Really Important Stuff to Learn When Moving to Paris

Colorful houses along a cobblestoned pedestrian street.
Rue Crémieux, Paris

I used to dream about moving to Paris. And I bet you a million euros I’m not the only one. April 2022, I was offered a job as a Content Writer for a tech company in the southwestern burbs of Paris. And August 11, I arrived in the City of Light, ready (or not) to begin my new role on August 16. I had no idea about all the really important stuff I’d have to learn when moving to Paris. I wish I would have known about all of this beforehand; but I got through it, and you will too.

The Hunt for the Perfect Parisian Apartment

For the first few months, I was lucky enough to stay at a friend’s three-story house just west of Paris. There, I had access to the kitchen, the bathroom on my floor, and my own room with dreamy floor-to-ceiling doors opening up to a view of the garden below. It was however a tiny bit farther outside of the city than I wanted, and I found the sweaty summer multi-transport commute and the lack of my own space (and fridge), not to mention my new achy feet issues, super depressing. So I began the search for my own place within the périf

I’d heard the woes of many. But I pooh-pooh’d their cries, assuming they were searching for the impossible. Besides, I’d looked online a million times and drooled over apartments that were promising and within my budget, or so I thought. 

First of all, your French salary may sound fairly comparable, if still a little less than you’d like (they don’t pay as much in France), to U.S. salaries. However, taxes will end up swallowing what feels like about half that. If you are dreaming of working and living in France, keep that in mind, especially in bigger, more expensive cities like Paris. Not only that, but you’ll be required to make three times the price of the rent. So if your rent is €1,200/month (for example; fairly normal in the city for a decent studio or small one-bedroom), you need to bring in €3,600 net/month. Again, sounds fine. But remember, that’s net, not gross. Before taxes are taken out of your monthly salary, you’ll basically need to make nearly €6,000/month. Quelle shock! 

Not All are Created Equal 

There are many apartment search sites out there, but be wary. Some sites do offer legit ads. But others … Well, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. If you know people on Gens de Confiance, that’s a good one.

  1. Pap.fr (direct from the owner)
  2. Le Bon Coin (direct from the owner)
  3. Gens de Confiance (you’ll need to be sponsored for this site)
  4. Bien’Ici
  5. Seloger
  6. Lodgis

What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

Quite a few apartments I saw online were in my budget, but there’s a catch (always an exception).

  1. Not acceptable: Too far away, not safe enough, five-floor walk-up, smelly/dirty/everything’s broken ….
  2. It doesn’t actually exist. Either your dream apt. was already rented or it’s a scam. Watch out for those asking for your bank info before you even see the apartment.
  3. Your dream apartment looks great in photos, but in person, it’s literally a shoebox. Literally.
  4. The apartment is fine. But then after showing you the apartment and planning on a day to sign everything, the manager changes her mind and never responds to your calls or emails. True story.
  5. The apartment is listed at one price, but then all-of-a-sudden increases dramatically.

I admit that I am no longer in my 20s. So my standards are higher. I got spoiled in the U.S. I’m also tired. No longer do I dream of a chambre de bonne in the Latin Quarter with a diet of baguettes, cheese, and wine. Nope. Ok, the food can stay. But I do love my space, functioning appliances, hot water, silence, etc. I also expect human beings to be decent and honest. Why am I living in Paris again? Annoyances exist everywhere. And, well, you can’t always get what you want. You’re in Paris, one of the most incredible cities on Earth. So you make compromises, suck up the icky bits, and explore as much of this glorious city as you can. 

Still, the whiners were right. Finding an affordable, comfortable apartment in this city is reeeeeally haaaaard. Even born and bred Parisians will tell you that. And although my French is pretty decent, I had no idea how to go about the hunt or who to turn to so I didn’t get cheated and end up crying my way back “home” to Louisiana. 

Plus, I was working full-time and didn’t have time to bus, train, and metro it into the city to look at a bunch of crap apartments that I wouldn’t end up getting anyway due to the ridiculous amount of competition. So, I asked around and a friend pointed me to a professional apartment hunter, Anthony at Rent Hunter

If you don’t speak French, there are also a few English-speaking apartment hunter/agencies out there, for example:

  1. Adrian Leeds
  2. Paris Attitude
  3. Paris Rental

Note: If you’ve moved to France from abroad (or at least 70k away) for a salaried job, you can sign up with Mobili-Pass to get your apartment hunter costs waived, which is what I did. That was about €2,000 that didn’t have to come out of my own pocketbook. Your apartment hunter should be able to help you with this. But make sure to ask them about it before you assume they know what it is.

Patience is not my strong suit. I thought once I’d hired my apartment hunter, I’d find something asap. Nope. Even apartment hunters can’t work miracles, although it was fun zipping around with him on the back of his scooter that one day we looked at four different apartments.

