How to live and work in France

Note: I recently blogged about the visas and jobs that have allowed me to live in France over the last 3+ years. This post is about all the different long-stay working visas for France that I know of, because I’ve received quite a few inquiries on this topic. My previous post doesn’t discuss most of these options, since they don’t apply to me personally. There certainly may be other ways to legally live and work in France that I do not know about. This list is based on my personal experience and research. Some of you may know more than I do about some of these visas, so please feel free to jump in with information, corrections, and links to posts you’ve written in the comments!

People contact me often with questions about teaching English in France. Some find me through my blog, some find me through the International TEFL Academy alumni group. I am totally happy for people to reach out to me with questions. I had so many questions before I came here, and I’m still grateful for the supportive expat community.

But when I looked back on the questions I received last year, I realized that almost no one had taken the time to say thank you for the long and detailed messages I wrote. That was a little discouraging. So I’m writing this to make everything I know accessible in one place. If you’ve read this and done your research and you still have questions, I would love to hear from you and I’m happy to take the time to answer your questions, share resources, and tell you about my experience teaching in France.

If you have questions about teaching English in France, I’ve written lots of stuff about it here including how I got my jobs and my visas. Right now I’m going to focus specifically on ways to get a long-stay visa that allows you to work in France.

(And I’ve included a ton of additional resources, because I am not the first person to write about French bureaucracy.)

I am an American citizen, so I know the most about visas for Americans. If you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries, you may be able to obtain a working holiday visa. (Sorry, Americans! No working holiday visa in France for us.) Check with your local French consulate.

Actually, that’s just a good idea in general. Go to your local French consulate’s website and read about visas. They have a lot of information. (I’ve gotten visas in Chicago and San Francisco.)

Okay, let’s go. Here are all the ways I know to live and work legally in France.

Have an EU passport

If you have an EU passport, get out of here! You already have the right to work legally in France. Even if you are not European, sometimes European heritage can get you dual nationality. So if you parents or grandparents immigrated in the last century, check out the rules of the country they came from. (Start at the country’s consulate website.) You’ll probably need a lot of birth, death, and marriage certificates.

Marry a French citizen

Boom, a French spouse gets you a vie privée et familliale visa, which gives you the right to live and work in France. You have to renew it every year for three years (right, people with French spouses?) and then you can get a ten year visa. During that time, you can probably apply for French nationality too.

PACS with a French citizen

PACSing often gives you a vie privée et familiale visa if you have proof of cohabitation and already live in France, although it’s not as ironclad as marriage. (PACS is a civil union.) You usually need to have proof of at least year of cohabitation in France in order to get a resident’s permit as a pacsé(e). Emily wrote a great post on this here.

Student Visa

A student visa gives you the right to work about 20 hours/week. You must be enrolled as a full-time student. (If you want to live in Paris, Studying at the Sorbonne by Where Is Bryan? is great.)

If you want to live in France long-term, getting a degree from a French university opens a lot of doors in terms of legal status and employment (plus, it’s cheap!)

TAPIF language assistant program

This program will place you in a school (or two or three), hopefully in one of the regions you requested. It gives you the right to a travailleur temporaire visa. I’ve written about the program here.

Lecteur/Lectrice visa

This is a university teaching position for foreigners that allows you to have a one-year visa (renewable one time at the school’s discretion. You cannot be a lecteur/lectrice at another university – two years total as a lecteur/lectrice is the legal limit.) Your status may be travailleur temporaire or salarié, depending on how the préfecture is feeling. I’ve blogged about being a lectrice here.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Trainee Visa

This visa is for Americans who have a four-year degree and are under 35. You must first obtain a work contract that meets the requirements, and then they will provide you with a visa for up to 18 months. More information here. (P.S. I’ve never actually met anyone on this visa, so if you’ve done it, do tell.)

Au Pair Visa

If you get a job as an au pair, you will be allowed to live in France. The visa requires you to take French language classes part time. The pay is usually low, but your living expenses will be taken care of. (Read How To Become An Au Pair from Ashley, who was an au pair in France.)

Research Scientist

I know nothing about this visa because I am the opposite of a research scientist (unless methodically tasting pastries counts as research) but I know that it is a thing. I think you would be a “chercheur scientifique.” Check with your consulate.

Compétances et Talents Visa

If you have a long-term project (usually something in the arts, hence “talents“) that will somehow benefit France, you may be able to get a three-year visa. Check with your consulate for requirements. More from Jennyphoria.

Work visa sponsored by employer

This is very rare for English teachers, but never say never. Your employer can sponsor your visa but most will not because it is expensive and complicated for them, and they have to justify why they chose not to hire a French person. The request can be denied if the government feels they should not hire a foreigner. There are many ways for companies to hire native English speakers without this hassle – there are many E.U. nationals and anglophones with long-stay working visas. Most English teaching jobs specify that you must have working papers to apply. If you are an in-demand specialist (think more software engineer, less English teacher), this one may work for you!

Note that when I say “English teacher,” I am mainly referring to people with a TEFL certificate or a year or two of experience as a language assistant, since the majority of anglophones who come to France to teach English for a short period of time fall into this category. If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience, you may be able to get a job teaching at a private or international school. Dana has written a great post about how she got her job at an international school here.

Alternatively, your existing employer in your home country could send you overseas to work temporarily or long-term. (If you’re married, your spouse will probably not be able to work in France, depending on the type of visa they’re eligible for, but they can come and hang out with you.)

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Please note that I am not a lawyer or immigration specialist, and you should not consider any of this legal advice. I have simply been in France for several years and have read a lot about visas. I have personal experience with a few of the visas I mentioned. You can read more about my experiences with French bureaucracy here.

Additional Resources

San Francisco French Consulate: Long-Stay Visas

Getting A Visa: France Diplomatie

Transient Local: Working Abroad in France

As Told By Dana: Teaching English in France

Almost Bilingue on French Administration

Prêt à Voyager: French Bureaucracy, Explained (Also try {Un}glamourous Paris: Bureaucracy)

Chez Loulou on Moving to France, French Citizenship, and the Cost of Living in France

Where Is Bryan? The Cost of French Nationality

Lil & Destinations on getting PACSed in France (and the cost of living in Paris).

The Paris Blog: Snagging an Artist’s Visa to Stay In France

Je Parle Américain: The Anatomy of a Visa Renewal

Oh Happy Day on getting Long-Stay Tourist Visas as Freelancers

Franco-American grants and exchanges

Anything I missed? Please share a link or a story about your experience. When it comes to French bureaucracy, we all have to stick together!

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How to get a visa and teach English in France

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.

Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.

Year 1

Private language schools in Paris

My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.

My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.

Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)

The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.

See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.

Year 2

TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon

My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).

My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.

The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.

Years 3 & 4

Lectrice in Lyon

My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.

My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.

Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.

As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.

The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 per week is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.

Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.

Other ways to work in France

Working Holiday Visa

If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France

If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.

Freelance lessons and tutoring

Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.

Vacataire

Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.

I’ve written a more complete post on how to get a visa here.

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This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.

If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you.