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What international students should know before apartment hunting in Paris

A popular destination for international students, Paris is a tricky place to find accommodation, with very little in the way of university-provided halls and a minefield of traps to avoid. Ingri Bergo shares what she learned as a foreign student.

What international students should know before apartment hunting in Paris
Photo: AFP

When I moved to Paris in 2016, I had virtually no information about how the housing market worked. Naively, I thought I could just sign up with an agency, and get an apartment that same day.

I soon learned the hard way that I was wrong. As a student looking for an apartment in Paris, you won't get any special treatment, but will be chucked into the same rental market as everyone else, competing with people who have jobs and incomes.

Here's a list of the things I wish I had known before starting my apartment hunt:

1. Don't assume you can 'just Airbnb for a month'

Renting an Airbnb while you “figure out” things is a really bad idea. Airbnbs in Paris are expensive and finding a place to rent can take a while. So unless you’re prepared to splurge a lot of cash this way, I’d recommend starting to look early.

Don’t do what I did and start looking a couple of weeks before the semester begins, thinking “it surely can’t be that difficult.” It is.

2. Do your research

That brings us to the next point, which is thorough research. Useful websites to look at are seloger.com, pap.fr, or appartager.com if you are looking for a flat share. Leboncoin.fr – a website where people sell and buy all kinds of things in France –  also has an apartment section.

All these sites can be tricky to navigate for people who don’t speak French. If you struggle, you could check out social media groups such as Plan appart à Paris, Plan Appart étudiant, Plan coloc à Paris and a series of others.

Sometimes these sites can be easier for non-French speakers because some people publish posts in English.

READ ALSO: Being an international student in France: What you need to know

 

Another option is to get a room at the Cité Universitaire student campus in the south of the capital, which hosts thousands of students of different nationalities. Cité Universitaire has a campus of dozens of houses established by different countries.

They are called Maison de Japon, Maison de Norvège, Maison des Etats-Unis, Maison du Liban, etc, but you can apply for a room in a house that does not belong to your home country. Prices vary between the houses, but are generally lower than what you get when looking for apartments in the centre. There is also a gym, a pool and a library that you can access and the premises are just next to the Montsouris park (and living next to a large green space in Paris is quite a luxury).

3. Lower your expectations

Many international students will be slightly shocked when starting to sweep through the Paris housing market, which is notoriously expensive and of poor quality.

Apartments (and not just for students) are generally small. A dishwasher is a luxury most students can't afford. Some apartments don't have washing machines so you may have to get used to popping your dirty clothes in a basket and trotting off to the nearest laundry.

4. But don't accept just anything

Be sure to check that the apartment has what's necessary to actually live in it, especially if you're planning to stay for a few months.

Beware of so-called chambre de bonnes (maids’ rooms), which sounds like something charming but really isn’t. A chambre de bonne is a leftover from back in the days when Parisians had domestics. They are attached to houses or apartments and are often in nice and central areas, but were frequently built without a bathroom or running water, and are sometimes not even legal to rent out (although people still do). 

READ ALSO Almost half of all property rental adverts in Paris are illegal

5. Visit if you can

This can be tricky for students who come from afar, but if you are able to visit the place or get someone else to do it for you, you should. Chances are the apartment does not look at all like the pictures, and you could be saving yourself a big bunch of stress by seeing the place before signing a contract. 

If you can visit AND you speak French, try chatting to the neighbours to see if they have experienced any issues you should beware of – such as loud noises, cockroaches or mice. 

6. Have your 'dossier' ready

This is key, although it's often a confusing point for foreigners.

Before you even start looking at adverts you will need to prepare a dossier that includes proof of identity, financial situation, bank details, work/study situation and proof of your current address. This is the case for all tenancies, not just students.

Whereas in the UK it's more common for landlords or agencies to accept your offer first, then start doing financial checks, in France it's the other way round. Many agencies won't even let you view an apartment unless you have provided a dossier proving that you are an upstanding citizen of sound financial prospects.

