{Un}Glamorous Paris: Working in France


Let’s start with the perks of working in France, because let’s face it, it just goes downhill from there. 1) You live and work in France! 2) Who wouldn’t love a 35 hour work week (down from the US standard of 40). If you do the math, that’s an extra 260 hours of your life a year to actually get something done. Pas mal! But really, I think it’s 3) the 5-9 weeks of vacation a year that takes the cake. And unlike Americans who pretend to take vacation and not work, the French actually take holiday. Trust me, I spent the summer with some, and they didn’t work AT ALL (unless you count sitting by the pool, reading trashy magazines and eating endless meals work). 4) Also, once you get hired, it’s virtually impossible to get fired. While this is not necessarily a good thing (it led to many of the riots by young people in the suburbs a couple years ago – the laws mean it’s harder for young people to get hired in the first place), at least you can count on job security.

I will now back up, and establish one fact: do not move to France in hopes of finding a job. The magic words “bad economy” isn’t why; to be blunt, it’s just not going to happen. I don’t mean to be Debby Downer, but I’m just trying to be real here. Unless you plan on making finding a French husband (or wife) your full-time job, you’re S.O.L. In fact, you may go for interviews for “real jobs” and do really well, and then HR will figure out you don’t have official papers. Their only advice to you: get married (and yes, many of my friends have been told this in real life). Oh, to have an EU passport, then life would be easy…

BUT, once in a blue moon, les étrangerères [outsiders] do get hired or “sponsored” by French companies. There are more hurdles than in an Olympic race, but remember that chapter on paperwork, well, you get to do lots more of it. And likely no one else will want to deal with it, so you get the pleasure of talking to lots of really unhelpful people along the way. The good news is you’ll be an expert and then maybe if that job doesn’t work out you can make a living teaching other people the ropes.

In order to be hired in France, one of the major keys to the equation is proving that you are the only one that can do the job. God forbid that an étrangerère take a job from an unemployed Frenchie. However, here’s when being a native English speaker becomes your strongest asset. You may be bitter that your parent’s never forced you to learn another language when you were young (when it was easy), but hey, at least they raised you as a native English speaker.

Another misconception is to think you can move to Paris and get an internship. Only enrolled students are eligible to be a stagiaire [intern]. The minimum salary is 417Euros… drum roll please… per month. Now that’s not even enough to cover the cost of that minuscule apartment you call home. While that’s the minimum, I’m not aware of any maximum, but that doesn’t mean companies are going to up your pay. However, I did have a friend with plenty of real world experience who had an augmented intern salary. She even proved herself enough to get a CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée), a contract with the official paperwork to stay in France. However, the new salary after taxes was less than that augmented intern salary. Sadly, it didn’t even mean enough to cover basic, minimal living expenses. So where is she now, you ask? Back in the US. Heartbreaker.

Now here’s were the depression starts to set in. Even French salaries for “real jobs” are shockingly low. I once heard of a guy who manages 15 people for a major company in Paris, and his salary was pretty much equivalent to my starting salary out of college in Baltimore. Another friend wanted to ask for a slight paycut from what she had been making in PR in NYC, until a French friend clued her in on the fact that is likely more that what the director who was interviewing her was making. Oh, and this doesn’t even start to include taxes, and there are oodles of them! But it all is a trade off when you get free health care, restaurant tickets and plenty of state sponsored events around town. Start making babies, and that’s when the low salary really helps you out and the government aid really kicks in. It all makes you wonder if the French have figured out something that we [Americans] haven’t? Perhaps there is more to life than money and work.

When people ask me how long I’m staying my response is more that it’s not up to me, but France to decide. I’m still working on it all. C’est compliqué! I’m lucky to be in a profession – design and online media – where I can work anywhere. I’m also lucky to still be on a student visa as I write my thesis. As a freelancer, I’m currently looking into auto-entrepreneur or travailleur independent status for when my current one expires. The good news that my French social security and health care is all set up (another hurdle in getting some of these statuses). It’s going to be quite the uphill battle. Anne vs. France. Who will win?

