Freelance Work in France
Freedom and Croissants on the French Riviera
Nice from above.
Moving to the French Riviera. Ditching that 9-to-5, working-for-someone-else grind. These don’t have to be mere daydreams. With planning, a lot of research, and overcoming a pile of government red tape, they are realistic and rewarding goals.
Unless you live in the European Union it is next to impossible to get a work permit for France. And it may be almost as challenging to start a business here. But if you really want to move to the South of France you can join the ranks of the “enterprise individuelle” (freelance) worker. You won’t need an employer in France willing to fork over cash and bend over backwards to get you in, like you do for a work permit. You won’t need a stash of cash to prove your fledgling French company has capital, as you would to start some companies.
You will, however, need an endless supply of patience, some money to live on, and a roster of clients. Here are the key steps:
Bring Some Money
The standard rule before starting a freelance business is to have six months worth of money stashed away. For freelancing on the Riviera, there are a couple of reasons to consider that making 6-month allotment even higher.
There is money involved in applying for your long-stay visa. You will also need to prove you have enough money stashed away and income coming in to support yourself while in France. The French government does not like to reveal what the minimum amount is, but plan to at least prove you will have "proof of sufficient funds," which consists in a bank statement. You will also have extra expenses when you arrive in France. Applying for the carte de sejour, or residence card, now costs Americans 340 euros each. French law mandates that a tenant provide a 2-month deposit for an apartment. Since you will also have to pay that first month upfront and probably a real estate agent fee of one month’s rent, assume you will need four months’ worth of rent immediately. You can get a good idea of rental prices in the area where you plan to move by searching at www.seloger.com. Rent along the Riviera can be quite expensive, so be sure to investigate the smaller towns.
Before you even move past this step, estimate all your savings and revenue sources and make a detailed budget.
Even though freelancing is simpler than setting up a corporation, it is still fraught with the typical French bureaucracy. You can avoid a lot of trouble and confusion by simply asking for help. While many of the agencies below have sites either in French only or with limited English, they do answer email questions in English and can be a key resource. The American Chamber of Commerce in France site is in English.
You don’t want to arrive in France and then start marketing your business. It can take a while to get established and find a steady revenue stream. Even if you have to work fulltime while still in your home country, try to devote as much time as possible to your new freelance business. Focus special attention on potential clients who are unlikely to care about your work location and on companies that would prefer having someone in France. For the latter, stress the benefits of your presence in Europe. France’s Silicon Valley, the town of Sophia Antipolis, for instance, is on the Riviera.
Get Your Visa
Now is the time to brace for your first encounter with French civil servants. While they have a horrible reputation, I have found that they can be abundantly helpful. You will need a whole string of documents to seek your long-stay visa, and you should save copies or even originals of everything. When you apply for your residence card, after arriving on the Riviera, you will need them all again. To determine what type of visa you need and which documents you will need, visit the local French consulate for your country or visit the government site for French visa information and applications.
Banner for best ice cream (café below) in Nice.
Living in the Riviera
Once you arrive, you will need to register for your residence card and as an enterprise individuelle. URSSAF is the organization that registers the self-employed and enrolls them in the French social security benefits scheme (which includes health insurance coverage). You will apply for your residence card, or carte de sejour, at the nearest prefecture.
Don’t neglect networking and advertising. Even if you have a solid list of clients back home, you can find new work in France.
You should consider meeting with other like-minded English-speaking business owners and freelancers. The French system can be confusing and intimidating. Getting advice from people who have learned the hard way is incredibly helpful. Visit the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie in Grasse or the Conseil général des Alpes-Maritimes in Nice for suggestions.
The path to being your own boss on the Riviera is not without obstacles. The rewards, however, are vast. Don’t feel like working one day? Relax on the Mediterranean, sipping wine at a waterfront café. Even a bad day working on the French Riviera is better than a good day off in most places. At least you can nibble delicious chocolate croissants while you plow through the work.