So you want to move to France? Here’s what you can do about it

posted on October 30th 2014 in Blog & expat in France & Living in France with 34 Comments

Dreaming to move to France?

Live la vie en rose, be all that “je ne sais qua“, eat baguettes (macaroos, crossiants, choco eclairs) for breakfast and polish your French till you actually sound like Catherine Deneuve.

This is a good dream, indeed.

A good, yet a difficult dream to fulfill.

EU, EAU and Swiss passport holders, I’m officially jealous of your ability to live in whichever Schengen state you desire. Now, I’ve said it. Moving on.

If you come from any other part of the wold, you need legit reasons to obtain a long-term visa or carte de séjour (residence permit) to live in France for over 3 months at a time.

Paris

Be prepared to fight for your dream to live in the gorgeous Land of Art and Cheese.

With local consulates and visa applications centers in your home country and French bureaucracy on spot (who love paper work and don’t like you a lot). With lost documents, weird working hours, mixed directions and misunderstood details.

If you can’t be cracked with a paper limbo and get discouraged by formal obstacles, here’s what can you do to move to France:

Before we start. I’m no relocation expert and certainly no government official. I can give you ideas of what you can do if you want to live in France, but I can’t tell you how you can do it. 

Get educated

Enroll to University

Getting a degree in France is one of the easiest ways to stay for at least a year. Getting a long-term student visa isn’t much of a hassle once you get accepted.

No need to be straight A unless you are applying to Sorbonne or a very-very popular program (think fashion).

Pros to study in France:

* Higher education is really affordable.

A year of undergrad studies at a public college or uni will cost you  €189,10 per year.
– €261,10 a year for master’s programs
– €396,10 a year for doctoral programs

Private schools ( law, business and medical school) are more expensive starting from €3.000 to €10.000 per year.

* You are even allowed to work part-time (around 10-15 hours per week).

* You can speak French all the time and hang out with amazing student community

Make loads of local friends who’ll show you around and a bunch of international friends’ who you can always come to visit after you graduate.

*You have an awesome load of student discounts for everything + free admissions to the coolest museums and attractions.

Yes, free Louvre and D’Orsay museum. Discounts for clothes, food, transportation etc. Being under 25 in France is awesome!

Cons:

* You have to be really fluent in French.

I have never heard of anyone being kicked out of French Uni, but you need to study at least something. If you fail a class, you can re-take it at no cost. And re-take again, and again.

Your professor won’t yell at you if you missed paper submission deadline, but you have to be able to at least explain why you’ve missed it.

* Don’t expect to fully fund your cost of living with a part time job.

You’d be paid around 10-15€ per hour. Your monthly earnings may cover your rent (or not), but hey, you need to eat sometimes, buy books and move around the city,

Living in France, Paris in particular, isn’t cheap.

paris

900€ per month is an average min budget to survive as a frugal student. (yes, there are people who can do it for less, and people who can’t imagine how you can live on THAT little).

* Working and studding at the same time (and having social life, drinking café au lait, traveling etc) is not as easy as you may think.

Language barrier for the first few month makes everything more complicated. And getting settled, and getting all your papers in order, and much much more things you’ll need to figure out for the first few months.

* Want extra cash? Learn to write exceptional motivation letters to get a scholarship.

Just 800 words to tell how incredible you are and why you deserve those money.

You can find all the information about becoming a college student at Campus France – French national agency promoting higher education in France to foreign students.

Exchange Year

Not yet sure how things between you and France go and wanna have a test drive before committing long-term?

Or you are at the middle of your second undergrad year and want a change?

A year abroad in France as an exchange student can be a nice start.

A quick google search will return you hundreds of one-year study abroad programs in France, however I’d advice asking around your college first. Most probably, they do have some partnerships with French academia and you can get transferred for a year with all credits accepted once you get back.

Then, there’s Erasmus Mundus program and scholarships that can cover a year of your tuition along with living costs. You are eligible if you come from any state outside European Economic Area.

French Language Course

You can actually come to France to study French for a year (or even years) till you get to CEFR C2 level a.k.a you are nearly as good as a native speaker.

The main criteria for eligibility: you have a solid bank account with enough savings or someone else’s bank account who generously agreed to sponsor your studies.

The great things about enrolling to a language course in France are:

a) it doesn’t take much time. Usually, 2-4 hours a day, not more than 3 times a week (unless you’ve chosen an intensive course).

b) so you still have loads of free time to do whatever you want (e.g  freelance to pay for your studies).

c) You learn a new language. That makes you more awesome!

d) Ah, and you now live in France, of course!

