France’s combination of dynamic culture, amazing food and beautiful sights make it a top destination for students who study abroad.
It’s the most visited country in the world for a reason. Every world traveler knows about the allure of Paris, but France is so much more than its capital. From the beaches and glitz of Nice to the French Alps, the centuries-old architecture of Lyon to the thriving social scenes of university cities like Toulouse and Grenoble – and all those amazing museums – France is a study abroad paradise.
This guide shows student travelers how to approach their trip: from the cultural highlights, to the best cities to stay in, to the best ways to find student discounts and the best secret tips – like travel apps and what local things to buy – to have the ultimate France study abroad experience.
Why study in France?
Paris may dominate the country’s list of top tourism sites, but as anyone who’s studied abroad here will tell you, travel between cities is convenient and the thriving culture and gorgeous views in almost every corner of the country will make you think about extending your stay. “Culture” is a French word, after all.
France’s headline attractions
Here’s a can’t-miss list of places you’ll want to see while studying abroad in France:
The Louvre: Come for the Mona Lisa, come back (for free if you’re under 18) for the famous masters. You could spend days here, and many do. (Sorry art history majors, but they won’t let you bunk here.)
Lascaux cave paintings: This network of caves in the Southwest of France features paintings archaeologists believe are roughly 17,000 years old. The original caves have been closed to the public since 1963 over preservation concerns, but an exact replica is open to the public.
The Eiffel Tower: Stop by, read a book in the shade, and take the elevator to the top. It might not be the most memorable stop on your trip, but everyone’s going to ask you if you visited The Eiffel Tower.
French cuisine is considered the height of international food. And while you may be traveling on a student’s budget, it’s worth eating a few meals out to enjoy some of these world-famous delicacies. (Pro tip: If you’re only in country for a few weeks, splurge on a guided food tour of your city.)
The culinary highlights include:
The meals that made French cuisine famous, straight from the source: Coq au vin, ratatouille, quiche Lorraine – need we say more?
The sights of France
France isn’t just about bright lights, history and food. Natural wonders can be found from coast to coast, with sun-soaked beaches, hiking and winter sports never more than a few hours away, no matter where you decide to study.
Improve your French language skills
If you’re concerned about learning the language, we have some good news: French is considered one of the 10 easiest languages to learn for English speakers. Most estimates say you can become fluent in less than a year, and that could be shortened to six months if you take part in an intense French language skills program.
But just in case you wait to power through your language learning app on the flight over, here are a few hints: “Merci” means thank you, “s’il vous plaît” means please and “je suis désolé means I’m sorry (for when you have to start over or give up and use Google Translate).
The biggest shock of your first few days on the ground may be to learn that French people aren’t rude. (Yep, go back and read that again. It’s true.) In fact, many abrupt exchanges between locals and foreigners can be traced back to the visitor not starting off the interaction in a friendly way. (Pro tip: Say “bonjour” or “excusez-moi” before anything else.)
And while you’re focusing on being polite, it’s a good time to talk about the predominant French attitude on life, which is less about achievements and money than it is about being in the moment and enjoying life’s small pleasures. Keep this perspective in mind if you want to fit in.
While you’re likely already planning to visit the most famous attractions, here are three more highlights you shouldn’t miss if the timing works out:
Which city in France should you choose?
The study abroad in France experience is as much about where you choose to live as what you choose to study. Here are six French cities with thriving international student cultures.
Location, location, location. Lyon is home to outstanding universities, amazing food and is a short trip from both the beach and the French Alps. But you don’t have to leave the city for a unique experience. Between Lyon’s giant park (Parc de la Tête d’Or) and the Roman ruins (10% of Lyon’s is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), there’s plenty to do when you’re not studying.
Toulouse is an ideal study abroad city for its mix of opportunities and affordability. The city features one of the country’s largest student populations and just missed the top spot in l’Etudiant’s 2022 rankings of students’ favorite cities. The University of Toulouse (established in 1229) is one of Europe’s oldest.
While a weekend (or two) in Paris is a must during your study abroad trip, attending a school in the city can be a great option, too. Three of the top 10 French universities according to U.S. News and World Report are in the capital – including the highly ranked Sorbonne – along with more than six dozen museums and all the cultural landmarks we’ve already noted.
More than one in four people you run into in Grenoble will be a student (and more than 15% of them are in study abroad programs). The science and engineering schools here are top-notch, too. It’s the self-proclaimed “Capital of the Alps,” so hikes and winter sports are always a great option. Grenoble is also an easy city to get around, especially if you have a bike. Grenoble is a great spot if your French language skills aren’t great, too, as it’s the French city with the second-highest fluency in English.
This city on the French Riviera is a magnet for international students, even though it’s a pricey destination. There’s always something to do – whether it’s visiting a pop-up festival or taking in the architecture that dates back centuries – and it’s easy to navigate via bus or tram. Those with internship and post-university employment ambitions should note Nice is also close to Sophia Antipolis, one of Europe’s leading technology hubs.