RAYS OF HOPE (and please share any findings in the comments section):

  • Teaching Assistantships through the French Cultural Ministry are one of the best ways to legally to live in France (and find out if you have what it takes to put up with a real life obstacle course). The pay isn’t stellar, but the 12 hour work week + 2 weeks of paid vacation every six weeks will have you feeling French in no time. (After graduating, this is how I made my way back to France in 2003). Visit frenchculture.org for more possibilities.
  • If you’re looking for a job in the creative/communications industries Profil Culture and Service de Presse are two excellent resources. However, you will notice that stagiaire are in much higher demand that full-time workers.
  • Job Hunt Paris another site I recently learned about. It appears that as of lately they are posting more regularly. They also have some very helpful tips about finding a job in France.
  • The IABC [International Association of Business Communicators] also has a solid list of places to look for communications-related jobs.
  • If you do get to a job interview, here are some tips to interviewing in France (as a side note the French CVs take quite a different approach than American ones, so do your homework).
  • Trouve Moi un Freelance is a site devoted to connecting freelancers. In order to join the network you must have auto-entrepreneur status, but they have a very helpful info to advise people on how to get everything they need. (Note: to become an “auto-entrepreneur” in France I believe you must have a French social security number, so it’s always a bit of a chicken or the egg kind of deal here!)
  • Travailleur Independent is another potential status for those pursuing freelance-style work.
  • La Maison des Artistes is something I JUST learned about for those wishing to pursue the creative arts.
  • Autorisation Provisoir de Sejour (APS) is a 6-month extension for Master’s students who are seeking work. It also includes a minimum salary amount that is actually quite livable. You can read more about it here.
  • If you’re in France and looking for odd jobs, FUSAC or the listings at the American Church are good go-to places. Shakespeare & Co often has listings posted around their walls as well.
  • Teaching private English/conversation classes is a good way to make cash on the side. You’ll notice a lot of those petits announces around boulangeries. I’ve done this in the past and actually met some interesting people, and learned a lot about France at the same time. Just be warned that the term “English Lessons” written in English is code for prostitution.
  • Jean Taquet is a Paris-based lawyer who is used to dealing with French & American laws acts as a cultural bridge to living in France. In the past he has kept a blog, but these days it appears that he’s compiled all his information into a handy eBook called INSIDER PARIS GUIDE for Living in France.
  • Steve Horton is an American accountant in Paris used to dealing with paying both French and US taxes.

{Un}Glamorous Paris is a real-life, humorous, yet informative series exploring the less-than-perfect sides of living in Paris. Read more here:

  1. PAPERWORK
  2. FINDING AN APARTMENT IN PARIS
  3. Coming soon: relationships, swimming pools & visitors…

38 comments

  • Wow… okay. Thank you!
    (Also, is even babysitting or something for someone who has virtually no other job experience out the window?)

    windeater.blogspot.com

  • Great post Anne! So I heard recently from my yoga friends that one great way to move around is to teach yoga – apparently places other than New York have a real shortage of yoga teacher – don’t know, if it’s true for Paris, but it’s interesting! :)
    Cheers!
    AmyA

  • So true! Those babysitting and tutoring jobs are very lucrative. When I was there, I made 15 euros an hour to babysit, while the going rate for Frenchies is 8-10. But I spoke English to the kids, which is hard to find in Paris!

    Another way to live and work in Paris is to be an au pair. I haven’t done it, but I know people who have so I am sure there are a lot of resources online.

  • Bronwyn – good point. I forgot to mention in MY glamorous life, all fall I was babysitting 20+ hours a week. There you go, that’s my secret ;) And as BestsyBoo points out, it is quite true that expats pay much better than French families. It is also true that even for babysitting, English is a big asset! And English conversation lessons typically go for 20Euros/hour over a coffee at a cafe.

    AmyA – good tip. My yoga has been limited to my iPhone app in my 12m2 lately, but good to know for future career paths ;)

    Glad you all find this helpful and informative :)

    Cheers!
    Anne

  • Oooohh, this does put a damper on my aspirations, guess I’ll just have to steel myself for the hoops and bumper cars. Hoping a fellowship will be a good introduction, not to mention facilitating the whole paperwork process. Maybe :)

  • Well I will say this: the 35 hours a week schedule is mainly for individuals who aren’t “cadre” – so most secretaries and assistants will be at 35 hours, menial jobs are that way too. But when you’re Bac + 5 (master’s level), it’s understood you’re on at least a 39 hour/week schedule which of course means you work more like 40 or above. They DO work hard (maybe not everywhere, but the same can be said for American) but they also play hard (in the form of vacation). And that’s where the appeal is – they seem to enjoy life, despite their pessimism =)

    And it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to find work here but you do a good job of bringing truth on a common question – it’s not a fantasy, it’s hard work to be here (even if you are married!!).

