Do not put yourself in a position where you are panicked or feel pressured into making a hurried decision. Finding a flat in Paris is not a speedy process, so make sure you are prepared for this and arrange temporary accommodation for the first month or even two. You may consider a ‘home-stay’ with a Parisian family who may also be able to offer you advice, or else an Airbnb, Way to Stay or something similar. Either way, you have a base from which to do your research, which is better, and will work out cheaper, than a hostel or hotel room.
Decide which area you want to point your search towards. Do you picture yourself living in the majestic Latin Quarter, sipping coffee and discussing existentialism with the students of Paris’ top universities? Or would you rather be a part of the grittier side of the city, around the African and South Asian communities of the north or among the hipsters and artists who flock to the northeast? Or, perhaps you’d prefer the Asian quarter in the 13th or the quiet conservative south, which tends to be a popular choice for French families. Perhaps you want to be right in the thick of some of the most buzzing nightlife, which largely centers around Bastille and the 11th arrondissement. Or are you someone who would not mind paying slightly more to live in the safe, upmarket 17th? Decide this, and you can narrow down your search from there.
Treat your search time as an occasion to meet as many people as possible – a ‘social experiment,’ if you will. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find someone who knows someone, who will be able to help you out in your search. Don’t be shy to ask around. Plus, you will be able to practice your French along the way. ‘Couchsurfing‘ is an amazing tool for meeting people and is constantly being updated with events and ‘meet-ups’ for people to get to know each other. Consider joining a club – this way you will meet people with similar interests to yourself. There are also numerous Facebook groups where people advertise rooms. A generic search for something along the lines of ‘location/coloc à Paris’ will bring up plenty of groups for your perusal.
Anyone who claims to fully understand the notoriously convoluted laws and legislation of France is more than likely something of a fabricator. It is important at this stage that you understand the basics. Most landlords and every French agency will ask you to provide a ‘dossier,’ which should include a copy of your passport and/or visa, copies of either your job contract or confirmation of University placement, your most recent pay slips and proof of having a French bank account (most branches of ‘Crédit Agricole’ have English speakers who will help you with this). If you have not worked in France before, then more often than not, they will ask you to provide a French ‘garant,’ which is basically a person who is prepared to act as a financial referee. This can be difficult for first-timers in Paris who do not have many contacts yet, but do not lose hope because landlords who are independent to an agency can often be more lenient and may accept a parental guarantor from your own country or another substitute. There are alternatives, but the more prepared you can be, the better. For reference, the normal deposit amount is equivalent to one month’s rent, but this may vary slightly between properties.
This is Paris and you must be willing to compromise. For this reason, it is even more crucial that you establish your priorities at the beginning of the process. For example, if a central location is the most important criteria to you, then you will have to accept that you will have less space. You may also have to consider a ‘colocation’ (flat-share), but there is no reason why this should not be a positive thing. Make sure you are realistic about the types of people you would be able to live with and that you have similar expectations, but otherwise embrace it. Living in a rickety little flat, cooking from one hob with three other people is all part of the Parisian charm… Right?
We are lucky enough to have a little tool that we call the ‘World Wide Web’ at our disposal. There are endless websites to help you with your search, but take care when approaching landlords who advertise without an agency. More often than not they are perfectly legitimate, but just ensure that you know exactly what you are signing, and, of course, it goes without saying that you should never send money online before seeing a property – photos can be deceiving.
While the internet is certainly indispensable, it is not your only option. During your exploration of the city, check out noticeboards at universities and English-speaking organizations, such as the British Council or the American Church. Pick up local newspapers and read their rental listings; you will find that there are certain landlords who prefer not to advertise online, and they may not have as many applicants, and, therefore, less competition.
As you are visiting apartments, ask questions. Make sure you have a list of standard points to cover before you arrive so you don’t end up forgetting things. Do not be shy in asking anything you feel may help your decision. No question is stupid nor a rude one. Establish exactly what the terms of rental and deposit are, whether there are any extra charges for bills and what the local amenities may be.
Do not rule anywhere out without having gone to see it first, and do not expect to be able to get your first choice. Parisian apartments are in very popular demand. Keep your options as open as possible, and try to visit as many apartments as you can, keeping note of the pros and cons of each. This way you keep your chances of success higher. Remember that places do tend to get snapped up very quickly so the more organized you can be, the better, but the blow of the knock-backs will be softened slightly if you do not set your sights on just one apartment.
You’ve worked hard enough to find this apartment, so make sure you don’t blow it. Keep communal areas clean and respect the furniture. Even if you live alone, you are bound to have neighbors and the chances are they will not think twice about reporting any noise, so try to keep this to a minimum in the evenings, especially in the shared staircases.