5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving to Paris


by Sophie

I’ve lived in Paris for a year and a half now, and I’ve learnt a lot during that time. From road safety to queue jumping, lost paperwork to non-existent guarantors, here are some things I could have done with knowing before I arrived.

1 – Finding a flat is harder than I thought (and I knew it was tricky)

When I first arrived in Paris and was looking for a flat, I thought I was prepared. I’d put out some feelers before arriving and even arranged some visits. And although I’ve been lucky both times I’ve moved, finding a place relatively quickly, the experience has opened my eyes to just how tedious a process it can be – especially if you’re a student or intern (and so don’t earn three times’ the monthly rent, a requirement imposed by many landlords). And if, on top of this, you’re a foreign citizen and don’t have a French guarantor, the whole thing gets even harder.

My advice? Firstly, don’t spend too much time worrying about it before you get to Paris. By all means try and get in contact with people. But given the competition for flats – shared or otherwise – don’t expect to be given priority over people who are in the city and can visit in person. Book yourself into a hostel or Airbnb and wait until you’re ‘sur place’ to do the real hunting.

2 – The metro is actually pretty generous

I had been in Paris for about a month when I found out that my monthly Navigo pass for the metro was ‘dézoné’ at the weekend. In other words, though I had paid for zones 1 and 2, at the weekend my pass was valid for zones 1-5. Had I known, I could have made the most of it earlier.

This has since changed, as a monthly pass for zones 1-5 is now the same price as the old pass for zones 1-2 was. So while the cleanliness, upkeep and accessibility of many Parisian metro stations leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of value for money it beats cities such as London hands down.

3 – Paperwork is just part of administration

France is known for its bureaucracy and I certainly wasn’t in the dark before arriving in Paris. I came armed with photocopies of everything I could think of – my passport, driving license, birth certificate and more. But what I’ve learnt since being here is that administration requires you to do more than just prepare the paperwork; you need to follow up on anything you send for approval or modification, as delays might not be due to processing alone. This I found out when, after months of waiting to receive my social security number, I rang up and discovered my application had actually been ‘lost’ and I had to start again.

4 – Don’t trust the green man

This is one of my pet peeves. In Paris, when the red man disappears and the green man pops up, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re safe to cross. When at a crossroads, vehicles going straight on may have stopped, but it is often still possible for those turning left or right to carry on. Now, I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the green man? Well yes, it does rather.

5 – Choose your museums wisely

If, like me, you’re partial to a museum or two, Paris is as good a city to live in as any. My favourite is the Musée d’Orsay which, like many others, has great temporary exhibitions. One thing to know, though, is that on the first Sunday of the month a lot of the city’s museums are free. There are two ways of making the most of this. Firstly, of course, you can visit certain museums for free, when you would normally have to pay. However, a lot of museums are free for 18-25 year-olds (EU citizens) all of the time. So the first Sunday of the month is actually a good opportunity to visit a museum that requires you to pay, while everyone else is standing in long queues for museums that are free on that day only.

Moving to a new city in a foreign country is a daunting venture to say the least, and all the life admin involved can be a drag. With any luck, though, the excitement of discovering a new place, meeting new people and picking up new experiences makes it all worth it.