Three things to know about work permits in France

Working in France as a foreigner can be simultaneously exciting and stressful, particularly when it comes to figuring out whether you need a work permit and how to go about getting one. These are the three things you need to know.

Three things to know about work permits in France
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

If you do not already have a residency card that gives you the right to work in France – and you are not an EU citizen – there is a good chance you will need a work permit, or autorisation de travail.

The process in France might be different from what you might expect – and there are several exceptions to who actually needs one – so here are the three things you should know:

It is the employer, not the employee who requests it

In France, it is up to the employer to request an autorisation de travail. They do so by submitting an application via an online portal – which can be found HERE

In some cases, the employer might have to demonstrate that the job was published for at least three weeks with the French public employment agency before submitting a work permit application.

When it comes to the hiring of foreign students who obtained “a diploma at least equivalent to the master’s degree” in France, the employee is “examined without opposability of the employment situation,” according to French government websites. This means that the employer does not need to show proof that effort was made to hire a candidate in the French labour market.

READ MORE: The jobs in France where you don’t really need to speak French

Keep in mind, however, that this is depends on whether the employee is working in a field related to their studies and receiving salary of at least €2,518 per month (gross), as of August 1st, 2022.

The next step for the employer would be to submit all related documents.

At minimum, the employer will need to provide: 

  • A letter explaining the employee’s role or the reasons for their recruitment and detailing the duties they will be performing.
  • An up-to-date excerpt of the commercial register for legal entities (extrait K-bis) and sole proprietors (extrait K); a craft license (titre d’artisan); or, failing that, for private individuals, a tax notice.
  • A copy of the employee’s passport or national identity document.
  • If the employee is already resident in France, a copy of their current residency permit 
  • The employee’s CV, resume or other evidence of their skills and experience.
  • If applicable, a copy of any qualifications or certificates required for the position in question.
  • If applicable, proof the position was advertised for three weeks with the French employment agency, as well as proof of effort made to find a candidate already in the French labour market.

Other documents may be required, depending on the situation.

After submitting the application, the employer will receive confirmation it was sent. If the work permit is issued, then both the employer and foreign employee will receive it by email. 

If the application is approved, then the employer will be asked to pay a tax, which is determined based on the foreign worker’s pay.

READ MORE: Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after finishing their degree

For example, if the employee has a work contract lasting over one year with a gross monthly salary of less than € 4,197, the employer would owe 55 percent of their gross monthly salary (as of 2022). 

Not everyone needs to have a work permit as a ‘distinct document’

The people who would need a work permit are those who do not have citizenship of an EU country, and either have or will be requesting a residency status that requires a work permit.

Basically, if you already hold a long-term residency permit in France, you probably do not need a work permit. This includes Brits who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (those who moved to France before December 31st 2020).

Certain long-term residency permits – for example the “vie privée et familiale” (family residency permit) – are technically authorisations to work in their own right, and therefore do not require a distinct work permit document.

The main categories of people who need a work permit in addition to their residency permit or visa are recently-graduated non-EU students who studied in France, and people arriving in France to take up a new job.

If you are confused whether you will need a work permit, you can use the simulator on the French visa website HERE to get an idea of whether it will be necessary, depending on your residency status. 

The Local has also put together a thorough guide to help you determine if you will need a work permit.

READ MORE: Working in France: Who needs a work permit?

In some cases, the work permit is a prerequisite for applying to a visa or residency permit

If you are applying for the standard salarié or travailleur temporaire visa, then you will likely need to include the ‘distinct document’ in the application.

This means that you will need to have had your future employer request the permit ahead of time, so that it is issued in time for you to include it in the visa application. 

The process can take several months, so be prepared to ask your employer to send the application with lots of time in advance of when you would apply for the visa itself. 

If you are moving to France for a job, this might mean that your official start date will need to be several months after your employer offers you the job. French administrative bodies recommend that the company or employer submit the work permit application at least three months before the employee is due to take up their role.

Once the work permit is issued, as mentioned previously, the employee should receive the document via email.

Keep in mind that simply receiving a work permit does not mean you are exempt for requesting a visa. You will still want to allot time for that process as well.

Helpful vocabulary

  • Autorisation de travail: work permit
  • Contrat de travail: work contract
  • Opposition de la situation de l’emploi: The “opposability of the employment situation” – meaning the government’s right to refuse a foreigner based on the job market and whether that field has a shortage or surplus of employees. If “sans” is written in front of it, this might describe a situation where the candidate or job does not need proof that the employer has carried out efforts to recruit a candidate already present on the French job market.
  • Embaucher – to hire
  • Sanction – penalty 
  • SMIC – minimum wage

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EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

Navigating the French visa process can be tricky, but the key thing is to make sure that you're applying for the correct visa type for your situation - here are the 5 key questions that will decide which visa is right for you.

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

If you’re planning on moving to France or spending long periods of time here and you’re not an EU citizen then you’re likely to need a visa – but understanding which type of visa to get can be complicated

From working visas to 6-month visas, visitor visas to talent passports, France offers a plethora of different visas, all of which give you different rights and involve a slightly different process.

But people applying for the first time often end up baffled by the choice on offer – so here’s how to decide which visa is right for you. 

How long do you want to spend in France?

