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Living in France

Finding an apartment, Finding a school

Finding a Job

Finding a job in France isn't easy, especially for expatriates. The way the French system is organized makes it hard for anyone to find long-term salaried employment.

A further set of barriers stand in the way of people from abroad, but the fact that you speak English is a big plus. This six-page dossier covers everything, from what kind of job to aim for to what sort of legal framework to adopt if you set up on your own. 

Unemployment levels in France are falling, but they are still relatively high. This makes it hard for anyone to find a job in most sectors. The French labor market is also much less flexible than in the US and UK. The salarié with a permanent employment contract (Contrat Durée Indeterminée, CDI--see page 26) enjoys very high levels of legal protection. Anyone who has been responsible for hiring people in France will be quick to tell you about how difficult it is to fire even the most incompetent and lazy employees. This legal protection is great once you have a salaried position, but it also means that employers are very reluctant to hire people on a CDI contract.

One route into a permanent position involves proving your worth over a series of stages, or internships. These can occasionally be unpaid, but are sometimes quite well remunerated and are to all extents and purposes like a real job--except that they are less permanent. It is not unusual for people still to be doing stages, up to the age of 30 and beyond. People move up the career ladder more slowly in France.

Graduate training schemes like the ones run by many companies in the UK are far less widespread. If you study English Literature or History in France, then you are most likely planning to become a teacher. Degrees are more often followed by vocational courses at the individual's or the state's expense, rather than training courses run by the company.

Finding work through contacts, or pistons, is much more widespread in France than in the US or UK. As an outsider, you probably won't have many well-placed French executives in your address book, ready to slot you in to a cushy well-paid job. For posts that specifically require Anglo-Saxons, this shouldn't be such a big problem, as your competitors won't either. 

Add to this the obvious disadvantages that an outsider faces--language problems, cultural differences, the difficulty of getting a work permit, and your general unfamiliarity with the market, and things start to seem a little bleak. In your favor, though, you have a perfect command of English, experience of working abroad, and possibly experience in a sector which is just developing in France, like information technology. Every year, tens of thousands of English speakers get jobs in all kinds of sectors in France, and there's no reason why you shouldn't join them.

Teaching, Typing, Serving Beer

There are some areas where English speakers can nearly always find work. A very large proportion of English speakers in France work either as teachers, au pairs, secretaries or barmen. Even people who literally don't speak a word of French can find some sort of paid employment in one of these four sectors.

Paris, and most other large cities are full of English, Irish, Scottish, American and Australian theme pubs and bars, which generally employ English speakers. Just walk in during the afternoon and ask the barman if they need any more staff. Employees are usually hired after a trial period, which can be as much as ten days long, either on half pay or with little or no tips. Wages should be in the region of 40F to 45F per hour, and working conditions can be harsh. Herman, barman at the Financier and Firkin in the 14th, found the French relatively intolerant towards those trying to get into the job market in France. His advice is to "make full use of the informal system of su pport represented by the expat communities in Paris, who are in an ideal position to advise and help those recently arrived." Be aware, however, that bar work is often regarded as a profession in France, so finding work in French bars will not be easy, and good French will be essential.


Teaching English is a massive growth business in France, with a staggering number of more or less scrupulous language schools falling over themselves to hire anyone who speaks English. Most schools will only hire people with some sort of experience, but they are not always thorough about checking. Ideally, though, you will have a TEFL certificate or some equivalent qualification. Being able to speak French is less important.

The minimum wage a qualified teacher can expect is 100F per hour. "Be very selective when you choose a school, though," says Sean, who has been teaching in France for ten months. "If you're a good teacher you can afford to be choosy. Also some schools are very bad at paying. If you have one bad experience of not being paid on time, it might be better to look elsewhere." One option to consider is setting yourself up as a travailleur indépendent--a freelance worker. You will be paid 200-250F per hour, but you will be responsible for meeting all your own social security bills. See page 26 for details.

Au pair

English speaking au pairs are more and more in demand, from parents ambitious for their offspring to grow up speaking English. The deals available vary very widely, but you will usually be expected to look after children and do a range of cleaning and other chores. Most au pairs are female, but male au pairs are not unknown. Au pairs are not, legally speaking, in employment, but rather, on a cultural exchange. They are paid 400F per week, plus their travel passes, and the family also pays their social security contributions. It is possible to negotiate a deal privately, but going through an agency is generally preferred, as it provides a formal support network, and takes care of the legal aspect. One such agency is NAPP. The service they provide is free for the au pair, except in their overseas offices, where a nominal administrative charge is imposed to cover costs. NAPP also provides an emergency service for au pairs who have, for whatever reason, left their initial family. For the 'do-it-yourself' approach, there will usually be adverts at the American Church and the American Cathedral in Paris. Non-French families however do not have the right to take on au pairs, as the point of the cultural exchange is to provide a basis for language learning. French families generally want English speaking au pairs, so that their children will grow up in a bilingual environment, so visiting anglophones are highly sought after! The classified ads section on has regular adverts for au pairs, and is a very effective way to find an au pair job from outside France.


