And so the hunt begins. If you, like me, applied for the TAPIF program and are planning on living in Paris this year, you have mostly likely started biting your fingernails as the online search threatens to engulf you.
I won’t sugarcoat it: never have I ever experienced a more harrowing process.
I lived with a horrible French exchange family when I was sixteen. Handled.
Applying for college? Easy.
College thesis? Done and done.
But finding an apartment in Paris? A cruel punishment not even Mr. Filch could have conjured up.
Take heart though, it can be done and finding the perfect place will be well worth the wait.
See? Pure happiness.
First Step: Let’s talk Resources
Where should you look?
1. The absolute number one resource for both apartments and extra odd jobs (such as babysitting) is www.fusac.fr.
2. As soon as you arrive in Paris, go to the American Church in Paris. The closest metro stops are Invalides (lines 8 and 13) and Alma Marceau (line 9). You’ll see a set of double doors. Take a right into an outdoor corridor and walk until you reach another set of doors. These will take you inside the church. Next to those doors you’ll see a glass bulletin with a list of apartments and cleaning/childcare jobs. You do NOT need to actually enter the church. Don’t do what I did and wander inside during someone’s wedding. This is not how you make friends.
Keep in mind, it costs money to advertise here. This will both behoove you and hinder you. On the one hand, there is a higher likelihood that the people posting these advertisements won’t try to scam you, unlike some of the false ones on Craigslist. On the other, if YOU want to post anything, it will cost you.
2. With that said, I found the French Craigslist to be much more reliable than the American one. Obviously don’t be an idiot about it: never transfer money to someone you don’t know, make sure you see the apartment first, etc. Overall though, Craigslist is fairly helpful.
3. I have heard of the website www.seloger.com but I personally didn’t have much luck with it.
4. If you’re looking for a roommate, www.apartager.com is a useful resource as well.
5. Random happenstance. If all else fails, tell everyone you meet you’re searching for an apartment. There are enough people in Paris who have been through a similar situation or who are looking for roommates; you’re bound to run into one of them sooner or later! This may sound crazy but honestly, I know someone who found his apartment by simply chatting up someone in a bar. It can happen, folks.
When I was searching for a place to live, I thought I would surely find one before actually moving. This, my friends, is absurd. Do not plan on finding an apartment before setting foot in Paris. The only way this might work is if you find an au pair job, though be sure to Skype the family beforehand.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was signing up with the agency hestia.fr. Although friendly enough, they were not overly helpful and I ended up finding a fantastic place all on my own. If you’ve been camping out in a hostel for a month, go ahead, splurge on the agency. Try to wait it out, though. Chances are, you will eventually find a place if you keep checking fusac and the listings at the American Church. Just be patient!
Second Step: What do you need?
1. Money. First of all, you will most likely need to stay in a hostel for your first few weeks while you search for a place. Somehow, for some reason, the Apartment Gods smiled down on me when I arrived and I managed to line up both an apartment and a job within 48 hours of landing at Charles de Gaulle. But I hauled ass. Want to really test your French? Call 30 French landlords your first day in Paris while you’re jet-lagged and starving. No macaroons until I signed a lease.
Most landlords in Paris ask for three months rent the day you sign your lease. One for the first month of rent, and two for a deposit. A cheap apartment on the outskirts of the city costs around 400 euros a month. Multiply that by three and you’ll need about 1,200 euros before you even move in, so be sure you have plenty in savings.
2. A phone. The day I arrived in Paris I bought a cheap, disposable French phone. We all prefer to contact people online, don’t we? Unfortunately, relying on email for your apartment search will get you nothing but extended hostel living. People will snatch these apartments before you have a chance to draft the perfectly worded email. And what’s more, many of these apartment listings don’t even include e-mail addresses. Zut alors!
3. A laughable amount of paperwork. Fortunately for me, I met a kind, generous family with an adorable chambre de bonne. As opposed to being an au pair (as I was also teaching in Herblay), they agreed to let me live in the apartment they owned in exchange for babysitting. Plus, I received a small fee at the end of the month. Keep in mind, a typical chambre de bonne is not normally attached to the apartment it corresponds to, so I could live in my own space entirely separate from my landlord/boss. They met me, trusted me, and waved the traditional amount of paperwork, as well as the deposit. In most cases though, be prepared to present bank statements and your proper working papers.
