Always dreamed of living la vie en rose?
With its croissants, its fashion scene and the Eiffel Tower, it’s no wonder France attracts travelers from all over the world.
But like many destinations in Western Europe, France isn’t an easy place to explore on a backpacker budget. Pricey accommodation, trains and restaurant prices all add up.
That’s why so many people choose to work and travel in France, putting their wages toward trips throughout the country.
France has one of the best work/life balances in the world, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to travel, even if you’re working full-time. French employees benefit from five to six weeks of paid vacation, public holidays and a culture that encourages employees to switch off outside office hours.
I’ve found that living here has given me plenty of time to see the country, from small day trips to extended summer vacations.
Traveling in France
Plan your perfect route
France’s regions boast a wide spectrum of customs, cultures and specialties. While Alsace is known for its heavy food, Christmas markets and German influence, the Côte d’Azur is all sun, sea, sand and seafood. Do some research to find out which towns fit your personality!
If you’re flying in from overseas, Paris might be your first stop… but don’t make it your last! The capital has a very different atmosphere than the rest of the country and, despite the beautiful sights, is generally more expensive and less welcoming.
If you’re looking to make friends on your trip, consider student towns like Bordeaux and Montpellier. You’ll find plenty of expat groups and locals looking to take part in language exchanges.
Wherever you decide to go, keep an eye out for bargain cross-country travel. Ouigo offers low-cost train travel on its refitted high-speed TGV trains. You might compromise on some of the full-price luxuries (there’s no dining car), but they’re still a quick, comfortable way to get across France.
Learn the language
Before you arrive in France, it’s important to become conversational in the language. I arrived in France with a lower-intermediate level of the language, which put me above other expats when looking for a job and a place to stay.
Unlike some other European countries, English isn’t widely spoken here. While you’ll find some internationally-minded Frenchies willing to speak other languages, many will give you the cold shoulder if you don’t speak some French.
You’ll find that knowing the lingo will open up a world of job opportunities and friendships, and it’ll make life a lot easier in general. It’s amazing how helpful people suddenly become when you speak their language!
Many travelers like to take face-to-face courses once they arrive. For some employees, it might even be a requirement of your contract!
There are language schools all over the country, and residents of Paris can benefit from heavily discounted courses offered by the local council. I took this course last year and made some great friends from all over the world.
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Find your short-term home
The French rental market is notoriously hard to navigate, so those looking to work and travel should opt for short-term lets and accommodation.
There are plenty of options in the form of hostels and Airbnbs that can generally be booked last-minute. I arrived last August, which was a great time to find short-term accommodation! Many Parisians are on vacation and will let out their place for the entire month.
You can also look at popular French listing sites. Steer clear of Craigslist, though—it’s mostly used by foreigners who don’t know the local rental market. As a result, it’s become a home to countless scams.
Homestays are a great way to immerse yourself in the culture (and sample some famous family cooking). You’ll find many families willing to host foreigners and share their way of life. Even better, it’s one of the best and quickest ways to boost your language skills.
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Working in France
Figure out which visa you’ll need
If you’re an EU citizen, you can work any job in France without a visa. Lucky you! You’ll also be able to receive state benefits like health insurance.
Non-EU citizens will have a tougher time finding employment and a visa. You’ll either need to join a specific program before you leave (usually in teaching or childcare), transfer with your company or be fortunate enough to get a French company to sponsor you.
Travelers under age 30 from certain countries can also benefit from a one-year working holiday visa.
Research your salary
France isn’t really the place to come and earn big bucks, so if you’re looking to save while you travel, do your research before you arrive.
Compared to other EU countries, salaries are low and taxes and social security contributions are high! You’ll only take home about 50-60% of your salary, so assess your financial situation before you accept an offer.
It isn’t all bad, though. France has excellent employment benefits that help cut the cost of daily living. These include restaurant vouchers, travel discounts and low-cost healthcare. Lots of people, including myself, use the restaurant vouchers in grocery stores. This strategy makes food shopping feel really cheap!
