Early September, I found myself sitting in a luminous Parisien haussmannien apartment at Neuilly sur Seine. Beautiful taupe wooden floors, white paneled walls, 18th century paintings, and French furniture in the living room. Is this my new apartment in Paris? No. It’s only the beautiful salon of my french host family with whom I would stay for the first three weeks of my arrival while I set up my new life in Paris.
The First Day: Where do I begin?
In the tiniest room of their apartment, I unpacked my luggage and considered the long list of things to set up in Paris: a french bank account, a navigo pass (a public transit pass), register at my school and pay tuition, and a phone line so I could actually do all the above. Yet each task seemed to depend on the other ones. I could not get a phone card without a credit card, I could not get a credit card without a housing address, and without a mailing address…. My head reeled in circles while I sat staring at the mess of unpacked clothes in my room, not knowing where to begin.
I decided to get a phone line first by visiting the Free customer center near Madeleine. Customer service was relatively friendly as they seemed used to helping a huge flux of foreigners. Then came getting a Navigo Card and a bank account, both of which was difficult if I couldn’t provide a proof of address in Paris. The key lies in getting help from my french host families, I improvised. So after some back and forth and some broken french phrases, my french dad agreed to accompany me to the local metro station and the bank agency to get my bank cards.
Finding Housing: The Desperation Slump
So far so good. One week into my stay, I crossed a few things off my list. And I mustered enough confidence to tackle the biggest line on my list: finding housing.
Little did I know that housing is the biggest challenge of them all. First, I could not visit any of the cool looking apartments I found online without having a “Garant”, a french name for someone who will financially guarantee your rent payments. This person must have a stable french income and provide his ID, past income and tax sheets to the homeowner. Where was I supposed to find this godlike figure? I started to panic for the first time. The Paris housing market was also burning in the month of September, with Parisien students and workers returning from vacation for the start of a new year. Every new lease on the market would attract at least 20 potential renters, all of which would speak perfect french, has a job in a french company, and could offer proof of their last paycheck on the spot. With these competitors, no landlord would even consider my candidacy. At the end of a few visits, I was desperate about my situation.
Fast forward 2 months later, I have visited around 10 different studios and still far from convincing any landlord to give me a second look. I had almost given up on finding my own studio and to permanently crash at my host family’s place, when I met up with an old friend who has settled in Paris a year ago. Have you heard about an organization called Accompany Me? They help foreign students with administrative tasks and finding housing if they need.
Meeting with Accompany me: feeling reassured
I visited their facebook page to read a little about them. Could this really help? I was a little skeptical about the success rate and worried about the fees, but I was willing to try anything to help me find housing!
I had the same problem when I was studying abroad in Arkansas, said the french student ambassador from Accompany Me. Apart from a little french accent, his English was perfectly fluent, especially when it comes to the topic of student services. Quickly, he laid out the plan for my case, first, apply for bank garant, then, prepare a complete housing file, then, visit apartments, then, sign contract. Why does it sound so simple when he put it like that? And don’t forget, after signing the contract, you’ll also have to purchase personal insurance as well as getting CAF, a sort of student housing financial support, he reminded me.
Three days later, I was already going on studio visits with my student ambassador. Nothing but his fluent french got the home owners to understand and sympathize in my situation. A couple studio owners gave a second look to my files, and said ok to my bank garant. The key is to reassure them you could pay, my student ambassador emphasized, because landlords are simply afraid of renters who would lag on rent. He would then go on to teach me about the questions to ask and how to respond to the French landlords.
Finally finding my perfect apartment
It was a Friday afternoon when I found my perfect apartment. It was nestled in a narrow street in the 7th arrondissement and I remember already falling for the tall trees lining the clean avenues before even entering the studio. And within fifteen minutes of seeing the studio, I had decided to take it.
The landlord spoke on about the amazingly classy neighborhood but all I could think about was decorating my new room. The journey has been too long and I am more than ready to move into my own apartment.