From glittering Paris to the rolling Provence countryside, the snow-capped Alps, and the sun-glazed French Riviera, France is one of the most beloved countries for tourists in the world. It seems like everyone wants to travel there and take in the world-class culture and cuisine. But what if you could live and work in France, not just visit for a week or two? What if you didn’t have to rush through the country snapping photos of yourself in front of famous cathedrals and scarfing down what Yelp says is the best steak frites, but could slow down and live life as a local? With the gig economy, you can!
Freelance work is more popular than ever. Quality high-speed Internet has made it easier to do all kinds of work from your computer, and the modern, global economy prizes skilled independent contractors that can turn around a project quickly. Since they aren’t bound to a specific office, many freelancers use their careers to scratch their wanderlust and live abroad. This article provides some essential tips and tricks for starting your freelancing career in France, navigating the bureaucracy and revenue service, and assembling the skills you need for success.
Yes, as long as you have obtained the proper visa, you’re legally allowed to do freelance work in France. While there are ways to live in France as a full-time freelancer, you can also live in the country if you have a job offer from a French company (and do freelance work on the side) or are married to a French national.
So you’re doing contract work for an organization. You’re not their employee, but does that make you self-employed, or a freelancer? The difference can be confusing. If you’re self-employed, that means that you technically own your own business. But it’s only freelance work if you do it on behalf of another company or organization, not say, an independent plumber working for private homeowners. That’s why freelancers are able to conduct their business under their own name, rather than a brand name. Self-employed people often work under an official business name.
Put simply: all freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers.
In most circumstances, you must either be employed by a French company or married to a French national to work from France. But to cater to the freelancers growing share of the workforce, France began issuing profession libérale visa in 2009.
Though it magically unlocks your ability to freelance in France without working a day job for a local company or getting hitched to a Parisian, some find the process for actually applying for a profession libérale visa baffling. Many online resources don’t even list it as a possible visa you can apply for. It’s worth the expense to hire an immigration lawyer to guide you through the bureaucratic thicket. Time is money.
One very important point: you must apply for this visa from the United States, not France.
Contact your local French consulate well in advance of your departure. This is where you’ll be turning in your paperwork.
There isn't a straightforward list of required documents, but writers have been approved for submitting the following list of documents.
- Your passport
- An application supplied by the consulate
- A cover letter
- A demonstrated professional goal. This can be invoices from previous jobs, letters of recommendation from previous jobs or from vendors in France that want to use your services. Diplomas and certificates that pertain to your vocation are also helpful.
- Proof that you currently have enough money in your bank account to support yourself
- Proof of residence in France
- Proof of medical insurance. (You can enroll in the national health service later).
- A clean criminal record
When you have gathered that documentation, contact your local French consulate to turn it in. If you can make sure most of the documentation is in in French, things will go more smoothly for you.
The review process typically takes from one to three months. If you're approved, you’ll be issued a starter visa that you then review when you arrive in France.
The total cost of obtaining a profession libérale visa comes to around €300 ($351)
In addition to the profession libérale visa, freelancers and self-employed individuals need to register their business through the URSSAF under the unique “micro-enterprise” taxation system. Micro-enterprises have simpler tax and accounting requirements than larger businesses, and also are required to pay less into social welfare programs. In order to maintain your micro-enterprise status, your earnings from freelance work cannot exceed €33,200 annually.
While that’s a low threshold, this status helps you to get on your feet in the country. After they're established, many freelancers move from the micro-enterprise system to a EURL classification (sole proprietorship with limited liability) or choose to join a workers cooperative, or Société Cooperative et Participative (SCOP). Most have a membership fee of around 10% of earnings and take care of a freelancer’s accounting and bill collection, as well as offer professional counseling and networking opportunities.
To become a micro-entrepreneur, you simply contact the local chamber of commerce and fill out an application.
As a skilled expat worker, you’ll likely get paid through a wire service. There are many options, such as Western Union or Paypal. But you’ll want to be aware of the fees and exchange rates charged by different financial institutions. Most banks and transfer services charge low up-front fees but take advantage of you by using a higher exchange rate and skimming the difference.
To receive payment and have the largest amount left over when you collect it, give TransferWise a try. That way, your money will be converted at the real exchange rate - the same one you’ll find on Google - and that should put more money back in your pocket.
The TransferWise multi-currency Borderless account is probably best suited to your needs. A borderless account allows you to have “local bank” status in either the EU, UK, US, or Australia but reside in a different country, and send, manage, or receive money through the account in dozens of currencies, including Euros.
As a freelancer, you're responsible for reporting your income to the government and paying a tax on it. Typically, freelancers end up forking over around 20% of their earnings to the state.
