Accommodation is a tricky issue. There are two main choices; university residences or private accommodation. I lived in a flat (collocation) with two girls, both French in the first semester and then one French, one Canadian in the second which I really enjoyed. However, there are pros and cons for both options, and your decision depends on your own personal preference.
For the university residences you should receive an email sometime during the summer term asking you to pick a residence and you will later receive an email confirming your allocation. There are several residences located on the campus (in particular Residence Ouest and Berlioz) as well as Olympique located on the outskirts of town and Rabot on the hill up to La Bastille. There is also an all girl residence located at Notre Dame.
There are some positives to living in a university residence. For one, it’s really cheap, particularly once you have sorted out your CAF (see later in this section). Also, if you are lucky enough to be in a residence on campus then it makes getting to your 8am lectures much easier! Some of the residences are fairly sociable, with kitchen parties and the like, although it is necessary to realise that residences in France do not have the same atmosphere as in England.
Unfortunately there are also negatives to living in a university residence. The facilities are somewhat lacking; none of the residences have ovens and its often 20 or more people to a kitchen with only 6 hobs. There are no cupboards in the kitchens so all of your cooking equipment must be stored in your room. If you are staying for a year you are usually put in a room with a fridge (but no freezer), although there are some rooms that do not have one, in which case I would recommend buying one. There are no regulations against putting electrical equipment in your room. Rabot also has squat toilets, which, although you do get used to them, I’m not sure I could’ve put up with them all year! There is internet already set up with saves a lot of hassle but if you end up in a room at the end of the corridor, the connection can be very hit and miss.
The kitchens do get cleaned, but unlike in England, they don’t put up with any mess! Bins aren’t provided so you have to take any rubbish to your room. During my stay, I have heard of several incidences of kitchens being locked due to them being left in an inappropriate state. Also in some residences (in know that this occurs at Rabot but I’m not sure if it is true of the others as well) the gas gets switched off at midnight, so no late night cooking! Most people seem to cook and then eat in their rooms and the kitchen is not the social hub it is in English residences.
The residence Olympique has the added problem that it is quite far out of town, at least a 30 minute walk that I would not advise someone do alone. There is a tram to the residence but it stops around 2am on weekdays, earlier on Sundays, which can be a bit annoying.
In contrast, a private apartment is a more expensive option but not unreasonable, especially when you deduct CAF. An apartment generally means you have a bigger room and better facilities, such as an oven and a freezer. I also had a television which was really nice, particularly during the French presidential elections. Obviously the experience will largely depend upon your housemates. During my first term in Grenoble I went out several times with my housemates, one of whom had lived in Grenoble and the surrounding area her whole life, and was introduced to their friends which was a really nice introduction to the town and a great way to practice my French.
The only downside to living in an apartment was that, as my apartment was located slightly out of the main town centre, I often had no one to walk home with of an evening. Grenoble is pretty safe to walk around, even at night and the trams run until 1am, but it is something to consider.
In terms of finding an apartment, there are several ways to go about it. I found my apartment before I arrived in Grenoble via the site http://www.colocation.fr. You can make a profile and then people who have apartments can message you with details. I based most of my decision on the location of the apartment, although I did speak to one of my housemates via Skype before I signed the contract. To be honest, I think I was pretty lucky with my apartment and I would recommend taking a trip to see the apartment before you sign anything if possible.
An alternative to this is to wait until you arrive to find accommodation. There is a cheap hostel http://www.hotelformule1.com/gb/home/index.shtml where you can stay whilst you sort out permanent accommodation. The plus side of this is you get to see exactly where you will be living and you have a better idea of the layout town, although I would recommend you arrive at least a week before term starts to ensure you find a nice apartment near the centre of town as they do go quickly.
Another option is to apply for university residence and if, once here, you decide that it’s not for you then you can move sometime during the year. Christmas is generally a good time to move as there will be a new cohort of ERASMUS students arriving in January.
There are mixed reviews for both types of accommodation and in many ways this is simply due to luck of the draw. This website provides some more useful information about accommodation in Grenoble http://etu.grenoble-univ.fr/jsp/fiche_article.jsp?CODE=93912441&LANGUE=0&RH=GUETUFR_QUO.
Aside from finding an apartment, it is also important to apply for CAF as soon as you can when you arrive. CAF, Caisse d’Allocations Familiales, is a sector of the French government that provides money for those without a fixed salary to help pay for rent. For me, my rent was €400 (including bills) and I received €91 of that back in CAF money. There is a website www.caf.fr where you can calculate your approximate allowance and also fill in the application forms. However I found it useful to go to the office where you can fill in the paper work and make photocopies of the documents they require. The address is Caisse d'allocations Familiales, 3 rue des Alliés 38000. It is close to the tram stop Malherbe on tram line A. The CAF takes quite a long time to process and it requires quite a lot of paperwork but for the money you can save it is well worth it.