Bon Voyage! See the World When You Work and Travel in France
The kind of job you’re after will depend on your level of experience and how much you want to travel. Office jobs generally pay better, but you’ll be limited to traveling during holidays and weekends.
More flexible options like childcare, bar work and teaching are easy to pick up as you travel, enabling you to enjoy a more fluid travel schedule.
1. Teaching English
Teaching English abroad is one of the most popular ways to work and travel. After all, just think of all the vacation time!
You’ll find plenty of teaching jobs across the country in private schools, public schools and home tutoring. Be sure to get a TEFL certificate before you apply—the French take qualifications and paperwork seriously!
With that in mind, you’ll need to prepare a professional resume before you apply. Most schools prefer candidates who are already living in France and will likely dismiss your application if you don’t already have a local address and phone number.
One exception is the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) for U.S. citizens. Through this program, the French government will find you a placement before you land—if you meet the acceptance criteria and rank among the best applicants. You can create an account to apply for the TAPIF program here.
2. Being an au pair
The easiest way to find au pair work is through a dedicated program. This option is particularly popular for non-EU citizens, as working for these companies is an easy way to get a visa.
You’ll be assigned to a family who provides accommodation and untaxed “pocket money” (instead of a salary). Most dedicated programs also require you to enroll in a French language course during your stay.
From my experience, au pairs either love or hate their jobs, so it’s important to consider if it’s right for you.
The pros? Working with kids and gaining insights to French family life. The cons? Unsociable hours, limited travel time and the fact that you’ll be at the host family’s beck and call.
3. Working in bars and cafes
The kind of bar and cafe you can work in will generally depend on your language ability. If you’re still learning French, you’ll probably find more luck in places geared toward expats.
There’s often a high turnover of traveling workers, so it seems like places are always hiring. Just pop in with a CV (including that all-important French address and phone number).
Side note: Don’t expect to make a living off tips like you would in some countries. Tipping here is minimal, so make sure you can live off your upfront wage.
4. Becoming a tour guide
Tour guide work is seasonal, and you’ll get a lot more work in summer. In the winter months, tour guides either travel or take on a different type of job.
You’ll find lots of opportunities in larger cities, and you’ll be in demand if you speak English and other common languages like Spanish or Chinese. Just brush up on your local knowledge before you hit the interview.
Many freelancers work remotely from their laptop, making this a perfect choice for people who want to put travel first. You can write, design, code, translate… the options are endless!
Larger cities have co-working spaces, and there are cafes with Wi-Fi on almost every corner. Just know that some French establishments won’t let you buy a coffee and stay all day long like they do in Starbucks.
Research your tax obligations beforehand if you choose to freelance. If you’re physically carrying out your work in France, you’ll be required to register as an “auto-entrepreneur” and get a business number before you can legally operate as a freelancer.
It might sound like a complicated process, but it’s easy enough if you have some language abilities. My business license arrived within two weeks!
6. Working as a professional
First the bad news. Professional jobs aren’t easy to come by, especially for those who aren’t fluent in French. You’ll typically need to be able to interview and send your application in the local language. Exceptions to this rule are generally found in start-ups and big international companies.
Even if you’re fluent, the hiring process can be painfully slow. Expect months to go by with minimal communication and anticipate tons of postponed deadlines and red tape.
But there’s good news, too! Once you do finally land your dream job, you’ll be rewarded with heaps of benefits and paid vacation time to explore the country.
And if you manage to snag the coveted CDI, or contrat de travail à durée indéterminée (permanent contract), things like getting a bank account, phone number and even an apartment suddenly become much, much easier.
Like with any big move, settling down in France has its difficulties.
But the pros infinitely outweigh the cons. Just picture yourself on your lunch break, ordering a ham and cheese crêpe and chatting with the proprietor in French while you wait.
Bon courage! (Good luck!)
Emma Brooke is a travel writer and serial expat currently living in Paris.
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