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Becoming French 101: How to Live and Work in France

Making Magique & Janellie

During my recent visit to the U.S., my sister told everyone that I live in Paris just to marvel at their reactions.

“Just stick a dagger in my heart, why don’t you,” came the response from a cosmetics salesman. “I’d give anything to live in Paris…” It garnered me bonus points in San Francisco’s chic boutiques and even scored us a table at an impossible-to-book restaurant. “My sister’s just in from Paris… hoping you might have something for us at eight?” Pas de problème.

bestarns

Every expat who lives here knows the feeling. Why? Because Paris is the culmination of our romantic dreams, the city upon which we project our fantasies of a life well lived. We’re the lucky ones who’ve somehow pulled it off. But how?

Galou

For every foreigner living in Paris – upwards of 310,000 according to the Marie de Paris – there are as many tales of how we achieved it. But there are commonalities that could help you realize your own Parisian dreams. Here are some facts about living and working in France for anyone seriously contemplating la vie en rose.

j.rakkolainen

Tourist visa. First, the easy – albeit not totally legal – way to “live” in France. When traveling to France from most countries, you will receive a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival. This entitles you to stay legally for up to three months but not to work or receive any social benefits (including healthcare). Before your 90 days are up, travel to another non-European Union country, get a passport stamp, and come back to France where you’ll be issued another tourist visa. I know people (who shall remain nameless) who’ve managed to live in Paris this way for years. Trouble is, you cannot be legally employed here. Independent wealth – or income from your home country – is kind of a prerequisite.

Sara Berger

Visa de long séjour. For those willing and able to live in France without working or studying, you can apply for a long stay visa and then a carte de séjour once you’re here. Be warned: This is not for the faint of heart. It requires proof of financial resources, private medical insurance, police clearance and massive documentation. The process begins at your local French consulate and continues on French soil at the Prefecture de Police. The good news is that navigating this process will give you true insight into the French psyche (not to mention its byzantine bureaucracy and those who staff it). But if you’re planning a longer stay to, say, start a business or take a sabbatical, this is the way to go. Let the bureaucratic battles begin!

Darice & Making Magique

Student visa. “I came as a student and never left…” It’s a common refrain among expats and remains one of the best ways to get here then figure out a way to stay. How? You must be accepted to a school in France (or an exchange program through your university) and demonstrate a financial guarantee of about $600 a month. Then it’s mostly up to your program to obtain the visa for you. The upside here is that in addition to living here legally, student visa holders can apply for temporary work permits to be employed for a number of hours per week. Remember what they say about a “foot in the door?” A temporary position has at least the possibility of leading to gainful employment – and the coveted work visa that comes along with it.

brunotto [Still very busy...]

Work visa. Ah, the French work visa, the holy grail of living and working in France. Sought by many but secured only by a lucky few, this is perhaps the toughest route to living in France long-term. Why? Competition. EU residents (and the countless native English-speakers among them) have an automatic legal right to work in France. So for a French (or international) company to hire you, they will have to prove to the government why you are better qualified for the job than a French national or an EU citizen. It’s a tough case to make – and an expensive one. A better bet is to get hired in the U.S. and get transferred to France. That way, your employer gets the work visa for you.

Carin Olsson

On a hopeful note, Paris is home to many international agencies where English is the lingua franca, UNESCO, the OECD and the International Energy Agency (IEA) among them. They hire bi-lingual workers from all over the world with particular areas of expertise, such as economics, international affairs and development, transportation, energy, gender and much more. These agencies handle visas and permits and offer tempting packages and job security to their employees. Check their websites for current openings as turnover tends to be relatively high.

bestarns

As for me? I did it the old-fashioned way – I married it. (Not a Frenchman but a Paris-bred American whose bilingualism landed him a job at an international agency). Then there’s the fairy tale I’ve heard more than a few times in Paris. “I came for a month and met my future husband in a café. That was twenty years ago…” Does it really happen? But, of course!

How about you? Dreaming of making the big move? Or perhaps you’ve already pulled it off. How did you manage it? We’d love to hear from you

Written by Paige Frost for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Paige Bradley Frost

Paige Bradley FrostPaige Bradley Frost, a Los Angeles native, moved back to Paris with her young family in 2011 after first living and getting married there in 2000. A lover of French style and cuisine, she spends her days scouting and writing about the city's gems when not chasing after her two young children. Her articles about parenting, culture and lifestyle have appeared on NYTimes.com, the Huffington Post and various other publications. She blogs about her Paris experiences at http://parisdejavu.blogspot.com.

