Springtime in Paris is divine, but so is every other season of the year (with maybe the exception of August when the city is deserted). Generations of ex-pats, even Lost ones, can attest to the city’s allure, but you do not have to be a writer or flâneur to appreciate the graceful bridges, mansard roofs, the click of a well-dressed woman’s heels — Louboutins, perhaps? — pointing to the warm scent of poppy seed babka floating from a Jewish bakery in the Marais.
It is a city where an artfully-tied scarf is not an accessory, but a necessity, and where quality of life is jealously guarded. Paris is the city of love, yes, love of the aesthete and the bon viveur.
What is it known for?
The capital is known for, oh, just a few things, like fashion, cuisine, high art and culture. La vie Parisienne is a way of life that many of us can only dream about or slip on like a borrowed coat when we make the occasional visit.
Living here means you can get to know the city, from the catacombs to Sacre Coeur, from the banlieue to the Bois de Vincennes. Learning how to order your café crème the way the Parisians do, or navigating the post office and other bureaucracies of daily French life, can become a badges of honour.
On the practical side, there are many benefits to living in Paris. There is the amount of holiday of course, typically 37 days, and with the 35-hour work week, workers at big corporations amass many comp days. Healthcare is mostly free and what the health services do charge often gets reimbursed or is very low. And then there is the école maternelle, the free, state-run nursery schools that every child is entitled to attend from the ages of two to five.
Where do you want to live?
To be a true Parisian, you have to live inside the Boulevard Périphérique, although the tony suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine is a favourite for those looking for more spacious houses and greenery. For those who want to be closer to the centre and closer to the action, the 3rd and 4th arrondissements around Le Marais are very popular, and therefore very expensive. So people look now in the 11th and 12th, near the large green space of the Bois de Vincennes and the bars and restaurants on rue Oberkampf. "The 4th is home to many expats," said Andrew Hawkins, Associate, Head of International at Chesteron Humberts estate agents. "But the best value may be properties in the once dreary 11th and 12th arrondissements, which have been revitalized."
Many ex-pats who need more space look to the west of Paris, the 15th and 16th, near the Bois de Boulogne. The bourgeois neighbourhoods of Auteuil and Passy are comfortable and many ex-pats are attracted to the amenities here. "It's like Chelsea in London or the Upper East Side in Manhattan," explained Nilo Paredes, an American who lives in Paris with his French wife and two children. "A lot of Americans live there - I even saw a Cadillac on the street recently."
In the east, the 20th can be appealing to young families for the space and the prices, as it is not too far the Bois de Vincennes and not nearly developed or expensive as other areas. It is also a bit of a hipster magnet, near the Pere Lachaise cemetery, rock clubs like La Flèche d'Or and hotels like the Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter.
Many Parisians use their cars more on weekends when they pack up and head out of town to their family's country house, anywhere from two to four hours away. Those are good friends to have. A weekend in close-by Versailles can feel like a real getaway, especially since a mansion on the grand palace's grounds is being turned into a luxury hotel, the Hotel de l'Orangerie, opening early next year. Nearby regions and cities like Champagne or Chartres provide very different types of breaks where you can explore cave or cathedral -- both charming weekend stopovers.
Further afield, the TGV will speed you directly to Lyons and Marseilles in two and three hours, or to Brussels for points east and north. There are intercity rail connections to all European cities, and Paris' four airports service flights around Europe and the world.
Paris is a challenging city for buyers, especially those who want period details like parquet floors and original moldings. Paris property prices have been on the rise, demand remains high and there is not a lot of new inventory. "There has been a shortage of everything from studios to five-bedroom apartments," said Hawkins.
In the popular areas for pied à terre purchasers, prices range from 14,000 euros per square metre in Saint Germain des Pres on the Left Bank to 11,500 euros per square metre near the Champs-Elysée. In the Marais, where many expats now live, it is 12,000 euros per square metre.
There are also many restrictions on building heights and new development, so housing stocks tend to remain extremely tight in Paris. Meaning that buying in Paris will often be hard work. "You can spend years looking to buy," said Paredes. "Friends of our looked for 18 months and just couldn't find anything in their price range, so they stopped."
Therefore many people rent, and even then, finding the right flat can be difficult. Be aware that landlords will want to know what type of work visa a prospective expat tenant has, and may be unwilling to rent to someone who holds a visa with time limits. Space and proximity to work tend to be the critical factors, and for some, especially with kids, access to the large parks on the city's outskirts is important. "I looked at 20 apartments in a two-week period and finally found a place that is clean and spacious," said Paredes. "And the price is correct."
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International Herald Tribune: Especially for American expats who cannot live without The New York Times crossword.
Le Figaro: Morning read with coffee and croissant
Paris Voice: English-language features and events