Moving to Paris
Relocating can be challenging.
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What to know if you're moving to Paris
Paris is famous for its wealth of culture and romance, as well as being one of the top European Cities of the Future! The InterNations GO! guide on moving to the famous “City of Lights” helps you learn more about visa requirements and finding your dream apartment.
All about France
Relocating to Paris
During the Industrial Revolution, an unprecedented number of migrants from rural France relocated to Paris. The trend has continued, and these days, the majority of all immigrants who come to France move to Paris, making it one of the most multicultural cities in Europe. The annual number of people settling in the city remains high despite the high cost of living and the difficulties in finding accommodation.
Unless you are lucky enough to get help from your company, be prepared to spend a lot of time or money (or both!) on finding a place to live when first moving to the city. We’ll provide some useful advice on renting and buying property there, but first things first: the next paragraphs should give you a clear idea of the administrative issues you need to sort out before your move.
Visa Requirements: Do You Need One?
Nationals of EU/EEA member states, including Switzerland, do not need to apply for a visa before moving to Paris. They can travel, live, and work in France without any restrictions. Everyone else needs a valid visa when they move, although there are a few exceptions for nationals of selected countries who are staying for fewer than 90 days. Depending on the type of visa, applications can take two months or more to be processed. Leave plenty of time between submitting your application and departing for Paris.
Visa applications are accepted at all French embassies or consulates abroad. They should also be able to provide you with country-specific information on the application process and other bureaucratic matters to consider before moving to Paris. You can search for your nearest French embassy or consulate on the website of the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes. The page France Diplomatie also provides information in Arabic, Chinese, English, German, Japanese, and Spanish, with detailed description of visa options in some of these languages.
Non-EU National? Short-Term and Long-Term Visas
There are short-stay visas and long-stay visas for non-EU nationals planning to move to Paris. If your intended period of stay does not exceed three months, you need to apply for a so-called Schengen visa before moving to Paris. This visa de court séjour is valid for travel in all Schengen countries. You need to provide a valid passport and certain documents — for the most up-to-date information, visit your local French diplomatic website or the official European Commission guide.
A long-term stay necessitates a visa de long séjour. The type of long-stay visa required depends on your reason for moving to Paris. Expats coming to Paris on a work assignment or in order to take up employment need a work permit before they can be granted a visa. This permit is usually obtained by the employer on behalf of the applicant.
It is illegal to move to Paris on a Schengen visa, start a job, and then apply for a long-stay visa. A police check-up might be required before you relocate, and you may have to undergo a routine medical examination soon after moving to the city.
Paris: Accommodation and Neighborhoods
City vs. Suburbs: Weighing the Pros and Cons
There are three options for people intending to settle in Paris: the city itself, the suburbs of Paris, or the vast metropolitan area, which extends to the borders of the Île-de-France region and beyond. Deciding where to live obviously depends on various factors, such as income, period of stay, place of work, requirements in terms of space, travel arrangements, etc. The following guidelines should give you a rough idea of what to expect.
Living in the center of Paris certainly has its attractions, but finding accommodation there is difficult. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements. These neighborhoods are arranged in a clockwise spiral, starting with the first arrondissement in the historic city center around the Louvre and expanding outwards. More generally speaking, the residents of Paris distinguish between the neighborhoods left and right of the Seine River: Rive Gauche and Rive Droite.
Rive Gauche vs. Rive Droite
While the Right Bank north of the Seine is famous for its major shopping streets, luxury hotels, and tourist attractions, the Left Bank, situated south of the river, has a more bohemian feel. Its reputation as the quarter of intellectuals and artists stems mainly from the Latin Quarter, home to the Sorbonne University. Today, the Latin Quarter is still a major higher education center with many Parisian university campuses.
In general, the Left Bank is a charming place to live, especially for (well-to-do) singles, young couples, and families with little kids.
On the Right Bank, the wealthy 16th and the more middle-class 17th arrondissements are popular with families. Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) houses Paris’s LGBT scene and a big Chinese community. It is a favorite among contemporary artists and party people. Montmartre (no. 18) is very touristy and should probably be avoided. The 8th arrondissement is dominated by office buildings — not a particularly cozy place to live.
The Suburbs: Choose the Right One
Living in the Parisian suburbs is like living in the suburbs of any other big city: there are pleasant areas as well as not so pleasant ones. The latter tend to be in the northeast. Formerly thriving cités, the northeastern suburbs deteriorated in the 1970s in the course of deindustrialization. They are now stricken by unemployment and impoverishment among their mainly immigrant population. Although ambitious government plans envisage regeneration of these areas, improvements might take a while.
