Stephanie shows by this article that you don’t always have to have your plans figured out before you get here, as long as you’re willing to hustle a bit. 🙂 -SH
The many expats I’ve met in Paris all seem to have organized their move to France with precise detail, preparing months and months in advance. TAIP’s upcoming book is an example of that.
My experience was a little different.
I pretty much threw things together, gave myself just over a month to prepare (from applying for the visa to hopping on the plane), and left everything in my NYC apartment just in case my big Paris move did not go as planned.
Fortunately, everything worked out, with a few bumps here and there.
Pivoting to Paris
My decision to move to France came about after experiencing the sudden loss of a close member of my family. I was absolutely devastated and a tsunami of grief consumed my mind and soul.
I needed to get away from NYC. I needed to heal. Paris was the place I wanted to be.
Returning to live in France had been on my bucket list ever since spending a few years in Bordeaux right after college. The dream had remained on the back burner for years until the family crisis put everything into perspective.
France healed me many moons ago and I knew it could heal me now. And it was imperative to make things happen quickly before my logical brain tried to convince me to stay put.
While the move might have looked risky to those around me, it really wasn’t. My business is portable and I had tried on the digital nomad lifestyle the year before. It worked then and I knew it could work in Paris now.
After a helpful phone consult with the TAIP team, I moved full speed ahead with the visa paperwork and a little over a month later arrived in Paris with a reservation for a two-week stay in an Airbnb in the 2nd arrondissement, one large suitcase in hand and the goal to get an apartment of my own.
Because I spoke the language and had a good sense of the culture, I thought I could roll into Paris and things would come together quickly.
In retrospect, things ended up coming together pretty quickly, but at the time, it was stressful with a lot of uncertainty and bumps along the way. It’s clear I underestimated what was entailed.
One Step At A Time
Almost immediately after landing in Paris, I began looking for permanent digs. My goal was a furnished one-bedroom apartment in central Paris, i.e. a single-digit arrondissement.
Coming from NYC, the land of small and expensive apartments, I found that rents in Paris were less than what I would expect to pay back home. Newcomers from less-pricey locales may experience sticker shock or surprise at the size of the average Parisian rental.
A friend who had lived in Paris suggested looking at the English-language site Fusac. Fusac is an online ad space with varied listings including rental apartments and sublets.
With Fusac, it’s a bit catch-as-catch-can. Listings are not extensive but one in the Marais (3rdarrondissement) caught my eye.
While the place turned out to only be available for a short-term sublet, it was perfect as a stop-gap as it allowed me to stop paying nightly Airbnb rates should the search drag on.
The owner’s son was able to show me the apartment right away; it turned out to be spacious, charming, and well-located. The Belgian owner lived in Bali, and rented his place out for a few months at a time at a nightly rate that was much less than what I was paying at the Airbnb.
I grabbed it right away as a short-term solution while I continued to look. No papers were signed on either side nor was a security deposit requested. I simply wired the money for the first month and picked up keys from the neighbor. Sending money without a written agreement might have seemed risky at the time — and I would certainly never recommend it — but it felt right and everything turned out great.
Having a reasonable place to stay for two months was a Godsend. I now had some breathing room while I continued to search for a permanent place.
Apps, Listings, and Unresponsive Brokers, Oh My!
Paris has a number of apartment listing apps where you can set up alerts with your desired criteria: neighborhood(s), apartment size, rent range, elevator or walk-up, furnished, etc. Some of the ones I used are seloger.com, pap.fr, nestoria.fr, and jinka.fr.
Pap is short for particulier à particulier, person to person, with the big bonus of no agency fees though there is a heightened risk of being scammed.
The other sites mainly have agency listings.
What’s terrific about Paris is the surfeit of furnished listings. And when I say furnished, we’re not just talking furniture. In the case of the apartment I eventually rented, it came with everything, including sheets, towels, pillows, and bedding, a fully-equipped kitchen with plates, glasses, and silverware, even an umbrella, iron, coat hangers, and cleaning supplies. It feels like an Airbnb where you roll up with your suitcase and you’re ready to go.
As a foreigner arriving in Paris with just a suitcase, furnished apartments are a godsend.
The one drawback is that the landlord can (but doesn’t always) ask for two months of security deposit for a furnished apartment as opposed to one month for a non-furnished apartment, but that seemed like a fair exchange compared to the savings in time, energy and money outfitting an apartment.