But I had a lot of things on my list that I wanted, and I’m not sure how many boxes we actually ticked. Maybe the tall windows looking out onto the super cute pastel-colored street. That wasn’t on my list, but it’s kinda cool (sometimes). Definitely the washing machine. Got the oven/microwave. And there is a separate bedroom plus a futon for guests, which is nice. No bathtub. No garden, although I did end up buying some colorful hanging planters for herbs. No terrace. No crown molding. No herringbone flooring. No large kitchen. It’s on the first floor (French-style) instead of the fifth floor with no elevator, which is a plus.

The 12th was not my first choice of neighborhoods, but it’s definitely growing on me. The scrumptious and friendly Bastille market and busy, funky Marché Beauvau/Aligre are each a short walk away from my pad. The formule — a spicy bacon-egg sandwich, a glass of Irish wine, and an espresso — at Early Bird (inside Marché Beauvau) is THE most magical hangover cure ever. And the owners, Joseph and Candice, are lovely. Also, the burgers around the corner at L’Étincelle (19, rue de Lyon) are superb! Plus, it’s in the city, has easy transit access and is a quick walk from the Marais or Le Train Bleu and a 15-minute métro ride from Le Fumoir. I guess the neighborhood is kinda awesome.

After hunting and visiting and crying and moaning and nearly giving up, I finally received a call from Anthony about this apartment that had not yet gone on the market. And while it isn’t my dream flat, I’ve made it my own and am beginning to feel at home-ish. It’s still crazy far from the office, but at least when I’m done working on my télétravail days, I can step outside my door and quickly meet up with friends, go for a walk, get groceries, grab that delicious burger, see a movie, etc.

Note: One of the things I hated when I moved in was the fact that the water in the shower didn’t get quite hot enough. (There will always be something.) There’s nothing more ingratiating than crawling out of bed on a chilly winter morning only to take a tepid shower. Especially when you have to get up at 6am and take a nearly 1.5-hour commute. Grrrrrr …But I Googled what to do. And I am proud to say that I fixed it myself by de-calcifying the shower head. All the calcified gunk wasn’t allowing the hot water to flow freely. My mood completely changed the morning I took my first hot shower. It really is all about the little things. 

So Many Little Details

I’m not going to go into them all and list all the links to finding and setting up your apartment. There are plenty of other sites that do that, such as:

  1. Welcome to France
  2. Expatica

But I will offer a few tips.

Get Ready, Set …

I can’t stress this enough; prepare your dossier ahead of time. If you’ve prepared everything ahead of time, as soon as you see an apartment you like, you’ll be ready to hand everything over in case there are others vying for the same apartment. Competition is fierce, y’all! As I mentioned earlier, some apartment managers/owners will ask for your RIB (bank info) before you even see the place. While some may feel comfortable (aka desperate) doing this, I am not. Unless I see the apartment and am interested immediately, I only give them the minimum. It could be a scam. 

But they will want to know if you’re working, if you’re still in your trial period at work (a strike against you), if you make at least three times the rental price, etc. They want to make sure you’re not going to move in and then decide to take off after a month or else not be able to pay your rent. Getting rid of a renter is extremely difficult in France. And many owners/landlords were bit by the Covid bug and are still trying to evict renters not paying their rent. There are others who also only want to rent for a certain amount of time. It’s all about negotiation. Welcome to France. Le sigh.

The Sacred Dossier

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A copy of your passport and visa
  2. If you’ve been staying somewhere else beforehand, a letter from your friend/apartment manager, or other plus a copy of their ID and utility bill or a copy of your lease (bail).
  3. Guarantors to prove you’re worth renting to. This is especially important if you’re still in your trial period at work or haven’t rented an apartment in France before. If you don’t have a human one, you can sign up for one, or many, online:
  4. Your bank RIB (Your rent, like most bills, is deducted from your bank account.)
  5. Last three work pay stubs
  6. Employment contract

Getting Set Up in Your New Apartment

If you don’t speak French, it can be difficult, but not impossible. Some companies now have English-speaking CSRs. There’s even a website to help you set everything up at once. More on that later.

Utilities

There are several utility companies in France, but the top two are EDF and Engie. Expatica has a great guide on connecting your utilities. Just make sure, if you live in a building with multiple apartments, to give them the correct apartment number. I installed mine in November, and have been paying the bills. But my new downstairs neighbor recently mistook my name as that of the previous tenant of his apartment and was able to cancel my utilities and open his own account with my address. It’s complicated because we don’t have apartment numbers in our building, just floors. He was profusely apologetic, and I managed to get it settled on my end (I think). Although there is still the issue of him having a key to my mailbox and thus covering up my name with his. The lock was loose, so basically anyone could have gotten into it. But my agency came and changed it. And now, I’ve offered to share my mailbox with him until they figure out which one is actually his. He’s young and nice and I kind of feel bad for him that he’s having to deal with all of this too. I’m such a sucker.

