Working in France
The job market
Getting a job in France
France is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, with scenery ranging from the Alps to the beaches of the French Riviera and a wealth of historic towns and cities, including Paris, the capital. Around four fifths of France is covered by farmland and forests, but it is also an industrial powerhouse and home to numerous global brands. France exports a broad range of goods, including perfume and cosmetics, food and wine and cars and aircraft.
Work/life balance is highly valued in France. For example, workers have been given a legal right not to answer emails outside of office hours. However, the precise nature of the benefits you are entitled to will depend on the type of contract you are given. Youth unemployment is relatively high and you are likely to find that there is tough competition for jobs. Good French language skills, both in speaking and writing, will be a significant advantage.
The standard of living you'll enjoy in France comes at a cost. As ever, the price of accommodation varies depending on location; renting an apartment in central Paris is likely to make a serious dent in your pay packet. Income tax and social security contributions are likely to account for around a third or more of your income, but you should be entitled to a comprehensive range of benefits and a good standard of healthcare in return.
Where can you work?
There are good opportunities for professionals with technical, numeracy and commercial skills, including accountants, project managers, IT managers and sales directors.
Major industries: agriculture, banking and insurance, chemical and pharmaceutical, food processing, IT, manufacturing, including automobiles and aircraft, metals (particularly iron and steel), public services – including health and social work, nuclear energy, research and development, textiles, tourism.
Many multinational companies such as PwC and Deloitte have offices in France. The following employers have French headquarters:
- AXA (insurance)
- BNP Paribas (banking)
- Bouygues (construction, transport, IT and telecommunications)
- Chanel (fashion)
- Groupe PSA (automobile manufacturer – brands include Citroën and Peugeot)
- Credit Agricole (banking)
- Danone (consumer goods)
- L’Oréal (cosmetics)
- LVMH (luxury goods conglomerate – brands include Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior)
- Renault (automobile manufacture)
- Thales (engineering in the aerospace, defence and transport industries)
- Total (oil, solar energy)
Skills in demand: growth areas include professional services and construction, and there are also opportunities in science, research and development and engineering. You may also be able to apply for vacancies in the public sector.
Language requirements: speaking and understanding French will make day-to-day life easier, and will make a big difference to your chances of getting a job. Fluency may not be essential, however, particularly for casual work such as bartending or seasonal work in tourism. If you are looking for work teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) you will find that employers vary in how much French language proficiency they require.
Are UK qualifications recognised? France is part of the Bologna Process and a full member of the European higher education area, which means there is a mechanism in place to recognise the value of a UK degree. You can find out more about the recognition of qualifications in France from the website of the CIEP, an agency of the French government which is responsible for international cooperation in education and professional training.
Teaching English as a foreign language
If you are a native speaker with a UK, Irish or EU passport and have French at B1 level (roughly equivalent to A level), and have completed two years of your degree, you can apply to work as an English language assistant in France through the British Council English language assistant programme. You do not need a TEFL qualification for this.
There are plenty of private language schools across France where you could find work teaching English, though you are likely to need a TEFL qualification. You could teach children of primary or secondary school age or adult learners, or work at an international school or university. Town halls may also recruit TEFL teachers to run courses for local people.
What’s it like working in France?
Check the terms of your contract carefully, whatever the nature of the job you are taking, as benefits and entitlements vary. You might be offered a temporary contract rather than a permanent one.
- Average working hours: 35 hours per week
- Holidays: five weeks of annual leave, plus eleven days of public holidays. Large numbers of French workers take a break of a couple of weeks or more in July and August, and some businesses effectively close down for the whole of August.
- Tax rates: France is moving to a PAYE (pay as you earn) system for income tax, similar to that used in the UK, from 1 January 2019. Previously French employees paid tax a year in arrears, or on an estimated basis every three months. However, households will still have to file an annual tax return. Income tax is progressive with a tax-free allowance, and ranges from 14% to 45%.
In addition to income tax, if you are working in France you will need to pay social security contributions, which can be around 15% of income and cover contributions towards the state pension and healthcare. Many French workers also take out supplementary health insurance, usually through a mutual insurance fund. The tax system can be relatively complex and it’s advisable to seek advice. You should also check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to make sure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Where to find jobs
You can search for graduate jobs abroad on TARGETjobs.
Take a look at the websites of companies that interest you, as they may include information about vacancies and internships.
EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal, is supported by the European Commission and lists jobs in France open to citizens from the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
The French national employment agency website (in French) lists all kinds of jobs including manual, unskilled and casual work, and has offices all over France.
APEC (Association Pour l'Emploi des Cadres, or the Association for Executive Employment) is a national organisation run by representatives of employers and trade unions. The APEC website lists vacancies suitable for graduates seeking managerial jobs.
You could also try going through a recruitment agency. The website of the association of recruitment agencies, Prism'emploi (professionnels du recrutement et de l'intérim), includes a list of its members.
You might find it useful to network with others who have been in a similar situation to you, and have come from outside France to look for work.
The following are well-known French newspapers:
The Local, an English-language website, provides advice and lists jobs.
FUSAC also offers advice and lists job vacancies in English.
CV, application and interview tips
In general, French employers value concise CVs – certainly no longer than two sides of A4. Academic qualifications are seen as particularly important, so make sure you include your A level subjects and grades. It might work in your favour to stick to a chronological approach, with sections covering your personal details, education, work experience, skills and personal interests.
As elsewhere in continental Europe, it is acceptable to include a professional headshot in your CV. If you are submitting an application in French, make sure your French is error-free and ask for help proofreading it if necessary.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Formal, structured internships are a well-established part of the student experience in France and can also be undertaken by graduates, and are offered both by small and large organisations. An internship is known as a ‘convention de stage’ and although some internships are only open to students from French universities, many will also be open to students from the UK. Internships are managed through a formal agreement signed by the student, university and employer, so contact your university careers service for advice about this. You may find that there is a draft agreement available in French ready for you to use.
Alternatively, you may be able to apply for an internship in France through the UK office of a multinational employer.
As in the UK, having undertaken an internship can be a big advantage when applying for graduate jobs.
France is a member of the Erasmus+ student exchange programme, which offers students and recent graduates opportunities to work and study abroad.
Another option is AIESEC, an international exchange programme for students and recent graduates which offers voluntary and paid work placements in professional organisations, schools and charities.
Science and engineering students may be able to find a paid work experience placement in France through the IAESTE programme.
Volunteering in France
You can volunteer in France through the European Voluntary Service (EVS), which enables young people aged between 17 and 30 to volunteer for two to twelve months. You’ll also find EVS opportunities in France listed on the website of the International Voluntary Service.
Do you need a visa to work in France?
EU citizens do not need a visa or residence permit to visit, live or work in France.
If you are not an EU national but are currently living in the UK, you can find out more about visas and work permits from the website of the French embassy in the UK.
Living in France
French workplace culture is relatively formal and hierarchical. French language skills will help you make the most of your time in France, so it might be worth taking a course before you go. The French Institute, which is the official centre for French language and culture in London, offers courses.
- Cost of living: you may find that renting is slightly cheaper in France than in the UK, but other costs, such as groceries, may be higher. While you may pay a little more in income tax in France than you would on equivalent earnings in the UK, households in France have more disposable income on average than UK households.
- Currency: euro (€)
- Health: you’ll need a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) card to get medical treatment during a temporary stay in France, and comprehensive travel insurance for anything not covered by the EHIC.
After you have lived in the country for three consecutive months, you should be eligible to take part in the French state health insurance scheme and can apply for this through the PUMA (Protection Maladie Universelle) programme. You can then obtain a French health insurance card, known as a Carte Vitale, and will be able to access the French healthcare system. If you are not covered by the PUMA scheme, you should consider taking out private health insurance.
- Laws and customs: Laws and customs to be aware of: freedom of religion is a right included in the French constitution. Secularism is also an essential principle; the constitution describes France as a secular republic and guarantees that all citizens will be treated as equals before the law, regardless of their religion.
It is against the law to cover your face in a public place in France, whether by wearing a veil, a balaclava or another garment, and there is no exemption for tourists.
If you try to speak French your efforts will be appreciated, but err on the side of formality; for example, use the formal ‘vous’ to people you don’t know.
You must be able to prove your identity when asked, or within four hours at a police station; your passport is an example of suitable documentation.
Vehicles driven in central Paris, Lyon and Grenoble are now expected to display an air quality certificate (which comes in the form of a round sticker) at certain times. You can find out more about this from the French ministry of environment website.
- Major religion: Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith. There are also Muslim, Jewish and Protestant communities, as well as other faith groups.
- Type of government:semi-presidential republic, with a parliament composed of elected members and a president who is elected separately and is the head of state.