If you are doing TAPIF or something similar where you will only be working for a short amount of time, I understand the stressful process of trying to find a place to live while completing your contract. I scoured the internet, specifically blogs of former assistants, and the assistant Facebook pages for advice on the best places to look. However, I never had anyone really lay it out for me. I am a detailed oriented person. So, I wanted to know all the little things. I had to read many blogs to get a compilation of all of the pieces of information that I was looking for.
So, I first wanted to layout some suggestions on how about looking for housing in France. I suggest that you don’t get too specific about the kind of place that you want to live in. Having your own place in a foreign country is extremely exciting. You start to think about the ways that you are going to decorate it and all the parties you might have (maybe…?). However, what I advise is that you first and foremost think about practicality.
Finding an apartment in a foreign country as an expatriate is already going to be difficult enough, let alone for only a short amount of time. Many assistants do this every year and come out on the other side not only okay but feeling more wise and more capable than they were when they went in. I have confidence that you will experience the same. All of us managed to be able to find decent apartments for the short amount of time with not much trouble at all. From many of the experiences that I heard about and deriving from my own experiences, here are a few things that I advise that you do:
1. Ask your school(s) if they have housing available for their language assistants.
This can save you much stress and many headaches because sometimes the schools themselves (most of the time secondary) have housing set aside for their language assistants. Most of the time the rent is rather low and wifi is either already set up or not too difficult to get. Also, not being able to sign a lease for a full year is not a problem, seeming how they know how long you will be working and how most have assistants every year. In addition to that, it’s usually on the school’s campus or quite close.
2. Search for housing/a roommate on a couple of websites
leboncoin.fr – I had heard of many assistants having luck finding an apartment or colocataires on this website. It’s like France’s equivalent to craigslist. If you choose to go this route though, I advise that you be on the alert. Leboncoin is a hot bed for scammers. So, just be cautious, make sure that the announcements you are paying attention to are thorough and give plenty of information, same with the people with whom you are talking, whether they be landlords or potential roommates.
appartager – I have never personally used this website, but I have heard of other assistants finding colocataires through it. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about it, but I do know that it is another great resource for looking for housing and/or roommates.
I’m sure there are other websites out there. I believe the assistant’s handbook lists some near the back, if you are a TAPIF assistant, or for all of you other expats, just google it. Use the google. You can find absolutely anything on the internet.
Before signing a lease, make sure to check out the apartment in person once you get to France. I don’t advise signing a lease from abroad. Also, make sure to ask plenty of questions about the following:
- deposit and monthly rent
- lease dates – make it clear how long you plan to be living there
- renter’s insurance – an absolute requirement if you are going to be renting anything in France, house or apartment
- housing that qualifies for CAF (Caisse d’Allocation Familiale) – believe me, you will want to take advantage of it
- the process of applying for CAF – will your landlord help you/do it for you or will your landlord require you to do it yourself?
- the neighborhood/location – think about the location in terms of your school(s) placement/the town center/close to a metro/tram/bus station/close to the supermarket/safety
- la taxe d’habitation
Many times landlords might not accept you because you can’t sign a lease for the full year. You might also have to provide proof of income or financial guarantee (usually a letter from your bank from your home country or your parents explaining that you have enough financial support to pay rent while you are living there. You might even need the letter translated), which definitely can be a headache.
3. Live in a Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs
Unfortunately, neither of my schools had housing available for their language assistants, so I starting looking for housing on the websites mentioned above. However, once I got my school placements, I contacted my référent at the high school to ask him about lodging options. (sidenote: the very first thing you should ask your référent about is if there is housing at the school. If there isn’t, ask him/her if they know of housing options so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of looking on your own. Hopefully you won’t be left on your own to figure it all out. I thankfully was not.)
The very first thing that he suggested to me was a Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs, which is essentially a residence for students or young workers working as assistants, interns, or with low income, between the ages of 15 and 30. Many of these exist in France. Even some small towns have at least one.
After considering finding housing through one of the sites listed above, for the sake of my sanity, simplicity, and the perks involved, I decided to live in a Foyer. Here are some of the reasons that I decided to live in a Foyer:
- No lease required: Foyers don’t require that you sign a lease for a specific period of time. These residences are in place specifically for young people and students who are constantly in transition. You only have to notify them when you plan to leave 8 days in advance. That’s it! Only 8 days! Though this is really fantastic for you because it lets you live there as long as you need or want, you must also keep in mind that you might now know if they have something available for you until the last minute. What I did was fill out the online form, and in the notes section, told them that I was aware that I won’t know until at the very least 8 days out and just wanted them to contact me as soon as an apartment became available. I got lucky (and hopefully you do too!) and had them contact me at the very end of August. So, I had my housing situation in place a month before even leaving for France. I wouldn’t bank on this though. You might have to wait until you actually get to France in person. However, have faith. Most of the time it works out. It did for all of the assistants in the city in which I was placed. If you are unsure if the city in which you were placed has one just google ”foyer de jeunes travailleurs (city name)”.
