights and pay less for local travel on the metro with the Carte Imagine R. While some discounts have age restrictions (usually 26), there are still a number of discounts available to students of all ages, from discounted meals to free movie tickets. Since the availability of these discounts can differ greatly, as a student in Paris, you should always have your student ID card with you and always be prepared to ask if there is a tarif étudiant (student rate) when paying an entry fee.
Investigating deals, connecting with others and asking questions have served me well since I moved to Paris. As a student, the biggest payoff came when I did an internship with a major French company. I wanted to learn all I could about working in France and my research led me to discover the concept of a comité d’entreprise (CE), a group put in place to represent employees in large French companies. Speaking with a French intern, I learned that our company’s CE offered discount movie tickets and gym memberships and could even cover part of our travel expenses. I went to the CE to see how I could benefit from these reductions and they offered to refund a third of my $900 plane ticket home to the US for a friend’s wedding. Investigate, connect and ask; it was as simple as that!
Studying abroad in Paris can be a whirlwind experience. You’ve got the city to explore, food to try and historical monuments to discover. If you’re not careful, you could end up spending much more than you planned and come crashing down hard from your Paris adventure once you’re back home in the “real world.” Luckily, with a little effort, studying abroad in Paris can be a rewarding experience without completely breaking your budget.
Stefanie runs freeinparis.com, a website dedicated to exploring the best of Paris for free (or as close as possible), she also blogs for Twenty in Paris. Having spent time as a study abroad student and then master’s student in Paris, she has first-hand experience with living in Paris on a student’s budget. She has been living in France since 2009.