Cat

Teacher Assistant Program or TAPIF

If you are a native English-speaker,  you can teach English in France for 7 months in elementary or secondary schools mainly anywhere around the country.

Yes, you may end up somewhere really far from Paris, which isn’t a bad thing after all! Or somewhere exotic like Guadeloupe, La Reunion, Martinique or Guyana.

Perks include 12 hour work week, 2 weeks of vacation every 6 weeks.

Cons:

Salary is rather modest – €790 per month after taxes. It’s an okayish amount money to live on if you stay outside Paris.

Side note: If you want to earn hell lot of money money teaching, try China or South Korean instead.

There’s no way to extend your stay in France or apply again for the next year. Go figure smth else!

Requirements for teachers are rather basic:

– 3 years in college
– B1 level of French (smth like lower-intermediate level)
– some previous teaching experience (optional, yet preferable)

Further Reading: 

Become an Au pair

French Kids

Take care of lovely French kids in exchange for food, accommodation, free language courses and some pocket money . You can expect to earn around 250-350 euro per month, working 5 hours a day on weekdays.

While working as an Au Pair you can live in France as long as you like (and get along with the family). Some people manage to travel around the world for years as an Au Pair. 

Most Au Pair gigs are usually secured via agencies, especially for the first time. Google will return you plenty of results and I’m sure there’s a local agency at your place where you can actually come and ask all the questions you may have.

Further Reading: 

Volunteer

Teach English (for free), help organizing an event, restore a chateaux or help the local community in any other way.

Most volunteering programs in France range from a few weeks up to 3 month.

You don’t get paid anything as a volunteer (but often required to get paid for enrolling to the program!). Instead provided with free lodging and food occasionally, plus some gigs like free travels or training courses.

However, longer volunteering opportunities (up to a year) exist! But they are much harder to find.

Besides, you are required to be fluent in French and have a good amount  of € € € in your bank account to afford living in France for the whole period of your program.

You can find all sort of volunteering opportunities in France at: 

And search for local NGOs, charity and volunteer organizations that may be interested in taking you! These guys may bother to help you extend your visa to living permit for a year.

Get an Internship in France

If you have just graduated from a French Uni, you are allowed to take an internship and get your visa extended for some time.

Some companies may send you an official paper stating they offered you an internship. So you present it at the consulate when you apply for visa.  However, do ask that particular company in advance if they will provideany visa assistance or not.

Types of internships vary drastically and depend a lot on your professional / educational background.

As an Intern you can:

– work for free (and think of other ways to earn money for food/or save a significant sum in advance)

–  be an inter  at really cool place for a ridiculous low-pay like work in Interpol (550€ a month) or be an intern at Ellen von Unwerth.  Now that experience would look good on your resume!

– get a very lucrative monthly salary of ~4.300€ to conduct research for OECD in Paris. You have to be smart and I bet the selection process is tough!

Where to look for internships in France: 

  • Mladiinfo
  • Go Overseas (again)
  • Google and check out  French offices of International companies who may be hiring interns.

Work&Holiday Visa in France

If you happen to be a passport holder of one of the following countries : Argentina, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore or Taiwan – my congrats!

You are eligible to apply for a year long Permis Vacances-Travail or Work and Travel visa in France! If you are between 18 and 30, and have a few thousand euros at your bank account to show to the officials – getting a work and travel visa in France is your best option!

Check out the official program website for more details.

here style="text-align: center;">Become a model

I haven’t seen “Underage Modeling Visa” at French Embassy website in US, however such type of visa exists in Ukraine. (and probably in some other continues, no?)

Apparently, it is a thing to hire very young Ukrainian girls.

Anyways, if you are under 18, have a portfolio and your parents don’t mind, you can look for modeling gigs in France and get your long-term visa relatively easy.

Get a real job in France

Unless you already have work permit, getting a job in France is insanely tough.

As a foreigner you have two options:

a) get transferred from your local office to French’s branch. This is awesome ’cause you don’t have to deal with all the visa papers yourself (someone goes through this hell for you). You get help with finding an apartment, moving your wife, kids, dog whatsoever, getting a relocation bonus etc.

(If you do work for such company, are they currently hiring anyone?)

b) get hired/sponsored by a French company.  Ok, so you applied to their job opening, sent out your cv and even did great on a Skype interview.

You know you are good. You are a professional in your field. But you got rejected.

You see, France has very protective labor laws for it’s citizens.

If a French company wants to hire a foreigner, they have to go through a long bureaucratic procedure, proving the government that “You, and no one, but You has this VERY unique skill set needed to perform the job. No French citizen posses the same talents, so by no mean a foreigner (You) will occupy his place”.

Besides, there are huge expenses are associated with getting your work visa/living permit done.