  • What a nightmare. Perhaps I *don’t* want to move to Paris (or France, or Europe) after all! Unless I could buy a place. If you own property (and work for yourself), doesn’t that ease the hill a bit somehow?

    Otherwise, so long as I can support myself in the States and continue to visit Europe once or twice each year, I *guess* that would [have to] suffice :D

  • Lindsey – very good points! One friend’s husband does put in over 40 hours (but no where near the 60+ of a lot of my NYC friends), but it also helps bump him up to the 9 weeks of vacation a year. It’s also a good point that yes, even when you’re married to a Frenchman it doesn’t make life “easy” – there’s plenty of paperwork and upkeep as you and my friend Zoe have reminded me of. It’s just nice to have a translator for all those complicated documents ;)

    Overall, though, it’s no walk in the park, but I like to think we all have thicker skins for it. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

    Risamay, I think France may be more complicated, and Paris the most expensive. Check out: http://www.stephmodo.com/ she and her family bought a dreamy country home (which they rent out), but she documented the trials and tribulations on her blog.The whole story is here: http://www.stephmodo.com/2009/09/project-la-maisonnette-du-coteau.html

    Along the same lines, I think Nichole of Little Brown Pen has it figured out best – they spent a few months as a family once, and now they come for a few weeks a few times a year (and she writes for a company based in France PT).
    http://littlebrownpen.blogspot.com/

    Anne

  • Very interesting. I’d just like to point out that proving no local is fit for the job you want is a condition for your work visa in many countries in the world, not just France. And it can be a real headache!

    However, I didn’t realize that salaries were that much lower in France than in the US. Could it be because we graduate from our higher education virtually debt free?

  • Hi Anne – Thank you for your personal reply to my question. I do follow LBP (that may be how I happened upon your blog, actually).

    The more I think about it, the more I can’t a) decide where in Europe I’d really like to relocate and b) am turned off by the idea of having to troubleshoot all the bureaucratic hurdles – and in French, or Italian, or whatever. So I do think what Nichole does is likely ideal. There are so many wonderful (and trustworthy) apartment and home rental sites now, for destinations in Paris, Europe, and the world over.

    I still think I might ultimately like to expat, but if that doesn’t pan out, it’s nice to know I live in an age where it’s (relatively) easy to find a wonderful home for a temporary time and life abroad. Particularly as I enjoy extended stays (how unAmerican of me!) of two to four or more weeks when I take a vacation.

    As a test run before I even think of moving or buying property overseas, I intend to travel for a year in 5 years. I’m saving up now.

  • Great post, a complicated topic and well covered. Having worked in Switzerland for an American Company, I can report that there was a lot of paperwork and I do remember the X-Ray!

  • Risamay, if you’re looking to buy property I think knowing the language is key so you don’t get taken for a ride (or at least have someone help you). Polly of http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com/ and I had coffee in town last week and she said how important it was for her to do a dry run here before she moved here. She lasted about 3 years until the exchange rate took the best of her. As much as Euro once equaled the dollar, it no longer does, and it adds up fast. Maybe not for sandwiches, but for bigger purchases – yes!

    Thinking about living in Europe in terms of being on Sabbitical is another good approach. It also is always a bit easier renting from another expat just so you’re on the same wavelength. But as you said, it’s easier now than ever to find places to stay.

    Anne

  • I studied French for 6 years in high school and always brush up before a trip, but I’m nowhere near fluency. I think if I went for an extended stay and took language classes while I was there I could get there (fluency). But you make a good point about knowing the language and the benefits therein, particularly for something where one could really get taken for a ride if you don’t understand everything, like buying property.

    The more I read your blog and others about moving abroad, the more dissuaded I am. It just seems like a colossal headache, and then there is – as you just pointed out – the exchange rate. Which does not favor American dollars.

    Short of a windfall, I’m more certain than ever that I’ll only be able to enjoy Europe for brief blips of time, and not years of my life. If I were to live there, I should have done it right after college, or in college, or something. To pick up and move at my age – 35 – seems less and less ideal, or sensible. You’d think without a family and debt that it wouldn’t be such a bear, but a bear I think it is. No matter what, most likely.

    Oh well. C’est la vie, as they say!

