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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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