One common trait among people who study French is a desire to live and possibly work in France. Many dream of this, but not many succeed in actually doing it. I have personally tried and failed more than once. Just what is it that makes it so difficult to live in France?
First of all, like other countries, France is concerned about too much immigration. Many people come to France from poorer countries to find work – either legally or illegally. With high unemployment in France, the government is not eager to give jobs to immigrants, they want the available jobs to go to French citizens. In addition, France is worried about the impact of immigrants on social services – there is only so much money to go around, and the government wants citizens to receive it. Finally, France is infamous for its extensive red tape, which can make everything from buying a car to renting an apartment an administrative nightmare.
So with these difficulties in mind, let’s look at how someone can get permission to live and work in France.
It’s easy for citizens of most countries* to visit France – upon arrival, they receive a tourist visa which allows them to stay in France for up to 90 days, but not to work or to receive any social benefits. In theory, when the 90 days are up, these people can travel to a country outside the European Union, have their passports stamped, and then return to France with a new tourist visa. They might be able to do this for a while, but it’s not really legal.
*Depending on your home country, you may need a French visa even for a short visit.
Someone who wants to live in France long term without working or going to school should apply for a visa de long séjour. Among other things, a visa de long séjour requires a financial guarantee (to prove that the applicant will not be a drain on the state), medical insurance, and police clearance.
Working in France
European Union citizens can legally work in France. Foreigners outside of the EU must do the following, in this order
- Find a job
- Obtain a work permit
- Obtain a visa de long séjour
- Go to France
- Apply for a carte de séjour
For anyone who is not from an EU country, finding a job in France is extremely difficult, for the simple reason that France has a very high unemployment rate and will not give a job to a foreigner if a citizen is qualified. France’s membership in the European Union adds another twist to this: France gives first priority for jobs to French citizens, then to EU citizens, and then to the rest of the world. In order for, say, an American to get a job in France, s/he essentially has to prove that s/he is more qualified than anyone in the European Union. Therefore, the people with the best odds of working in France tend to be those in highly specialized fields, as there may not be enough qualified Europeans to fill these types of positions.