Third Step: Location
Where do you even look? Now, if you’re considering living outside of the city, you may encounter charming views and actual green space for your morning runs.
Beware though: without a car you could live quite far from a grocery store, which may or may not result in sloshing through fields, trekking across highways, and hauling loads of groceries back to your apartment. By foot. For an hour. Now, this is an extreme case, but I have seen it happen. Just be careful and wise about your apartment decisions; many people I know, myself included, preferred commuting to the suburbs every morning rather than living outside the city. Trains stop running before the metro, meaning you can’t stay out as late as you would be able to in the city, and taking a cab would be astronomically expensive.
Plus, if you live in Paris, you get a free exercise in lateral movement as you dodge tourists. My legs have never been the same.
The question everyone asks: where in Paris?
I remember wishing I already knew and understood the layout of Paris before moving. I wished I had grown up under the shade of the Haussmann architecture, the Eiffel Tower glittering from my window, beds of tulips blooming on my balcony. Not for any nostalgic, psychological torture over an unfulfilled childhood–I had the good fortune to grow up on the lovely shores of Lake Michigan. I only wanted to know the city of Paris before I decided where to live. How can you possibly make such a monumental decision when you barely have a chance to explore the city?
Well, you can’t. And the decision isn’t nearly as monumental as you originally think. For obsessive people like myself though, I’ve provided a breakdown of the different arrondissements to help you gauge where you think will be your best fit.
1st: Wander here and you’ll find “Paris,” the romantic, cultured, chic poster hanging in your room. Stroll through Les Tuileries, shop along Rue de Rivoli, and mournfully gaze at the fallen locks of le Pont des Arts. This is the Paris in fantasies of romantic hopefuls all over the world.
2nd: Nice and compact, the second is brimming with delightful cafes and shops at every corner. You’ll find the business district here, including the former Paris Bourse (stock exchange), banking headquarters, as well as Sentier, the textile district. What does the textile district equate to? A daily deafening racket of morning delivery trucks. You have been warned.
3rd: Home to the Marais, the 3rd has wonderful little areas to explore, as well as some of the best shopping in the city.
4th: Similar to the 3rd, the 4th comprises the Marais, where you can amble along crooked cobblestone and eat all the falafal your heart desires. With its artistic flair, the Marais is a haven for would-be-hipsters, as long as you avoid the main streets, which will plop you in beautiful yet pricey brasseries and luxury boutiques. However, you can opt to live in the outskirts of République if you’d like to enjoy this chic neighborhood without paying for it. Pro tip: Just off of St. Paul (line 1), to the right on a small street, you’ll find a small Irish bar. Why is this bar so special you ask? Because as soon as everyone’s Favorite Season comes around, they host WEEKLY GAME OF THRONES VIEWING PARTIES!
5th: Ahh the Latin Quarter. Although I’d never want to live here, I love exploring it. All the food! All the smells! If you’re adept at dodging gaggles of hormonal French teenagers, you’ll feel quite comfortable in the 5th.
6th: Home to the glamorous shops along Boulevard Saint Germain, this arrondissement is the 5th’s secret superior neighbor. The thinner crowds and yet equally attractive sites make the 6th an excellent place to get lost in. Le Musée de Cluny provides a quiet sanctuary for medieval lovers, and pleasant bars surround Odéon, including everyone’s favorite sangria watering hole, Dix Bar. Also, if you’re a student at Sciences Po and have difficulties making your 9 am lecture, the 6th is ideal.
7th: In my entirely biased opinion, the 7th is la crème de la crème of arrondissements. Stunning at every turn, it offers a delectable sampling of Paris’ finest, including the Eiffel Tower, le pont Alexandre-III where Adele cried, Invalides, le Musée Rodin, and more. Oddly enough, despite the close proximity to major tourist sites, the 7th has quiet pockets with families, and most of the arrondissement feels safe and secure. Similar to the 6th though, apartments here will cost you. For a reference point, I paid 540 euros for a 9 meters squared apartment that lacked a proper kitchen, and I shared a shower and toilet with my neighbors. But hey, I survived, and managed to avoid falling into debt, so it can be done! The only major downside is the nightlife. If you want to go out drinking and dancing, you’ll most likely need to take a cab at the end of the night. However, you only really notice this encumbrance during winter. If you can afford it, the 7th is positively lovely.
