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Living and Working in France

What you need to know if you want to live and work in France

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Red tape in France
Andrew Bret Wallis / Getty
One common trait among people who study French is a desire to live and possibly work in France. Many dream of this, but not many succeed in actually doing it. I have personally tried and failed more than once. Just what is it that makes it so difficult to live in France?

First of all, like other countries, France is concerned about too much immigration. Many people come to France from poorer countries to find work - either legally or illegally. With high unemployment in France, the government is not eager to give jobs to immigrants, they want the available jobs to go to French citizens. In addition, France is worried about the impact of immigrants on social services - there is only so much money to go around, and the government wants citizens to receive it. Finally, France is infamous for its extensive red tape, which can make everything from buying a car to renting an apartment an administrative nightmare.

So with these difficulties in mind, let's look at how someone can get permission to live and work in France.


Visiting France

It's easy for citizens of most countries* to visit France - upon arrival, they receive a tourist visa which allows them to stay in France for up to 90 days, but not to work or to receive any social benefits. In theory, when the 90 days are up, these people can travel to a country outside the European Union, have their passports stamped, and then return to France with a new tourist visa. They might be able to do this for a while, but it's not really legal.

*Depending on your home country, you may need a French visa even for a short visit.

Someone who wants to live in France long term without working or going to school should apply for a visa de long séjour. Among other things, a visa de long séjour requires a financial guarantee (to prove that the applicant will not be a drain on the state), medical insurance, and police clearance.


Working in France

European Union citizens can legally work in France. Foreigners outside of the EU must do the following, in this order

  • Find a job
  • Obtain a work permit
  • Obtain a visa de long séjour
  • Go to France
  • Apply for a carte de séjour
For anyone who is not from an EU country, finding a job in France is extremely difficult, for the simple reason that France has a very high unemployment rate and will not give a job to a foreigner if a citizen is qualified. France's membership in the European Union adds another twist to this: France gives first priority for jobs to French citizens, then to EU citizens, and then to the rest of the world. In order for, say, an American to get a job in France, s/he essentially has to prove that s/he is more qualified than anyone in the European Union. Therefore, the people with the best odds of working in France tend to be those in highly specialized fields, as there may not be enough qualified Europeans to fill these types of positions.

Work permit - Receiving permission to work is also difficult. Theoretically, if you are hired by a French company, the company will do the paperwork for your work permit. In reality, it's a Catch-22. I've never been able to find a company that is willing to do this - they all say that you have to have the work permit before they will hire you, but since having a job is a prerequisite for obtaining the work permit, it's impossible. Therefore, there are really only two ways to get a work permit: (a) Prove that you are more qualified than anyone in Europe, or (b) Get hired by an international company that has branches in France and get transferred over, because their sponsorship will allow them to obtain the permit for you. Note that they will still have to demonstrate that a French person could not do the job you are being imported to do.

Other than the above route, there are basically two ways to get permission to live and work in France.

1. Student visa - If you are accepted to a school in France and meet the financial requirements (a monthly financial guarantee of approximately $600), your chosen school will help you to obtain a student visa. In addition to giving you permission to live in France for the duration of your studies, student visas allow you to apply for temporary work permits, which give you the right to work for a limited number of hours per week. One common job for students is an au pair position.

2. Marry a French citizen - To some extent, marriage will facilitate your efforts to obtain French citizenship, but you will still need to apply for a carte de séjour and deal with abundant paperwork. In other words, marriage will not automatically make you a French citizen.

As a last resort, it is possible to find work that pays under the table; however, this is more difficult than it might seem and is, of course, illegal.


Do you live in France? Tell us how you did it.

Do you want to live in France? Read how others did it: Stories about living in France
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