Website: Paris Deja Vu

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Posted in Parisian Living | 29 Comments »

29 Responses to “Becoming French 101: How to Live and Work in France”

  • Jennifer says:

    This is such a great post about living and working in France!

    I am an American girl from New York who is moving to Paris to study at HEC Paris this June. Feel free to visit my website at booksandbaguettes.com to join me on my journey from New York to Paris!

    I will be studying, working part-time and traveling around Europe! :)

  • Isabella says:

    Hi there, I’m going back to study Postgraduate from my hometown next year. However I would like to apply for an exchange program to Paris. Do you know if I have to work for 20 hours related to my Postgrad programme? For instance if its related to Health or Business programme. Also what are the chances of getting a part time job in Paris while studying Postgad and as a non-Eu citizen? I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you!

  • Odie says:

    What about the Foreign Legion route? Is that still available?

  • Stephanie says:

    Thank you for this post! I’m currently on a long term visa in France which is expiring in November and I’m looking to switch over to a student visa for small work hours :)

  • I always wanted to have my life in France and the only problem it’s hard to find job with a good salary.

  • Laura Ann says:

    Bonjour tout le monde et Madame Frost,
    Here’s my story on how I’m moving my life to France.

    I studied abroad in Paris during the Summer of 2010 when I was 23 through my Junior College. It was then and there that I fell in love with something for the first time in my life!! Toute de suite upon returning to Los Angeles, I declared my French major, and gathered all of my credits from the last few years (which wasn’t an easy task), and I applied to San Francisco State University, while simultaneously applying to their year-long study abroad program in Paris. By Spring 2011 I was accepted into both SFSU and their program. Come August I was back in my paradise city!

    I studied hard and experienced a plethora of wonder and amazement, and then met a fantastic frenchman in Poetry class in January of this year. Four months later we were PACS’d. The following month, in June, I returned to L.A. for a month, then moved here to San Francisco where I had to finish up my Senior year. My darling visited me in August/September. Right after he left, I figured out how to gather my credits together and finish up my last semester (this upcoming Spring) via corresponance [with my B.A. in French] so that when I go back in exactly two weeks and five days from today, it’s gonna be for good.

    I have worked very hard to make Paris my home. I’m applying to a few Universités de Paris pour obtenir mon Master’s in Anglophone studies since I also found last year, in Paris, my calling as a teacher. If there’s one thing in life that I desire more than anything, it’s Paris. And it ain’t too bad that I also found the darling who’ll share this wonderous life with me there.

    xox Cheers to everyone discovering and living their passions!

  • Milsters says:

    There is one more visa that you are missing. It is called La Carte Bleue Européenne (the European Blue Card) and it has only been recently launched a year and a half ago. It functions much like the French work visa, except it is a visa at the European level. You must stay in your primary host country (in this case, France) for 2 years but afterwards are eligible to work elsewhere in Europe. It is good for up to 5 years and confers the same benefits as the French visa (i.e. access to healthcare and pension, right to apply for citizenship in the future, etc.). The KEY DIFFERENCE – and this is the most important – is that there is no labour market test. Meaning that companies do *not* have to prove that there is no other French or European person capable of performing the job. This makes it much easier to get than the normal French work visa. However, it’s geared to highly skilled workers so there is a minimum salary requirement and you must already have an offer.

    Milsters

    (www.littlepiecesoflight.com)

  • [...] to be asking but what you could do is to check out this great, and very informative, post on the HiP Paris blog about moving to Paris as a non European citizen. Hopefully it’ll clear a few things up for [...]

  • I really miss living in Paris, but thanks to your blog, I can still read about it every day :)!

  • VH says:

    Very interesting. I’m not sure I could move to France permanently (some of my family did, it’s fun to visit) but I’ve always wondered how it might work.

  • [...] I think I have it pretty good, but still I can’t help but continue to day dream about picking up and moving back over the Atlantic.  Then I snap out of it and realize the annoying realities of such a feat. These realities which everyone knows and which are painfully explained here. [...]

  • France is challenging indeed. Luckily there are so many wonderful things to look forward to, after you muddle your way through all the admin stuff. Aie. Good luck everyone . . .