READ ALSO: Nine things to expect when renting an apartment in France

This is a common problem for foreign students, who don't have a French bank account or a work contract. Some agencies accept a foreign financial garant (guarantor), and the guarantor will need to prepare a dossier too.

If you don't have access to a financial guarantor, check out GarantMe, which is a startup created by former foreign students in Paris to help others in the same situation get an apartment.

7. You don’t have to live in the centre

Paris' city centre is beautiful and yes, we all would love to live just across from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, or Notre Dame, or in the buzzing new and hip areas of the 11th arrondissement.

However, Paris is becoming increasingly gentrified, with steep prices pushing people further and further out of the city. As a result, the banlieues (suburbs) are becoming better and better connected to the city centre.

READ ALSO: The grand plans for public transport in Paris in 2020 

Prices drop as soon as you move into the suburbs, and they are far, far nicer than their reputation suggests. For more information about the different Parisian suburbs, check out the link below.

Banlieue boom: No, Paris suburbs are not all deprived and crime-ridden

 

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MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

While French cities such as Paris are notoriously expensive, there are many areas outside the cities where it is still possible to buy spacious homes for less than €100,000 - particularly if you don't mind a bit of renovation.

MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

We decided to look at where in France you could afford a property on a budget of €100,000, and it turns out there are some bargains to be had.

There are a lot of caveats while searching for property, and many local variables in place, but our search does show some of the areas to concentrate on if you have a limited budget.

We used the Notaires de France immobilier website in August 2022, and we specified that the property should have at least five rooms (including kitchen and bathroom) and a floor space of at least 100 square metres.

We also discounted any property that was for sale under the viager system – a complicated purchase method which allows the resident to release equity on their property gradually, as the buyer puts down a lump sum in advance and then pays what is effectively a rent for the rest of the seller’s lifetime, while allowing them to remain in the property.

READ ALSO Viager: The French property system that can lead to a bargain

For a five-room, 100 square metre property at under €100,000, you won’t find anywhere in the Île-de-France region, where the proximity of Paris pushes up property prices. The city itself is famously expensive, but much of the greater Paris region is within commuting distance, which means pricier property. 

Equally the island of Corsica – where prices are pushed up by its popularity as a tourist destination – showed no properties for sale while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – which includes the French Riviera – showed only 1 property under €100,000.

The very presence of Bordeaux, meanwhile, takes the entire département of Gironde out of this equation – but that doesn’t mean that the southwest is completely out of the running. A total of 25 properties came up in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. One property was on the market for a mere €20,000 – but it was, as the Notaires’ brochure noted, in need of “complete renovation”.

Neighbouring Occitanie, meanwhile, showed 12 further properties in the bracket.

By far the most properties on the day of our search – 67 – were to be found in the Grand Est region of eastern France. The eastern part of France overall comes out best for property bargains, with the north-east region of Hauts-de-France showing 38 properties and and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté displaying 25.

Further south, however, the presence of the Alps – another popular tourist destination – pushed up prices in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which showed just three results.

The below map shows our search results, with darker colours indicating more cheap properties.

Property buying tips 

In order to make a comparison, we focused our search on properties advertised online, but if you have a specific area in mind it's well worth making friends with a few local real estate agents and perhaps also the mayor, since it's common for properties not to be advertised online.

Most of the truly 'bargain' properties are described as being "in need of renovation" - which is real estate speak for a complete wreck.

If you don't mind doing a bit of work you can often pick up property for low prices, but you need to do a clear-eyed assessment of exactly how much work you are willing and able to do, and what the cost is likely to be - there's no point getting a "cheap" house and then spending three times the purchase price on renovations.

READ ALSO 'Double your budget and make friends with the mayor' - tips for French property renovation

That said, there were plenty of properties at or near the €100,000 mark that were perfectly liveable or needed only relatively minor renovations.

You also need to pay attention to the location, as the sub-€100,000 properties are often in remote areas or very small villages with limited access to amenities. While this lifestyle suits many people, bear in mind that owning a car is a requirement and you may end up paying extra for certain services.

Finally remember that government help, in the form of loans and grants, is available for environmentally friendly improvements, such as insulation or glazing.

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