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Work in France

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Job

Paris street scene
Paris street scene on a typical day.

Want to work in France? Whatever your reasons, you can do it—with willpower, patience, and a little ingenuity.

First, there’s the matter of a work permit. The country's recession has made under-the-table jobs hard to find, and if you get caught working illegally the punishment is dire: immediate deportation plus a five-year ban on visiting most of Western Europe. With all the legal loopholes and exchange programs available, there's no point risking it.

Before you start your search for a job in France, ask yourself a few questions: Do you want to work short term (less than three months) or long term? What marketable skills do you have? Do you require a job in a particular field, or would you settle for almost anything? Can you go it alone, or do you want to bring your partner with you? Are you adaptable, resilient, curious? Finally, do you speak some French or have time to learn before you go?

Combining Work and Study in France

Studying in France is the perhaps the best way for young people to get the right to work. Be sure to adhere to the new Schengen visa requirements as required by France as a member of the EU. If you register independently instead of going through an exchange program, college, or art school, tuition is very low compared to U.S. costs. Even if you do go through an exchange program, you can still work. Simply put, students and teachers can often work up to 10-20 hours a week during the school year. Of course, teaching pays better than almost any other part-time job, so the limit on hours is not such a problem—especially when you discover how inexpensive France is. (Writers on France seldom mention the ridiculously low college tuition, the reasonable rent, and the public transportation that eliminates the need for a car.)

Here's how being a student works: Call the French consulate nearest your home, explain that you want to study there. This will be your first experience with French bureaucracy: the consulate may be closed for no apparent reason or arbitrarily refuse to send you what you want. As the French say, "Il faut insister."

The requirements for studying in France are: Good French language skills, college sophomore or junior standing or above (not always necessary for art schools), and proof of "sufficient financial resources." You need the statement to get your student visa. You can apply to as many universities or art schools as you want—it's free. Instead of an application form, you just send in a letter—in French, of course—and whatever other documents each university requires. Once you're accepted, you send your acceptance letter, proof of resources, passport, etc. to your consulate. After a week or so, your passport should come back with the student visa in it. Try not to buy a ticket beforehand because if there's a glitch in your visa application you may need to postpone your departure.

Once you have an address in France and have registered for classes, you can apply for your carte de séjour, the French equivalent of a green card. You should get it in two to three months. Once it's in your hands, you can apply for a job. Meanwhile, you have to be able to support yourself without a job. Once you have papers and a job, the Direction Départementale du Travail will give you a form for your future employer to fill out. You return the form and a letter explaining why you want to work (don’t say it’s because you're short on money).

If they feel you would be taking a job from a French person, you probably won't get it. The key is to find jobs most French people couldn't get--teaching English, translating, providing cultural orientation to French people who are moving to America, giving guided tours in English or whatever other language you know, etc. Just brainstorm: how would employing you help a French company compete? How would working for a French company deepen your knowledge of France and make you a better French teacher when you return to America? If you can't think of a good reason, make one up. If it sounds pro-French and has been checked by an educated French person to eliminate mistakes, you're nine-tenths of the way there.

Career-Track Jobs in France

If you already have a career in America, there are two other ways to work in France. First, if you work for a multinational company, you can request a transfer to France. Your company takes care of the details and often provides an expat package, covering all moving costs and often pays for schooling of children.

If you’re a high-tech wizard, super-executive, or an entertainer, your skills may be so in demand that the right French company will be willing to handle all the paperwork for you. Disneyland Paris,, formerly EuroDisney, is known for its willingness to hire Americans in both artistic and administrative posts. I know an opera singer who's now earning upwards of $40,000 a year at Disneyland Paris for part-time work. He spends half his time singing country and western songs in a Disneyland bar and the other half in an arena being pursued by buffalo during the nightly Buffalo Bill Revue. He views this as a stepping stone to "real" work. The "Skills and Talents" card is your ticket, though not easy to acquire, like all else in France.

Whatever your special skill or niche, careful research is what you need to find a French company willing to hire you.

