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Reader question: Can I work while in France on a visitor visa?

The Local France
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Reader question: Can I work while in France on a visitor visa?
Can you work - including remote work - if you're in France on a visitor visa? Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

The visitor visa is a popular option for non-EU citizens in France - including retirees and second-home owners, but there are important restrictions to be aware of.

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Along with the working visa and the student visa, the visitor visa is among the most popular category for non-EU citizens in France.

It's relatively simple to apply for and requires only proof that you can support yourself financially while in France, but there is one very important aspect of the process that's often forgotten - you are required to give an undertaking not to work while in France.

EXPLAINED How to apply for a French visa

Types of visa

There are two types of visitor visa - the short-stay visa known as VLS-T, and the long-stay visa known as VLS-TS.

The short-stay visa is typically issued for six months or less and is intended for people who want to pay visits of more than 90 days to France, but do not want to live here. It's most commonly used by second-home owners who want to spend longer than 90 days at a time at their French property, but can also be used by people for extended holidays or family visits.

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The long-stay visitor visa is for people who intend to move to France and live here, but not work. It's most commonly used by retirees.

However in both cases, part of the application process is giving an undertaking that you will not work while you are in France. Keep in mind that if you want to volunteer from time to time, then this is a separate situation. You can find more information here.

So what does this mean in practice, and how does it apply to remote working?

Semi-retiring

Not everyone wants to go from full-time employment to being completely retired, and many people plan to 'semi retire' - maybe carry on working just on special projects or start up a new enterprise. 

For example, pre Brexit, it was common for Brits to 'semi-retire' to France - often they retired from their main job in the UK and then moved to France and ran a small business, often tourist related such as renting out a couple of gîtes or running a B&B at their French property. 

This would not be possible on a visitor visa - if you intend to run a business, even a small one, in France you would need to be on an entrepreneur visa, and would have to provide a business plan and demonstrate that your business will make enough money to support you (which can be difficult with small-scale tourist businesses like gîtes).

Immigration lawyer Maître Valerie Maricot of CMG LEGAL cautioned that "a lot of the answers online about how to open a gîte in France are geared toward a general public in France who it is assumed to have the right to work already".

"To start, we must clarify one thing. With visitor visa status, it is not possible to exercise a professional activity in France, and therefore it is not possible legally to open and run a gîte in France . . . French authorities would require that a residency permit authorises this activity."

Remote work

The other option that is increasingly popular if your job allows is dropping down from full-time work to part time, and working remotely - say working two days a week for a company back in your home country, but doing the work from France.

Unlike some European countries, France does not have a 'digital nomad' visa aimed at remote workers, and the visitor visa requires a declaration that you will not "undertake any professional activity in France".

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Remote working can be a bit of a grey area - essentially because visa rules were written before remote working became widespread - but anyone planning to do this is advised to seek legal advice.

Ask the experts: What's the deal with remote work on a visitor visa?

Fiona Mougenot, immigration specialist and founder of Expat Partners said: "It's complicated, this is a real grey area as most of the rules were put in place before remote working became widespread. Everyone's circumstances are different, but when we have clients making this decision once we have pointed out to them all of the knock-on effects people almost always decide that it's better to be officially working in France.

"Many people have a desire to avoid the French admin, which is understandable, but if you see yourself staying in France for any kind of long or medium term future it's inevitable and if you want to do things like having access to healthcare then you will need to engage with the system."

There are also important tax implications to remote working, as well as insurance issues for the company that employs you - if you plan to do this, it is advisable to consult a specialist immigration lawyer and/tax adviser in advance.

READ ALSO What are the rules on working remotely in France?

Remote work from a holiday home 

For second home owners it can be tempting to prolong their stay and do a bit of work remotely from their French property - but the short-stay visitor visa also requires you to give an undertaking that you will not work in France.

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Because short-stay visitor visa holders are not living in France, and are not part of the French tax system, there is in practical terms a little more flexibility, since it's unlikely that anyone will ever know that you're answering work emails from France.

However there can be implications for your company back in the UK - especially around tax and insurance.

You would also not be able to take on any work from a French company, as they would need to register you as an employee or freelance contributor.  

Running a business from France 

If you have a business in your home country that you're confident you can run remotely, it might be tempting to pack up and move to France and continue running the business.

However this is not possible on a visitor visa - you would need an entrepreneur visa in order to run a business while you are based in France, and you would also need to pay tax in France on your earnings and you may need to register your business in France.

There are also likely to be tax complications in your home country if you are no longer resident but still running a business there.

How will they ever know? 

It's tempting to think that no-one will ever find out - especially if you're working remotely for a company back in your home country. After all, if you're busily tapping away at your laptop, who's to say whether you are working or just emailing a friend (or perhaps working on your novel)?

But the reality is that sooner or later, this probably will catch up with you.

If you live in France you are required to file an annual tax declaration (even if you have no income in France) and you are required to declare all your worldwide income. You probably won't pay tax on income from overseas if your country has a dual taxation agreement with France, but you will still need to tell the French taxman about it.

READ ALSO What exactly do I have to tell the French taxman about my assets overseas?

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Being in breach of your visa conditions can lead to you being expelled from the country and will certainly make it highly unlikely that your visa or residency card will be renewed.

READ ALSO Working without a permit and polygamy: What can get you expelled from France?

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