Read both the TAPIF and CIEP guides thoroughly. They really do have many answers and they are very specific about dates, etc. If they say not to worry about something until a certain date, don’t worry about it until that date. A lot of assistants get worried even though the guide is clear. It’s normal to be anxious but try to stay calm during the planning process!
Get an accordion folder and keep EVERY document organized from the beginning. This has been invaluable for me. I have tabs for:
-travel documents (plane tickets, hotel/airbnb bookings, etc.)
-TAPIF and CIEP guides (hard copies so I can make notes)
-work contract/any documents from your school(s)
-identification (copies of passport, visa, birth certificate)
-health (copies of vaccine history, prescriptions, insurance cards)
-finances (helpful for when you arrive and open your bank account, but I also kept a list of numbers in case I needed to call my credit card companies)
-apartment (keep track of housing contracts, monthly receipts/bills, renter’s insurance, etc.)
Try to get your visa appointment first thing in the morning. I did this and got in and out in about an hour. I think going early helps to avoid backups in appointment times.
Make sure your passport photos show your ears but not your teeth. Ears showing. Teeth not showing. This sounds so silly but I have friends who had to leave the visa appointment to retake photos.
For me, I was most stressed about finding housing. I booked an Airbnb several weeks prior to the start of the contract and planned to do my search once I arrived. I did spend a lot of time over the summer looking at leboncoin.fr and seloger.fr to get an idea of what was available. I happened to get really lucky and secured a place before arriving (not recommended by TAPIF but I took the chance and it worked out). That said, every single assistant I know found housing one way or another and we are all happy with our situations. Just know that it will work out in the end! Be persistent.
You’ll want to get a French phone number as soon as you arrive, especially if you are looking for housing and need to contact prospective landlords. My iPhone is from Verizon and was already unlocked, so I just had to go to Free here in France, choose a number, and switch out my SIM card. It was quick and affordable at only 19.99 euros a month!
You’ll also want to open your bank account ASAP to be sure you get paid at the end of October. The first bank I tried to work with took me through a long process of meetings and paperwork to ultimately tell me it was impossible to open an account for an American. (This, by the way, is not legal - it was possible.) Avoid this by going with an international bank like HSBC. Their entire process is online and I was able to open my account relatively quickly and easily.
Registering your passport and travel plans with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a good idea. You get e-mails when things are going on in France or there are areas that you should avoid. (https://step.state.gov)