  • Risamay- Thanks for all your insightful thoughts from the flip side! As you bring up language, you start to realize that there is more than just being able to speak the language, but a lot is embedded in the cultural codes and nuances. For me it’s a great pleasure to speak French (I still don’t consider myself fluent), and very much makes the experience for me. My friends here who don’t speak French have a different relationship with the city.

    I don’t think your idea of year long blips at various places actually seems like a really realistic solution. Buying property is over-rated, a lot of work and a lot of hassle. And I think it’s important to test the waters, rather than diving straight in.

    I read your comment super late last night when I got home from a night out with friends. My lawyer friend from New York in town is quite jealous of my and my friends living here, but she got to over hear a serious conversation – over a couple bottle of wine, of course – of all of us questioning why we are fighting so hard to stay here, and for what exactly. The same friend I mentioned in the article still is shocked at the low salaries, and like me cannot comprehend how young professionals – or anyone for that matter – actually can survive here.

    Best wishes!
    Anne

  • thanks for sharing all of these resources.

    my mother moved my sister and i to a suburb of paris when we were pre-teens in the 1980s hoping to find a job. we all came back about a year later. still, it was a wonderful experience for us. she later married a frenchman and lived there while i was in college.

    while i vividly remember the challenges of being an etrangere, i still dream of moving back when my business is self sufficient for our family. right now the one thing that holds me back is the health care system as my son has been seriously ill the past year. we actually had a conversation with a french family in the hospital recently about the differences in the two systems, and cost aside, it seems the usa really does have the best health care in the world in particular for cancer research.

  • Anne you’re doing a great thing sharing “the real” about Paris. I’ve been there and done that already. I too worked as an English assistant straight out of college then had a huge opportunity and worked for one of the most reputable fashion agencies in the world. There’s a system of doing things and getting things done if you want to work in Paris. Question is, do you have the energy, the fortitude and the desire to really do it. You and I both know that it’s not for the weak. LOL! No one in this section should be dissuaded about living and working in Paris. The most important thing in my opinion is to find out why you want to live in Paris. If it’s just for a little rest and relaxation then rent an apartment for two weeks or longer and let the good times roll!

  • Hi Anne,

    Really interest thoughts, and wow … what a treasure trove of info!

    After our 3 months in Paris, I realized that we did not want to live there. As much as I love Paris (and god knows I do!), the realities of living there and raising children there were too much. I agree with “this time now:” it’s not for the weak. Language and cultural barriers take on a whole new meaning with young children (we have two boys), so the decision was easier for us.

    I am lucky to have a French client that pays me my American wages (a monthly stipend based on my hourly rate), and all of the money from that job is parlayed into our frequent trips to Paris. At least half my trips to Paris are subsidized by my client (air fare and hotel) so this is how I am able to do it.

    Frequent travel is enough of a fix, at least for now.

    ;)

  • Maja – No matter the experience, I think it’s still priceless. France has a culture that from the surface is deceptively similar to that of the US from the surface. Start to spend any time here, and it becomes quite clear that just because something is done one way in the US, and it works, it doesn’t mean it works or happens here. You need a spirit of adventure to live here too!

    An interesting point about health care. While I do love the system here, and the US only caused me headaches and stress (even with insurance) I do agree that when you’re dealing with specialized care, the US is stronger. Sending best wishes to you and your son!

    THIS TIME NOW – I love your statement, “The most important thing in my opinion is to find out why you want to live in Paris.” I think people are all to quick to move here for the idealized vision of what they think life is like here (like it is on vacation), rather than doing their homework, or realize what they’re actually looking for.

    NICHOLE- Thanks so much for your input! I often wonder what pulled you away. After my time with a French family (with young kids) this summer and working for an American family (with a 4 year old), I’ve seen the added challenges of raising children here. Also, when the French realize you’re only here on a temporary basis they’re not particularly welcoming. And the language barrier doesn’t help either. But I think your solution is really perfect. Down the line you’ll be such a pro if you want to give it a FT go again.

    Anne

  • I got auto-entrepreneur status without a french social security number (and on an expired student visa).

    Just thought I’d share because it’s the random stories from other foreigners that can be the most helpful :)

  • interesting post! i just came back from spending a week in Paris with my husband and there are still some outstanding questions on my mind. For instance, the low salaries that you mentioned..yes, your health care is free but how can you afford clothes, expensive rents etc on such low salaries, especially if you start a family and need a larger apartment? We make average salaries in the US and found the costs of most things pretty expensive, although that may mostly be due to the euro/dollar exchange rate. Is everyone just shopping at h&m or what? Most stores we went into, it didn’t seem possible to find cheap clothes (even Zara was slightly spendier than Zara in the US imo).

