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 are other ways to legally live and work in France that are not listed here. 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 additional information 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 most of my knowledge comes from an American perspective. 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.)

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. This is simply the information I have to give anyone who contacts me about legally living in France. Please consult your consulate, a lawyer, or at least a wider expat forum for more information.

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 your 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 and then you can get a ten-year visa. During that time, you can apply for French nationality, if you wish.

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 there’s no guarantee of a visa with PACS. (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!)

If you complete a two-year master’s program in France, you are normally eligible for a work visa for the year after you complete the program. This may lead to other options after the year is up.

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/your consulate 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 am not terribly familiar with this visa, but I have met people who were in France as chercheurs. Expatica says, “If you have a master’s degree or above, and you are going to be carrying out research or teaching at university level, then you are eligible for temporary ‘scientific activity’ residence permit (carte de séjour temporaire ‘mention scientifique’). This is valid for one year but can be renewed yearly for up to four years.”

Compétances et Talents Visa Passeport Talent

The Compétences et Talents visa has been replaced by the “Passeport Talent,” which breaks the talent visa down into categories. The idea is to simplify the whole process, although that doesn’t always work out in every situation. Read more in French here and in English here.

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.

Expatica has an excellent post on this topic that includes several types of visas that I don’t mention here (including the EU Blue Card, interns, and seasonal workers).

I also recommend Dana’s post on how to live in France, her interview about teaching in France without an EU Passport, and her post on how to stay in France after TAPIF, where she covers a lot of the topics I mention 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. 

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