Perhaps you’ve just arrived in France with no place to live, or maybe you’re still in the States worrying about not having a flat once you’re there. Granted, finding housing in France has got to be one of the most stressful things that us assistant(e)s/ lecteurs/lectrices/working-holiday students have to deal with, especially in an environment where rules are different and in your non-native language. As a result, these obstacles make things particularly complicated to sort through while staying in a foreign country.
However, while housing is definitely much more stressful than opening a French bank account or cell phone/box service (more on those in a later post), it won’t be as daunting if you already have a good idea of where to start. That’s why this post will be dedicated to helping you find housing in France, and hopefully a good one that will make your stay a smooth and relatively hassle-free one.
*note* Granted, I have only lived in un internat (“boarding school,” or une studette) provided by my school during my first year as an assistant, and will be doing the same for my second year. That said, I don’t have a firsthand experience in finding housing on my own, but I’ve had many friends/fellow assistants who did so, and I can tell you how their housing situations were. I’ll do my best!
Let’s get to the list!
1. Ask your school(s) if it provides housing. While still in your home country (and hopefully with your school’s contact info), communicate with your prof référant and/or school staff to inquire about housing opportunities provided by the school. If there is housing, great! If not, then it’s not the end of the world: ask if they know of any housing resources, and I’m sure that they will be able to assist you in the process. After all, your prof ref and school staff are there to help you get settled in, most importantly welcome you to France. You’re their guest in many ways, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!
2. Book a hostel/Airbnb/hotel. Not for permanent living, of course, but rather as a transition from arriving in France to finding/moving into your flat, especially if you haven’t found one or if the school’s internat is not ready. As previously mentioned, I had accepted my school’s housing offer in my first year as an assistant, but it wasn’t ready for me yet when I arrived there (mind you, I came two or three weeks early, so preparations had to be made). There were no hostels nor Airbnb options in the small town that I taught and lived in, but there was a hotel near the school in which I stayed for three or four nights as the flat was being prepared for me.
That said, if you haven’t found housing or the flat’s not ready yet upon arrival, book a place in town for a few nights while it’s being ready. OR: ask if your colleagues would be willing to take you into their home until everything gets sorted, and it’s very possible that they might accept! Especially if the apartment hunting’s taking a longer time than usual and you’re running low on money for hostels and Airbnbs, then staying with a colleague can be a good advantage; just make sure that you do something nice for them in return for their hospitality!
3. Check out housing websites. There are plenty out there: many of my assistant friends used leBonCoin for finding apartments, and I’ve also heard that other sites like Appartager and Plan appart à Paris (a Facebook group catered to Paris assistant(e)s) are fair game as well. Of course, be careful when doing your research, as some listings may or may not be accurate in their descriptions; I’ve heard some listings can be quite sketchy (think Craigslist sketchy), so as long as you keep your wits about you, there won’t be any problems with getting scammed or ripped off from living in France.
4. Have a budget. At least as assistant(e)s, we don’t get paid a whole lot for our job (790€/month); even as a lecteur/lectrice, you get paid more 1200-1500€/month), but it can still be a tight squeeze depending where you live (god forbid in Paris). Therefore, it’s important to have at least a general idea of how much you’re willing to pay for housing.
Personally, from hearing what my apartment-living assistants pay while living in the big city (in Upper Normandy, that would be Rouen and Le Havre), one should not be paying over 500€/month before CAF (more on that later). Especially when you need money for food and other personal expenses, having over half, let alone three-quarters, of your income go into housing can put a huge dent in your bank account.
*story time* Most assistant(e)s whom I knew living in Rouen spent, on average, 300 to 450€ per month on rent. However, there was this one assistante who raised a question at one of the teacher meetings if paying 520€ “under the table” was reasonable; she then went on to say that she was having trouble with her landlord who had apparently been avoiding her and not giving her clear instructions on how to pay rent. Of course, our program director was quite surprised, saying that that is something she’ll have to discussed with administration, but otherwise she shouldn’t be paying so much for her flat.
There were other horror stories I’ve heard about: there was another assistante who had to move several times, once even being homeless, because her first home was infested with bedbugs and the landlord did nothing to solve the problem. That said, even though I lived in a small town far from the city with nothing much to do, I’m super blessed that I was able to have *good* housing provided for me and inexpensively (I paid 162€/month, which is much better than Rouen assistants’)!
