Moving to Paris?
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 Quartier Latin, home to the Sorbonne University. Today, the Quartier Latin 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. The 5th, 6th and 15th arrondissements are especially recommended.
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 gay 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 of their mainly immigrant population. Although ambitious government plans envisage a huge regeneration for 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 agents 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.
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