Would many company go for it? Nope.

For more details on all things working in France (or landing a job in France) as a foreigner, check out a very long and detailed post by Anne of Prêt à Voyager. 

Become a researcher/scientist. Enrol to PhD

science

Basically, being a PhD student in France is an academic position as you have an official work contract for conducting research in France (convention d’accueil). 

You are consider rather a young professional, than a student.

By enrolling to PhD, you get opportunity to live in France for 3-4 years. Besides, you can move with your spouse (and kids) as they are also eligible to receive a visa for the whole period of your stay.

The good news is if you are talented and passionate about your academic work, getting financed (even salaried) may be relatively easy as there are numerous options available:

Contrat Doctoral

A position announced and advertised according to the recruitment needs of a research laboratory, primarily in public universities. Foreign students are eligible to apply.

The work contract you sign after acceptance sets out the minimum salary level (which is rather nice!) and other activities you  may be involved during your PhD.

There are two salary levels: one for research only and another one for research + other professional activity like teaching or lab work.

Bilateral bursaries from the French Ministère des Affaires Etrangères

Grants and funding offered by the French governments to certain nationalities. Look for info on websites of French Embassies and Consulates in your country.

Scholarships from  from regional councils

All regions of France offer doctoral scholarships (again it’s more like an employment contract with a monthly salary) to attract young and talented PhD researchers to their midst.

Some regions will offer scholarships based on their priority areas (although they may also have a number for non-priority areas with lower wage though).

Joint-PhD/Co-tutelle scholarships and Erasmus Mundus

A joint-PhD allows you to undertake a research project in two institutions e.g. a year in your home country + 2 years in France (or any other country you’ve chosen).  Co-tutelle is a French synonym for the same concept.

More information on joint-Phds and funding.

Erasmus Mundus program offers a lot of scholarship and grant opportunities for joint-PhDs

CIFRE* Scholarships  
(*Conventions Industrielles de Formation par la Recherche)

You are conducting your research for a certain company (who funds you) in collaboration with a research team outside of the company (in a university or a research center).  Usually, you receive a salary of 2.000 euro per month with a 3 year employment contract.

Feeling interested?  Ask around your Ecole Doctorale if they do conduct such ventures (yes, most probably) and  contact the Association Nationale de la Recherche Technique (ANRT) for further details.

Prove France they need your talent(s)! 

Art

Prove the French officials, you are an aspiring young artist (designer, film maker, athlete, photographer etc), planing to make smth so epic that it would benefit French scientific, cultural or athletic prestige, (as well as, to that of your own country).

You are eligible if…

  • you hold a PhD or can provide solid proof of professional experience in your targeted creative field for 1-3 years (the lower the degree, the longer professional experience needed). If you hold BA and have less than 5 years of professional experience, sorry you are not allowed!
  • you can write a 50+ pages proposal in French describing in the slightest details what exactly is your project is about and why the French should allow you to move to their country for 3 years!
  • you are okay with waiting for a few months (half a year) and go through a few rounds of paper limbo and endless bureaucracy procedures before receiving your visa (or not).

A list of all necessary documents you will need to provide along with your creative dossier (those 50+ pages about your project) can be found at French consulate website of your country.

And yes, people who actually get this type of visa do exist! Check out Jenny’s story and musings on getting Skills and Talent card.

Buy a house/rent a house and show them your money

Besancon France

Let’s presume you are not a recent college grad and already spent a few years in the cubicle (or more than few years!). Did not splurge a lot and now have around 20K$ on your savings account.

Or you have worked hard for a decade and finally decided it’s high time to quit your job and follow your dreams.

Awesome news! You can get a 1 year visitor visa if you happen to fulfill the next requirements:

  • you bought, leased or rented a house for at least year and can provide all those papers to the officials.
  • you have a solid bank account with no debt or a generous sponsor how will fund your life in France while staying in his/her home country. (It should be a close relative)
  • you can provide extra financial means to support your stay in France (except for those money on your bank account) e.g. you’ll get money from renting out your house/flat at home, you receive dividend from some investments, you get a pension etc.
  • you have to write a letter explaining why you want to move to France (in French obvs)
  • and another letter  swearing you will not work in France

Bottom line: Money is all that matters. 

The more $$$ you have on your bank account, the higher are your chances to get this type of visa and afterwards extend it for a year, and another one…and 10 more years.

Get PACSed

You’ve met someone special. You fell in love and now one of you has to leave the country in 2-3 (days, weeks, months)!

Being in LDR is tough. Most of the time it is even harder than you imagined.

Constant voyages back and forth ruin your budget and don’t solve the problem either.

