Every exchange destination has a different set-up when it comes to providing accommodation for incoming students. If you’re lucky, your university will have halls or dorms waiting for you to put down your suitcases in. If you’re unlucky, you’re going to Paris.
Joking – you’ll be pretty darn lucky going to Paris for your year abroad! However, finding a place to live here is no walk in the Luxembourg Gardens. Sciences Po offers no help in finding accommodation other than a room in a residence where you can stay for one month only while looking for something else for the low price of 1000€. As far as I know, this is also the situation with most other Parisian universities. You’re pretty much on your own.
Fortunately, every student is in the same boat. Paris is still easier on exchange students trying to find a place to live than some other capitals in Europe and beyond. Stuff is out there – it’s just that demand is very, very high for every single place put on the market here. Add the fact that French bureaucracy is omnipresent and that you’re not exempt from staying on top of your paperwork just because you’re an Erasmus student and the stress starts to pile up. Fear not! Here’s what worked for me:
- Start early!
Now, what I found that most of my fellow exchange students did was to go through an agency and have them sort out accommodation before their arrival in Paris. If you can’t get here before the term starts to look on your own, this is your best option as you should never sign a contract for a flat that you haven’t seen if you’re not going through a reputable agency. However, I wanted to avoid the agency fees, which can get pretty steep. Usually, they take a one-off admin charge and a percentage of your total rent.
What you need to avoid as much as possible is to show up in Paris in September and only start your search there and then. The problem with this is that you will be right in the middle of the stampede of la rentrée. You’ll be in competition with every single other student in Paris who had the same idea. Starting earlier means that you’re ahead of the game and won’t have to stand in line with dozens of other possible tenants for every property.
By the end of June you’ll start seeing ads for what’s going to be available by the time uni starts. I picked a week in mid-July to go to Paris and just booked as many viewings as possible with the goal of having accommodation sorted by the end of it, which I managed to do!
2. Know what you’re looking for
Keep looking in as many places as possible. Leboncoin.fr (think Gumtree) and pap.fr are some of the biggest sites for privately rented accommodation – which also means that there will be a lot of people looking at every ad! My landlords say that they avoid these sites because they just get too many responses.
I found my studio through Appartager.com, which is actually primarily for finding flatshares (colocation). Studios for one person can be found there too, as in my case. I was open for anything really in terms of living alone vs with flatmates, which obviously helps.
Studios for students are a lot more common in Paris than in the UK, where flatmates are the norm. Flats in general are just smaller here, and the city’s Haussmannian buildings have left behind a surplus of chambres de bonne: former maid’s quarters more-or-less refurbished into studios for students or other people with tighter budgets than the average Parisian rent for a ‘normal’ flat. This is gonna make up the lion’s share of what you’re gonna see advertised. Conditions vary greatly. The one I ended up with is refurbished, on the more spacious end of the scale (15 m2 – everything else I viewed was 10 m2 at most, 9 being the legal minimum) and has a bathroom (though only separated by a curtain from the rest of the room, and the shower is pretty much in the middle of the room). I also saw some real rat-holes, and most will have the toilet down the hall to be shared with other residents. Expect to pay 500-800€ depending on location and amenities. Anything below 450€ is probably too good to be true.
Sciences Po also has its own listing service which is updated every day and was the source for most of the places I viewed. Facebook groups are also invaluable, especially for former exchange students who want to pass on their flats to incoming students. Keep your wits about you however, as scams are commonplace on Facebook in particular. Never hand over money before seeing the place in person!
3. Be ready with your paperwork
One French word you will soon be acquainted with is ‘dossier‘. Normally, a landlord will want to see this whenever you go to a viewing. This is an assortment of paperwork that your landlord has a right to ask you to provide in order to assess your suitability as a tenant. The list may typically include:
- A photocopy of your ID (preferably your passport)
- A certificat de scolarité, proving that you are a student (can be printed off Sciences Po’s scolarité portal)
- A letter from your guarantor certifying that they will pay the rent on your behalf should you fail to do so
- A photocopy of your guarantor’s ID
- Possibly your guarantor’s last three pay stubs
So what’s this guarantor business? They’re almost universally demanded by French landlords when they let flats to students, as French laws are heavily skewed in favour of the tenant and they want some form of guarantee that you’re not going to disappear off the face of the Earth without paying rent. This sometimes presents a problem to those of us with no French connections that are up for signing on as your guarantor, as there’s technically no law binding a foreign guarantor to their commitment. However, in my experience, most good landlords treat this as a formality.
Usually, you don’t really need to have a full dossier ready at the viewing if you haven’t been requested to bring one. They will ask for whatever documents they actually need when it’s time for signing the lease. However, I found that having a fully prepared dossier to show the landlords did seem to please them and it helps to show that you are a serious, reliable tenant. This is especially true for the guarantor. I asked my mother (they almost always want your parents as a guarantor if you’re a student) to copy a standard guarantor letter off the pap.fr website and brought it to the viewings. Her not being French was never a problem, but the landlords appreciated that I had researched what was required of me and tried to provide all the necessary paperwork to the best of my abilities.
So this is what I ended up with (in its usual messy state):
Even though it’s a whole lot smaller than what I’m used to in Scotland, I’m really pleased. It’s cozy, everything works, the neighbourhood is super cute and has everything I need, and it’s about 20-30 minutes to Sciences Po on a bus ride that passes so many scenic landmarks that they might as well paint a big Hop On-Hop Off on it. Most of all, I really lucked out with my landlords. They’re an elderly couple who have made a post-retirement hobby of meeting international exchange students through their rental properties, in a sort of homestay-without-the-homestay relationship. I have dinner with them on a regular basis and sometimes go on touristy outings with them. Last Monday, they made me a specialty dish of their home region Aveyron, where I’m invited to visit their summer home when the temperature improves. Not your typical landlord relationship! Also good French practice, as they don’t speak a word of English (something to keep in mind when phoning up potential landlords…).
As I’m finishing writing this, I’m seeing the monthly 11pm fireworks through my window, and I’m wishing you the best of luck for your future Parisian flathunting!
Questions? I’m always available on Facebook or my email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).