Work opportunities for expats in France

Are you allowed to work in France?

If you want to live and work in France, and you're an EU, EEA or Swiss national, there's no paperwork to do. You have the right to work, and the right to self-employment. You'll need to get a job, or get your business started (with any relevant permits or regulatory authorisations), but that's it.

If you come from elsewhere, you need to get the right work permit and visa sorted out before you come. For anyone who is being transferred in-company, or has successfully applied for a job in France from abroad, this will mean getting your employer in France to arrange a permit with DIRECCTE (and to start the process for any accompanying family members at the same time); once your work contract has been approved, it goes to OFII (the immigration authority), and it will then be sent to the French embassy or consulate in your home country, where you need to apply for your visa.

Things have been changing in recent years. 2016 saw the introduction of a 'Talent Passport' scheme, with varying requirements depending on exactly which section you use, which applies to skilled recent graduates, employees of innovation companies, scientists, artistic professions, and others. It's particularly useful for higher earners and entrepreneurs, and includes holders of EU Blue Cards (who need to earn at least 1.5 times the French average salary - that adds up to about EUR 54,000 a year).

There's also a category for those with an international reputation - that could apply to technology innovators, museum curators, or writers and journalists, for instance - as well as one for those who want to create a business. They need to commit at least EUR 30,000 of investment in commercial, artisan or industrial activities, and provide a convincing business plan.

It's also possible to apply for a seasonal working permit, but the restrictions are tight; the contract needs to be for more than three months and less than six, and you can't bring your family. Good for single ski instructors or windsurfing professionals - not so good for middle managers with children.


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BusinessmenIt is not easy to find a job in France

Assuming you've got your paperwork in order, where are the best opportunities? It's not always easy to find a job in France; unemployment is relatively high at just over 9%, and youth unemployment is significantly higher. Besides, many French graduates speak very good English, so language skills are not the advantage they might be in some other European countries.

If you're fortunate enough to be employed in any area of high tech, from advanced materials or robotics through to video games creation or information technology, you've got a good chance of finding a job in France - not only are these thriving sectors, but Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurial and tech talent is well regarded. Banking and finance are also cosmopolitan sectors that recruit from abroad, and there may be even better opportunities for Anglophones post-Brexit, as Paris seems to be winning more than its fair share of finance jobs from the City.

Office workersWorking environment

However, you should be warned that the French working environment may be different from what you're used to. The good news is that the 35 hour week is pretty standard - there's no pressure to be in the office before the boss gets there or after she leaves - and the work-life balance is the best in Europe. (You may end up working 45 hours weeks, if you're a professional, but you'll be compensated with extra rest days.) The bad news is that French work culture is highly hierarchical and formal, and innovation isn't always encouraged; career paths also tend to be very structured, so for instance there's limited opportunity to move between functions in a company, for instance between finance and operational management.

That may be a reason that many expats decide to make their way as self-employed owner-managers of a gite, bar or restaurant. Some fail, but many succeed and greatly enjoy their new lives. The keys to success are doing your research first - looking at the local area and the competition before you decide to buy, and perhaps deciding on offering a speciality like equestrian holidays rather than just a general holiday property. It's surprising how many purchasers don't do this, and many of them fail. Remember, too, that the high season in many parts of France is limited to just a couple of summer months.

Woman at workJobs in expat community

Other expats provide services for the expat community; estate agents, relocation agents, property managers, insurance agents, translators, and even immigration lawyers. That can work well in the major cities, where there's a large community of expatriate workers, but also in areas like the Dordogne, Charente-Maritime and Provence, where there are large numbers of foreign retirees and holiday home owners.

Giving language lessons can also be a good way for Anglophones and others to make a living - particularly those with one or two more obscure but useful languages (Japanese, Chinese or Spanish, for instance). But watch out for language schools that want to employ teachers on a self-employed ('auto-entrepreneur') basis, which deprives them of most of their rights as an employee, and puts them first in the firing line if there's not enough business.

Meanwhile, some professionals, such as journalists and IT workers, may find they can work remotely. Others, like architects and doctors, will find there are openings for them - but only, realistically, if their French is at a reasonable level.

It's also worth considering an approach to Pole Emploi, the French employment service. They not only provide a clearing-house for job vacancies, but can also point applicants in the direction of relevant training, such as local FLE (Français Langue Etrangère - French as a foreign language) courses.

Working in France may represent something of a bureaucratic challenge, and you'll need to know the right way to go about finding a job or setting up your business. But for most people who are willing to make the move, the right niche exists - it's just a matter of finding it.