Upping My Chances
To rent an apartment in Paris, the barrier to entry is high, and not being French makes things harder. The market is competitive and because renters’ rights are very strong in France and it’s hard to kick out non-paying tenants, landlords are risk averse.
As a self-employed American without a CDI which proves that the person has a permanent job and a regular paycheck, I needed a guarantor to co-sign the lease alongside me, guaranteeing the rent would be covered if I stopped paying. French friends could have done this for me, but it seemed like too much of an ask to have them submit a ton of financial paperwork, so I went with the private guarantor service garantme.
The garantme process involved submitting a bunch of financial paperwork (tax returns, bank statements, and a letter from my accountant), but within about 24 hours I was approved and received a Certificate of Eligibility which stated that I was good to pay up to X amount per month. I then submitted the certificate number as part of my dossier for any apartment I was interested in.
Garantme does not come cheap. The tenant pays Garantme 3.5% of the annual rent including charges and this is for every year of the lease. The landlord pays nothing. There is no upfront fee with garantme; the fee is paid only at lease signing.
The Search Unfolds
The alerts I had set up were working and I was getting pinged several times a day with new listings. Some looked decent; some not so much.
Initially, I sent out messages and…crickets.
Things changed for the better once I had the garantme certificate in hand, which I made sure to mention in my outgoing messages to agents. Finally, some responses.
Eventually some apartments actually started being offered to me: through Fusac, a six-floor walk-up on the Left bank that was only available as a long-term sublet, and a duplex apartment in the Marais which looked amazing on video but could only be viewed via video, not in person.
Neither felt quite right and I wasn’t desperate yet thanks to the breathing room my two-month sublet gave me. I declined both.
Then through seloger came a listing for a super cute one-bedroom in the Marais just down the street from my sublet. It ticked all the boxes: great neighborhood, cute design, elevator, bike storage, and air conditioning. The biggest plus was that the agent actually responded to my message. A visit was set up.
The place was better than many I’d seen and by this point the search was wearing on me. I talked up the garantme certificate to the agent and he told me that there were three other interested parties. I just wanted to be done. I needed to get settled and start my business back up. To sweeten the deal, in typical NYC closer fashion I offered up an additional 100 euros a month beyond the advertised rent.
The landlord was making her decision later in a week.
In the interim, another option came in through PAP. Located in a landmark building in the heart of the Marais, the apartment was impeccable and could have easily appeared in a designer mag. It had everything I could have wanted and I would have given anything to live there. I sent the landlord a heartfelt note about why I would be an amazing tenant, but alas, she went with another applicant.
She had made it clear she was looking for a stable tenant who would stay for the long term, and in retrospect as a self-employed American having just arrived in Paris, I don’t think I quite fit the profile she was looking for.
Back to Plan A. The super cute Marais one bedroom was offered to me, and it was an immediate yes on my part. The idea of getting the apartment search off my to-do list was pure relief.
The next steps involved paying garantme, signing the lease, paying the security deposit, and then obtaining renters’ insurance, which my landlord required. The real estate agent connected me with a company that assisted with getting the electrical bill switched to my name and setting up wifi.
Having a signed lease in hand became the golden ticket allowing me to open a French bank account, which up to that point had been a time-consuming and fruitless quest.
At move-in I paid the agency fee and the first month’s rent.
Between all the fees and the two months of security, getting my Paris pad has required me to pony up quite a bit upfront. And it was practically a full-time endeavor when I was in the thick of it. But hearing about other expat’s nightmare stories of schlepping from one Airbnb or sublet to the next because they cannot get a landlord to rent to them, I consider myself lucky. It’s been three months since move-in and now that the stress of the search is over, I couldn’t be happier with my new home.
Photo is of my new place!
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Loved this post! So glad everything worked out for you. We had similar story when we moved to the areas of Lyon in 2013 and Nice in 2016.
Note that the link for garant.me is incorrect. It should be: https://garantme.fr
Janie thanks for the catch! We’ve amended accordingly.
Congrats! One thing to note is that lease terms and rental laws are more favorable to renters in the case of unfurnished apartments. We landed in a furnished apartment, but may end up moving if we can find an unfurnished apartment that is comparable.
Hi there, so glad you found a great place in a great part of town. curious if you might be able to share how you were able to get your visa approved without having accommodation set up in advance? any info here would be super helpful as i’m nearing my application date! thank you so much!!!
You cannot get your visa approved without having accommodation set up in advance. It doesn’t have to be a one-year lease. I know the case of one gentleman who was approved with a hotel address.