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Moving to Paris: Part 2

Once we officially had our French visas we put all our plans into motion. We made a packing list of the kinds of things we wanted to bring with us. We researched movers and storage places to keep our things in San Francisco while we were gone. We started to take French lessons from a tutor. We tried to estimate what our monthly costs would be and looked for hidden costs so we wouldn’t be surprised. And last but not least we started to look for a Paris apartment. (Here is my first post.)

Looking for an apartment in Paris is a dream and a nightmare. Since I knew it would probably be the only time we were going to live in Paris, I really didn’t want to skimp.  I wanted it all: parquet wood floors, floor to ceiling windows with a view, a great Parisian neighborhood with a market, a nearby Metro stop. I dare you to look at Paris apartment listings without getting starry eyed. It’s impossible. There are some really amazing apartments out there. On the other side of the coin, Paris apartments can be old, have very strange layouts, are hard to find, and can be very expensive. In general if you are looking for an apartment in Paris I would look on SelogerSabbatical Homes, Fusac, or Craigslist. (In order of helpfulness.)

(Continue reading below for our story and all the surprise costs.)

The Paris rental market is very competitive (like a lot of cities) so you really needed to be there in person to be in the running. Second, there are apartment listings sites that market to expats and people looking for short term rentals (meaning less than a year) but they tend to have inflated costs. So if you can be there in person for a lease that lasts more than a year you can find a similar apartment for a much cheaper rate. If we had used an agent or an apartment finding service it would be a lot easier. It was also really hard to know what the neighborhood is like and what the apartment was like. Finally someone recommended that we rent a temporary apartment for the first month while we looked for a permanent place. We liked the idea of being able to see the apartment in person and being able to see the neighborhood so we decided to wait until we arrived to start looking. The scary part of that choice being you might not find a place after a month and you wouldn’t have a place to live.

Once we arrived we had four main goals: getting an apartment, getting a bank account, getting cell phones, and getting internet. We had no idea what we were up against. Since we didn’t speak French we hired Anne to help us make appointements and navigate the system. The first week we put in 10-15 calls on different apartments we found on and only two people called us back! There are a lot of great Paris neighborhoods but I really wanted to live in the Marais. It is beautiful and kind of artsy but I tried to be open minded about which places we looked. The first place we saw was in the 7th Arrondissement. The 7th is very fancy and old school. Kind of like NYC’s Upper East Side. Think: lots of old French ladies going to fancy hair salons. It also has a large American population. It wasa partially furnished apartment and had a small view of the Eiffel tower but the kitchen was tiny and since it was across the street from the Eiffel Tower I was paranoid it would be too touristy or too American (I wanted to have an authentic experience.) We decided not to take it and then went to the second appointment. This was in a great neighborhood in the 6th Arrondissement but the apartment was terrible. It had a very strange layout (I think the bathroom was off the kitchen) and a small pokey hallway with no view. when I saw what they were charging for that place I started to get nervous. No one was returning our calls and we only had three more weeks to find an apartment before we were homeless. Paul and I talked it over and called the real estate agent to look at the first apartment again. It had pretty much everything we wanted but wasn’t near a Metro stop. (It was a 10 minute walk.) We decided not to push our luck and we decided to take it.

Here are a few important things you should know when apartment hunting in Paris.

1. Unfurnished Parisian Apartments usually come completely empty. That includes appliances: no fridge, no oven, no washing machine, etc. At first this intimidated me and made me want to look for something furnished. But after I got there I realized the appliances are small and it is fairy inexpensive to buy something used and have it installed from people moving out of Paris. Even buying something new is less than you might think.

2. Most Apartments have a Broker Fee Attached. I arrived in Paris with a California mindset where most people don’t use brokers. I wish I had realized early on that I would end up paying  the 2000 Euro fee. It would have opened up a whole world of apartments to us. There are real estate agents in every neighborhood that have listings in the window. I didn’t even consider those because I would’ve had to pay a fee. (It is definitely possible to find an apartment without a broker fee attached but I would only go that route if I had a place to stay indefinitely until the perfect place showed up.)