  • Megan says:

    I like how some people commented that you didn’t sugar-coat the process… but I don’t think you can truly know what ‘administration’ means until you’ve completed the process. I am lucky because I got a company to sponsor me, so they took over the process, but that doesn’t entirely remove me from the pain. The documents, the certified translations, the medical appointments, the legalization of legal documents (yup!) and more have not always brought out the best in me. Nothing is written in stone, so the administration can change their minds and the requirements quite easily (and they do!), so you best be ready for any and all curve balls that might come your way. If you want to work on your patience, try moving to France.
    hellobougeotte.blogspot.com

  • Gaareal says:

    I love your post!!!! I am a French citizen who never lived there but thinking of moving to France with my young family to live for good, language and finding work are my concern. I am in a technical field (Engineer) and not sure how the job market is over in France.

  • Marjorie says:

    I’m trying a different route in by way of the Talent et Compétences visa. It’s good for 3 years then renewable for another 3. 6 years is enough for me to make everything permanent.

  • Buffy says:

    Hello,

    I have a dream to retire in Europe. France is at the top of my list of choices. I can retire at 50 or 55 from the Fire Dept, but will have to continue to work afterward. For now I can dream of a future there.

  • HG says:

    It is actually 90 out of every 180 days, so you can come in and out but need proof (hotel receipts, tickets) proving that you spent 90 days out of the country for each 180 day period.

  • Paige says:

    Thank you all for the great comments and suggestions. So glad you found the post useful. We’re loving reading about your stories, too. Thanks for sharing!

  • You’ve given some good, sound advice here and I like that you haven’t sugar coated the process. I’m sure it will help many who are planning a move to France!

  • Danielle says:

    As a New Yorker living in Paris, I absolutely love this post! It’s so hard to neutralize the romanticism of my life here. Not that I don’t absolutely love it, but I don’t think people realize how challenging even just the process of getting here was. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m about to forward it to all my friends and family ;)

  • As an expat living fulltime in Nice, I too know the horrors of French bureaucracy. My advice would be to work for a French/International co. and ask to be transferred; I know a French person who did this with IBM and worked in New York, so it can work both ways.

  • Jess says:

    k_sam beat me to it, but yeh, the tourist visa option no longer works (otherwise I would be a much happier Australian trying to live in Paris!!) You have to go to England and eat mushy peas for 3 months before you can come back. Sigh… schengen zone…

  • Hi paige,

    I’m a pure French Parisian (I was born there) and it was quite a time before I realize how much privileged it was making me. It took me to travel, to see other places and to hear all around the world people marvelling everywhere just to be hearing that I was Parisian so that I finally understand that I was blessed to be entitled to call “home” a place that so much consider as merely heaven.

    Your title “Becoming French” connect me to the one of a book I just published: “Being French!” (see my site about it), a book in which I bring for Anglo-Saxon people something deeper about the French ways in matter of sensual life. In this book I give the view of a true insider about what makes us easier and happier in that delightful department of life: Sensuality.

  • Sam says:

    I remember going with my daughter when she was getting her carte de séjour and you are right to point out that it is not for the faint of heart. She has lived in Paris for about 18 years now, and I am lucky enough to get to visit every year or two. Paris is a fabulous city, but like any fabulous city, it is also very expensive to live there. I am really enjoying this blog, but even more looking forward to a return to Paris this coming spring!

  • i dream of being an expat in paris or london……..like the way you did it!
    cheers
    debra

  • How interesting…great post. xx peggybraswelldesign.com

  • Stephanie says:

    GREAT POST.
    Through my blog, I regularly receive emails from French people who want to come to the US as tourists and find a “petit boulot” so they can stay and live the American dream. I repeatedly tell them that it can NOT be done this way, just like Paige explains it in this post. These people then tend to think that the US government is tough and “not nice” with them and I keep telling them: it’s the same in France but you don’t know because it’s your country! :-)
    Try being a foreigner in France and you’ll see how hard it is to be able to live and work there.
    So THANK YOU Paige for talking about this from another perspective! :-)
    Bon week-end !

  • Tiffany says:

    I’m one of the many dreaming about moving to Paris someday..great post!!

  • k_sam says:

    Just as an fyi, the 90 days in, 1 day out loophole was closed several years ago. You now have to leave the Schengen zone for a full 90 days before you can come back for another 90. So basically it’s now 3 months on, 3 months off.

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