This is the first question that you need to consider. If you intend to move to France and make it your home then this is fairly simple and you can move on to the next question.

If, however, you are a second-home owner or someone wanting to simply pay long visits to France (ie more than 90 days in every 180 in accordance with the 90-day rule), then it can be a little more complicated.

First, you need to decide whether you want to make France your main residence, or keep your residence in another country (say, the UK or US) and simply be a visitor when you come to France.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Making France your main residence – if this is the case, you can apply for a 12-month visa and won’t be limited in how long you can spend in France.

However, as a resident in France you will need to complete the annual tax declaration (even if all your income comes from outside France) and you may also need to register with the French healthcare system. If you are resident in France then you are no longer a resident of your home country, and this may affect things like your tax status and access to healthcare.

Your questions answered: Second-home owners and French residency

Keeping your main residence elsewhere – if you do not intend to live in France then you are limited to the six-month visitor visa. This limits the amount of time you can spend in France, but means that you are not affected by the responsibilities of French residents such as the annual tax declaration. You cannot register in the French health system and a visitor and you have no automatic right to enter France if the borders are closed (as they were during the pandemic).

Slightly confusingly, there are two types of visa that are popularly known as a ‘visitor visa’ – a 6-month one and a 12-month one – we explain the difference HERE.

What do you intend to do in France?

Assuming that you want to move full-time to France, the next question is what you intend to do here – maybe you’re moving for a job, you have plans to set up your own business or you want to retire here. How you intend to fill your days is important, because it affects the type of visa you will apply for.

Study – perhaps the simplest visa option is for those who intend to study in France as the student visa generally has the simplest application process. You must, however, already be accepted by a French educational establishment before you apply for the visa. All French universities are accepted for this, but not all French language schools are accredited for visa purposes, so if this is what you intend to do you need to check in advance if you will be able to get a visa.

How to get a French student visa

If you complete masters level degree studies in France, you get some extra advantages, including the right to stay for an extra year while you hunt for a job and a fast-track to French citizenship.

Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after their studies

Retire – retiring to France is a perennially popular option, and most people who do not intend to work in France come on the long-stay visitor visa. This has a fairly simple application process but requires financial proof that you can support yourself while in France and won’t become a burden on the French state. This can be either in the form of proof of regular income such as a pension or a lump sum in savings. The general guidelines figure is that you must have more than the French SMIC (minimum wage) which is currently at €1,300 per month or €15,600 per year. 

As part of the process, you will also have to give undertakings that you will not work in France – so this isn’t suitable for people who, for example, want to retire from their main job and move to France to open a gîte or B&B. If you intend to work remotely while in France – click HERE

Checklist: How to retire to France

Work – if you intend to work in France there are two routes – become a salaried employee or work for yourself, either as a freelancer or contractor or set up your own business. 

Salaried employee – this is the simplest route in visa terms because once you have a job offer your employer sponsors your visa and you don’t need to provide proof of your financial means or a business plan.

However getting a job can be harder because employers are often reluctant to take on the extra paperwork of sponsoring visas and the associated work permits that certain types of employees need – you may even see job adverts stating that the company will not sponsor visas. It’s not impossible, you just need to be an especially good candidate because employing you is more complicated for a company than employing someone who either already has a visa, or somebody who doesn’t need one (ie an EU citizen). 

Three things to know about work permits in France

Self-employed – being self-employed (auto-entrepreneur in French) covers everything from people working on a freelance or contractor basis to people setting up a small business like running a B&B or selling artisan products right up to people who want to set up a big business. Keep in mind, however, that France does not yet have a dedicated digital nomad visa

In order to get this type of visa you need to be able to show firstly that you can support yourself initially – that you have somewhere to stay (this can be as simple as a 3-month Airbnb booking) and some savings or income, and that you have a detailed business plan for the type of work that you intend to do. 

‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – getting a French work visa

Au pair – a popular option for young people is to come to France to work as an au pair while learning French, and there is a specific visa for this. You need to find a family before you apply and you also need to give undertakings that you will take formal French classes while you are here. Full details HERE

Seasonal worker – another popular option for young people is to move to France for a short period and take on seasonal work, such as working the ski season. This has its own process – full details here.

Do you have a French spouse?

If you are married to a French person or have a close relative who is French, you could benefit from a family visa. This has the advantage of allowing you to come to France without a job, but you are not permitted to work on a spouse visa so it’s not suitable for those who intend to seek work.

It’s important to point out that being married to a French person isn’t quite the ‘get out of jail free card’ that some people think – you still need to go through the visa process and also have to fulfil certain financial requirements, so depending on your situation the family visa might not be the significantly easier or better route. 

How to get a French spouse visa

Could you benefit from the Talent Passport?

This is a relatively new visa type that offers a four-year visa and the opportunity to bring family members. It is, however, only available to certain groups – essentially you need to be either working in a specific area like tech or you need to have an international reputation or expertise. Full details here.

Do you intend to apply for asylum?

If you are a refugee or intend to apply for asylum in France then there is a different route to follow – click here for details

What next?

Once you have decided which visa you need, then you are ready to start collecting documents and starting on the application process – you can find a complete guide to applying HERE.

And don’t forget that the paperwork continues even after your visa is granted – once you are in France there are some important admin tasks to complete in order to keep your legal status – full details HERE