3. Look for American Landlords. You can circumvent a whole host of problems like French bank accounts and enormous safety deposits if you look for a landlord that is American or American-friendly. Sites like Sabbatical Homes , FUSAC, and even Craigslist can sometimes have US or US-Friendly landlords. (Note: I would check US Craigslist first, Paris Craigslist is a little more shady since it isn’t used as much.)

4. You Must have a French Bank Account OR 6-12 months rent up front. French credit works differently than the US Credit System. The big thing to get a lease is you need a French Bank Account. “No big deal”, you might say. Well to get a French Bank Account you must have a permanent address. It’s a giant catch-22. (That’s why it’s useful to have a landlord that can check your US Credit.) In our case we gave the landlord a large safety deposit (just like in the US) and on top of that 4 months rent as a safety that we wouldn’t default on rent. This large amount of money surprised us (no one had mentioned anything about it) but after we arrived I heard similar stories, some students I spoke to said they had to pay almost a year up front.

5. Get Your Documents Ready! I had no idea how many times I would use that binder I organized to apply for our visas. To rent an apartment they wanted every document imaginable including birth certificates and financial information. Make sure you have several copies of each!! (Also, this is a silly tip but seems to work. A friend mentioned that color copies are preferable because the sometimes the bureaucrats think they seem more legit–like originals.)

6. Have an Advocate. It is important to have an agent or lawyer who knows the system when you sign. At the end of our lease we had issues with our landlord and realized we weren’t protected like we thought we were. If you are dealing with large amounts of money it is best to pay extra to make sure it is protected.

Costs that Surprised Us

1. Including Safety Deposit and A Rent Guarantee we put down 6 months rent up front. (You get it back eventually.)
2.  Broker Fee (about one months rent.)
3. Renter’s tax  The renter who lives in the apartment on January 1st is required to pay the entire years rent taxes. Our apartment was about 800 Euros.

Other Surprises or Cultural Differences

In France the Ground Floor starts at level 0 and the next floor is level 1. So the First floor is actually the American 2nd floor and so on.
Apartments are advertised as “4 Rooms” or “3 Rooms” But that means total rooms in the apartment, not just bedrooms. You have to look specifically for how many bedrooms it has.
If you rent a furnished or partially furnished apartment you pay more in rent and more of a deposit.
The renter who lives in the apartment on January 1st is required to pay the entire years rent taxes.
Everone in Europe has a landline. It’s even required by certain places like banks. They charge you extra to make calls to cell phones.
There is no such thing as an unlimited minutes cell phone plan.

This is a lot of information to fit in, so if you are still reading this I’m impressed . Looking back I probably would have either found an apartment before we went over (even made a quick flight to see it in person) or else hired an agent to show us apartments. A lot of expats I knew had the luxury of their companies paying for an agent and that would take a lot of the stress out of the situation. Especially considering we ended up paying an agent fee anyway.

  1. Gina @ Oaxacaborn

    August 13, 2012

    So many great details, Jordan! Thanks for sharing — you’ve included aspects here that I haven’t seen any any other “moving to France” posts (and I’ve read quite a few). I didn’t know about paying taxes up front on Jan 1, for instance. Super informative, and as always, inspiring!

      • jordan
      • August 13, 2012

      Sorry if I wasn’t clear! You don’t pay taxes up front. They usually bill you in the fall. But if you moved in on January 5th you wouldn’t be responsible for paying them that year.

  2. Kelly Golightly

    August 13, 2012

    Sounds like a huge pain but SO worth it in the end. Such a helpful post.

    I believe you met my friend Jenny of the Jesus Year Project in Paris who was doing the same thing – a year abroad in Paris. I remain infinitely jealous of you both xx!

  3. Tina Ramchandani

    August 13, 2012

    Thanks for the information. We are thinking of moving abroad. It may not end up being Paris but I’ve heard similar stories throughout Europe. This is definitely helpful to keep in mind!