You may be required to complete additional filings and be subject to specific reporting requirements. To be certain you satisfy taxation regulations, it’s wise to keep a careful record your invoices and expenses and consult an accountant for advice on how to remain tax compliant back home and in your new country.
It’s important to research the possible deductions you can claim to reduce your overall tax burden. Freelancers who do content, marketing, development and IT work can often claim office, travel, and meal expenses. Before you file your taxes, discuss your possible expenses with a savvy accountant and see how much you can save.
Many freelancers find it helpful to declare their income several times throughout the year, rather than annually, to avoid getting hit with a large bill.
Like many Western nations, France has a national health service that all citizens are automatically enrolled in. It has an excellent reputation: the World Health Organization ranks it as the best healthcare system in the world, topping a list of 191 countries. But you may be wondering if you have access to it as a foreigner.
You’re in luck, in the last few years, the French government has opened up the health service to expats residing in the country. Under the new Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA) system, legal residents of France who are there in a “stable and regular” manner have an automatic and ongoing right to access healthcare, just like a native-born citizen. This is a great improvement over the old system, which required you to reside legally in the country anywhere from one to five years before you could use the national health service, and pay for private insurance until then.
All sorts of global companies are hungry for freelancers with a diverse array of skills, so there are several websites that allow organizations and skilled workers to find each other. Two of the most popular in the country are Upwork and Hopwork. While it’s not based in France, it does allow you to apply for jobs all over the world. The only thing that matters is your qualifications.
With around 270,000 active users and 70,000 active projects, Twago is the largest marketplace for European freelancers. The website has portals for each European country and keeps a small share of the income you make from each job.
If you're not fluent in French, the website Freelance In France caters specifically to English speakers. They facilitate communication between independent contractors and French-speaking clients, as well as take on the legal and administrative work.
One of the most appealing parts of freelance work is that you can work at home. You don’t have a commute, you’re not tied to a strict workday, there’s no boss interrupting you at your cubicle, you can work in sweats, and you don’t have to smell your co-workers tuna sandwich during lunchtime. But many freelancers find spending both their working time and leisure time at home to be stifling and a little maddening.
As more and more people work from home, “coworking spaces” have risen in popularity. They effectively replicate the office environment (albeit often with a more chic decor) by filling a large space with desks, long tables, Wi-Fi, and coffee and tea services. Freelancers pay a flat monthly rate for access to the space and find the option of getting out of the house and working a few hours a week amongst others worth the expense. Freelancing can be a lonely, competitive hustle, so the social and networking opportunities of coworking spaces are invaluable. You’ll likely share industries with many of the people you share a coworking space with, so it should be your goal to buddy up with them to discuss common clients, productivity methods, and job-hunting ideas, and grab some drinks to vent about your frustrations.
Research the sites cited above and create a user profile for each of them. Make sure to use an up-to-date photo and list as many marketable skills as you can reasonably claim. Be as specific as you can with your skills. For example, don’t just say you can write in Microsoft Word if you’re experienced (or, even better, certified) in advanced documentation software like InDesign or Madcap Flare. Don’t just say you’re a good photographer, but say you’re a master at Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. It’s important that you not just list what you can do, but also demonstrate a knowledge and expertise at the popular tools in your field.
Try to also supplement your core skills so you can compete for more gigs. For example, if you’re a writer, burnish your editing or transcription skills. If you’re a photographer, learn some video editing.
While sites like Upwork and Hopwork are invaluable resources, you may consider creating your own website. Sites like Squarespace or Wix offer numerous simple, useful templates for establishing your online presence for a competitive price. Having a URL that uses your own name and includes writing samples and contact info can send a strong signal that you’re a professional with experience who is ready to work.
Before you start competing for gigs, it’s important to determine your rate. You’re competing with other freelancers in your skills space, so you if you overcharge you won’t get work. But if you undervalue yourself, you could be costing yourself thousands of dollars in the course of a year. Spend some time researching the market value of your skills set and determine a solid hourly rate for your efforts.
You need to stay agile and anticipate how you can grow your skill set in the future. The more you can do, the more jobs you can land.
This may seem obvious, but reliability is a crucial freelancer’s skill. That means responding to messages quickly, communicating in a professional manner, being open to feedback, and most importantly, turning work in on time. When you take on work, you must meet your deadlines. You can always gain more skills, but if you don’t turn in assignments on time and sink your reputation, it won’t matter.
A world of opportunity and flexibility awaits a freelancer who can market his or her skills, complete work reliably and on time, and continue to seek out new clients. Whether you choose to live in a metropolis like Paris or the vineyards of Bordeaux, there’s much to savor about French life. As a stable, modern economy with many world-class companies, there will be demand skilled contract work for years to come. Le bon temps roule!
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