Internet, TV, and Phone

There are several companies offering single plans or package deals. Here are a few comparable brands to look into:

  1. Bouygues
  2. Free
  3. Orange
  4. SFR

Again, Expatica, has some great tips on how to set up with your phone, internet, and TV. In fact, they have a lot of great information on everything, and for multiple countries. I had to wait about two months for the phone company to finally come and install my fiber internet; they kept postponing the date. But in the meantime, they gave me a 4G key to use for free, which came in super handy (to be returned once they install your internet). And when you go over the limit, they’ll recharge it, which you can also do from your phone. 

Renter’s Insurance

One thing you’ll need to get is renter’s insurance. The apartment management agency asked me for this before I officially moved into my apartment. And because I work from home most days a week, my employer required it as well for télétravail. My insurance company didn’t have a specific separate clause for remote workers. But when I asked them for information to give to my employer, they quickly responded with a friendly letter guaranteeing my insurance. Quick and painless. Ahhhh … Here are a few companies to look into:

  1. Lemonade 
  2. AXA
  3. MAAF
  4. Matmut

The Best for Last

To help you get everything set up in one place, there’s Papernest. Plus, it’s available in both French and English. Yay!

Nearly everything can be set up online now, which is great as long as the links work. But there are of course little things to become acquainted with like your Linky electrical box. Or your Point de Terminaison Optique (PTO) to have fiber installed. 

One more tip: sign up with The Local (France). It’s super informative with relevant info on all things France including the strikes (a national sport). It’s been super helpful. They also have a podcast. The Connexion is another good one. 

Am I Living My Parisian Dream?

Meh. They say it takes at least a year to get your groove. Moving to another country is fun to dream about but realistically very difficult. There’s a ton of stress and many bouts of depression. There are still times I look at things in shops and think, “oh I need to buy that before I go home. But wait, where is home again? 

Home for me was often split in several locations (Lafayette, Paris, Seattle, New York, among others like the UK and California). It’s weird; I always felt at home when I visited Paris, so why don’t I feel like it now that I actually live here? Who knows? I do know there will always be more administrative b.s. to tackle. More obstacles to overcome. They say it gets easier, or else you just get used to it. I still have feet issues and now knee problems thanks to having fallen twice (damn bumpy Parisian sidewalks!). But I’m knee-dip (pun intended) in the French healthcare system , which I’m thankful for. Maybe those who stay here for the long haul eventually find their footing (yes, another pun) and that sense of accomplishment at actually having survived the system. As for me, we shall see, one limp (and croissant) at a time. 

To get a good idea of what Paris is really like, check out Julie Collas’ IG account. Priceless. It’s not always the Paris we dream of, but still, it’s Paris.

5 Replies to “Really Important Stuff to Learn When Moving to Paris”

  1. Julia, this post is informative and incredibly helpful. Hang in there girl. Theres something about Paris that keeps drawing you back. Give yourself time – you’ll find your groove.

    1. Thanks lovely. There are definitely still aspects of the city I love. Although I’m wondering if I haven’t outgrown it. But, yes, I will give it some time. I’m thinking couples’ therapy. Lol. Looking forward to your return! xo

  2. So much of what you said reminded me of my own apt hunting woes in SE Asia and Ecuador. You end up compromising in ways you didn’t even know you possessed – hahahaha. And you discover how much the US is an outlier when it comes to housing.

    I’m glad you have found a place, a neighborhood, and are getting your Parisian groove on! Living vicariously, yo. Hugs from the hottest most polluted place on earth, Northern Thailand.

    1. Compromising, right?! You have all these ideas you think are pretty realistic. And sure, you realize they might not all be attainable. But dooode, by the end of the hunt, you’re scraping the barrel hunting for any tiny little one that might even remotely be possible. Then, you settle and end up going over your budget ’cause you’re just too pooped to give a damn. I can’t believe how many awesome, big apartments I had in the U.S., aside from NY. But even that one was a big brownstone in Brooklyn, shared with two other people. And it was really pretty. And easy to get. Those were the days.

      More groove to be gettin’. It’s a work in progress. Ha. Hugs backatcha from the city of sirens, burning garbage, screamers, and
      delicious croissants. Le sigh.

      1. You’re so funny. I love burning garbage! Makes me feel like someone’s cookin’ !

        Medical waste that is.

        I hate apt hunting…so I usually take the first thing that looks halfway decent. The hub on the other hand wants to see everything, no stone upturned. It’s a good match 😉

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