  4. Tatiana

    August 13, 2012

    I moved to Paris a few years ago and it’s all true; Lots of papers, and more papers; And the getting an appartment in the city is a big deal! When you visit one you will be sure to have another 20 people visiting the same place sometimes; But I love living here and it’s my home for now; You also pay for the tv, if you have one in the house you pay, for the public channels! lol; well, it comes with a price!

  5. Jane

    August 13, 2012

    You might address this later, but I’m so curious how you (and your sister!) have handled the income tax issue.

    What did you do about your US taxes while you were abroad? Did you change your state residency to non-resident so you did not have to file a CA tax return & pay CA income tax for the year you were away? Because you didn’t spend very many days in the US, were you able to use the Foreign Earned Income exclusion to avoid US tax on the income you earned while you lived in Paris? Did France want tax on the income you earned while you were physically in France, even though you were employed by a US company?

    I guess you may not have filed your 2011 taxes yet, so maybe you don’t know how you’ll deal with all this. But I can definitely see that would be a complicated issue! Thanks for sharing.

      • jordan
      • August 13, 2012

      We continued paying our US and CA taxes while we were in France as if we had never left.

  6. Julia's Bookbag

    August 13, 2012

    Oh my goodness! After reading all of this, I’m even more impressed by your fortitude and determination , I felt intimidated just reading about the process!

    I think that I would only be cut out for a long vacation or something….:)

    Did you end up selling your sofa? It was so divine!

  7. Oli Sixpack

    August 13, 2012

    Very good article. Renting a flat in Paris is as easy as running with a cow on your back, even for us, froggies.
    I would just add a tip: there is a new offer for a few months now. You pay 30 + 16 euros a month for unlimited TV, mobile, landline (calls to mobiles & foreign countries included) and for the Internet. Take a look at

  8. Jen Ramos

    August 13, 2012

    WOW, hope you are loving every minute of it! your place looks great 🙂

  9. Sara

    August 13, 2012

    Jordan, thanks so much for posting all this information. It is a lot to take in and a little overwhelming but I know in the end it’s totally worth it since this is something that my husband and I really want to do. I think we would rather pay a fee for the convenience. I look forward to reading more about moving to Paris from you! Thanks again! 🙂

  10. kim

    August 13, 2012

    Thanks Jordan! It’s so great to learn all the little things you found about moving to Paris, and picking apartments. Super informative! This is something my husband and I want to do at some stage in our lives, and hearing all about the nitty gritty makes it seem so much more achievable. I would love to hear more about your experience if you were happy to share.

    I think I remember reading that Moses and Roman went to child care? How did you find that experience? Mine would be school age by the time we get around to going, but the French child care system sounds pretty awesome. How did the boys find it?

  11. Michelle Glauser

    August 13, 2012

    Yeah, it took me two and a half months to find a place in San Francisco, leaving me in a very stressful situation.

    Finding a place in Germany, on the other hand, only took a couple of days. Luckily I didn’t have to buy a kitchen since I had roommates.

    I still get mixed up about which floor is which ever since living in Germany.

  12. Mary-My Life in Scotland

    August 13, 2012

    When my husband and I moved to Scotland 3 days after we got married we rented a studio flat for a year before we moved to a bigger/nicer place.

    I’d say you are spot on about the bank account catch-22. I think trying to get a bank account was the bane of my existence!! I’m still amazed I got one after all that.

    Becoming an expat takes a lot of preparation, but it is well worth the hard work!

  13. Krista

    August 13, 2012

    Love love love that you are sharing all the details, especially the hard parts! It makes your adventure seem more realistic and therefore even more inspiring.

  14. Melissa

    August 13, 2012

    Hi Jordan,

    I just wanted to say thank you talking about your move to France. It is something that I very much want todo. And reading about what you had todo and things to take note of are fantastic. This is super helpful knowledge.

  15. mick

    August 13, 2012

    I think it’s and not, is it not?

      • jordan
      • August 13, 2012

      yes! I just fixed it. Thank you.

  16. Martha

    August 13, 2012

    wow. good info to log away. thanks!

  17. michelle

    August 13, 2012

    This is very helpful info to know (and interesting too). Thanks for this series!!

