French Life : How to Find Accommodation in France

I wanted to write this post back in September just after I had moved into my new apartment but I knew I needed to give it a couple of months before I was certain I had concrete advice to share. I am happy to report that after 7 months living in Toulouse, mostly problem free, I can now share all  my tips on tricks on getting set up in France. Whether you are moving here for an Erasmus, a gap year, a new job or whatever reason you should be able to find some advice that’s relevant o you in this post.

  1. Where to live in France?

The answer to this really depends on your personal preferences and needs.

  • Paris: This is the city that springs to mind when thinking of France so if you like big cities and have always dreamt of living next to the Eiffel Tower this will be your choice.  I can imagine living there some day but to ease myself into french life I choose a smaller city to start my french adventures.
  • Aix en Provence : Located in the South of France, Aix is an ideal Erasmus or year abroad destination. I have gone into much more detail  here, if you would like to hear all about this beautiful city located in Provence, close to the Cote d’Azure. It really is stunning but of course all this comes at a cost, living expenses are slightly higher here than other cities and is comparable to Parisian prices. As well as this it is quite compact so after a year of living here you’ll be ready to explore further afield.
  • Toulouse : Toulouse is bigger than Aix but again it’s quite compact, so its perfect if you like that city life but want to be able to get everywhere on foot. Toulouse has a lot to offer, nicknamed ‘la ville rose’ thanks to its beautiful red brick buildings its a beautifully picturesque city. I have lived here for 7 months and still find new ‘quartiers’ restaurants and cafés all the time. With its huge student population it has a young and energetic vibe. As it is also the hub of Airbus there are many job opportunities and people come from all over the world to live here.
  • Bordeaux : Famous for its wine Bordeaux is another option if you are looking for a city in Southern France which has a more Parisian atmosphere. I have only visited once, you can read my thoughts here, but again its somewhere I can see myself living.
  • Of course there are so many more french towns and cities to choose from. From Nice in the South to Rennes in the North all offer something different. Where you choose might come down to job opportunites, university courses on offer or in the case of Erasmus where your college decides to place you.

2. Why you should consider temporary accommodation

Once you have chosen a city you’ll want to find your home sweet home. From experience I would say it is much easier to find accommodation when you are in the city and can go to viewings etc. With this in mind I would recommend renting an Air BnB for a few weeks in your chosen city. This will allow you the opportunity to visit apartments in person, explore the neighbourhood and get a feel for the place.

3. What to look for, when choosing a location?

Again this is down to personal preference but here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are the transport links like? Is it close to a metro stop? Is it on a good bus route?
  • Are there any parks nearby? Is there a balcony/ outdoor space?
  • Where is the closest shop? Are there any supermarkets nearby?
  • Whats the neighbourhood like? Does it feel safe?

And most importantly in France:

  • Is there a boulangerie close by?

Choosing a neighbourhood that you feel comfortable in is so important. Personally I choose to live in a smaller apartment in a beautiful neighbourhood. We are close to the city, some beautiful parks and every amenity is nearby. We did look at more spacious apartments but the neighbourhoods just didn’t feel right. Definitely go with your gut instinct.

4. Where to start looking for accomodation?

To find accommodation we used leboncoin, it’s a french website where individuals or companies can post ads whether to sell something or offer jobs or accommodation. This was the easiest site to use as I was able to enter a monthly rent price and the option to only view ads from individuals (‘particuliers’). If you choose to use an agency be aware that they usually charge a fee equivalent to the first months rent! To avoid this rent directly from the landlord. We sent about 30 emails to landlords asking for viewings. In the end we viewed three and chose our current apartment. I would recommend viewing at least three to see whats on offer and to get a good comparison.

Also if you want a furnished apartment look for apartments that are ‘meublé’.

Questions to ask the landlord:

  • What is the rent per month? What does that include?
  • Are there extra charges?
  • How much is an electricity  bill on average per month?
  • What is the notice period to leave?
  • How much is the deposit?

French rent usually does not include electricity or ‘extras’ such as water, bins, maintenance of the building etc. For us these are €50 pm on top of our rent. Electricity is separate.

Our deposit was just one months rent, the other landlords were asking for 2 months rent.

We have been extremely lucky with our apartment, our landlord is so helpful and fixes any problems we have. This was down to pure luck but I would say speak to a few landlords and choose one who who seems reliable but isn’t overly strict.

After choosing your perfect apartment there are a number of administrative barriers to cross before you get the keys

  1. Guarantor

As a foreigner it can be more difficult to find accommodation. Landlords are more hesitant as they don’t have the same sort of security they wold have if you were french so make sure they know they can trust you. As I’m a student and only 22 I asked my mom to be a guarantor. Basically you get a parent or someone similar to guarantee that if you don’t pay the rent they will. To do this they may have to provide income details and a copy of their ID. This really depends on the landlord and differs greatly, we met one landlord who was very strict about what documents they needed and then ours who was very laid back.

2.  French Bank Account

Having a French bank account definitely makes a lot of things easier when it comes to getting a lease, WiFi etc. However opening a bank account is a nightmare. When I did my Erasmus I opened a bank account and it caused me major problems from day 1. This time around I don’t have a bank account but my boyfriend does and we are able to use this to pay all our bills. I would recommend bringing along someone who can speak fluent french when setting up your account. Read through ALL the documents and find out what hidden charges there are. Do not sign anything until you are sure there are no extra charges. After nearly getting sued because I didn’t pay nearly €100 in hidden costs I learned the hard way.

3. Deposit

This shouldn’t be more than one or two months rent.

4. Etat de Lieu

You will fill this out with your landlord. It is basically a list of all the things in the apartment (if you are in a furnished apartment ‘meublé’). You state what condition everything is in, how many plates there are etc. When you leave the apartment at the end of your lease this will be reviewed to see if there’s anything missing etc.

After signing the lease:

5.  Insurance

You will need to have home insurance for your apartment, the bank may offer this to you when you set up your account but do not take it! It is a lot cheaper online. Through the bank you will end up paying a lot more. If you are a student I would recommend using the site assurances-etudiants. We paid €44 for a comprehensive insurance plan for a year.

6. CAF

As soon as you move into your accommodation set up your CAF account. CAF is a rent assistance payment given by the french government and as a student you will qualify for it. The process can be difficult but it is well worth it! Nearly half of our rent per month is paid through CAF. Unlike many things in France this can actually be all done online. Two very important things you will need are a french bank account and a certified translated copy of your birth certificate. These are essential. Before my Erasmus my french teacher, who is a certified translator, translated all our birth certs. There are many people who offer this service and the fee is absolutely worth it.

Make sure to start the CAF process as soon as you move in to ensure you get as many payments as possible.

Finding accommodation can be difficult but if you persevere and come prepared you will find the process a lot easier! If you’re a student looking to do an Erasmus remember that student accommodation is another option, I opted for this in Aix and it was a brilliant idea. It may not have all the luxuries of an apartment but there is a lot less admin and it can be arranged before you step foot in France. A student room in a CROUS residence is about €250 a month and you can get about  €90 per month in CAF payments, making it cost around €160 a month! Student residences vary greatly but I will go into this more in a future post!

Like any country or city do your research in advance, decide whats important to you and don’t stress, it will work out in the end.

If you have any more questions or want any more advice or information feel free to get in contact! 🙂

Happy House Hunting!

Yvonne

 

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