Tricks of the Trade

Not enough money to meet "sufficient financial resources" requirement? Surely someone can write that notarized statement for you. If not, then either apply for some credit cards or use the ones you have. Use balance transfer checks to transfer credit card money into your bank account to meet the requirement--as of this writing, it should come to about $6,000 a year. Now ask your bank for a letter that says you have that in your account. A statement works as well as a letter, as long as it does not show that you put $6,000 in there all at once. Now, send the bank’s letter or statement along with your visa application as proof of financial resources. Voila.

Not enough money to live on while waiting for a job? If you're going to be an independent student in France, only apply to universities that make you eligible for financial aid. (Contact the U.S. Department of Education for specifics.) Then apply for a student loan. If you can't get financial aid, try a scholarship or grant. If all else fails, postpone your trip to France long enough to get a job and save up. If you absolutely can't wait, of course, you could live off credit cards. (Note: bring some traveler’s checks if you want, but the easiest way to spend your American money in France is with a credit card or via ATMs. French ATMs are free and they convert dollars from your American account into francs at a better exchange rate--with no commission--than you'd find anywhere else. If you have a Visa debit card or one with the Cirrus logo on the back, all you need to use French ATMs is a four-digit PIN code.)

French banks won't let you open an account (unless you're a student at a French university) until you have a job. Forget about opening a checking account unless you're very good at handling your money. If you bounce a single check in France, it goes on your record. A savings account with a "carte de retrait" (ATM card) is all you need; since French ATMs don't charge you to use them, it costs nothing.

No health insurance? When you apply for your carte de séjour you must prove you have health insurance as per the Schengen visa guidelines.

You don't speak much French? Well, learn. You have to learn it sometime; if you're going to work in France, you might as well start now. Take French classes, rent French movies, buy French language courses on cassette or CD-ROM, trade English lessons for French ones with any French speakers you know. (Note: if you're going to France, learn French from a European French speaker.)

No student visa? If Council looks like the right program you, but you don't have the time or money to go back home to apply for a visa, remember that people who live fairly far from their region's French consulate usually apply for student visas by mail. Get all the documents you need for a student visa together and send them, along with your passport, to a person you trust in your hometown to send to your local French consulate. A week or so later, the consulate will send it back with the visa inside. As with all important documents send it in a way that's traceable. During the time your passport's gone, you should lay low, behave, and always carry some official form of ID with you. You're supposed to carry your passport with you at all times in France, but if you carry ID, you’ll be off with a warning if you do get stopped.

Cultural and Practical Job Tips

Applying for the job: Follow the French resume format and get yours written or at least corrected by an educated native speaker of French. If you can't find any in your town, ask the consulate or scan the web for a qualified translator to do it for you. A more low-budget option is to surf the web for educated French people, offering to write or correct their resumes in English in exchange for yours in French. In France cover letters are (gulp) hand written. So write your letter, have a French person check it, then use your nicest handwriting and a good black pen on unlined paper. Photos are very much appreciated on resumes in France. The standard format is wallet size or a little smaller.

The interview: Unless the job is brutish manual labor, don't dress down. On second thought, don't dress down even if the job involves slopping pigs on a farm. To French people, the American idea of dressing down looks like a homeless person who just finished a once-a-year trip to the laundromat. Even for McDonald's, dress like you would for a corporate job interview in America. Here are the basic rules:

  • Dress up. Tame that wild hairdo; wear a little makeup (if you're female) but not too much; no tee-shirts, sandals, sneakers or boots, and so on.
  • Carry a nice bag (briefcase, purse, laptop computer bag). Even small children carry briefcases in France. Backpacks are for camping.
  • Shake hands if the interviewer is standing up and close enough to do so. Don't do the big, pumping, manly American handshake. Just once up and down.
  • Don't sit down until you’re invited to; it's bad manners.

Aside from that, you should act pretty much like you would at an American job interview: be yourself, except very polite. You will be asked the same kinds of questions, but they may be more personal ones than American law permits: marital status, child-bearing plans, etc.

Related Topics
Short-Term Jobs in France
Living in France: Articles and Key Resources
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