  18. jenny

    August 14, 2012

    I am so glad you’re sharing this! My husband really wants to move to France after spending July all over France for work and I’m realistically freaked out at the logistics of the moving and settling in process with children. He is a freelancer also so the whole work/income/visa/tax/upfront cost bit was especially helpful for me to start planning and figuring out what I might expect. And it makes me feel better that you were a little terrified/overwhelmed too initially.

  19. Annea

    August 14, 2012

    PS: You can sign a 2-year-mobile-contract: Just don’t tell them that your stay is only temporarily. If you leave the country for good, they have to let you go. It does require paperwork. BUT: Do check on this thouroughly as things might change. I had no further problems with Orange after all the bureaucracy was done.

  20. Marija

    August 14, 2012

    All the things that were hard for you in Paris, France, are generaly hard for anyone moving to The USA. You just do not see them “as hard” since that is your home country. When I moved to NJ in 2000 no one wanted to rent us an appartment since our credit history was non existant! They asked for two forms of identification to open bank account, and we only had passports, etc…
    Every country has its own sets of “rules” that are only strange to newcomers!

      • jordan
      • August 14, 2012

      I agree!

  21. Barbara

    August 14, 2012

    Hi Jordan! You wrote that everyone in europe has a landline. Maybe in france but not in other european countries. e.g. I’m from austria and i only own a cell phone. In every european country is the ground floor labeled as level 0 – the basement doesn’t count.

  22. Clare

    August 14, 2012

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you posting this (and part 1). My husband and I have just returned from 1 year in London and we’ve got France/Italy next on our list. There are lots of things I’d do differently if I had my time again – it’s great to know some insider tips when moving to a non-English speaking country. This will be a massive help for us, thanks!

  23. Kristen

    August 14, 2012

    I love your couch!

  24. joanna goddard

    August 14, 2012

    so much happens behind the scenes! fascinating, jordan:) ps i love your sofa!!!

  25. Sara

    August 14, 2012

    Okay, I’m kind a Type-A weirdo. For example, my fave post ever on the younghouselove blog was when they showed what was inside their cupboards. LOL. Similarly… I am kind of DYING to know what was on your packing list. LOL

  26. Miia

    August 14, 2012

    This makes me sooo want to move abroad for some time (sure there is hassle to sort everything out but at the same time such a wonderful feeling to see new things). Just a month here and there would be fantastic. Like a combined vacation and work time. Have to find some collaborational work soon.

  27. Sonya

    August 14, 2012

    Thank you for this post, I read a lot of books (autobios and memoirs) of people who have lived in France as expats and I read your sister’s blog. It is my goal to live in France at some point in my life and I basically know that determination, a strong will, and a patience for bureaucratic red tape leads to success! 🙂

  28. Gaelle

    August 14, 2012

    “There is no such thing as an unlimited minutes cell phone plan.”
    My english is very bad, but i’m parisian and i can say there is an unlimited cell phone plan.

    It’s cheaper if you have an internet plan with the cell phone plan

    In France, it’s the cheaper company at the moment. 🙂 I hope to have helped you.

  29. Chelsea C.

    August 14, 2012

    Jordan, this is all so awesome — these posts are all getting bookmarked and stored away for reference. After I read the first post last week, my husband and I started talking about doing the Paris thing for a year. Such an inspiration! And truly, such a wealth of information. Thanks!

  30. Lola

    August 14, 2012

    It’s so interesting to compare this experience to my experience in other countries– for instance, I found the same six-month policy is true in London, and here in Warsaw apartments are also advertised by total number of rooms.

  31. Sedulia

    August 14, 2012

    Really useful and will help a lot of people. I looked for an apartment for three months but it was a long time ago and I had forgotten what a hassle it is in Paris. It’s a hassle in most cities, I guess.

    Did you have any problem with getting your caution/deposit back? I’ve heard that a lot of landlords don’t return it to foreign renters, thinking they’ll be too far away afterwards to make trouble.

