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Your Departure for Study Abroad in Paris

Assembling a pre-departure checklist for study abroad can be a challenge. Often this will be the first time students will be visiting a foreign country which means so many unknowns! Depending on whether students will be studying for an entire semester or on one of our short term programs in January or in the Summer, students must keep in mind a different set of needs.


Students with North American passports (American, Canadian and Mexican), you will need a passport to travel to France. If you do not already hold a passport, you will need to quickly take steps to get this process underway as it can take from several weeks to more than a month once you have turned in all necessary paperwork. Don’t delay on this one!

For those who already have a passport, verify that its expiration date is at least three months beyond the end of your program (if it is less you may not be allowed to fly to France).

For American, Canadian and Mexican nationals, any stay longer than 3 months in France will require a visa. For traveling to the 26 Schengen Treaty countries (the United Kingdon and Ireland are two non-Schengen Treaty countries in Europe and there is no need for a visa Americans, Canadians or Mexicans for a visit of less than 3 months). Obtaining long-stay visas to France can take two months or more to complete, so get started early collecting the required materials and begin the application on the Campus France USA website! The process has recently been streamlined and the process can be undertaken online. It’s still unclear if the previously required trip to pick up the visa at the nearest French Consulate has been eliminated or not.

Money Access in Europe

  • Discuss with your home bank the possibility of using your ATM or Credit Card for cash withdrawals in France (be sure to ask about Withdrawal Fees as well as currency exchange charges. Likewise, see if your bank has a partner bank in France and Europe from which you can withdraw funds for free or lower fees).

Health Insurance and Medical Care

All students coming to Paris through our partners Athena Abroad will receive international health insurance coverage for the dates of the program. Each policy is considered secondary to your primary insurance. Insurance cards and policy brochures will be sent to each student prior to the start of the program.

Note: The Athena Abroad international health insurance policy only provides coverage for students while they are pursuing educational activities for the term of the program. Students are not covered by this policy during extended program breaks or prior to the official start date of their program or after the official end date of the program. Some students will be covered internationally by their primary, U.S.-based insurance; other students may be covered by the insurance provided by their program directly. These policies may or may not cover the non-academic periods of the program. In addition, some student international identification cards, such as the International Student Identification Card (ISIC), offer basic international medical insurance. These cards, available online, are fairly inexpensive and may be an option if your personal health insurance policy does not cover you abroad. It is the students’ responsibility to determine what coverage they will have during these break periods.

If students are not covered by their own insurance, by the program’s insurance or through a student ID card, they will need to purchase additional insurance to cover them outside of the program dates and during extended breaks. The following is a list of insurance companies that offer short-term, leisure travel insurance. Please feel free to visit their website to obtain a quote.

  • CIEE INext –
  • CISI –
  • Gallagher Koster –
  • HTH Worldwide –

Pharmaceuticals & Prescription Drugs

If you expect to take medicine or prescription drug while abroad, you should consult your physician prior to departure regarding any need for monitoring or onsite referrals in Paris. If there are any prescription medications that you need to take while abroad, it is strongly recommended that you bring enough for the duration of the program. In general, prescription medications cannot be sent through international mail. Prescription drugs have the additional problem of brand name changes from country to country. Make sure to keep your prescription medicine in its original containers, which show the prescription number, and keep the original prescription from your doctor with you, as well. This will facilitate Customs clearance in and out of France. Please note that if you try to fill the prescription in Paris or need to tell a French doctor what you are taking, you will need the generic name of the prescription and/or the chemical compound or formula from your primary doctor. In many cases, a pharmacist in Paris may not fill a prescription provided by a foreign doctor and may require you to obtain a prescription written by a doctor in Paris.

You should consult your physician and insurance company as soon as possible to obtain enough medication for the duration of your program. It can sometimes take weeks or even months to get authorization from your insurance company to get prescription medication in advance of use. For corrective eyewear, we recommend that you take both an extra pair of eyeglasses and enough contact lenses to last the entire semester or year—and extra lenses to replace damaged ones—plus your prescriptions for glasses and contacts. Those with extra sensitive eyes might want to bring enough contact lens solution from home, as even the same brand may have different ingredients in other countries. Others should consider purchasing solution in Paris to save weight in your luggage.

