Tips for Making Apartment Hunting in France Easier
When Steffen and I made the decision to accept his company’s offer to move to France we had no idea where to start. We also didn’t have much time to look for an apartment or even view one in person before moving, making all this feel slightly overwhelming. If you are moving to an entirely new country, odds are you might feel stuck in the same situation of having no idea where to begin. Luckily I’ve figured out a few steps to making this process a little easier. Although, my specific experiences for moving has all been specific to the Pau area, a lot of these tips should help you with finding an apartment or house in other areas of France as well.
1. Find Your Group
Facebook groups can be used for a million different things, but expat groups are one I have found incredibly useful for the moving and adjusting process. A quick search and you’re bound to find a group you’ll fit right into. When I first moved to Norway I joined two groups, one was a general “Americans Living in Norway” group. Another was more specific to my area but more general in people, “Expats in Stavanger”. When we first decided to move to France I did the same thing, “Americans Living in France” and “Expats Living in Pau”. These groups are a wealth of knowledge you should tap into. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them anything! I’ve learned so much about the area I’m living in, how to navigate cultural differences, and even how to meet new people. Use these groups as a tool to prepare for your big move.
2. Find Your Online Market Place
In the U.S. Craigslist is a popular place to look for apartments, houses, furniture and all sorts of interesting (and sometimes strange) things. In Norway there is Finn. In France, there is Leboncoin. It took me a couple tries, along with some help from Google translate, but I got the hang of the website. One tip I found very useful was to search using the postal code of the area I wanted to live in, this gave me much more specific search results that made the process easier.
3. Make the First Move
Once I found some flats that I felt met the requirements we were looking for, I had to make contact. This is where things got tricky. I found that when I contacted the poster of the ad through leboncoin I did not have a single response and I can’t say I am entirely sure of whether they just don’t check their messages through the site or if my writing in English put them off. This is where the expats group came in handy, I asked them how to go about this process. I was told to contact them via phone as then I would get a response. Me, being the socially anxious human that I am, decided to try contacting them via text message first. Calling people and trying to explain (in my terrible attempt of the French language) that I wanted to view their flat was terrifying. However, this actually worked.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Try the Language
Moving to a new country and not knowing or being fully comfortable with a new language can be nerve wracking. The best advice I can give, and honestly I will probably get teased for saying this, is to just try. (Everyone in Norway knows how much I struggle with trying to speak Norwegian) I know it’s scary, I know you don’t want to be made fun of. More often than not, people are super excited that you are even trying. This definitely applies to France, they are very proud of their language. It is their language, in their country. They have every right to feel that way, but don’t be intimidated by it. When contacting potential landlords about their flats I started off with “Bonjour”. I felt this showed that I was at least polite enough to say hello properly. I followed this with an immediate apology that my French was very poor but that I was currently learning, I also offered to use Google translate to communicate in French as best as I could. This did wonders! Within 2-3 days I had 7 apartments lined up for viewing.
5. If at First You Don’t Succeed…
If going through an online market place, like Leboncoin, doesn’t work well for you, or the process of contacting people in French makes you too nervous, there are other options. This is another time that the expats group will be useful for you! Reach out and ask if anyone either has a place they are renting out, knows someone, or needs a roommate. I’ve witnessed this first-hand myself. An American student was going to be studying in Paris and she needed a place to live and another American was able to help her out. Not only does going through the expats group also introduce you to the community, but it can greatly help your chances of finding a friend you can relate to. For us, Leboncoin has been the best solution. Pau has a smaller expat community than Paris, so options were a bit more limited. Give it some patience and you’ll find the right place for you.