 The last twelve months have seen an ever-increasing demand for competent bilingual secretaries and personal assistants, and it is now almost impossible to open any French newspaper or magazine without being bombarded by large glossy adverts for secretaries. Companies such as Manpower and Plus Intérim have even gone as far as to establish dedicated offices to recruit this new super breed of secretary. It is envisaged that with the ever-evolving European job market, this demand can only increase in years to come.

Obviously, a certain standard of French is mandatory, and few are the employers who do not expect at least a nominal level of computing competence. Truly bilingual secretaries are very much at a premium, as are those able to demonstrate a real mastery of electronic media.

A truly bilingual pa can expect to earn over 200,000F (about 33,000 US$) per annum. But in addition to being bilingual she will be expected to liaise with the clientele, do the accounts and to be completely computer competent. 

Recruiting Agencies 

Recruiting agencies are certainly a good way to start out, particularly if you have never worked in France before. They will test your skills and place you in their files, but it is important to be available for interview at short notice, as the entire recruitment process moves quickly. In Paris in particular, there is a large number of anglophone law and consulting firms who regularly recruit through agencies. It is not uncommon for the 'missions' provided to turn into full time jobs after the initial two or three-month period agreed upon between you and the agency. A final cautionary word--your working papers absolutely must be in order for the agency to even consider your application. See page 26 for our guide to your legal working status.

Personal Profile: Fleur

For English native speakers with confirmed language and secretarial skills, a period of time abroad can add valuable points to your resume and greatly broaden your work experience, not to mention your language skills.

Fleur worked for four years as a secretary in her native London before taking the plunge and coming to work in Paris. 'The career ladder is a lot harder to climb in France than in England,' she says. Whereas in London, Fleur worked for four years at the same company, in Paris she has had four jobs, through three different agencies in that same time period.

Fleur gave a mixed response on the subject of recruiting agencies. "I think that they've come a long way since I first arrived in France. At the outset, the agencies weren't really geared up to dealing with English people in a separate way from the French. But I feel that they've made a lot of progress since then, and the response I had from my last agency, Femmes et Carrières, found me several interviews, and hence this job. In addition, they keep in touch, and monitor how things are proceeding, to make sure there are no problems." 

It is true that agencies unused to dealing with other nationalities than French can hide behind the kind of bureaucracy for which France is renowned. Fleur's advice was to equip yourself with as much official paperwork as you can, and above all, to be patient. In addition, she recommended going through an agency experienced in dealing with anglophones, such as Femmes et Carrières. They are in an excellent position to deal with the problems most commonly experienced by anglophones, assessing their skills, and arranging interviews.

In the course of the last four years, Fleur has had a real taste of French business. But why did she choose to come to Paris rather than staying in London? "Even though my salary here is lower now than it would have been had I stayed in England, I think that the quality of life is much higher. For one thing, the cost of living is lower, and Paris is relatively small and easily accessible. In addition, the social life is excellent, so meeting people and relaxing after work is no problem."

Although the bulk of the posts filed through recruitment agencies are for short-term missions, they do occasionally recruit for permanent contracts. Fleur has recently succeeded in finding a position as assistant to the VP of network services of an international company, and is set to immerse herself more fully into the world of French business. 

One final question--when does she envisage going home? "Well, at the moment, I have no immediate plans to return to England," she laughs. "Ask me again in a few years' time..."

White Collar jobs : Fact or Fiction in France?

If secretarial positions, teaching English, or taking the odd baby-sitting or bartending job don't tickle your fancy and you have some credentials and experience under your belt, then try your hand at the long and sometimes perilous road to getting 'a real job' in France.

Regulated Industries

Not all employment sectors are open
to foreigners. For example doctors, lawyers and accountants (experts comptables) must pass the appropriate examinations before practising in France. Often however, larger partnerships that provide services to multinational companies seek out professionals who know the judicial and financial nuances of another country. In this way your expertise in your home country can serve as a strong point in favor of being hired. Other regulated industries include para-medical professionals (physical therapists, nurses, opticians), architects, and certain artisans (butchers, bakers, carpenters, electricians, etc.). In general, non professional 'white collar' jobs such as managers, sales professionals, or technical specialists do not have any current restrictions.

The Key: Network, Network, Network

Scouring the local papers for your ideal position may help you, but a larger majority of the anglophone population in France find their jobs through networking. As the old adage goes, 'Its not what you know, its who you know'.

