‘To start a venture in France, just be brave’

As part of the My French Career series, personal trainer Alex O’Connor talks about setting up a business on the Côte d'Azur. Beware, reading this may encourage you to hand in your notice and book a ticket to the south of France.

'To start a venture in France, just be brave'
Photo: Azur Training

Alex O'Connor, 32, left his job working in a secondary school in northern England to head to the south of France where he works as a personal trainer based on the Côte d'Azur. He runs his own business "Azur Training", and specializes in coaching clients martial arts such as Thai boxing to help keep them trim and in good shape. His gamble to set out on a new career path in France is beginning to pay off.

How did you end up in the south of France?

Well, I used to live here about ten years ago when I worked as an English teacher and I really liked the area. It’s got a lot to offer. It’s by the sea and it’s close to the mountains. There’s a wide variety of people here and with Nice airport there are plenty of flights home.

Why did you decide to set up your business on the Côte d’Azur?

Well I just don’t think it would have gone down so well in Barnsley or Doncaster. There's demand here and it’s possible to do it. I remember training someone one day and looking  around to see mountains and sea wherever I looked and I had a flashback of the pouring rain back home in Yorkshire. Sometimes when I am sitting out in the sun by the beach waiting for my next client to turn up I really have to pinch myself.

How easy was it to get established as a personal trainer in the south of France?

It was actually fairly easy in the end, considering the reputation of French bureaucracy. I needed to set up as an auto-entrepreneur so I just had to pop down to the regional sports authority body with my translated qualifications and references so they could verify I had all the equivalents of the necessary French qualifications. I was able to get my professional sports instructor card within about six weeks.

So how did you go about finding clients?

The first person I started training was my landlord but that was for free. Obviously I needed to make a living so I advertised on the AngloInfo website. I did not get many responses but as soon as I started training the four or five who were interested, then word soon spread and it opened up other doors. I also set up a website and put a few videos on there so a few people found me that way.

And how is the business doing now?

I knew it would take time to build something like this up, so I gave myself six months to get to a position where I could be self-sufficient. In the end I got there in three months.  It’s growing mainly through word of mouth. It is a bit of an expat bubble down here so there is plenty of business around. It’s exciting. I just came with the idea of wanting to be able to afford to live here, but now I am seeing the potential for something big.

Like many people you came to France with a partner, was yours able to find a job?

Yes, she is translating. She was doing that before we came so it’s been pretty seamless for her. She just signed herself up to a few agencies and the work came in.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to set up a similar business in France?

I would just say 'be brave'. At the end of the day it’s a risk, but do you want to spend the rest of your life wishing you had you had tried it?  You also need a well thought out business plan to follow. Many initial plans don’t actually work out so you need to keep reassessing things and changing your approach if necessary. You will find your niche. People also need to be careful too as there are a few shady people around. I have heard a few horror stories of cowboy builders etc, people who offer one thing and end up stealing from you. So you need to be a bit wary of the people they come across.

And what about being able to speak French, is it vital?

There is the question of the language. I am a fluent French speaker but I don’t think it would necessarily prevent someone from doing this. It is certainly a bonus when it comes to the business side of things, but it’s also not that hard to find people who can do those things for you.

If you are on the Cote d'Azur and need to work on those abdos you can contact Alex at or visit his Facebook page

SEE ALSO: Jobs in France – The Local

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.