8th: Care to join the President of France? Perhaps rub elbows with Oprah? Take up residence in the 8th.
9th: You’ll find plenty to do in the 9th. If it so strikes your fancy, visit Opéra: shows sell out very quickly but never fear, people are always selling tickets outside an hour or so beforehand. Also? If you’re feeling a little homesick, visit the Starbucks at Opéra. The crystal chandeliers, wall murals, and free WiFi will sweeten the sips of your delicious latte.
10th: Le Canal Saint-Martin lures Parisians who hope to avoid the crowds of the Seine. You’ll always find plenty to do in this sprawling arrondissement. Additionally, Gare de l’est et Gare du Nord are located here–perfect for commuting and impromptu, financially irresponsible trips to London.
11th: If you’re up for a wild night, Oberkampf and Bastille (in the 12th) are the places to be. Although other bars and clubs are scattered throughout the entire city, the higher concentration of them in the 11th and 12th allows you to stumble from bar to bar without much effort. Plus, for literary nerds such as myself, the bar Chat Noir hosts an English poetry reading event called Spoken Word every Monday night.
12th: Of the Oberkampf and Bastille areas, I prefer the 12th (although they somewhat overlap). You know what you can find at Bastille? A dive bar that serves cheap pastis. I can’t remember the name of this wonderful little gem but if you need a guide and are willing to pay for my ticket to Paris, I’m sure I could find it again.
13th: I believe we’d call this the French version of Chinatown. Other than that, I didn’t find the 13th that memorable. It’s quiet, though, which could be the best recipe after an exhausting day of childcare and “des bétises.”
14th: Personally, I don’t love the Montparnasse region (which borders the 15th). However, the 14th’s proximity to the suburbs equates to sleepy, quiet neighborhoods and cheaper apartment prices than central Paris.
15th: Because it borders the 7th, the 15th offers plenty of beautiful sites–in certain pockets. Stray too far and you’ll find yourself in “moche-grenelle,” or ugly grenelle. Apart from the unfortunate 1970’s architecture, the 15th can be splendid.
16th: Fairly residential and quiet, the 16th is rather difficult to access but prices here are cheaper. As an additional bonus, you’re right by Bois de Boulogne–quite suitable for your Parisian picnic needs.
17th: From my experience, the 17th boasts small parks and residential neighborhoods. Its bourgeois, artistic style attracts prominent French writers and artists, who you may glimpse sipping espresso at corner cafés. And as an added bonus, this arrondissement borders the 8th, so you could end up just a quick jaunt away from les Champs-Élysées.
18th: Montmartre gained esteem through its host of legendary artists, whose fame has made this once-poor residence a hotspot for tourists. Ironically, the more we glorify the starving artist of Paris, the more the apartments cost. If you avoid particularly touristy areas though, prices here are extremely reasonable. Take note: many people warned me against living in the 18th before I arrived. You’ll find a handful of safe, quiet areas in this arrondissement but be sure to explore the neighborhood beforehand. The sex shops are never far! But hey, if you’re into that, this is the arrondissement for you. On a darker note though, crime rates escalate in this part of the city, as well as most of northern Paris. Don’t entirely rule it out but be aware of the culture here. If you’re willing to ignore the more scandalous side, you’ll find the old romance of Montmarte tucked away, and it’ll be delightful when you do.
19th: Perhaps my green space starvation has skewed my viewpoint but I seem to find parks the most notable parts of Paris. Here in the 19th, you’ll find the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, as well as charming flower and food markets. However, you’ll also find your share of prostitutes in Belleville. So may not be best for the kiddies.
20th: The 20th and the 19th share a lot in common; both are on the outskirts of Paris and don’t have an exceptional amount to offer tourists, except for the Cimetière du Père Lachaise of course!
Bonne chance, mes amis! You really can’t go wrong. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.