The western suburbs, on the other hand, are probably the most prestigious residential area in the whole of France. For centuries, Paris Ouest has been the stronghold of French high society. Neuilly, for example, is known as the home of the upper middle classes. Metropolitan Paris extends much further than this, though. For instance, the Île-de-France has countless little towns offering a quieter lifestyle than the big city.
How to Find Accommodation
While there are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in France, most expats in Paris decide to rent an apartment. If you are planning to stay in Paris for several years, though, buying might be cheaper in the long run, especially if you decide to keep the property and rent it out after your departure. While property prices in Paris have fallen only slightly of late, the capital gains tax on property resold by non-residents keeps profits relatively low.
Finding Accommodation through an Agent
If you are looking to rent, allow an absolute minimum of two or three weeks for the property hunt and keep your weekends free for apartment viewings. The absence of a central listings service complicates the business of searching for a flat.
If you go through an estate agent, this automatically limits your choice to what the agent has on offer. Estate agent fees are usually 5–10% of the annual rent, and the cost is often split between tenant and landlord. As opposed to some other countries, commission is strictly regulated in France, so there shouldn’t be any unsolicited charges.
Finding Accommodation on Your Own
People who want to try their luck without enlisting an agent’s help should consult the classified ads in newspapers, such as De Particulier À Particulier. The print edition is issued every Thursday and can be purchased at any local newsagent’s or tobacco shop. Another good website is Seloger — look out for the tab “louer”.
If French is not one of your strong points, try FUSAC, a free bilingual magazine distributed fortnightly at various points throughout the city, or take a look at the notice board of the American Church on Quai d’Orsay.
Administration and Rentals in Paris
Renting an Apartment
Apartments in Paris can be rented furnished or unfurnished, the latter being more common. Contract periods for furnished flats vary, but unfurnished apartments are usually let for a minimum of three years. Please note that if you fail to give written notice three months before your intended date of departure, the lease will automatically be renewed. In some cases, you may only be required to give one month’s notice. This should be specified in your lease and/or discussed with your landlord.
Prospective tenants are required to pay a deposit of usually one month’s rent for unfurnished apartments. The deposit for furnished places can be much higher, though. The money will be returned to them at the end of the contract period, provided no major damages occurred to the property during their tenancy. An état des lieux detailing the apartment’s state of repair at the beginning of the lease should be signed by both parties.
A Word of Caution
Due to the high demand for rental property in Paris, every suitable space has been converted into studios or apartments, including former servants’ quarters. These chambres de bonnes are usually situated right under the roof of town houses and are smaller and cheaper than normal flats. If you are on a budget and prepared to tolerate certain inconveniences, they could be the ideal solution. However, apart from the lower rent, these places don’t have much going for them.
Look Out for the Additional Costs
In addition to the monthly rent for the property, tenants face a number of other expenses. Apart from utility bills, there are charges for the premises which include the concierge (if there is one), elevator maintenance, garbage collection, etc.
Tenants are also expected to pay the annual taxe d’habitation, a local tax roughly equivalent to council tax in the UK. Home insurance, including personal liability insurance, is compulsory and often a prerequisite of any contract.
The Most Important: A Residence Permit
Residence permits can seem like a complicated issue, but there is nothing to worry about prior to arrival.
In recent years, new visa categories have been introduced, most of which serve automatically as a residence permit during the first year of residency. However, as a long-stay visa holder, you still need to register at the Office Français de l’Immigration et d’Integrationwithin the first three months of your stay in Paris.
Everyone whose visa carries the remark carte de séjour à solliciter must get a formal residence permit (carte de séjour or titre de séjour) within two months of arrival. The carte de séjour serves as a sort of ID card during their period of stay and must be renewed every year. In Paris, cartes de séjour are obtained at the préfecture de police.
Once you have been legally living in France for at least five consecutive years, you can apply for a carte de résident, which is valid for ten years. EU nationals do not need any form of residence permit.
Every non-EU national who is required to obtain a carte de séjour also has to sign a Contrat d’Intégration Républicaine if this is their first time living in France. This mutual “contract” between the foreign individual and the French state is meant to ensure that both sides make their best efforts at integration.
For foreigners and expats, this means attending a couple of information sessions and proving their French language skills. If the latter are judged to be insufficient, the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration offers compulsory, subsidized French lessons. Failure to attend may result in the residence permit being revoked.