But PACS does.

PACS stands for Pacte civil de solidarité – a contract between two adults (same or opposite sex) who wanna organize their joint life.

I think of PACS as a “light form” of marriage where you get social and economic benefits (think joint taxes) for not being single + it is a bigger commitment between you and your partner than just “being a couple” or “dating”.

Most importantly, it gives your foreign  parthner the ability to live in France for extended period of time.

You are eligible to get PACSed if  one of you holds French nationality.

In case you have stayed in France for less than a year, after getting all the post-PACSed papers, you should return to your home country and apply for a new long-term visa.

If you have already lived in France for at least a year, have  a soon-to-expire carte de séjour and a place to live, you can renew your visa on spot.

A happily ever after PACS story from Lilian with all the paper details. And don’t forget to consult with official sources!

Good Old Traditional Marriage

love locks

Same story. You can’t force your heart choose someone from your own country. It already belongs to someone from France or someone’s living in France.

In this case it does not matter if your partner is French or of some other nationality. If he/she already has a residence permit, you would automatically get the same status after tying the knot and retrieving all the necessary documents legalizing your marriage.

You can get married in your home country.

Afterwards, get all legal documents ready and translated to French, along with a few more papers from your spouse proving his legal status in France, pass a language/culture test at the Embassy  and wait…

Or you can get a bridal visa to enter France, get married there and go through all the paper hell on spot.

It would take a lot of time and numerous visits to OFII, Mairie and a few other places, where you’d be sent for some strange reasons. A lot of hours spent in lines, mis-scheduled appointments, vacations, strikes and other obstacles on your way.

Most probably your first visa will expire a.k.a you can’t leave the country (oops, honeymoon postponed for some indefinite period of time).

Last Words

You’ve just read over 3.000 words post. Great job! You do want to live in France after all!

Now get ready to invest a lot of time, money and your sanity in the whole process of moving to France.

My best advice is: combine one or two ways listed above.

Come as a student (volunteer, au pair), look around and make sure that living in France is as glorious as you have imagined. Seek for opportunities to extend your stay – paid internships, teaching gigs etc.

Maybe you will meet someone special during that time and get pasced or married.

Or discover your hidden artistic talent while working over your PhD thesis.

Or impress someone so much with your passion and skills that you will get a long-term work contract.

Or….

let life surprise you

What is the best way to move to France? You tell me. 

Next: Check out more posts about being an expat in France

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  • Hi elena,
    I would like to obtain master in france. It is difficult to get a job after studying there?

    • Hi Cuni. Well, getting a job in France is pretty difficult for any foreigner outside the EU (and France) :( I’d recommend you getting to PhD afterwards (which would be pretty easy) and look for part-time jobs that can potentially become full-time afterwards 😉 Chance you’ll get a good good offer straight after masters are not that big, but again it all depends on your persistence and skills!

  • Wow what an epic article! I’m glad to say that despite all your suggestions I am the proud owner of an EU passport so can move to France if/when I choose. For other people however I think this article gives plenty of useful tips and advice.
    Sarah recently posted…Take What You Need: Tips For Traveling LightMy Profile

    • Thanks, Sarah. Yep, hope it can help some folks out there looking for opportunities.

  • Tres bon article. Je parle un peu Francais, mais pas assez haha. I’ve always wanted to live in France, but I didn’t know it was so difficult! Marriage it is!

    • Haha. I’m not that good at French too (except for conversations with the baker at my fav boulangery), though have been struggling to learn it for a year. Yeah, there’s quite a few tricky issues with moving to France, but it’s really easy to become a student here and go figure things afterwards :)

  • Really useful information, would love to try living there one day!
    Becky Padmore recently posted…Seven proven health benefits to spa breaksMy Profile

    • Thank you, Becky! Yes, living in France is a challenging, yet rewarding experience for sure!

  • Thanks so much for the mention of my blog Elena! Your blog looks amazing :)

    • You are very welcome, Cora! and thank you :)

  • Hmmm certainly doesn’t seem to be an easy process. I looked at it about 6 years ago, and gave up because of the hurdles. It’s good to read news from someone who has seriously looked into it- thanks for the advice, I’m sure it will help many people in the future :)
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted…With eTramping: Chennai for under $25 a day!My Profile

    • Yeah, you have to be really persistent and do have a rather solid reason, if you do want to move to France. Unless, you’ve gotten a cool job offer when most things are settled for you – the whole things gonna be pretty daunting.

