Apartment buildings along the Champs Elysées in Paris

Apartment buildings along the Champs Elysées in Paris

Finding housing in Paris on your own can be quite a challenge, as I learned when I tried to rent an apartment for the first time by myself.

Even though renting an apartment out for under a year is technically illegal in Paris and other major French cities (supposedly to relieve the housing crunch), many landlords prefer to rent short-term to tourists who can pay a price premium.

There aren’t nearly enough possibilities for student renters, and it’s even harder to rent an apartment when you’re not French and don’t have assets in France.

If you’re new to France, have never worked there, and don’t have family in France, it will be very difficult to rent a place without an agency or a connection of some kind. Individual rental requires some serious paperwork, and many landlords are unwilling to rent to foreign students who may decide to leave mid-year or who have foreign guarantors, who are more difficult to pursue in court if you don’t pay your rent.

In Paris, the back to school rush for apartments begins mid-August, so if you need to find your own housing, your best bet is to arrive in France early. Reserve a room in an inexpensive hostel or a foyer until September 1 or even late September while you search for your apartment.

Tips for Getting Leads on Apartments

1. Contact your Alma Marter’s Study Abroad Program

If you have contacts with an American university program in France, you can try contacting your alma marter’s study abroad program to see if they have anything available. Many of them have agreements with landlords and their students rent the same apartments year after year. If there’s an extra apartment one year, your program may help you get it so they don’t lose it for the following year.

When I came back to France, I found my first apartment this way. The only downside was that I had to give it back at the end of the year and find a new place, but by then, I was established in France.

2. Check with your French university

You can check with your French university’s international student center, which may help put you in contact with

Look on campus for signs from landlords or other students seeking roommates. I would caution strongly, though, against rooming with people you don’t know.

3. Network and Go to Places Americans Hang Out

Since renting an apartment from a French landlord is hard without all of the paperwork, you may want to try looking at the bulletin boards at American Church in Paris for ads or networking with people there.

If you’re in a student group, or belong to a church, or have a job, ask your coworkers and colleagues if they know of anything available. Students may be competing with each other for apartments, so you may have better luck asking non-students.

Ads are posted daily outside of the church door, and there’s usually at least one or two ads for an apartment rental.

You can also look on the bulletin board along the stairs at Shakespeare and Co.

4. Look Online

When you’re looking for apartments online, look for the description “good for students,” because these apartments are often cheaper and come with more flexible landlords than most places.

If you plan on responding to ads on the internet, set up an email alert for whenever new ads are published. Because student apartments are very popular, you have to call fast to set an appointment for a visit if you want to have any chance at all of getting it.

You can check out this article on websites for finding apartments in Paris for more resources.

5. Consider Babysitting in Exchange for an Apartment

There are many well to do expat families in Paris that love having a native Anglophone around to babysit their kids after school or to do English classes on the weekends.

This unofficial au pair position can be a great way to find a place to live the first time.

Check in FUSAC or at the American Church in Paris for ads offering a room in exchange for babysitting services. You’ll have to make sure that the babysitting hours fit with your schedule and that you’re willing to accept the pay.

The Apartment Visit

When you visit apartments, you’ll need to bring all of the paperwork for your application; if you don’t leave it right away, you can forget about the apartment. You’ll need the following documents:

  • Copy of your passport and visa
  • Last three months’ pay slips
  • Written guarantee from a parent, with pay slips
  • Work contract, if you have one

If you’ve taken out a loan to study abroad, you can try using a bank statement with the loan funds as proof of sufficient funds to pay for the year’s rent.

Unfortunately, any landlord is going to prefer French students with French guarantor parents to an American student, for the simple reason that it will be easier for him to collect his money if you default on your rent.

Otherwise, finding the right apartment and landlord is a combination of luck and chemistry, and if you’re persistent enough, you will find someone somewhere to take you in. The earlier you start, though, the better.

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