Contraception and STDs

Buying contraception in France is much like in the U.S., however you may wish to bring a supply with you if you think you will need birth control while abroad. If you need information or contraceptive devices during the year, the PICA staff can give you information on how to contact a doctor or local organization that can assist you with obtaining contraceptives.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are significant problems around the world. While the easiest mode of HIV transmission is through blood contact with an HIV-infected person, the most common mode of transmission is through sexual contact and intercourse. Since HIV/AIDS knows no geographic boundaries, avoiding infection relies on appropriate preventive behaviors. Those who choose to be sexually active while abroad are encouraged to remain cognizant of the risks and act accordingly. Information concerning STDs, HIV, and AIDS prevalence in different countries may be found at the Center for Disease Control Web site at

Personal Safety & Crime Prevention

Paris has much less violent crime than North American big-city equivalents, but it is still a big city. Students should not be paranoid but it is wise to take precautions, especially in the beginning while you are learning the different codes of behavior and interaction in France and while you are still getting familiar with such things as the Métro system (which may distract you from being fully attentive to your surroundings). Your safety and security is always important when travelling internationally, but at this time, we ask students to be particularly aware.

General Safety Tips

  • In the Métro, be sure always to stand back from the platform edge. The métro trains come into the station quite rapidly and when it’s crowded there is the risk of being bumped off the platform and in front of the train.
  • Be extra-cautious about people and places when you first arrive in a new community as you will need time to develop a clearer sense of how things work. Paris is a big city that mixes lots of different communities together and in this way is probably quite different from many American universities which are often much more controlled and protected where there is much less contact with those who are not a part of the university community.
  • Most European destinations students may visit during their studies in Paris are as safe or safer than comparable locations in the U.S. but students are encouraged to be discrete and not broadcast their American nationality as a precaution given that not all recent American foreign policy actions are seen in a positive light.
  • While visiting countries where English is not the native language, students are advised to be discrete when speaking English to avoid drawing additional attention.
  • Use caution when talking about yourself and other members of the program. Do not offer information freely regarding the program or anything that might link you to an American organization.
  • Never give out the street address or entrance codes for your residence or any PICA or partner facility. Also, do not indicate these items on a map of Paris or anything else that has our address. Memorize any entrance codes for residencies or PICA program facilities.
  • Communicate regularly with your parents/guardians, host family, and with the program staff.
  • Make sure your cell phone is always charged with both minutes and batteries.
  • Be constantly aware of your surroundings and those around you. Remove yourself immediately from any situations that you suspect may be dangerous. Report any suspicious activities to the proper authorities.
  • If someone pesters you on the Métro, ignore him/her. Once you engage the person with eye contact or conversation, you have invited that person to interact with you. If you feel uncomfortable, change cars at the next stop or tell the person firmly (but calmly and respectfully) to leave you alone.
  • If someone is following you, go into a café, tabac, shop, police station, etc. until the person continues on his/her way. Explain your situation to the shop owner or policeman, who is generally willing to help.
  • When you are travelling to an area that you don’t know, plan your route before you leave. Buy a Plan de Paris, which shows every street in Paris by arrondissement, with an index by street to help you locate your destination. For other cities, check Web sites such as or
  • If anything should happen to you or to one of your classmates, go to the nearest hospital or police station to report the incident and call the PICA Director immediately, no matter what time of night.
  • Record these numbers in your cell phone: Police 17, Firefighters 18, Ambulance 15. From a mobile phone 112 will also call a centralized emergency response center throughout Europe.
  • Register yourself with the local U.S. Embassy and know how to contact them in case of emergency. ( Do this even for short weekend trips outside of France.