      Thanks, Tim! I also hope this post will come in handy one day to craving to live in the land of art and cheese :)

  • What a great post!
    I visited many French cities such as Nice, Valence and Cannes, but my favorite is surely Paris!
    I completely fell in love with it and I can’t deny I thought to move there. I’m a EU citizen so that’d be easy, but I’m saving your post anyway, just in case :)
    Happy travels Elena!
    Andrea recently posted…LIFE LATELY: MOVING SOLO TO MILANMy Profile

    • I liked Nice a lot too! But it’s smaller cities and villages that truly stole my heart :)

      I’m glad you’ve liked the post, Andrea! Huge thanks!

  • So many great options, I didn’t realize their school was so much more affordable. I would consider teaching english there, if only I spoke even a little french (I don’t)… sigh… :)
    Katie recently posted…Travel Packing List – A Peak Inside My BagMy Profile

    • Yes, education in France is super cheap + it’s rather easy to get a scholarship or extra funding if you put just a bit more efforts in the whole thing :)

      Well, you can definitely survive in France without speaking French, but a lot of unique experiences and interactions would be lost.

  • This reminds me on when I moved to the UK even though initially my intention was to study and learn English there for only few months, I then ended up staying for almost 7 years.
    I was au-pairing first, then I found a job and I got sucked into the British life until I started travelling.
    Great tips here Elena which might apply if you move to France or any other similar country! :)
    Franca recently posted…Five Years Together, Two Years Of TravelMy Profile

    • Ah yes, sometimes you come to place with no intention to stay long, smth happens and you don’t wanna leave afterwards 😀

      Thank you, Franca. Some things may be France-only, however most are applicable to a lot of European countries.

  • Such a well-thought out and researched post! It’s definitely not easy and even when you do find a way to come it feels like endless paperwork to continue to stay. But France has that special something that makes us keep coming back :-)
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted…Chasing Waterfalls in IcelandMy Profile

    • I think learning to deal with the local bureaucracy is sort of earning your credit to live here 😀

  • What a great resource you’ve created here, Elena! While I’m not thinking of moving to France in the near future, it is interesting to check out the list to see what kind of options are available.

    As a non-EU citizen who loves Europe, this kind of question resonates with me. It’s so difficult to obtain working papers in the EU but there are ways around it if you’re willing to go to university abroad, take one-year stints teaching, au pairing, etc. Congrats to YOU for getting to your goal of moving to France!
    Cassandra recently posted…Last-Minute Quest: Usaquén MarketMy Profile

    • Ah, I’d say nearly. I’m still in the middle of figuring things and deciding which next step to take. I made this list for personal use….and then thought someone else out there may in a similar situation may need it too :)

  • What a fantastic post! I think many people dream of living in France, I know I have fantasized about the romance and charm of it. You’ve got such a great, comprehensive and accessible list of options here. Thanks!
    Marie @ Marie Away recently posted…How to organize your travel goalsMy Profile

    • Marie, I was really surprised how many people want to actually move to France, yet they have never been here even once! The French did great job promoting the local lifestyle and culture, turning the country to a top-1 destination for most :) Glad you’ve found the post useful.

  • Loved this post and had fun reading it. My home country does sound like a nightmare for foreigners but rejoice, it’s not much easier for locals either. I totally back you up on the student gig. You can take forever to pass a course, no one will rush you or ask you why you haven’t attended a single class, i recommend psychology and English, those are famous for hosting lost souls and people in the process of working out their life… a very slow process.
    Jameela Deen recently posted…Short cruise on the Nile, EgyptMy Profile

    • Haha :) Yes! A French friend told me about one of his students a while ago. A high school senior. He is the worst student in his Math class. But when asked which faculty he’s planning to enter , he said MATH!

      Just cause he can take and re-take the same course over and over again and finally learn something! A very persistant young man :)

  • Elena, this is a really great, useful, and comprehensive guide to living in France! I’m saving it for future reference for sure — and thank you so much for including my post for the TAPIF portion! :)
    Erika recently posted…NaNoWriMoMy Profile

    • Welcome, it’s a great and informative piece indeed! As I’m not eligible for TAPIF, I really needed to consult with someone who nailed it 😉

  • such a great list, Elena!! it’s attainable, but being prepared is key..
    Annie recently posted…Trick or Treat | Wallpaper DownloadMy Profile

    • Absolutely. And knowing all possible opportunities too!

  • Very interesting post Elena! I have to say that I feel the same about all the EU people who can basically relocate anywhere without problems. Coming back to the UK was difficult. Although now I’m considering going to teach English for a year in France, that’d be fun :)

    • Whoa, if you do decide upon teaching in France for a change, I’d love to catch up :)

  • Wow, so much neat info here – especially interesting about how cheap it is to be a student there!

    • Yes! Comparing to US/CA/UK education seems almost free :)