- Rent is on the cheaper side: In order to live in the foyer, you will have to pay a deposit and first month’s rent. For my apartment, the deposit was 155€ and the first month’s rent was 470€. Though that is a lot of money up front, I qualified for the CAF, so I’ve been paying for 120€ for rent every other month since then. I’m pretty sure that at least 99% of the people living in the foyer qualify for something from CAF, and it significantly reduces the rent. To guarantee that I would get the apartment though, I did have to pay for the whole month of September, even though I wasn’t going to be there until the end of September. You just have to weigh out your options, depending on when you plan on arriving and whether or not you want to risk losing an apartment in the foyer when it opens up.
- You don’t have to pay for utilities: Water, electricity, and heat are all included in your rent. So, you don’t have to worry about setting up your utilities or turning the heat way down in the winter to save some euros.
- The apartments are furnished: All of the apartments come with a bed, bed linens, a desk, a small table for eating, a small bedside table, two chairs, a bathroom, a closet, and a kitchenette, which includes two burners, a mini fridge, a sink, and a couple of shelves for storing food and dishware. It’s not glorious, but it’s definitely manageable for 7 months. Plus, it saves you the stress of having to potentially buy/rent furniture for the 7 month duration of your contract. In my opinion though, there’s just no sense in even glancing at places that aren’t furnished.
- Laundry on site: Though there is only one washing machine and one dryer for the whole residence, it saves you the stress from having to track down and spend the money on a laundromat every couple of weeks. Also, if you only do laundry a couple of times a month much like I do, it’s fairly inexpensive. I pay 4€ for one wash, one dry, and a small packet of laundry detergent, and with only doing it two times a month, that equals only 8€ a month for laundry. If you wash your clothes way more often than that, yes it could get a little pricey, but hey, at least it’s on site. You also get to dry your clothes. Most French apartments don’t even have a dryer, just a washer. Even though you have to plan ahead for when you want to do your laundry because you have to sign-up, for me it’s totally worth it. I don’t have to worry about finding a laundromat or paying for laundry detergent.
- Internet is already set up: The internet/wifi in my foyer is already set up. So, I didn’t have to worry about finding a company to come to my apartment and set up wifi. You do have to pay for wifi. However, the company that the foyer uses is ran online. So, you can make an account online, pay for your wifi online, and each month’s payment comes directly from your debit/credit card. It’s pretty simple and extremely hassle free! The company also has two wifi options: 14.99€ for a 4 month contract or 19.99€ without contract. Whenever you want to close your account, it’s a simple as a click of a button, literally. All you have to do is log on to your account and click a button to cancel your subscription. It’s extremely easy. Plus, the first 24 hours are free! Of course, I am unsure if this is universal. However, it was definitely one of the biggest perks for me. Also, this doesn’t mean that you can’t still shop around at Orange, Free, etc. for a plan that might be potentially better for you, but in my opinion, just paying for the wifi at the foyer reduced much stress for me.
- Help with setting up CAF: Another fantastic thing about the foyer is that they help you to apply and to set you up to receive benefits from the CAF. This, again, saves a lot of headache. Another great part to this is that even though the CAF takes a couple of months to go through, the foyer allows you to pay rent as if you were receiving the CAF the entire time so that once it does go through, the foyer just gets reimbursed and you don’t have to do anything. They help you with filling out the application and sending any of the forms that the CAF will require, such as your contract, your birth certificate, copies of your passport and your visa, and later on a copy of your first two months of income.
- It’s a great place to meet other young people and fellow assistants: Being an expatriate can be very intimidating at first and quite lonely as well. The foyer holds activities almost every night of the week for their residents. This is a fantastic way to meet new friends! Many times they are fellow students or assistants themselves, so you’ll already have at least one thing in common. I met most of my friends through my residence, many of whom are also assistants. Many locals who are young workers or students themselves also live here, so it’s a great way to meet locals to hang out with and to practice your French. Being able to meet people early on was what helped me deal with culture shock better than I was anticipating.
Though there are some down sides to living in a foyer, such as the size of the apartments (mine is a small studio being 20m squared), the lack of choice in what your furniture looks like (I have a very ugly duvet), not having an oven, not having much space for dishes, and not knowing until at least 8 days before hand if there is an apartment available, all of the good things significantly outweighed the bad things. For the short amount of time that I’ve been living in France, the lack of luxury was something that I could be okay with because I won’t have to worry as much about the logistics of moving out of my apartment. Plus, I doubt I would’ve met all of the amazing people that I did if I hadn’t lived in this foyer.
So, consider all of these options when looking for housing in France, whether you’re a TAPIF assistant or just an expatriate in France. The best advice that I can give you is to weigh your options according to what is absolutely best for you. I hope this post has helped in the process. I remembered how overwhelmed I was at the beginning searching for housing. Just remember that there are many others out there in the same boat and that there are many resources at your disposal. Good luck!