Contact your home country's local chamber of commerce, alumni associations, or other educational or cultural associations that interest you. Getting known is at this stage, more important than knowing something. You will have to prove your competencies once you get the job. Tell as many people as you can what type of work you are seeking. If your networking resources are limited, try this tactic: Contact anglophones in the industry here in which you would like to obtain a position. Ask them for an informational interview and be clear with them that you will not take more than a half hour of their time. Besides having someone in the industry review your resume for you, you can also ask for possible contacts, ideas, or professional networking opportunities they know about. Generally speaking, people will gladly give you their opinion if they are clear you are NOT asking them to hire you. Never leave your informational interview without gleaning at least one additional contact more than you had.

Need a Hand? Get a Coach

Finding a satisfying, challenging job in France can happen. For anglophones, the trick is to know how to make your 'difference' your strength and not to compete directly with the 3,000,000 unemployed French nationals for the same job. Confused about how to begin? Getting the advice of a career coach can help. Unlike career counselors, or the French bilan des competences, coaches don't tell you what you should do, but rather act as a focalizing agent for your search. Their job: help you think more clearly about what type of job you want and why you want it before you start sending out dozens of resumes. The result: you learn to target those companies whose values and working style match your own.

So, fact or fiction? The fact is that the work is out there for anglophones in France. Having the job come to you in the traditional way is the fiction. Get your Rolodexes out, ready. One, two, three, network!

 Author: Lizbeth Robinson - a management consultant and executive coach who works with companies and individuals to discover their "right livelihood". She has just completed The Practical Guide to Working in France, an on-line guide geared for those just starting their job search here.

Ms. Robinson can be reached at:
Where to look? 

  • Newspapers/Journals

* Emploi et Carrieres: Available Wednesdays. In French but a huge selection of management, IT, and sales and marketing

* International Herald Tribune: Daily. The Monday "Intermarket" section is your best bet. 

  • Internet Sources

* Emploi-Travail:

* The Practical Guide to Working in France:

* E-Mail Jobs: 

* Parisfranceguide: 

  • Head Hunters

* Michael Page: 159, Ave. Achille Peretti,

* Buckman Consulting: 14 Blvd. Poissonniere, 75009 Paris Fax: 

  • Network Associations

* Professional Womens' Network: Avivah Whittenberg Cox

* Center for Awareness and Action gives workshops on personal and professional development (for independents, consultants and start-ups only)

* Business Development Network International Contact: Elizabeth de Vulpillieres

Salary or Freelance?


Companies are more and more reluctant to hire salariés, as it is extremely expensive. A variety of government exemptions, clever schemes and in some case law breaking are reducing the number of paid positions available. For anglophones, the most likely situation is to be seconded by a US of UK company, to work in France for a certain period of time. 

Contrat à durée indéterminée is the most secure form of employment in France. In the absence of a written contract, a verbal agreement and a salary slip can count as a CDI. The contract is not usually considered binding to both parties until a trial period of three months has elapsed. 

If you quit your job you are required to hand in your resignation in writing, by registered mail. A period of notice, ranging from a week to three months, will usually be required. 

If your employer decides to terminate the contract, then you are allowed to spend two hours per day during the notice period looking for alternative employment. An employment contract can only be terminated for a good reason; otherwise you can take legal action against the company. The body which deals with all such complaints is Prud'homme. (27, rue Louis Leblanc, 10th).

Contrat à durée déterminée (CDD) is a fixed-term contract, which allows employers to hire and fire more easily, and removes many of the employee's rights. 

 Travailleur Indépendant

If you hate working for a boss, or no boss will take you, it might be time to strike out on your own. From yoga teacher to baker, artist to Orthopedic consultant, there's quite literally thousands of ways to make a living for yourself in Paris. The term 'travailleur indépendant' (TI) covers a range of different legal frameworks, from authors to small businesses. The problem is finding the one that suits you best. The factors to consider are hassle, possible risks and tax. 

L'Entreprise Individuelle - This is the simplest and most common legal framework for individual businesses, and over 70 per cent of TI are established under this system. There are no associates, and no starting capital is required. The problem is that the owner of an Entreprise Individuelle is entirely and individually responsible for any debt that the company incurs. So it's not suitable for the kind of project that might go belly-up and incur lots of debts. There are three categories of Entreprise Individuelle: artisans, commerçants (shopkeepers and the like) and liberal professions, including medecine, law, and teaching. They involve slightly different establishment procedures, and different social security regimes.

Personal Profile: Amanda

Amanda has been teaching English in Paris for over a year now, while she tries to break into TV. She works as a travailleur indépendante, so she gets paid between 150F and 200F per hour for teaching, but she has to look after her own social security affairs. 

