Do you remember the quote from Alice in Wonderland that goes:
Door: “Why, it’s simply impassible!
Alice: Why, don’t you mean impossible?
Door: No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing’s impossible!”
Keep this in mind if landing a French work visa is your goal.
To be frank, it isn’t a matter of finding a nice company that will sponsor you. There are tons of those, but they’re not in control of whether you’re granted one or not. It’s quite nuanced, in fact. The number of jobs that can provide the needed prerequisites where the French government will allow you to work for a French company is very few, but they do exist. Even for the (seemingly) disadvantaged.
I don’t have a degree from a university and have few formal qualifications. If you feel your working background will hold you back, don’t. There are more options than you might guess.
The Dream vs. The Reality
A couple of weeks before my arrival in Paris, a friend called me to share a job listing she stumbled upon. Actually, she was looking for a new job herself, so it was touching she thought of me at all. And to my surprise, the position forwarded to me was work I could realistically be hired for in France: Customer Care Specialist USA.
It wasn’t the most glamorous job description, but it sounded like something I could qualify for. I was really excited.
Living in Paris, I’ve often met French people who have cool jobs. I have multiple friends who work for Chanel, friends who are lawyers, illustrators…I learned a friend was recently written up in Vogue.
The French job market is primarily reserved for the French, and if you’re shooting for a position like one of those I mentioned, you’ll have to stand out in greater, arguably unreachable, ways. Be reasonable about what kind of work will suit you here. What qualifies you for work in the States may not qualify you for work here in France.
Ask yourself, what can you bring to the table that a qualified French person can’t? Maybe it’s your command of the English language (though many Parisians speak English well) One step further, maybe it’s your understanding of American culture which sets you apart.
The “geared towards the US market” job description is crucial because companies need to justify why a foreigner is the best choice for their available position. They must prove to the government that a foreigner is more qualified for this role than a French citizen. They’re required to be thorough to the point of advertising their listing in the post for three weeks. Since the vast majority of French citizens are not (also) American, I felt I had an advantage with these jobs.
Use Growing Up in America to Your Advantage
American culture is generally optimistic compared to other cultures. We are often willing to take risks in ways people from other parts of the world simply wouldn’t. It could stem from the idea that Americans can’t afford to be lazy. I mean this literally. Healthcare isn’t heavily subsidized (unless you’re elderly or destitute), government aid isn’t as accessible (see healthcare), university beyond community colleges are outrageously priced (and tied to the sweet slush funds of student loans), etc. If you don’t work, you simply do not eat.
In the case of the position I was going for, why would they go to such great lengths to find someone for this position, and why was it so difficult to fill? It requires no degree and little to no experience.
The official statement is, they need an American who understands American culture.
The unofficial statement is, they need an American to deal with the Karens.
My company is a tech startup, which meant it was possible I could qualify for a French Tech Visa. A quick Google search showed this visa is valid for four years and renewable. If I could go this route, I could bypass the “justification” step in applying for my work visa.
Customer service is a developing concept here in France (here on the blog we’ve got both positive and negative experiences with it). According to my French friends, it’s much better than in the past, but hasn’t matured to the point we know so well in the States. Although French culture has a rich emotional vocabulary, it’s still developing the necessary skills to handle the demands of the very odd “customer is always right” mentality.
Teaching English is a go-to for many Americans. However, your chances of being able to settle in France while teaching English are slim. There is no shortage of English teachers (getting paid right around minimum wage). Being a native English speaker can still earn you a valuable place here, however.
Tourism is huge in Paris. I met a German guy who settled in Paris working for German tourism. There is no shortage of Americans working in the tourism sector, which is coming back strong after its toughest two years since probably the Second World War. Frankly, there are plenty of avenues an American could take in that field.
I had already received my Long-Term Visitor Visa and gotten rid of all my stuff, so I didn’t know what to expect if I chose to move forward with this job posting. I decided it couldn’t hurt to send them my CV.
It’s important to note that to obtain the visitor visa, you must write and sign a letter to the French government promising not to work for a French company in France. Since I was attempting to do exactly what I attested to not doing, I would only move forward if everything was legal.
A few days after sending them my CV and cover letter, the company emailed me to set up my first interview. We met on FaceTime, and I was upfront and transparent about my legal status in France. I was happy to find out they were willing to work with me on this, so we continued to the next part of the hiring process. I mentioned I would be in Paris the following week, so we had our second interview in person.
I’m the first person to fill this position so my company let me choose my schedule and my salary. I can work from home, or anywhere for that matter. Although I was hired, and was ready to start as soon as possible, my current visa status meant I couldn’t be contracted with the much sought-after CDI. They suggested a band-aid solution that could work long-term, freelancing, which is one more piece of evidence that contradicts the line given by many in Facebook groups and other places that one cannot legally work remotely while in France on a visitor visa. In this case, I was working remotely for a French company, and happened to choose to live in France. I never said I wouldn’t work remotely for a French company, and you need to have no legal status in France (or any country) in order to work remotely for a French company.
Freelancing involved writing a contract between me and the company outlining the terms of indefinite freelance (and in my case, also remote) work. In order to get paid, I simply personally invoice the company through their US subsidiary. I don’t get paid in Euros and since income paid to a US citizen for a remote French job isn’t directly concerned with French taxation, that’s one less wrinkle. That income will indirectly show up, as part of filing taxes in France as a foreigner is declaring your overseas income, but that’s a single line item, and collects all my sources of income without further details, and in any case, as already noted, it’s not possible, legally, morally (or logistically), for the French government to audit where the remote workers of French companies live or work. What they are concerned with is the legal status of those who do live in France, and I was (and am) in France on a valid visa.
As long as your pay for a given remote employer is connected to your fiscal address in the US, you’re good to go.
There are a few disadvantages to the freelancing option, but if you’re looking to settle in France, this is a good first step. Like I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t provide you with the magical CDI and many landlords won’t accept tenants who freelance. I obviously don’t have the famous five paid weeks of vacation either. Don’t get me wrong, there are many pros that outweigh the cons. The most obvious being stable work.
Thankfully, for the sake of training, everything is in English. This doesn’t help my French at all, but I mention this because of a valid point my friend brought up the other day. We were talking about a possible relocation for her to Paris, and she was hesitant about working for a French company speaking French. The idea is intimidating, but the reality is not so.
You were hired because you possess a skill that others here don’t. You’re an asset. Further, they’ve jumped through the hoops necessary to get you here, so they want to keep you. Even if it means for a while they speak English, so be it. The reality in French tech, by the way, is that the office language usually is English, even if the majority of the workers are French.
The fact that you’re a foreigner is not a surprise to them, and generally (minus the stubborn few) people are quite nice here. The changes and transitions involved can be uncomfortable, but if you’re determined to grow past all that, take my experience and move through it. If it’s right for you, it’ll work out, and it’ll be easy.
I have to return to the States to change my visa next year (I failed to check the 12+ month box when applying, and clicked the 6-12 month one, which gave me a nonrenewable visa), so my next steps won’t concern me for a while. And if I do pick up that French Tech visa, I promise I’ll explain how to get that too.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying carving my own way in this country and city.
Photo was taken while working remotely in Montmartre.
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