Business owners who have conversations with accountants about classifying business expenses or certain depreciation strategies are used to hearing two words when we pose a question hoping for a yes or no answer: “it depends.” I fully understand this answer now, but the younger version of me just wanted a simple answer. I’ve come to realize that international living does not often offer simple answers.
The single most asked question I’ve run into in forums and Facebook groups in the last two years has been, “Can I work remotely in France?” Implied in this question is the adverb “legally” since, of course, anyone can open a laptop anywhere in France and work remotely. While I have my reasons for being in the “Yes” camp, I’ve run into a lot of “No” people online, who despite having no personal stake in the situation (they’re not remote workers) or no official status to speak for the French state (they’re just part-time online Karens), insist that their interpretation is the correct one. I’ve also run into a few people, one in particular who we have mentioned before on this blog, who insists that remote work is not permitted, which is why you need to take her $4000 course to help you get a Profession Liberale visa (which will allow you to work legally).
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At the heart of this question is really an issue of taxation, which is a big deal in France.
Your tax records are an important part of various applications you’ll have here, particularly for citizenship.
You are required to file taxes as long as you are a resident of France. Even if you’re not resident in France, you will need to file taxes if you are earning any kind of income here. This most often applies to those who own rental property.
Filing taxes, of course, is different from paying taxes. You only pay taxes if you have taxable income, and there are certain policies and exclusions that can reduce that amount for any given individual.
What’s important for any tax authorities that come knocking is a narrative. You need to consult with an accountant and possibly an attorney on your own particular situation, but when it comes to France and many other countries in the world, the remote work question was never clearly anticipated in current law and doesn’t look to be the most important issue to be resolved as the world recovers from extreme and disproportionate measures taken during Covid-19 and is heading into an energy crisis centered in (and precipitated by the US and) Europe but that will be felt around the globe.
Here’s a scenario.
I’m an American businessman taking my family to Paris for a week-long vacation. While there I take two hours of business calls each day, which are billable hours to my client.
The “No” people would argue that I have now “worked in France” illegally.
A South African businesswoman has a Chilean-based business but does a consulting call with someone living in Marseille.
The “No” people might argue that this South African entrepreneur has now “worked in France” illegally.
As I already noted, the laws on the books in France (and in many other countries) never anticipated that “work” could be something digital and that billable conversations could be happening between countries, much less continents.
In both of these cases, the country where the business is domiciled can easily be considered the place where the business took place, and any income derived from those countries will need to be reported by the individual earning that income in those countries. Some may choose to construct or construe it another way, but that’s up to them.
In no way can these be construed as slam-dunk “working in France illegally” scenarios.
But let’s move from those hypothetical situations to a real-life ones I’ve witnessed as I’ve helped hundreds of people get their visas to come to France over the years: the French government, both before and after 2020, has consistently approved Long Term Stay Visitor Visas in which the “proof of income” the applicant presented came in the form of a letter from an employer who stated that his/her employee would be working remotely. Those visa applications have never been denied on the grounds of the applicant stating an explicit plan to work remotely in France.
So, at least as far as the visa-granting portion of the French government is concerned, it’s perfectly legal to work remotely in France.
The same is also true for real estate. If you own real estate in France, you are allowed to earn income from that real estate, even if you don’t live in the country. But you need to declare that income to the French government. This is an example of filing and paying taxes in France even when you don’t live here. That’s what happens when you live a multi-country life in any format: simplicity disappears.
US-based remote workers who are resident in France will end up declaring their US income to the French, albeit in an indirect way. When you file your taxes in France, as I have for almost a decade now, there’s a line item for worldwide income, which in my case, is mostly derived from other US-based companies I own. If I were a remote worker, my income would have originated there and I would have paid taxes in that jurisdiction.
According to the “no remote working in France” crowd the French government is wrong, at least the part of the French government that issues visas to those who are openly stating their intent to work remotely in France.
Let’s go back to the nuance I mentioned at the beginning of this article. While the “No” people tend to be unconditional surrender types, who cannot admit the possibility they could be wrong, I am willing to admit I might be wrong, despite being a “Yes” person. Here are two counterarguments I would make:
- There could be a scenario in which the different departments (immigration and labor/taxation) of the government are in conflict with each other on policy and that a future court case and ruling would clarify this issue. It wouldn’t be the first time that this happened in a government, French or otherwise. But I don’t see this as a priority in a French state that is currently (and is for the foreseeable future) a chaotic mess politically.
- It may also be the case that some of these people are taking the perspective of French jurisprudence, which requires specific permissions to do things. A lack of permission implies illegality. Anglo-Saxon law tends to the principle of “if it’s not forbidden, you may do it.” As with the conflicting-government-departments angle, I understand and appreciate this perspective. But it doesn’t change my mind.