  • Be especially vigilant in public transportation. If you use a purse or a backpack, be sure to have one that doesn’t allow for easy access. Try to keep it in front of you where you can see people who may be tempted to steal something.
  • If you feel people are crowding you unnecessarily in the Métro or bus, grab hold of your valuables and don’t be afraid to make noise to let others in the Métro or bus know what is happening.
  • On the streets near tourist sites you’ll sometimes see two or three young girls come toward you who pretend to be deaf mutes waving a sheet of paper for you to sign. Most of the time they may only be looking for a few coins but some may try to distract you while others are going through your purse to steal a wallet.
  • When carrying cameras, it is advisable to keep them somewhat discrete (ideally hidden under a jacket) until you wish to use them to take a picture. This is perhaps especially the case in the Métro where it’s best not to show clearly that you have objects of value to tempt a potential thief.
  • It’s best to carry your camera around your neck and in front of you and not on one shoulder where you can easily become victim to the “double bump” technique. One person bumps into you on the shoulder without your camera and begins to apologize and immediately someone comes and grabs the camera off the other shoulder and runs.
  • Smartphones can also be much coveted. It is not unheard of for someone to simply grab a phone that someone is holding in the Métro and run as soon as the doors open/close at the next Métro station.
  • In restaurants and cafés, don’t hang your purse or backpack on the back of a chair unless there is nothing of value in them. It’s best to keep bags with valuables under your legs and even a good idea to loop the strap over your knee so you’ll be aware if someone tries to slide it away from you.
  • At the Cité Universitaire, students will have single rooms. Be sure when you’re not in the rooms to keep them locked to avoid unpleasant surprises. The staff who come to clean the rooms are trustworthy but students should be careful about leaving valuables out in plain site.

Going Out at Night

  • In Paris you will be dealing with a language that you don’t master as well as people coming from a wide range of different cultures with sometimes very different and unfamiliar codes of behavior from what you are used to in the U.S. or on your university campus.
  • For young American women, giving a friendly smile to an unknown person can be meant simply as a friendly gesture that means nothing. However, to some cultures this will be perceived as an invitation not only to come and talk to you but often with an expectation of more. It might not seem overly friendly, but in the beginning it’s safest to be discrete and not seek to be too overtly friendly with someone you have never met.
  • It may be a good idea to carry 20-30€ of emergency cash on you, outside of your wallet (e.g., in a hidden money belt or shoe) in the event of stolen/lost wallet or purse.
  • When meeting new people be careful not to reveal too much personal information (full name and address).
  • Try to blend in as much as possible. Wear clothes that make you seem less like a tourist and more like a local. Typically American clothing (e.g., college sweatshirts, shorts, baseball hats, etc.) will make you look like a tourist and hence possibly mark you as a target for crime.
  • It is best to avoid highly trafficked tourist attractions and American establishments, such as fast-food chains and American bars and restaurants.
  • When going out to a bar or club, go in a small group and never take a drink from anyone other than the bartender or server. Do not leave your drink unwatched if you are still drinking from it. If someone offers to buy you a drink, go with them to get it at the bar if there is no server. France has the same problem with “ruffies” as the U.S.
  • Look out for one another. If you think your friend has had too much to drink, escort him/her home by taxi to be extra cautious. A drunken person by him/herself may be an easy target for crime. Do not take a ride from someone you do not know.
  • If you miss the last Métro, take a taxi or the Noctilien bus. Always get a taxi from a taxi stand or call ahead. If you intend to take a taxi and are in an unpopulated area, call ahead of time to avoid wandering around alone.
  • Take note of the Noctilien bus route and time-table to return home later in the night if you expect to be out beyond the last Métro (1h30 on Friday and Saturday nights). ( If you have to wait more than 15 minutes for a Noctilien bus, it may be a good idea to take a taxi.
  • Be careful not to fall asleep on the Noctilien bus or you are likely to end up stranded in the greater suburbs of Paris.

Traveling Out of Paris and/or France

  • Make sure you have the proper paperwork (you should bring your passport; will you also need a visa?) to travel outside France.
  • Avoid travelling in large groups or alone and check the U.S. State Department Web site before travelling outside of France. (
  • If you travel away from Paris, leave a detailed itinerary and contact details with your family at home and with PICA staff. Be sure to stick to your itinerary. The program staff need to know how to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Note: Dial 112 to access the emergency services number in all European countries. Formulate a plan for what to do in an emergency. Be sure to add the direct telephone numbers of the PICA staff into your telephone (and keep them written down elsewhere in case you should lose your phone).
  • Use your common sense and trust your intuition: if a situation does not feel right to you, leave.