Strasbourg was French students’ favorite city in l’Etudiant’s 2022 rankings, with students noting its dedication to environmental efforts. Its academics are impressive, too: the University of Strasbourg has had three Nobel Prize winners since 2011. Politics and civics students will also know Strasbourg is home to both the European Parliament and the World Forum for Democracy.
How to plan your trip to France
Falling in love with the idea of studying abroad in France is just the first step. There’s a lot of planning involved before you go on your journey. Here’s how to make program and travel selections, how to get around once you’re there, and how to stay safe.
Timing your study abroad trip correctly
While fees and cost of living certainly play a large role for most students (more on that in the next section), timing may be the greatest factor in making your study abroad experience in France a reality. Here are a few considerations:
Timeframe of attendance: While many dream of a full semester or even a year abroad, summer or January terms – or even a quarter-long program – may provide the best combination of price and feasibility.
Availability of courses: Just because you’ve chosen a timeframe doesn’t mean your ideal courses will be available. You may have to shop around for the study abroad programs that fit your goals if you’re constrained for time. The earlier you look, the better chance your student travel dreams will become reality.
Confirm you’re eligible (and that you’ll get credit)
Every student knows this game. Do you have the right credits, the right grades (GPA) or the right prerequisites to get into the program? And, once you know you’re qualified, will your study abroad course credits apply back to your current school (if you’re going with a third-party operator)?
Find a flight
Finding flights to study abroad in France follows roughly the same process as any other travel, with a few caveats.
Start by asking your program coordinator for advice: You’re going to hear us say that a few times in this guide, but your program coordinator has a wealth of knowledge and may be able to give you insights on flight discounts.
Sign up for frequent flier programs and alerts early: If you’re trying to score a cheap roundtrip ticket to study abroad in France, create accounts and sign up for push alerts for the airlines you’ll most likely use. If there’s a sale, they’ll tell you.
Look at student discount flight websites: Sites like ScholarTrip offer study abroad flight deals and the ability for students to pay in installments.
Find a place to stay
The most complicated part of your study abroad planning may be finding a place to live. Most schools in France have student housing, but it can be quite limited depending on where you attend. If you’re going with your current university’s program, they likely have exclusive student housing options, too. However, many students find themselves needing to find their own options. If that’s you, here are some tips to keep in mind as you start your search:
Start looking for student residences early: As you’re booking your trip to study abroad in France, talk to your program representative about how to reserve the housing you need.
Location is important: You’re there for a great time, not a long time. That means you should weigh the temptation of saving a few dollars by living farther away from the campus of your French university against the time it’ll take you to commute. (Will you be missing out by living farther away?)
Safety is important, too: Staying on your own and away from your peers? Make sure you have a good understanding of the crime situation. (More on safety below.)
How to get around in France
Travel between cities in France is mostly convenient thanks to the train system. The national railway – SCNF – isn’t always the cheapest option, but it’s often the most convenient (and you can get a discount). Trains may be your first choice for getting around Western Europe, too, depending on the length of your journey – and assuming there isn’t a labor strike. However, with almost 200 airports around the country and discount providers, air travel is also a convenient method for a long weekend somewhere else on the continent.
You can expect robust local travel options in the cities as well. Most major cities have developed bus systems and trams, and six cities – including Paris, Lyon and Toulouse – have extensive metro systems. Taxis and rideshare apps are also generally an option (though the smaller the town, the fewer options you’ll have for cars on demand). Finally, most of the neighborhoods in the cities we mentioned were built centuries ago with walkability in mind. Do yourself a favor before you travel and map out your options. It could save you from a tricky transportation situation your first week there.
Safety in France
France’s cities are reasonably safe, with property crime, pickpockets and vandalism often being the largest concerns in areas frequented by students. That said, the country isn’t immune from major events like terrorist attacks or significant civil unrest. Still, students of any gender who take the same reasonable precautions they follow at home should feel safe traveling throughout France during their time studying abroad.
Emergency services contacts in France
You should research and write down local emergency services contacts before you arrive at your study abroad destination. Here’s a guide to additional safety contacts students should know:
112: The emergency hotline for police, medical and fire throughout the EU
15: Medical emergency number in France
17: Police emergency number in France
18: Fire emergency number in France
114: Deaf and hard of hearing emergency number in France (works with text and video calls)
U.S. embassy website (there are U.S. consulates in Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes and Strasbourg)
What to bring on your trip to France
You’re about to embark on one of the most memorable trips of your life. But what do you pack? Here’s a quick look at the essentials you’ll need while during your study abroad program.
Clothing for a semester in France
France is the home of high fashion. And while you may not have the budget to dress in haute couture, you can blend in well and look great by following a few guides:
Winter: For winter semester, think about dressing in layers (sweaters and scarves for the win) and don’t forget to pack a warm coat.
Spring: If you’re considering study abroad programs during the spring, make sure you have a few smart casual outfits for going to events and restaurants. Wearing pants is more the norm than shorts, even on unseasonably warm days.
