France is the most visited country in the world - so it's no surprise that some of those millions of tourists choose to extend their stay, by settling there to live and work. The French economy is the sixth largest in the world, with finance, services and manufacturing contributing to a healthy and stable GDP.
If you do want to move to France, you might need to secure a work visa before you can get started in a new job. Make sure your paperwork is all in order and avoid any unnecessary stress with this handy guide to getting a French work visa.
Your first priority should be to figure out if you need a work permit at all. In some cases, depending on your nationality and the role you’re going to take on, a permit might not be necessary.
If you're a citizen of another European Union (EU) country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, then you don't need a permit to live or work in France. Croatian citizens should check the current requirements, as it's currently under review as part of Croatia’s accession to the EU.
If you already have a residency permit for France then you might not need a separate work permit. Check the details on your residency card which should specify if it's permanent, provisional or short stay. If you have a permanent residency card then this probably gives you the right to work but with the other visa types you might need a separate work permit. The exact details depend somewhat on your nationality, so make sure you check with your local embassy.
Before you can get a French work visa, you must find a job. Your employer then applies for a work visa on your behalf, at their local Ministry of Labour. The process is managed regionally, with variations in the processes applied, so the time this takes can vary.
Once this initial stage of application is approved, it's passed to the authorities for immigration who contact your local French embassy in your home country. It's then your responsibility to go to your embassy and complete the application process in person.
Once your application has been received, it can take anywhere from around about three weeks up to a couple of months to complete the process depending on your nationality, visa type and local embassy procedures. You can’t start the process more than three months before you intend to travel to France, so you need to plan your time accordingly.
There are various different types of work visas and residency permits available, depending on your nationality, and the work you intend to do. This range changes over time - for example, in 2017, a new ‘tech visa’ will be launched to encourage employees coming to work in innovative technology businesses. Full details of visa types are available on the French government website (in French), or the English website of the diplomatic service. If you're travelling to work for an employer then they'll advise you on the correct visa type for you.
Although there are agencies which can help you get your visa (for a fee). Most of these agencies do work directly with employers to speed and simplify the visa process from their perspective. If you decide to use an agency to help you secure your visa then take references and make sure you understand what you’re paying for before you hand over your hard earned cash.
More useful information can be found at the European Commission mobility portal, EURES, and the EU Immigration Portal.
To get your visa at your home country’s French embassy, you'll need to take along your personal documents, including:
- Valid passport (this must have been issued in the last ten years and last until past the point that your visa runs out)
- Complete and signed application and residence forms
- Passport signed photos
- You might have to show evidence of your travel plans including pre booked return flights, depending on the visa type you're applying for
- Application fee and in some cases a stamped and self addressed envelope
Your embassy might have slightly different requirements, so check when you make an appointment. Embassy staff also reserve the right to ask for further documentation after meeting you and before issuing a visa.
If you're applying for one of the more comprehensive visa types - such as the ‘skills and talents’ visa, which grants extensive rights to holders, you'll be asked for more information and documentation. In this case you have to prove your competence to carry out the highly skilled or entrepreneurial role you’re moving for and will have to provide evidence of your qualifications and skills.
It's worth remembering that any family members travelling with you will have to attend this appointment too, as visas are only issued after a face to face meeting with the embassy. This is because you might be required to give biometric data such as photographs and fingerprints to secure your visa.
The cost of getting your visa will vary slightly by country and visa type. For a US citizen seeking a long term visa the current processing cost is around $100.
Depending on the type of work you're planning on doing, it might be possible to apply for an EU Blue Card instead of a work visa just for France. Similar to the US Green Card, this document gives you the right to work across most EU member states (excluding Denmark, Ireland and the UK).
To be eligible for a Blue Card, you must be from a country outside the EU, be highly skilled (typically meaning you have completed a bachelor's level university degree, or have five years of senior professional experience) and have a binding job offer or active work contract.
The Blue Card application process is fast tracked by member states, meaning it's typically quicker than other forms of work visa application. However, it may still take up to three months. Although you start the application process online and through a single point of contact, the process may vary depending on your personal circumstances. The Blue Card network has a good website and offers support to applicants to help them understand the process.
If you plan to work in France for less than three months, then your employer will apply at the local Ministry of Labour for a permit for you as a temporary worker. In some cases this requirement is waived depending on your nationality, so do check with your local embassy. Seasonal visas can be issued which allow you to work for six months in every twelve. These can be renewed several times depending on your circumstances.
To work in France as an au pair, you have to be under 30, and be learning French. The family you'll be working for must make the application for you, to obtain a working visa.
Because of the wide range of visas available in France, you should check with your local embassy before making any firm plans.
If you’re from Argentina, Colombia, Australia or New Zealand you might also be able to apply for a working holiday visa. This grants you multiple entry to France, and the right to seek work while you're there. Once you actually get a job you'll need to complete further paperwork to secure a temporary work permit, and the expectation is that your primary reason for being in France is to take a holiday rather than for employment.
To work in France at your own business or as a freelancer, you must apply directly to your local French embassy for a visa. They'll ask you to demonstrate your plans and the ability you have to set up a successful business. You'll have to prove that you have sufficient money to sustain your finances in France until your business is established.
The exact details you'll be asked to provide depend on the type of work you intend to do - for example, whether you'll set up a traditional business, work on a contracted basis, or be a freelancer moving between roles regularly. The rules in relation to micro enterprise and freelance work are fairly complex, so you'll have to carefully define what you wish to do while you're in France.
If you're in France with a visa known as a ‘skills and talents’ permit, then you can bring family members with you immediately. They also have the right to work in France without needing further permits. Holders of the EU Blue Card are also able to apply for visas on behalf of family members without a waiting period under the family reunification scheme.
In some cases if you're an investor or entrepreneur and either investing large sums of money or creating more than ten jobs, you may be able to get a visa which allows your family to join you immediately.
Also, your employer must start the visa process for any family members who will travel to France with you, at the same time as they apply for authorisation for you. All family members over the age of 6 will be required to visit the local French embassy in your country in person to get their visas.
However, other types of working visas require you to be in France for 18 months before you can apply for your family members to join you. In this case, your spouse may not be able to work without applying for further clearance.
In most cases, once you arrive in France you'll need to register with the Immigration and Integration office. Here you might be asked to provide more medical details or have health checks for communicable diseases, depending on your nationality. You can also access find help and support to get settled into France, and learn more about the French language and integration policies.
Getting a visa can feel like a hurdle to moving and working abroad. it's inevitably a complex and alien process which takes time. It’s all worth it, though. Once you have your paperwork all set, you can get onto the more enjoyable aspects of planning your new life.
Once you need to send money either to or from the France, consider using a money conversion service like TransferWise to avoid unfair exchange rates. There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another you’ll get the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not only that, but TransferWise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, further saving you money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.
If your trip is short or opening a bank account in France isn't an option, you can always withdraw money from your foreign account using a French ATM. Just keep in mind it'll be more favorable to agree to be charged in the local currency, not your home currency.
Regardless of when you start your new job abroad, it should be fairly straightforward to get yourself a visa if you follow the right steps. The most important part is just to make sure to enjoy your new adventure.