Finally, know how much money you’ll have going into France (the TAPIF handbook says at least $2000, which in my opinion is completely reasonable for getting you by for the first month, maybe half of the second month), and set realistic expectations for how much you’re willing to pay for your soon-to-be home.
5. Know what you want and need. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions in terms of wanting and needing certain things in your flat. Even if you’re not a particularly picky person, having some guidelines can make your living experience more smooth and enjoyable. Figuring out if you want to live alone or with roommates, as well as live in town or commute from the city, will help narrow your choices since there are so many options out there.
Having spent one year living and teaching in a small town, I’ve learned a lot of things about what I want and don’t want in a home. I like my solitude and space, so I would prefer to live on my own rather than with a bunch of people. I also prefer a multiple-room layout (with the rooms separate from each other) rather than a studio to move around in. And a laundry machine is a must since I don’t want to spend money on laundromats every week or so. I know that I’ll be staying once more in a studette this year, but for future homes, these are some features that are non-negotiable.
6. Visit the place. Before agreeing to any contract or payment, you’ll need to visit the house to get a feel for the place. It can be conveniently-located in the city center or wonderfully cheap, but if you don’t like how it looks, then you don’t need to go forward with it.
Or, on the flip side, perhaps it’s located far away from your school or in a shady neighborhood. Neither of these aspects are convenient for a home, for you’ll be stuck having to commute long distances almost every day or having to go out when it’s dark for safety purposes, respectfully. Pay attention to the surroundings as much as the inside of the flat, and if you don’t get a good vibe from either or both of them, you’re not obligated to sign anything and continue looking. Frustrating as it may seem, patience is certainly a virtue and you’ll eventually find something in the end!
7. Go with your instincts. This adds on to #6: again, if you don’t feel safe in the neighborhood in which your potential apartment is situated, don’t go with it! Same goes for your landlord, paperwork and everything. Regardless of where you live in the world, landlords tend to get a bad rep for being greedy liars who rob you of your money. I’m sure that not all of them are corrupted, but I’ve heard horror stories from several assistants about getting screwed over with rent and other housing affairs. You’re especially vulnerable as a foreigner, and if your French isn’t top, it leaves much room for miscommunication and manipulation.
The best way is to read over every piece of paperwork carefully (might be hard in French, but it’ll be worth it in the end!), as well as understand everything (and I mean 100% everything) that the landlord tells you about the home. Don’t be afraid to ask a million questions, as well as ask for him/her to repeat or clarify certain parts that you don’t understand; if the landlord is truly a good one, then he/she shouldn’t have a problem with all of that.
8. Apply for CAF. Short for “Caisses d’Allocations Familiales,” CAF is essential government-granted money given to students (or in our case, assistant(e)s) to pay for housing. Especially if you’re paying a hefty amount for housing (such as 400 to 600€ per month), you might want to consider getting some help to subsidize the living costs.
Granted, I’ve never applied for CAF because I was already paying a small amount for my flat during my first year (and most likely will be the same in the second year). That said, I didn’t see the point of going through the process, which I’ve heard is a long and *painfully* slow one. I’ve seen assistant(e)s not being compensated until three or four months into the program, which puts a lot of pressure on your funds.
Also, I didn’t think I would “qualify” for CAF, as I was told at teacher’s training that getting reimbursed was more likely to happen for those with higher rent than mine. It may or may not be true, but in any case, I chose not to apply because of the long process and the assumption that I wouldn’t be getting much in return, anyway (how much you get back really is subjective, I believe, based on how much you make and pay for your flat).
…that’s it for now! I hope I covered most of the housing information should you need it when finding accommodation in France. For the sake of this *already long* post, I’ll be writing another one about my personal experiences living in France (with photos to boot!).
For more information about anything I discussed in this post, you can refer to this post written by Dana, a former assistante who did a much better job covering the housing topic than me (in my opinion, that is; she’s been an expat for over three years!). Here’s another one with more information on CAF and how to apply for it.
For my fellow (and former) assistant(e)s: do you have any tips and advice to give for housing? Let me know! À plus tard.