For the moment, not only can you legally work remotely in France, you can even explicitly tell the French government you plan to do so before you move here. And they’ll give you a visa to do it legally.
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash
A version of this article originally appeared on Noobpreneur. It also appeared on Medium.
Depends on your Visa… With a Carte de séjour “Visiteur”, it’s a big no-no says our French/American accountant, whether or not you’re officially a French tax resident (i.e., to a 1st approximation, in France more than 180 days/year). Part of the application requires signing a document that says one won’t work. If your butt is in France, then you’re working in France. This is typically the visa = residency card that a ‘retired’ person applies for, annually, for 5 years, then can apply for a 10 year card which, ironically, permits one to work. Working on vacation doesn’t count because you’re not a resident.
While I would hesitate to correct a professional, especially someone who works with both France and the US, as I point out in the article, I’m relying on the French government’s actions, not an individual accountant’s advice, for my opinion on this matter. Given that the French government routinely approves visitor visas in which someone says they are working remotely, it seems that your “butt” theory doesn’t “sit” with them. 🙂
I also don’t accept your “doesn’t count” premise in which a visitor to France has more rights than a resident of France when it comes to work…
This is one thing that confuses me: can the consulates really have a completely erroneous understanding of the law to the degree that they consistently advise visa applicants that this is legal and above board? Surely not! If not, why do people consistently say that it is illegal? Their argument is that consulates aren’t on the same page as the tax authorities, but how on earth can that be? They’re government agencies, surely. It would be incredibly damaging to people’s futures to explicitly grant them the rght to do something which is actually illegal. It doesn’t really make sense.
There you are showing your Anglo-Saxon bias. Why “surely not?” Governments all around the world have instances in which agencies clash with each other. In the US the Federal law considers marijuana businesses illegal, meaning that any legal marijuana businesses cannot benefit from the legal tax deductions at the federal level, even though those businesses are legal at the state level.
I have been in France a little over a year and I have just received my residency permit. I am from the United States. I am wanting to start a concierge business. It is not a tour guide. It is just someone that will meet women at the airport, I’ll set them up an Airbnb and show them around town, my daughter is going to do the same thing in London although she still resides in the United States, the company is going to be in her name and no money will transfer to me. The money will not be commingling in any account. This is a way for her to earn money and for me to just get out and meet people and have a good time , I have been told that I will be kicked out of France and my visa will be revoked since I am not taking jobs away from the French. I am not making money here in France, I am just wanting to know what your thoughts are
I assume you are on a visitor visa.
While I don’t accept the “taking away jobs from the French” narrative, as the French would never do what you are proposing, this is not what I am talking about in this article, which is a remote job.
If you don’t have a visa classification that allows you to have a business doing what you’re proposing, you’re playing with fire.
If you want to get out and have a good time, volunteer:
or join meetup:
You won’t get kicked out right away, insofar as there are no immigration police roaming around randomly asking Americans if they have started illegal businesses, but this is a bad idea if you plan to live long term in France. Keep it legal. What you’re proposing, by the terms of a visitor visa, isn’t.
PS The English are WAY stricter about this than the French are. It is a TERRIBLE idea for your daughter to be doing something like this in London under the radar. Register a business and make it legal!
I’m hoping to move to France for under 12 months and work remotely for a UK org while I’m there. My employers are ok with it, and I’ve got no plans to extend my stay past the 9-12 months.
Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that I’ll either have to use a wage portage company or set up as a freelancer which would be a huge faff!
I’m excited to hear that the visitor visa actually seems fine – but do you have any sources for the French govt routinely approving these sorts of applications for visitor visas? It just contradicts everything else I’ve read so would love some more info!
Ellen the source is my unbroken line of remote-working, French visitor-visa-gaining clients since 2014. I’ve never had someone denied over this issue. Indeed, these people often explicitly declare they will be remote working.
Excellent article. I have had numerous battles on (nameless) FB groups over this issue. I have read of numerous people going to the consulate (in London in this case) applying for the auto-entrepreneur visa who have been told by consular staff that as their clients are all in the UK, they should apply for the visitor visa. They have been asked to write a clear letter stating their work is remote for a UK employer and that no money will be exchanged in France. One man queried this and it was referred higher up in the consulate – he then received an email the following day stating this was indeed fine and above board.
This is something I too would like to do. But I have a few concerns. My main concern is would there come a point where you are legally defined as a long-term resident, fulfilling what they consider “permanent establishment” rules, at which point you must begin to pay into the French system officially. Also, how does one go about accessing the health care system? Or do you continue to use annual health insurance instead? Have you – or anyone you know – ever come up against problems at the renewal stage of the visa process, as this is dealt with by individual prefectures rather than consulates, who often have wildly differing ways of doing/interpreting things?
