Top tips: Being unemployed in France

It is likely that most expats living in France will find themselves without a job at some point or another. Well don’t panic, The Local has put together a list of tips that will help you to know what to do when you find yourself “sans emploi”.

Top tips: Being unemployed in France
People stand in line at a queue at a Pôle Emploi in France. Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP

It can be a tough task trying to find a job in France and with the country experiencing record levels of unemployment it’s highly likely foreign nationals will be out of work for at least part of their time here.

But there are worse places than France to be jobless. The country has a solid if complicated welfare system that can certainly help soften the blow of being made redundant or not being able to find work.

The main problem is that the red tape in France can wrap you up in knots and you may end up missing out on some benefits you are entitled to.

So with the help of expert Andy Denison who runs a consultancy company advising expats on such matters, The Local has come up with some pointers to look out for if you are jobless.

  • Leave on good terms

If you hate your job in France, maybe you have a moody boss or you’re sick of the long hours, then it’s important to leave on good terms, because this can affect you financially. If you have a CDI (permanent job) the key when wanting to leave is to ask for a 'rupture conventionnelle'”. This means you’ll be eligible for unemployment benefit from the Pôle Emploi (job centre). And the benefits are not like those in the UK, as Denison explains.

“They can pay up to 80 percent of your previous salary, but there is a ceiling of around €6,000 per month,” he says. “The 'rupture conventionnelle' was brought in by Nicolas Sarkozy to stop people from going on a 'go slow' and trying to get sacked just to be able to claim 'chômage' (unemployment benefits).

“Once the 'rupture conventionelle' is signed by you and your boss, it gets sent to the Direction Générale du Travail who have to sign it. If they don’t send it back within two weeks it's automatically approved. Once you have that then you can apply to the Pôle Emploi to receive 'chômage'."

If you get a 'rupture conventionelle', don’t forget to demand a pay-off from your company. The amount should be agreed upon before you agree the contract. And you can always ask for more than they offer you, Denison says. Although whatever you receive will be taken into account by the Pôle Emploi, when it comes to deciding how much benefit you will receive.

SEE ALSO: Top tips for finding a job in France

  • Avoid getting sacked

It might sound obvious to avoid being sacked but in the case you are fired from a job in France, make sure you don’t have “faute lourde” written anywhere on your severance contract. This basically translates as “gross negligence” and will prevent you from receiving any kind of benefits. So try not to commit industrial espionage or any other kind of crime at work.

If you are sacked you can negotiate with them not to write “faute lourde” on the 'Certificat de travail', a document that a company must give you when you leave a job, and if you are really in dispute with them over why they are turfing you out, then you can take them to the Prud'hommes, an employment tribunal.

  • Visa in tact

Just like you need a visa to be able to work, you also need a visa to be out of work in France or you won’t receive any benefits. “Effectively the Pôle Emploi becomes your employer so make sure all your visa requirements are in order.

  • Don’t snub the Pôle Emploi

Once you are claiming the 'chômage' the French authorities will not just leave you alone, as was pretty much the case in the past. Staff at the Pôle Emploi these days are under more pressure to find you a job so they’ll want to know how you are getting on.

“You’ll be asked to come in and tell them about what you are doing to find a job. Don’t miss these meetings or you will probably be thrown out of the system,” says Denison. “They’ll just assume you've found another job.

“It’s also good to have in mind how much you are expecting to earn as they will ask you about this. They will put you on a list and send you applicable jobs. If you don’t accept any offers you could lose your benefits," he adds.

SEE ALSO: The top job opportunities in France in 2013

  • If no chômage, all is not lost

Many people might be under the impression that it's the chômage or nothing in France but there are other sources of state benefits that you might be eligible for.

Firstly, there is the 'Allocation de solidarité spécifique' (ASS) which can has certain conditions applied to it, including one which states you must have worked at least five years out of the last ten, be fit enough to work and you must not be in position to claim the chômage. For more information on the ASS  CLICK HERE.

There is also the Revenu de solidarité active (RSA), another social welfare aimed at helping those on low wages and is also only applicable in certain cases. The RSA can pay up to around €600 a month.For more information on the RSA CLICK HERE.

  • Starting a business

The chômage system in France is pretty flexible and if you leave a job and fancy taking a pop at starting your own business then the Pôle Emploi should be in a position to help you. Not only will they help you get some kind of management and business training but they will also be flexible in how they pay you your benefits.

“The Pôle Emploi realize the difficulty of starting a business so they have the option of giving you half of what is owed to you over two years in a lump sum, as long you as you submit a reasonable business plan,” Denison says. “So say you are owed €10,000 over two years, they will set aside €5,000, which will be given to you in two lump sums to help get your business off the ground. The other half is kept just in case your company fails.”

“This is a great option for expats because it will be hard to get a loan from any major bank,” he adds. “If someone has worked here for a couple of years and has learnt enough to launch a business in their area of expertise, then this could be a good option. The Pôle Emploi will have advisers to help you develop a good business plan."

  • Don’t come to France to be unemployed

Again, this may sound obvious but coming to France with nothing and expecting to get on welfare system will be either impossible or painstakingly slow.

“I wouldn’t come here with anything lined up,” says Denison. “The government are cracking down more and more on people arriving here and getting straight on the system. They realize people are taking advantage.

However if you come from certain countries like Ireland or the Netherlands, Denison says, and were receiving benefits back there, then the French government should take over the payment of those, as long as you have paid enough into the system. "It might not be the same amount, but you should get something," he said.

  • Don’t forget your extra benefits

Being unemployed in France may be no fun, but at least authorities help make sure you will not be cooped up inside your own 6 metre squared Paris flat. Authorities at the Caisse d'allocations familiales (CAF) who pay the RSA or the Pôle Emploi can give you a document that you can then take to your nearest RATP office which will then organize for you to get free travel on trains and buses – up to a certain distance of course.

In Paris, for example, you can get a monthly Navigo pass up to zone 5 paid by the state, which will at least allow you to get to any job interview you might have, for free.

“I have heard them paying for Air France flights for interviews abroad, but those days might be gone now,” Denison adds.

A statement showing you are unemployed could also help you if you need to cancel any mobile phone contracts.

  • Help with rent

The CAF will also help out with your rent. As long as you do not choose to live in an apartment overlooking the Seine or the Champs de Mars, that is.

“Generally, the CAF have a formula that they stick to that is based on your revenue. If they find your rent too high they won’t pay it. But they can pay up to 50 percent of the rent, either to you or straight to your landlord,” Dennison says.

Andy Denison runs the advice website Mon Ami Andy. It specializes in secretarial and administrative support services for Anglophone individuals, businesses and home owners in France. 

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.