‘It makes the taxes worth it’: Is the work-life balance in France really that good?

Do the French really have a better work-life balance than other countries? And can foreign workers in France make the most of it? Share your views and experiences with other readers in the comments section below.

'It makes the taxes worth it': Is the work-life balance in France really that good?
Photo: AFP
One of the (many) appeals of life in France often cited by foreigners who want to move here is the country's superior work-life balance.
“In France people work to live and not live to work,” was how one Australian reader put it.
Those working gruelling jobs in Britain and American look to France as a country where — it is believed — it is taken as a given that you will work fewer hours and have more leisure and holiday time.
But many may find when they get here that their lifestyles, working hours and number of holidays aren't so different after all and they're still left struggling to balance working the hours considered normal in an office environment in France.
Some who have children even find the struggle of jostling work and life can be more complicated in France.
Members' Q&A: How many holidays do the French really get every year?
Photo: AFP
survey by InterNations, a website for people who live and work abroad revealed that France ranks a fairly unimpressive 34th out of 65 countries worldwide when it comes to work-life balance.
Sixty percent of foreigners living in France questioned for the study were satisfied with their work-life balance and 60 percent were satisfied with their working hours. Some 21 percent of foreigners living in France were unsatisfied with their work-life balance, according to the survey.
And while those figures don't sound too bad they just correspond to the global average, so hardly evidence that France is the place to be for those seeking more life an less work.
In fact France was ranked below the likes of Denmark, Bahrain and Norway, which came first, second and third, respectively. 
And are things slowly going in the wrong direction?
“When it comes to the work-life balance abroad, France has experienced a slight downward trend since 2014. While they ranked 30th out of 61 countries back then, they only come in 35th place out of 65 countries in the latest survey,” comments Internations Co-CEO Malte Zeeck.

One complaint among foreign workers in France are the working hours that see office workers generally start later and finish later, often as late 7.30pm on a normal day.
It seems many English-speaking workers would rather start earlier, have a shorter lunch and get out of the office as soon as possible, rather than hang around until it's dark.
Parents who have to leave their kids at school until after 6pm or hire a nanny to pick them up from school and give them dinner before they get home certainly find this an issue.
“In addition to France’s mediocre ranking for work-life balance, expats also seem to be unhappy with their working hours: 17 percent of the expats living in France are unhappy with this aspect of life abroad. This is just barely a better result than the global average of 20 percent,” said Internations' Malte Zeeck.
Although that said it's worth pointing out that foreign nationals working full time in France only spend an average of 40.9 hours at work, 3.4 hours less than the global average (44.3 h), according to the survey.

But what about that 35 hour week in France?
Well, it turns out the 35 hour week, mocked by some in the UK and US and revered by others, isn't quite as universal as you might have been led to believe. 
Far from meaning that everyone is able to do seven hours of work across a five-day working week, many in France work just as much as before. 
For some, the 35 hour week doesn't even apply — those who have the status of management (cadre) who are not subject to the legal working week of 35 hours actually put in an average of 43.2 hours a week, according to stats released in 2016.
Most workers in France put in an average of 39.2 hours each week.
In reality the 35-hour legal limit is used as a reference to work out overtime and how many extra rest days (RTT) should be given to workers who put in more than the legal limit.
And while that might sound good, it doesn't necessarily correspond to a balanced life. 
Myth busting: New figures show the French are not actually 'lazy' workers
Photo: AFP
And on top of that, there's certainly a difference between expectation in Paris and the French countryside, with people likely to find that there isn't quite as much of a difference between working life in London and the French capital, apart from perhaps the later starts and later finishes.
Ok, so you might have to work similar hours to before but what about all that wonderful holiday time workers get in France?
Again, this is a bit more complicated and not all French people get two months off each summer, just because the children do.
Something which often surprises foreigners who are looking forward to the generous holidays they've heard so much about is that they might have to wait a while before they can start enjoying them. 
Often workers will not officially be allowed to take holidays during the first year of their jobs, although the rules can be bent and holidays can be taken in advance.
Legally the French are entitled to 25 days of paid leave each year, plus bank holidays, which can number up to 11 in France, compared to 20 days of paid annual leave in the UK.
And of course the US, where there is no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays, with employers generally deciding how much holiday staff are allowed.
While most foreign workers who come to France are satisfied with their work life balance, others complain that their career prospects take a hit. 
Just 41 percent are satisfied with their career prospects, twelve percentage points less than the global average (53 percent), according to InterNations.
But despite the feeling that sometimes the work-life balance isn't quite what they'd hoped for or imagined, foreigners in France will generally be positive when talking of the jump in quality of life.
Paris-based author Matthew Fraser can account for the fact that living in France will bring about a significant shift in work-life balance
“I've shed the workoholism of my previous career-obsessed existence and now appreciate with epicurian relish the pleasures of each moment,” he previously told The Local.
“Life in France places you happily in the present tense, unlike in anglo-Protestant countries where everything is driving madly towards the future.
“The quality of life argument for France is very compelling. I think it's the reason so many expats stay. It makes the high taxes worth it.”
Sixteen Paris parks to stay open 24-hours a day during summer
Photo: AFP
And numerous studies show that foreigners in France enjoy a jump in their quality of life
In fact, foreigners who have left France to return to their home country have admitted that the transition can be tough. 
One English woman who moved to the US after living in France told The Local: “In the US your work defines you and leisure comes second,” she says.
“Americans don't value the benefits of vacation in the same way or see it as a earned right.”

So, while France might not have the perfect work-life balance or even one that lives up to the reputation – it might not be worth rushing home just yet. 
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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.