I want to pursue this in the very near future but the fear of being slapped with a massive fine and deporation order frightens me, as I want France to become my permanent home! I wonder if, after five years of using a visiteur visa for remote work, I would gain permament residency and change my status to an auto-entrepreneur and start paying properly into the system. Sorry for the long post! I suppose my main question really is: this sounds fine and dandy for the first year or two but does it work long-term without complications down the line?
In a decade of helping people with this, I’ve never once had a visitor visa remote-working client come back and say they have been slapped with a massive fine or have been deported.
Nor have I ever had the people on forums (how brave they are, lol) who insist that this is “illegal” produce even one single case of someone being “deported” and “slapped with a huge fine” over this issue.
It’s fear-mongering, and I tried to deal with it in this article. I can’t say any more than I said.
You seemed to conclude that this was “fine” as a “temporary measure” but it’s not. You can do this for the rest of your life, because not everyone wants to start a French business (in fact, I generally advise against it, if one has a choice). After five years as a visitor, you can convert to a Carte de Resident, which allows you to start a business, work a job, whatever.
If it’s “fine and dandy” for the first year or two, it’s fine and dandy for the next twenty. I don’t give temporary advice here. 🙂
So people you know have applied for renewal at the prefecture year after year without problems? Your advice is very reassuring. It’s the “later down the line” issue that worries me, and you have reassured me. Do you happen to know if those people have accessed the health system after three months without a hitch? I presume they declare themselves “inactif” in France to do so, while each year declaring their foreign-sourced income on their French tax return.
When you say “access the French health care system” you make it sound like that’s difficult. As with the US, the French Health Care system is open to everyone. It’s a question of payment that is the issue. The French don’t care how you pay. They don’t refuse service if you don’t have insurance, just as they don’t in the US.
You can apply for “assurance etrangers” here in France, which gives you the same levels of treatment and the same costs that all of us who pay into the national system receive, all for around 450€ a year.
There’s an article on our site explaining how you can get access to the national system just by residency. I don’t know where you’re getting your advice from (declaring yourself “inactif”) but it’s wrong.
I am on my second year in France under a visiteur visa with a foreign source of income. I will say that at the end of my first year, when I went to renew my visa, I was asked to provide proof of health insurance covering this second year. This is the same request made when I first applied for the visa, and for which I purchased coverage through Cigna Global as described in this article:
Having never obtained a Numéro Provisoire from the French health system, I purchased a second one-year policy through Cigna and the prefecture accepted that for the renewal of my visa. The Cigna policy is not exactly cheap, and I regretted having to buy it, especially as I am already paying a considerable amount for health insurance through my American employer. But it did satisfy the prefecture and my visa was renewed and that was the important thing.
I’ve never been clear personally whether enrolling in the French health system would equally satisfy the ongoing visa requirements? The insurance requirement for obtaining the visa in the first place lists certain conditions such as that it must cover the costs of repatriation, which I doubt the French insurance does. But maybe it is nevertheless true that Assurance Maladie would be accepted by the prefecture for visa requirements for years 2 and after?
That’s very interesting Luke. Can I ask how you satisfied the income requirement going forward? Did you show a tax return with the foregin income declared? Or bank statements?
Hi Jackie, in my case I provided the last three months of paystubs from my American employer, and that fulfilled the proof of income requirement.
So there is yet more proof that what is said so well on this site is correct – it is perfectly acceptable to work remotely for a foreign employer while on a visitor visa. If the prefecture actually looks at your pay stubs and know you are working and say that is absolutely fine, there is no problem.
Thanks for this, I have just been accepted on a VLS-TS visa on this basis. When it comes to filing taxes, do you have a recommendation on a French accountant (yours perhaps!)? That would be hugely appreciated, thank you (even a direct message to my email if possible). Thank you!
Olivia, my accountant is no longer taking new clients, but if you send me an email I can let you know about some other options.
Thanks for the very interesting discussion. My French wife & I are planning to move to Lyon in Aug 2023 for at least 12 months, assuming that I could remain employed and paid in Australia. We are now very unsure that this is possible. If anyone has any advice or insight it would be very appreciated.
I have a long stay visa and I planned to apply for citizenship through marriage.
As noted, there is no reason why you couldn’t continue to do this. There’s a lot of fear-mongering online, but it’s not substantiated by any evidence from people actually going through the process.
Does anyone know the steps that a US company will be responsible for if their remote employee works in France for over the 180 days? Will they need to file any special document/pay any fee?
As someone who has employees for my US company all over the world, I can think of no tax document I, as an employer, are responsible for. The IRS doesn’t really care where your employees live, only that they pay into SS if they are W-2.