    Two things I would add are the état des lieux [verification of the condition of the apartment] and the different renter’s responsibilities in the U.S. and in France. Before and after the rental. In French rentals you must be very sure that any damage is mentioned in the état des lieux before you buy, or you may find yourself paying for it when you leave.

    Also, renters in France are responsible for things you wouldn’t expect, as an American. You might not have this problem when you rent for a year, but if you rent for several years, you are expected to leave the apartment in the same condition you left it– i.e. you may have to pay to replaster and repaint it. Also, if you have leaks etc. that cause damage from something like a burst joint, you may be held responsible, not the landlord. Make sure you get renter’s insurance!

  32. Sedulia

    August 14, 2012

    (To Jordan) Sorry, that should have read “Before and after the rental you will have to go through the apartment with the landlord or a representative to do the Etat des lieux. In French rentals you must be very sure that any damage is mentioned in the état des lieux before you rent, or you may find yourself paying for it when you leave.” (Could you change it please? Thanks!)

  33. carina

    August 14, 2012

    As a long term resident and multiple property owner here in France, ‘brokers’ are certainly not the norm here. The majority of people use an estate agent and the fee can be negotiable between tenant/property owner who can split it 50/50. Alternatively, French people apartment hunt through where they deal direct with the owner and there is no agency fee. I know of no-one who has used a broker, estate agents are the norm like most other parts of the world.
    France strongly protects the rights of the tenants and in cases were a landlord might try to take advantage of this, there are consumer groups that will help tenants without the need for a lawyer (avocat).

      • jordan
      • August 14, 2012

      Hi Carina, I was using broker and Estate Agent interchangeably.

  34. Jordan - Polkadot Prints

    August 14, 2012

    I have just moved from Australia to Canada and can totally relate on the fact that what is your ‘known’ & ‘familiar’ is suddenly completely different!

    Like starting from scratch in life and knowledge of a culture. You take for granted the little bits of culture you ‘learn’ as you grow.
    No rental agents here & knowing whether to pay before or after you fill up the car with petrol was a big difference for me here!….and then so much more : )

  35. Samantha

    August 14, 2012

    Me encanta, me siento demasiado inspirada, espero algún poder irme a París al igual que tu y tu familia.

  36. Kristin

    August 15, 2012

    What a great couple of posts. I just got back from Paris (honeymooning) and the thought of living overseas is definitely in my mind.

  37. Vikie

    August 15, 2012

    Hi… I’m french, and I can say taht there is another page for find a appartment… is not only for paid an appartement is only between people to people, there is beautiful appartement and awfull…. but a good adresse ^^

  38. Vikie

    August 15, 2012

    For the rent if you come not the first januar, you don’t have to pay the entire year, its a percentage betwenn you and the precedent owner….

  39. karen

    August 16, 2012

    Thank you for sharing! As someone who moved to the US from Sweden 4 years ago it’s always interesting to see how relocating to a different country works. We had an employer helping us with many things and we knew the language but still it’s not easy but it made me more humble. New lessons learned and all that. Can I just suggest something? Please try not to use “everybody in Europe…”, not a lot of things are the same between European countries except that they all belong to Europe. For example none of my friends back home in Sweden have landlines but they all have unlimited cell phones plans.

  40. Melissa - Keith Pitts Photography

    August 17, 2012

    Thanks so much for sharing. I also would love to know what your packing list was! We just spent this past month in Paris (much easier for us – since we just rented a fantastic apartment through but I wonder what I would have packed differently if I we were staying longer! I loved part 1 and part 2 – again inspiring us to take a chance in a far away land!

  41. Linda Skoglund

    August 18, 2012

    I’d like to know what that beautiful round red flowery thing is. Love it!

  42. Absurdouee

    August 27, 2012

    As a parisian reader, I’m quite surprised that banks ask your for a landline, it’s sometime hard for me to get my landline number recorded 🙂 But landline is included in the internet access package (with TV channels), so it’s almost cost free. And as Gaelle said, there is now unlimited minutes cell phone plan with free calls to USA for 20€ per month.
    Unfortunately, renting a flat in Paris is not easy, even for french people.

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