Don’t want to look like a tourist?: Skip the sandals and flip flops (unless you’re at the beach), baseball caps, clothes with flashy logos and workout clothes in non-workout situations.
Technology and plugs
Don’t forget your plug adapters while studying abroad! France uses Type C plugs, and those adapters are readily available for purchase across the internet. It’s also important to check any electronics you plan to bring (hairdryers, hair straighteners, etc.) to make sure they match the electrical requirements. The standard electrical voltage in France is 230V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.
Must-have mobile apps for traveling in France
If you’re like most students, your mobile device is your most important life tool. And it’ll continue to be that way during your study abroad trip. Here’s a quick guide to the must-have apps for navigating life in France while studying abroad.
SCNF Connect: It’s basically the national rail system in your pocket. And if you’re there for a semester or longer, travel apps will become an important part of your France study abroad journey.
The Fork: An important app for choosing the right French restaurant.
BlaBlaCar: A carpooling app that can save you serious money on rides between cities or even across the country.
France 24: Whether you’re a news junkie or just like to stay informed, download this and set up push alerts for major stories while in country.
WhatsApp: Stay in touch with your family and friends for free, and avoid paying international texting and data rates.
A translation app: Most phones come equipped with one of these. You might as well move it to your home screen on the flight over, because you’re going to use it a lot.
An organizing app: Whether you’re a KANBAN fan or more of a list maker, you’ll get the most out of your student travel experience if you plan ahead and stay organized.
Travel documents you need in France
Make sure you have the following travel documents on hand before you board your flight.
Passport: You need a passport that will remain valid at least three months beyond the date of departure to enter the country.
Student visa: This may be the most overlooked checklist item as students prepare to go abroad. Students need a visa covering the full length of their stay. Student visas for France are relatively easy to obtain, but you need to apply at least a month in advance. You can apply for a French student visa here.
Driver’s license: You’ll need it if you plan on driving a car while in France.
Academic documents: Any enrollment forms you need for your study abroad program.
How much does it cost to study abroad in France?
The costs to study abroad in France can vary significantly. If your university hosts programs in France, you’ll likely need to pay your regular tuition plus an additional fee that will cover your courses and administrative fees while in country (this fee sometimes covers necessities like student housing and meals, too). If you’re going through a third-party program provider, you can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to more than $20,000, depending on variables like program selection, length of stay and any included add-ons like student residences. With that in mind, here’s a look at how to budget for your student travel.
How to budget for your trip to France
There are a few categories every student needs to plan for when creating their study abroad budget. You can expect to exceed €1,000 in expenses a month in larger cities like Paris and Nice, whereas cities like Toulouse and Grenoble will be more budget-friendly. Here’s a list of six areas every student traveler will need to budget for:
Tuition and registration fees
Housing, if not included as part of your program (including internet, utilities, etc.)
Travel (you’re going to want to see other parts of Europe)
Food (especially while traveling, when you may not always be able to eat cheap)
Other incidental and necessary purchases
And trip insurance for those “what if” moments
What currency is used in France?
France uses the euro (€). While it’s easiest to pay with an international credit card or debit card, it’s also smart to keep a few euro notes on you when traveling around the country for cash-only situations. You can see current exchange rates here.
Discounts: How to save money in France
Study abroad expenses can add up, but there will be plenty of opportunities to save money during your student travels. Here are a few places to start in trimming your budget.
Start by asking your program leaders: Your France study abroad program leaders likely have information on local discounts you won’t find anywhere else that can save you money weekly.
Culture passes: Many French cities – like Paris, Strasbourg and Toulouse, among others – offer versions of culture passes and student cards that will get you admission to a variety of educational and entertainment experiences for a one-time or discounted fee.
Train passes: The SCNF Advantage Jeune Card is available for students ages 27 and younger and will pay for itself after just a few trips.
Bonus tip: Don’t forget a VPN. Your discounted digital student subscriptions in your home country may not work across borders. A VPN subscription can solve many of those problems.
What gifts do people bring back from France?
Your study abroad trip is a great opportunity to bring back unique gifts for friends and family they can’t buy anywhere else. Some great items to snag in France include:
Macaroons or chocolate from local shops: Buy these on the last few days of your trip.
Locally-made scarves: A staple of the French wardrobe in all seasons.
Exclusive wine blends: Guaranteed to get a huge smile from your favorite enthusiast.
High-end cosmetics and perfumes: These are often sold in pharmacies in France.
The Mona Lisa: Just kidding. Seriously, leave it on the wall.
How should student travelers tip in France?
Students are not expected to tip restaurant waiters or café workers in France, as any required service charges will be listed on your bill (also, they’re traditionally paid more than in the U.S.). Travelers will sometimes leave a small tip for wait staff on the occasion of exceptional service. It’s more common to leave small tips for service providers – like barbers or masseuses – or hotel valets who carry your luggage, but that’s also optional.