Somewhere beneath the long-standing tensions between the Brits and the French lies affection, perhaps even a little jealousy. In one direction anyway: who can stay angry at a country with 450 different cheeses and where the wine flows like water? But what’s it like to work there and how easy is it to do?
The jobs market in France
Despite the fact the French economy is enjoying a bit of a boom – it grew by almost 2% in 2017 – unemployment remains stubbornly high at around 9% (President Emmanuel Macron has promised to lower this to 7% by 2022). And yet many employers complain about skills shortages and are bussing in workers from other countries. The short answer to this conundrum is that there are plenty of jobs for skilled workers and none for the rest – 2 million of the jobless in France have no qualifications at all.
Do I need to speak French to work in France?
Pretty much. Even the most multi-national companies whose lingua franca is English will want you to have at least a conversational level of French. The only jobs you can get away with having little French in are those catering to English tourists and domestic work.
Best places to work in France
One of the wonderful things about France is its geography. You could be a beach lifeguard in the summer and a ski instructor in the winter (if you can swim and ski, obviously). Between the fields of technology, finance, manufacturing, tourism, vinification (that’s winemaking), and more – there’s a role for everyone.
So, where we do we think the best places to look for work are?
- Paris. By far the world’s most romantic metropolis and the headquarters for many businesses
- In the summer, cities such as Montpellier and Nice have plenty of seasonal opportunities
- Nantes was recently named as one of the best French cities in which to live and work. Formerly a major port and industrial centre, it’s now a lively and thriving modern city
- Bordeaux is home to many global companies and a great place to live
The five most sought-after companies to work for in France
Luxury is the watchword here, according to research by LinkedIn. The professional networking site analysed data from its users and found that these were the most favoured would-be employers in France:
- LVMH: luxury brands portfolio which owns Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, among others
- L’Oreal: 30 brands across 140 countries, including Lancôme, Garnier and Maybelline New York
- Chanel: luxury handbags, perfumes, etc
- Richemont: owners of Cartier, Montblanc and Chloe
- Bouygues: huge industrial conglomerate operating in 90 countries
Skills in demand
Skilled workers are generally in high demand and especially professionals in:
- Engineers and technicians in manufacturing and processing
How to find a job
The usual; search online and apply. But personal contacts and networks can still carry a great deal of weight when it comes to recruitment in France so exploit your networks, ramp up your LinkedIn activity, and work hard at meeting people once you’re there. If you’re currently working for an employer with offices, suppliers or partners in France, be sure to explore all avenues these afford.
Get your CV translated into French by a professional or, at the very least, a native French speaker. CVs in English will cut no moutarde with French HR departments.
Compared with their UK counterparts, French CVs are refreshingly stark and matter-of-fact. They rarely exceed one page. A CV usually contains very few sections; at the most:
- Name, contact details and a professional-looking photo at the top
- Formation – your educational history and qualifications
- Diplômes – if you have a lot of qualifications, list them here instead
- Langues – if you have enough languages to show off about, list them here. If being a native English speaker is going to set you apart, it’s certainly worth mentioning here
- Expérience professionnelle – your work history
- Compétences spécifiques – your skills
- Centres d’intérêts – hobbies and interests
Fun fact: the French for CV is Le CV, and not résumé. You’re welcome.
Eligibility to work in France
While Britain is a member of the UK, you’re entitled to live and work in France without any kind of visa or permit. There used to be a requirement to register with the local mairie within three months but that’s generally no longer necessary (proving you are employed, self-employed or have the means to sustain yourself without working). If you want to feel more French, you can apply for a residence permit (carte de sejour). They are free and valid for up to five years.
Working conditions in France
France is noted for its labour laws and workers’ terms and conditions are generally very good. The French generally enjoy a 35-hour working week (48-hours is the legal maximum), a lunch break of one or even two hours, and an annual holiday entitlement of at least five weeks. There are 11 official public holidays in most of France (13 in the Alsace region and the Moselle department). May Day is the only holiday for which an employer is obliged to give paid holiday, the rest are subject to various agreements between employers and unions.
Workers in France get a pretty good deal, but don’t believe everything you read. The widely reported story that the French government banned workers from answering work-related emails after 6pm is a myth.
Registering to work in France
As an EU citizen, you do not need any special documentation. As there is currently no PAYE system, you don’t even need a tax ID. One will be allocated to you after you submit your first annual tax return. If you need one before that for some administrative reason you can get your particulier numéro fiscal AKA simplification des procédures d’imposition (SPI) by contacting your local tax office (centre des impots).
France has an hourly gross minimum wage of €9.88 which equates to a monthly minimum wage of €1,498 for a 35-hour week (by comparison, at the time of writing the UK’s works out at about €1,395). The average monthly wage is €2,957, rather higher than in the UK (€2,450).
Income tax and social charges
Unlike the UK, France does not currently have a pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system of deducting income tax at source. Instead, there is a system of household annual tax returns (déclaration de revenus). Taxes are paid a year in arrears. You can pay in 10 monthly instalments from January to October, or in three instalments by 15 February, May and September.
A PAYE scheme is to be introduced from 1 January 2019 (delayed from 1 January 2018) but people will still have to file tax returns.
The tax rates in France in 2018 (for income earned in 2017) are:
|Gross Annual Salary||Tax Rate|
|Up to €9,807||0%|
Income tax is generally calculated per household rather than per individual. Unmarried couples complete separate French tax returns, but spouses and civil partners can opt to be taxed together. Tax is calculated by diving the household into a number of parts familiales including children (the first two children count as ½ each). Then the household’s total income is divided by the number of parts and income tax scale rates applied to this lower figure and then multiplied back up by the number of parts. Got that? This generally helps individuals to avoid falling into higher rate tax brackets.
Prélèvements sociaux, AKA contributions sociales, are mandatory ‘social charges’ – the French equivalent of our NI – and payable on top of income tax. The charge ranges from 9.7% to 17.2% depending on the type of income.
There is no automatic EU-wide recognition of academic degrees and diplomas. In most cases an employer will take your degree at face value but if necessary you can apply to have your credentials evaluated at the enic-naric.net website (the French enic-naric website). If you are a member of a registered profession (doctor, lawyer etc), contact your professional body, or see the EU’s information about free movement of professionals.
Although it is commonly suspected that all French people are, in fact, able to speak English perfectly well but simply refuse to do so, there is still a surprisingly high demand for native-speaking teachers of English. If your French language skills aren’t up to the level required to take a job in France, teaching English might be a good bet for you.
Do get properly trained and accredited before you go. Note that the familiar TEFL acronym (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not a qualification, just a generic term. Make sure you choose a course that’s properly accredited. The training needn’t take too long – some of the more intensive courses can be completed in a month. Two of the most highly regarded TEFL qualifications are:
- Trinity TESOL – Trinity College London Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
- CELTA – Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults