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How generous is France's unemployment system?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
How generous is France's unemployment system?
(Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

French unemployment benefits are known for being generous, but – as always – there are rules, restrictions and a few catches.

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France has long had a reputation for providing some of the best unemployment benefits on the continent - and the headline figure of €6,000 a month in benefits is often bandied about.

In recent months, the French government has discussed possible reforms to the system, in an attempt to reach 'full employment' - defined as 5.5 percent of working age people officially without a job - by the end of President Emmanuel Macron's term in 2027.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday told French media that while the system offers long periods of protection, he blamed it as being responsible for "[keeping] France's unemployment rate around 7 percent", comparatively higher than the the Euro area average (5.9 percent) as of December 2023.

But when it comes to actually accessing unemployment, most people do not receive thousands of euro per month and there are quite stringent conditions to get anything at all.

Register as unemployed

The first thing you need to do in order to receive unemployment payments (chômage) is to register with Pôle emploi – rebranded France Travail on January 1st, 2024 – within 12 months of losing your job. 

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Eligibility rules:

You need to meet all of the following conditions prior to registering:

  • You are physically able to work;
  • You are legally resident in France, including any overseas territories (except Mayotte, where the rules are different) - for non-EU citizens living in France this means your immigration paperwork such as a visa or carte de séjour is valid and up to date;
  • You have been employed for at least 6 months (130 days or 910 hours) in the previous 24 months – there is no limit on the number of employers you have worked for in that time. It should be noted that the period rises to six months in the previous 36 months if you were 53 years old on the end date of your last employment contract. This clause can pose a problem for foreigners if you move to France and then lose your job less than six months after arriving;
  • You are actively looking for a job or completing a training course;
  • You have not reached pension age (based on either age or number of quarters required for a full pension) and you do not benefit from early retirement.

Once you have registered, job seekers must attend regular meetings with Pôle emploi / France Travail officers, and demonstrate their efforts towards finding employment, or they could lose access to their benefits. 

Training courses can be access through Pôle emploi and for foreigners this includes French classes if required.

Be aware, too, that the rules may be different depending on your profession: performers, journalists and sailors are among the careers where the rules for unemployment are slightly different.

For people employed in the arts there is the intermittents du spectacle scheme that essentially allows people to do short-term work in their chosen artistic field and then provides 'top up' benefits for periods when they are out of work. 

What about foreigners?

As outlined above, several of the eligibility criteria can affect foreigners - especially the minimum work period required.

However, if you are legally resident and have been working for at least six months, you can access chômage on the same basis as French people.

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The basic principle is that if you have been working you have paid into the system, and therefore you're entitled to claim benefits if you lose your job. 

How long does it last?

You can receive unemployment benefits for up to 18 months at a time if you are aged under 53; 23 months if you are 53 or 54; and 27 months if you are 55 and over. Most people are not unemployed for that long.

Can you get unemployment benefit if you quit your job

Under most circumstances, you cannot quit your job and expect immediate access to benefits – instead you must be out of work because a fixed-term contract or temporary assignment has ended, or your employer has laid you off (there are strict rules on this, too). 

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So, how much will you receive?

That depends. Unemployment payments in France are calculated as a percentage of your previous salary, rather than a flat rate. The more you earned, the more you'll get.

It's worked out according to a rather complicated formula that gives job-seekers around 57 percent of average salary during their last 12 months of work.

There is a ceiling to this - the maximum amount is €6,615 per month (although you would need to have been earning more than €10,000 a month previously in order to get that).

So unless you’re a really high earner, don’t expect this level of chômage.

Only 0.05 percent of beneficiaries receive the maximum amount - the average payout is €1,020 per month, and half of all recipients receive less than €860 monthly. 

After 12 months of unemployment, the rate is reduced and a new rule means that people under the age of 57 who previously earned more than €4,500 a month have their rate reduced after eight months.

Note: maternity, paternity, sick leave are taken into account: for these periods, an average salary corresponding to what would have been paid by an employer is used as the calculation.

The minimum amount you will receive is €31.59 gross per day. The maximum is €274.80. 

The allowance is subject to contribution sociale généralisée, (CSG) and contribution au remboursement de la dette sociale (CRDS) - these are the deductions that come out of your pay packet every month, part of the 'social charges'.

Recipients are paid monthly, with the total calculated based on the number of days in that month – so you’ll receive more in 31-day August than in 28-day February.

How does France compare to its neighbours?

While it is true that France has had a historically higher unemployment rate than many of its neighbours, the country did see economic growth of 0.9 percent in 2023, which was better than the EU average of 0.5 percent.

Generally, France's system stands out for offering unemployment benefits after just six months of work, but France's unemployment rate according to Eurostat figures in March 2024 was 7.5 percent.

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When compared with Germany, where people over 58 years old can benefit from up to 24 months of unemployment, but the majority of workers can only take a maximum of 12 months unemployment (in comparison to France's cap of 18 months for people under 53). 

To access unemployment, you must have worked at least 12 months over the last 30 months in Germany to be entitled to six months of compensation, in comparison to France's standard of six months worked over the last 24 months.

Germany's unemployment rate according to Eurostat was 3.1 percent.

When looking at the UK, France's system allows for significantly more time receiving benefits. In the UK, the maximum is 182 days, or about six months. In order to access it, you have to have worked for at least 12 months over the last two years (longer than France's six month minimum). As of February 2024, the UK unemployment rate was 3.8 percent.

Meanwhile, Italy has a shorter minimum amount of working time (three months), and the period of time you can receive benefits depends on how long you have worked.

If you worked for one year, you would get six months of unemployment; for two years of work, you can get 12 months of benefits; for more than four years of work the cap is set to 24 months of unemployment. France does offer a greater amount of compensation than their Italian neighbours, who decrease benefits by three percent from the 6th month onward.

Italy's unemployment rate was slightly lower than France's - 7.2 percent in comparison to 7.5 percent.

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