Felicitations! You’ve been accepted into a study abroad program or a French university. That’s quite an accomplishment! After the excitement of your acceptance news, you will soon realize it’s time to start searching for housing. As a student living in Paris I’ve gone through the process myself, 3 times in the last 3 years, and I’d like to share my mistakes and recommendations, in the hope of sparing you some of the headaches.
Your initial thought will be to Google “Long-stay, student apartments in Paris”. You will find websites, (such as Paristay, Paris Attitude and Lodgis) that are targeted towards outsiders, international students or expats looking to live in Paris. You will be immediately directed to agencies that leach onto those who don’t know any better. I was one of the souls these agencies captured and they drained my bank account before I even got to Paris. Fortunately, there are more options than you might realize.
Firstly, you shouldn’t restrict your search to within Paris. There are smaller towns on the other side of the Périphérique, (the ringroad separating Paris from the rest of the region) where housing is much more affordable. There, you can typically find a decent size apartment (15m2 to 25m2) within a budget of 500 – 750 euros in close suburbs such as Gentilly or Montrouge, or 350 – 450 euros if you look further north near Saint-Denis. The average cost of an apartment within Paris is 800 euros for a small flat around 12m2 to 15m2 if you’re looking to live on your own. A major downside of living outside Paris is that when it’s time to renew your student visa, you will have to go to a Préfecture far from Paris just to renew it. Another downside is that you are also dependent on the RER train lines which can be late up to 30% of the time. So make sure you wake up at least 15 minutes earlier than scheduled.
To give you an idea of what you’re up against when finding a place to live in the Greater Paris Area, there are over 12 million inhabitants, nearly 26% of whom are internationals. To put that into perspective, when looking for housing in Paris, you’re competing with over 3 million other students, expats, and immigrants.
So let’s look at the options:
My first recommendation is to look at Cité internationale universitaire de Paris. I am currently living at the Fondation des Etats-Unis which houses approximately 300 international students, but there are other foundations for different countries: 40 foundations house students, professors, artists and researchers from around the world. Each house has its own rules. For instance, the American Foundation requires that you are at least studying for a Master’s degree to live there, but nationality is not a restriction. In fact, the American Foundation has students from India, Morocco, China, and Spain. Just because a house is specific to a country does not mean it won’t accept you.
Contact your host university to see if they have a housing platform. You may find that they lead you to Fac-habitat (www.fac-habitat.com/fr) or Aljt (www.aljt.com/en). Both provide very affordable student housing including electricity, utilities, and internet for prices as low as 350 euros. However, it is important to know that some of these “affordable” apartments are located in less safe areas like the 18th, 19th, and 20th districts. Competition for these is great because of the relatively low prices. So unless you start your application process 6 months in advance, the likelihood of finding an apartment there is extremely low.
If you’re a social being and don’t like living alone, finding a roommate could be a good option. Appartager (www.appartager.com) and La Carte des Colocs (www.lacartedescolocs.fr) are search engines for finding shared accommodation. The plus side is that you get to meet other internationals and even live with locals. The not-so-pleasant side is that you don’t know what you’ll get until you begin living with your new flatmates. It is advisable to visit one of these apartments before committing. Be warned, there are also lots of scams and predatory behavior on the sites.
If you’re looking for full immersion into the Parisian lifestyle and language, you could consider living with a host family. Lingoo (www.lingoo.com), Sejour France Famille (www.sejoursfrancefamille.fr), and Homestay in Paris (www.homestayin.com/Paris) are websites to search for families. The setback here is that, you often have to pay as much as you would to have your own apartment. You may also have to live by the family’s rules. But if you’re an easy-going person and looking for a fully immersive experience, this might not be a bad option.
The next are last resort options. When you are unable to find student housing, flatmates, or a French family, you can try Airbnb, which is fine for a short-term stay but isn’t financially sustainable. You can also try agencies like Paristay, Paris Attitude and Lodgis. The agencies act as an intermediary between tenants and property owners.
There are also other, general property websites you can review: www.SeLoger.com, Immojeune.com, www.Studapart.com, www.PAP.fr, www.LeBonCoin.fr (LeBonCoin is a great option for bypassing an agency, however, it is strongly recommended that you visit the apartment and meet the owner before applying). The big setback with finding a place on your own, as an international, is that you will need a French guarantor. (Your parents won’t even be considered as a guarantor unless they are French.) There are a couple of options: You can go with Visale (www.visale.fr) which is a a government run guarantor agency that has stronger restrictions. For instance, if you’re a student without a job then you will not be eligible for Visale unless you have an annual scholarship from the “French State or equivalent. However, there is a less complicated, quicker option, , Supergarant (www.supergarant.fr). They are like your personal, French guarantor when it comes to finding housing in Paris. Once you apply on their website, they will contact you within 24 hours, and once they approve your application, you will have them for as long as you need.