"You have to be very careful", she says. "Unless you have regular freelance work, it's just not worth it. You have to pay all your own contributions to URSSAF (the agency which oversees the French social security system), as well as medical and retirement insurance, and then you have to pay income tax on top. You should allow about half your income for charges like these, so you need to be bringing in at least 12,000F a month freelance to have enough to live on.

"It's a lot of administrative hassle, as well as a lot of money. The first time you phone up URSSAF, make sure you get the direct line of the person who answers your call. Otherwise you will have to spend 30 minutes waiting on the phone every time you call. Besides, if you deal with the same person every time, they get to know you."

Les Sociétés de Portage

These offer a more temporary solution. If you find a consultant-type job, but you have no legal framework under which to submit a bill, a société de portage will submit the bill and then pay you as a salaried employee with a CDD. They will pay your social security obligations, and keep between 8 to 12 per cent for themselves. Certain professions, such as accountants, cannot be included in this rubric, but it's ideal for people who are setting themselves up as indépendants.

The other option is to establish your own company. This is not to be undertaken lightly. Contact Créa Conseil for more information and help with setting up a business in France ( 

It is worth remembering that the director of a company loses many of the rights that an employee has. He still has to pay contributions to social security and so on, but cannot claim unemployment benefits if the company goes under. Worse, he can sometimes be pursued for the company's debts, even if it is supposedly a limited company. 

Visas for non-EU citizens

Unless you have very specialized skills that cannot be found easily in France, landing a job here without a work permit can be next to impossible. Speaking three or more languages fluently, or having skills in information technology (such as SAP, ERP or network administration) will be well received. Extensive experience in managing a large international company will also be highly regarded.

However, next to impossible is not impossible. Debbie, an American from California, landed a job within three weeks working for a small high-tech startup firm just outside of Paris. "The job almost fell into my lap. Someone whom I had just met put me in touch with the PDG who was American. They were looking for someone who could deal with their German clientele. Since my spoken German was fluent and my background in high tech marketing was compatible, they took me without hesitation. I was working three days after my interview".

Though many headhunting agencies refuse candidates without a work permit, some will take a chance on a candidate whose credentials set them apart from the others. Take note: you will need to convince the headhunter not only that you are a salable candidate, but that you are worth the price and the hassle the company must go through to get you working papers. 

In theory, however, you have to have paid employment approved by the Ministry of Labor, arranged before you arrive. You should also have a long stay visa. The French authorities won't allow you to come to France as a tourist and change your status to that of a worker once you get here.

The process is as follows: Your prospective employer must obtain the authorization of the French Ministry of Labor. You can then apply for a long stay visa, and, when you get this, you can book your tickets for France. Once you're in France, you have to apply for one of two documents: 

* A Carte de Séjour/Résident/Travail Valid for one year maximum. This specifies which département and which professions the bearer is allowed to work in.

* A Carte de Résident is valid for ten years, with no restrictions as to profession or location. This is only available to someone who can prove that they have been resident for ten years.

Easy ways round

Spouses of French citizens are entitled to a carte de résident. Students who have studied in France for more than two years, and whose parents have been resident for more than four years, are also in a privileged position. Anyone who has been in France for more than ten years with a carte de résident also has the right to work in France. 

Students and au pairs: Americans enrolled in French Universities are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the term time and 39 hours per week during the summer vacation. Summer work must not exceed three months, beginning on or after June 1 and ending before October 31. Proof of student status will of course be required. Anyone under 30 who is prepared to work as an au pair can also get a work permit.

 The Irish Grandmother technique

This is the system many non-EU citizens use. Anyone who can get hold of a passport from any EU country automatically has the right to work in France. Many Americans can trace their ancestry back to a European country. The most common is Ireland, which has very liberal laws on citizenship. If you have an Irish parent, you can simply turn up at the nearest Irish embassy and apply for a passport. You don't even need to register as a citizen. Generally you will be asked for your birth certificate, your parents' birth certificates and your parents' marriage certificate. If you only have an Irish grandparent, you are not automatically a citizen, but must register your citizenship. This is done by producing all of the documentation (relevant birth and marriage certificates) to either an Irish embassy or consulate, or to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. Technically this is an application for registration in the foreign births record book. Once this has been done you can apply for a passport. If your spouse has an Irish passport (or even a grandparent), you can get an Irish passport so long as you have been married for three years.

By contrast, someone with a British grandfather, born outside the UK to a father born outside the UK, cannot claim a British passport on the basis of that grandfather's British citizenship. Obviously, getting French citizenship is an option too. Anyone born in the US to parents who were Italian at the time of the birth is entitled to Italian citizenship--but beware! Italy still has military service! 

Commonwealth Countries

Citizens of the EU normally have the right to work anywhere in the Union, including France. However, this does not include Commonwealth citizens with the right of abode in the UK, but without British citizenship. 

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