Meet France’s fastest moving English teacher

Scottish expat Calum MacDougall had a successful career in finance in France for more than 20 years, before deciding he wanted to do something else. He is now France's fastest moving English teacher after winning a contract to teach French commuters on trains.

Meet France's fastest moving English teacher
Calum MacDougall (Far Right) a "rehabilitated banker", teaching French commuters English as part of his "English on Track" scheme. Photo: Courtesy of Calum MacDougall

Calum MacDougall is the man behind English on Track – an innovative new project to teach French professionals English while travelling to and from work on France’s rail network.

When he first arrived in the country more than 30 years ago, however, he was in a very different world.

Back in 2006, in the third decade of a highly successful career in finance, the Scotsman did the unthinkable – he packed it all in, and struck out on his own.

Changing paths, however, was far from a haphazard process for MacDougall, a self-confessed “reformed banker.”

In a lesson for any expat thinking about starting a new career in France, he tells The Local how he took the skills and experience he got from his old job, and put them to use doing something completely different.

How did you first end up in France?

Well, all the way back in 1980, I was a business student at what was then Middlesex Polytechnic, and I had the chance to go and study and work in Reims for two years.

It was a great way to perfect my French and get a good grounding in finance.

Where did your career take you after university?

I joined Barclays and worked here in Paris for seven years with them, dealing in particular with broker-dealers.

Over the years I’ve worked for British, American and French banks, mostly in France, but I also spent a few years in Amsterdam working for a French institution.

SEE ALSO: 10 Tips for teaching English in France

So why did you leave a stable, successful career like that?

Well, back in the early 2000s, I just began to feel that the world of finance had started to lose its shine. I had a chance to leave in 2006, and that’s what I did.

I’d always wanted to start my own business, and I thought – “It’s now or never.” So I got my TEFL qualification here in Paris, and joined my wife as an English teacher.

How were you able to make use of your career in finance as an English teacher?

When I started out I taught everyone from small children to business clients, but all the while I was studying the market, and taking a careful look at trends in English teaching.

When I worked in finance I did a little bit of everything – operations, sales, customer relations – and used all of these skills in analysing and mapping out my own English teaching business.

I was travelling around France a lot, coming into businesses and teaching executives, and I saw all these French professionals spending hours sitting on trains, like me.

I thought – all that time isn’t being used properly, it’s being wasted. So the idea of teaching English to commuters began to grow.

I had a chance meeting with someone from [French rail operator] SNCF, and that got the ball rolling for English on Track.

SEE ALSO: "It's easy to start a business in France"

So how’s it going so far?

Really, really well. It has exceeded all of our expectations. It’s a pilot scheme at the moment, just running on the TER train between Paris and Marne Valley, and on the TGV between Paris and Reims.

We have four or five lessons a week, 45 minutes to an hour each, with small, dynamic groups of equal language ability, which is really constructive.

We’re teaching people from the hi-tech sector, journalists, export managers – a really wide variety. The beauty of it is that these people’s employers are delighted with the scheme.

It’s a very efficient use of time – essentially they’re doing a training course before they’ve even arrived at the office, and about 80 percent are having the lessons paid for by their employers.

The next logical step for us would be to work on the Eurostar, but we’re still at the pilot stage, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

What advice would you give another expat thinking of a career change in France?

Here’s the key – look very carefully at your key competencies and skills, no matter what your old job was, and ask yourself how they could apply to a new profession.

And you have to be organized. Remember that there is always a risk involved in a career change, and to really get things off the ground, you’ll need about two or three years.

So make sure you have your finances in good order before you make the leap – because you’ll need them.

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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.