Special Circumstances

  • Be aware that anti-American sentiments do exist, so it’s best to avoid arguments – especially with strangers.
  • In case of a transport strike or a protest, be patient, polite, and avoid conflict. Strikes can be common-place for the locals, so follow their lead in terms of your behavior. The more you outwardly complain, the more you will stick out as a foreigner.
  • PICA will contact the students by cell phone and/or text message in case of an emergency with instructions on how to proceed. If a national emergency should present itself, STAY WHERE YOU ARE if you are at home or at school. If you are outdoors, calmly proceed to your housing in Paris or the U.S. Embassy (2 av. Gabriel, Paris 8e, just off Place de la Concorde, Métro: Concorde), whichever is the closest and open at the time.
  • U.S. Embassy phone numbers: Phone 1: [33] 01 43 12 22 22; Phone 2: (33) 01 42 66 97 83


Students may wish to bring their own phones to Europe with them. One option is to sign up for an international service with your home provider. Look carefully at costs for international calls as “roaming fees” can be expensive. Some plans will allow you to select a small number of phone numbers in the U.S. to call at more reasonable prices.

Another option is to bring your phone from home but to buy a new French sim card while in France. There are two important considerations before making this choice.

  1. Your phone must be UNLOCKED (don’t assume that it is as many are not in the U.S.). That is, if your telephone service at home was with Verizon or ATT the phone may need to be unlocked to be able to use with another company.
  2. It must be a phone that uses the GSM network at home (not CDMA) as Europe only uses the GSM whereas in the U.S. there are two systems. Currently (2018), ATT and T-Mobile are the only major phone companies using GSM. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. For smaller companies like Boost, Cricket and others, they usually run off one of the big four company systems.

GSMBand / Frequency

GSM cell phones and networks work on GSM bands (frequencies). Cell phones in the US work at GSM 1900 or 850. Cell phones in Europe work on GSM 900 or 1800. You need to make sure that your phone is also set up for the European frequencies for it to work. If you want to use your GSM cell phone in both the US and Europe, get a Quad Band phone (four bands). These cost a little more but offer this extra flexibility of being able to use the same phone in Europe and North America.

SIM Cards

SIM (Subscriber Information Module) cards are a small chip that fits into your phone. This chip contains the cell phone number (so if you switch it to another phone, you still have the same number) and your account information. The SIM Card determines the network and phone number the cell phone uses. These can easily be switched in a phone, so you can put in one for France, then remove it and put in one for use in the United States.

Roaming Charges

When you use a cell phone with a SIM card for one country, e.g. Italy, in another country, e.g. France, you are “roaming” and this can lead to very expensive phone bills.

Unlocked/Locked Phones

Many cell phone companies “lock” their cell phones, so they can only be used with their service. For example, if you buy a T-Mobile phone, you cannot replace the SIM chip with one from AT&T and have the phone work.

Most cell phone providers in the US and Canada lock their cell phones. This means that you cannot change the SIM card. They do this so that you will not get an inexpensive phone from them and then change your cell service. If you plan to use your GSM cell phone in Europe, with a European SIM card, be sure your phone is unlocked. Either buy an unlocked phone or ask your cell provider to unlock the phone or get the phone unlocked another way.

Each company has a different policy for unlocking a phone you bought through them. T-Mobile requires one to fill out a request form (they ask for the IMEI number for the phone, which is found in the battery compartment). This is then followed with an email with a code to be entered into the phone. This unlocks the phone allowing it to be used with a different carrier.

Another last resort method for unlocking your phone (if your provider refuses): search online for “unlock GSM phone” to find sites which give instructions for unlocking your phone for a fee. A standard price is about $30 which is followed by an email with a code and instructions for unlocking. If you choose this route it’s best to only pay via PayPal and not directly with a credit card so you don’t risk a bigger lose than just $30 by giving away your credit card number.

Plug Adapters and Charging Your Phone

Most cell phones, no matter where you buy them, charge on any current. All you need if charging in a different country from where you purchased it, is a plug adapter so you can plug it in to the different electrical outlets. The voltage information is printed on the phone plug. If it says 100 – 240V, then you can use this plug in any country.

Other Issues

You may also be interested in our Money Management Page to help plan your study abroad trip.

Other PICA pages which may interest you: