At the request of a reader I am detailing exactly how I managed to live and work in Paris through a series of posts beginning with this one about the joyous Parisian apartment search.
Firstly, it certainly wasn’t just by luck. Lots of people have said to me, “You’re so lucky getting to travel and live in Paris!” Well people lets face it, it doesn’t boil down to luck. I certainly don’t have a genie granting me my travel wishes. It comes down to choice. First you need to make a decision that living abroad is something that you want to do. After that, the rest will fall into place.
Well ‘fall into place’ might be a bit of a stretch. Finding an apartment abroad, and specifically in Paris, can be one hell of a s*** fight. After arriving in Paris in summer and searching for an apartment for a good month, a close friend of mine moved into an apartment which seemed perfect. The owner/other housemate seemed normal enough upon first glance. The searching had ceased, and finally she had somewhere in Paris to call home. She paid her deposit and an extra €600 for her first months rent.
After the second day of moving in, she had a quick peek in the owner’s room to find something she needed. She didn’t find what she was looking for, but what she did find horrified her. A dark room with curtains drawn and creepy crucifixes all over the walls and jars full of human hair spread all over the room! Not to mention the numerous used syringes that lay sporadically everywhere. Let’s just say she was out there tout de suite, without the €900 she paid L True story!
My apartment search story is much lighter than the previous horror story. I had an American friend who knew a lawyer in Paris who was searching for an English speaking girl to talk to her kids in English for an hour and a half Monday – Friday and cook them dinner. In exchange for 7.5 hours of work per week, the girl would get to live in a SEPARATE studio apartment in the 16th arrondissement of Paris for FREE. The apartment was 20 sqm, newly renovated, newly furnished with a bathroom and shower. It was a street away from the Champs-Élysées, the same street as the famous Peninsula Hotel (the newest palace in Paris), and a stroll from the Tour Eiffel.
Naturally, I accepted!!
Basically I lucked out. The young girls to whom I taught English were wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I got to spend with them. They were like my French little sisters. Moral of the story is – ask everyone. You never know until you ask.
Most of my friends had a 10 sqm shoe box which they paid around €600 for. You had to walk outside and down the hall to use the shared toilet. This is an all too common reality if you’re living on a student type budget in Paris.
Trying to find an apartment in Paris is one hell of a mission, especially if you’re on a budget. There are simply too many people who want to live in this wonderful city and not enough apartments. You have to fight to get a decent apartment, and landlords can pick and choose as they please. Expect to see 100 people lining up to see a 15 sqm apartment. That’s whom you’re fighting against.
Despite being hard for Parisians and French people, it’s even harder for étrangers (foreigners) due to the requirement to provide not just a guarantor but a French guarantor. This is because French laws are skewered in protection of the tenant. Under French law it’s trés difficile for a landlord to kick out a tenant, and its illegal to kick anyone out in winter. So if you’re coming on a whim and don’t really know many French people, you’re going to have some difficulty jumping this hoop.
I don’t proclaim to being an expert on finding an apartment to rent in Paris, as I found mine through a friend, but nevertheless, I did a lot of research, struggled through the usual scams and was pulling my hair out before finding my apartment. So I have compiled a list of the different options available to students and expats searching for an apartment in Paris.
Firstly you can opt to find your own studio apartment. There are lots of small 10sqm studio apartments on the top level of beautiful Parisian apartment buildings. These were the maid quarters back in the days. I stayed in two of these old maid quarters, which were renovated and made into a large studio. The downside is that most of them are sans ascenseur (without a lift). Try moving two suitcases worth of stuff up six flights of stairs. Let’s just say weekly grocery shopping is not something you look forward too.
For me, living by myself in a studio apartment wasn’t ideal. I grew up in a family with five kids and our house is a constant circus parade. There is noise, people and action all the time. I personally loved living in Milan in an apartment comprised of a Mexican, a Russian, an Italian and another Australian, most of which became my best friends. We would stay up talking and drinking wine till all hours of the night. It was a wonderful few months. Living with no other housemates is a little bit too sad and lonely for my liking. But on the other hand some people wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re like me and prefer living with people, the colocation option might be for you. Colocation is finding a room with other housemates. Websites such as Appartager, require you to set up a profile with some information about yourself, and from there you can search through apartments and profiles to find an apartment that suits you. You can also find colocations as well as uninhabited apartments at Seloger.
The most popular French real estate web sites, in which you can find lots of rental apartments are listed below. But be wary, the regular difficulties I spoke of earlier apply PLUS the added difficulties that you will have if you do not speak French.
ENGLISH FRIENDLY SITES
A good English friendly website is FUSAC. FUSAC is an online magazine dedicated to helping English speakers in France. You can find apartments to rent, au pair jobs in exchange for a free apartment and other English speaking jobs. This is where I found both companies that I worked for. Another handy place to find apartments and ads in English is at the American Church in Paris. Every morning the bulletin is updated with new ads, so get down there early before everyone else.
Craigslist is also a site that allows you to search for apartments in English. You may get lucky and find something decent, but beware, it is absolutely riddled with cons and scams. When I was searching for an apartment on craigslist, I had one guy telling me that he was in London and could only organise to bring the key to the apartment after I had sent the money via western union. If anyone asks you to send money before you have seen the apartment, RUN!
The Erasmus website also offers student accommodation and ads posted by other people looking for housemates.
THE AGENCY APARTMENT
A tempting option is to throw in the towel and just have an agency do all the apartment finding work for you. This can be a great option if you have a bit of extra money to spend. It certainly reduces the headache! A few agency websites in English are:
THE AU PAIR
A really good way to live abroad, work with no French, whilst getting free accommodation is to be an au pair. Being an au pair means you live with a family, and have responsibilities such as taking care of the children or household duties. But each individual au pair job varies and you should look at the job description carefully to see if it’s a match for you!
My brother au paired in Annecy, in the French Alps, for six months after finishing exchange in Exeter. Basically he had no money, but wasn’t ready to go home. Au pairing was a perfect option for him as it allowed him to stay abroad, learn another language, have free accommodation, get food provided by the family, whilst still getting paid a small wage and receive decent holidays.
I think the key to having a good au pair experience is to get a good family, to whom you match with. Although I was not an au pair, I can relate to the experience in the sense that I was seeing one family every day. This hardly felt like work as I adored the children, who were the ages of 15 and 11, which is older than the average child that you would encounter as an au pair. Nevertheless, I think that this can be a great experience if you find a good family. So make sure you have a Skype conversation with the family so that you can get a feel for who they are and whether you are a match.
The second element that I believe can make an au pair experience, is being in area that you will enjoy. Whether that may be in Paris, Annecy, the South of France or Versailles. But even if you don’t get your ideal spot, don’t stress! You’re in Europe, everywhere is merely a train trip away!
Au Pair Paris and Au Pair World are supposed to be good agencies to go through. However I am not an expert on the subject as I have never au paired in the traditional sense, so it’s important that you do lots of research into the company you go through, or the family, if you find them through a private agency. Au Pair Paris seems like a great company to go through. You will have to pay $250 for the program fee, which will be returned to you if you do not find the family for you. They screen the family for you which is great for avoiding potentially negative situations and really help you with all the administrative requirements like visas. Alternatively Au Pair World is free and also very well recommended.
If you’re interested to read further on how au pair in France or au pairing in general head to: www.ashleyabroad.com/2013/04/19/how-to-become-an-au-pair
If you want to do some further reading on apartment finding in Paris head to:
Before you go off on the hunt I have some last few tips, try to search as much as you can before you arrive. Don’t spend your first month paying for a hostel or an Airbnb. Despite being cheaper than a hotel it will churn up your money. At the same time, don’t put money towards an apartment that you have not seen yet. If you have a friend in Paris that can look at it for you before you arrive, this is a good option. Utilise any contacts!
Lastly, do not let the difficulties of apartment searching deter you from making the move to Paris. Although finding an apartment can be tricky once you finally settle in, it will be an amazing experience. There is no city like Paris. Alors bonne chance et bonne vacance à tous!