  • good to know, justine!!! :)

    Laura – well, I’d say it’s because the French go classic (only wear black and everything matches) and have really small closets (so there is only so much they can accumulate). Everything is smaller scale here, and I think people adjust.

    Here’s the link to an interesting article explaining the French in Economic terms: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/01/explaining-france-a-reader-request.html

    Anne

  • Hi,
    that was a very interesting post. from what I know it is as hard to go to the US to work for a foreigner and many conditions are the same in both countries.
    I think that to be an auto-entrepreneur you need to have a job already (être salarié).
    and yes, we work more in France that 35 hours very often. My minimum was, when I worked in France, some 50 hours a week and I was not paid for such :( not that I was exploited but that was the reality.
    I hope you can find the job of your dream soon and move to a bigger home (by french standards so it will still look small by US ones…)
    Have a wonderfull year 2011 and keep posting on the blog!!

  • Oups… Politically this post is a gigantic mess! “it’s virtually impossible to get fired” “5-9 weeks of holidays”!!! Maybe researching a bit more would not have hurt. Unless you came to work directly for Sarkozy? :)

  • Hi Virginie,
    I appreciate the varying opinion. Perhaps you could share some resources with us? This post is based on some generalizations, but is all based on personal experiences, encounters and research. Every French person has told me 5-9 weeks is standard vacation (and I see it in daily life). As for getting fired, there are many laws that make it complicated and expensive to fire people – making getting hired even more difficult.

    Please share your perspective as this blog is meant to be a learning environment.

    Anne

  • Virginie – Anne’s not wrong. My husband is French and gets upwards of 9 weeks of vacation (due to RTT + other days) and he’s an aeronautical engineer (cadre) – and of course, even those who work 35 hours a week max get 5 weeks vacation. I’ve also been in a company before where they needed to fire someone and saw firsthand what a bureaucratic red-tape nightmare it is to do so – so yes, it’s harder to get a job here but once you have it, it’s harder to get fired than in the US – employers have to prove that a serious fault was made (and 3 of them!) or else they lay people off for economic reasons.

    Interested to see what research you have seen that discusses otherwise!

  • Anne,

    Wow, I’m just so great that I’ve stumbled upon your blog today. My story is that my significant other moved to France for his PhD studies and I’m currently flying back and forward from Kiev to Paris on a touristic visa and thinking of possibilities to find work or another legit way to stay accept for marriage and now I get that finding work isn’t that easy either.

    I’ve got a questions: should I be a native English speaker to get considered for Teacher’s Assistantship?

    And what level of French should I have to get considered for a job in let’s say marketing? Do I need to have any sort of language proficiency certificates?

    Thanks in advance for your response!

    Elena

    • Elena, I think this post will help you: http://www.pret-a-voyager.com/2013/01/french-bureaucracy-explained/

      Basically you have to make the case that you have skills that a French person doesn’t (aka you are not taking a job from them). In most office you should have a working level of French. If you are not an EU citizen it is harder to make your case to be sponsored (risk and cost to employer). There are language certificates but I don’t know that a marketing job would require them — I think the interview process would make that come out. For the teaching assistantship your level of English should be very good if you’re expected to teach the language to others.

      • Anne,

        Yes, I’ve read both already and now into my thoughts about which option may work out for me best.

        I’d like to stay in Besancon which is tiny and has quite a few jobs I might fit with my professional background and I was really surprised how many papers you need to have (and circles of bureaucracy hell to survive) just to get registered as a freelancer. It was my first choice, but I guess I have to reconsider it and opt for smth like teaching Russian or Ukrainian. Guess, I’ll have less competition here with the French :)

        And concerning translations, my boyfriend was so pissed too when he had to pay extra 30 euro to a local certified translator, who barely spoken Ukrainian to translate the his birth certificate once again.

        Thanks a lot again for the posts!

        P.s. And the one about going to the swimming pool is so true!

        • Outside of Paris it may be “easier” but you have to have a document for everything. Often you can’t get one document which you can’t have without another document – all a catch 22. Your boyfriend is lucky — I’ve paid 50€ for all of my translation…. It’s not an easy process, and living in France takes A LOT of persistence.

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