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The Job Search: Finding Employment in France

If you aren’t prepared, finding the right job in France may be a challenge. For qualified French-speaking expats there are many job opportunities, but this is not the case in every field. The first step to finding a job in France is to analyze the job market and pinpoint which sector best fits your skillset.

At a Glance:

  • The service sector is the largest employment field in France. It employs around 70% of the country’s workforce.
  • In order to qualify for social security benefits, you will need to work a minimum of 60 hours per month.
  • EU/EEA citizens can live and work in France as long as they like, but they need to register at the social security office to receive their tax ID number.
  • If you aren’t from the EU/EEA and want to freelance or start your own company in France, you’ll need to apply for a Skills and Talents permit (Carte Compétences et Talents).

Prerequisites to Working in France

In order to be allowed to work in France, you will first have to make sure that you have the correct visa and residence permit; if you are required to get one, that is. Once arrived, you’ll also need to register at the social security office. You will then be assigned a social security number. This number is important for healthcare, taxation, and social security purposes.

EU/EEA citizens do not have to apply for a residence permit, i.e. a carte de séjour, but it is always good to have in case you need to prove that you are currently living in France. You can get it by registering at your nearest prefecture — or District Administration Office. After five years of legal and continuous residence in France, you can request a permanent residence permit.

Fields of Work in the French Economy

France is Europe’s third-largest economy, following Germany and the UK. The industrial sector used to employ a much larger percentage of the population than it does today. Nevertheless, the country is currently leading Europe with defense and aerospace technology. Other popular occupations in this sector are in telecommunications, ship building, construction and civil engineering, automobiles, chemicals and textiles, and pharmaceuticals. 

The Energy Boom

One thriving sector of the French economy is energy, with the country the largest net exporter of electricity worldwide. Nuclear power accounts for over 75% of the country’s energy production. With large companies such as EDF and Areva, the nuclear power industry employs an abundance of workers — with different skill sets — across the country.

The Agricultural Dilemma

As for agriculture, France specializes in producing beef, poultry, potatoes, cereal, wheat, sugar, oilseed, and wine. Although it is the one of the main agricultural exporters in the EU, the percentage of workers employed in this sector has been steadily decreasing over time. With more advances in technology, less man power is needed to produce products. Currently, only about 3.5% of France’s workforce is employed in the agriculture sector.

Education, Healthcare, and Other Services

At the moment, the service sector is the largest employment sector in France, making up over half of the country’s total employment. Today, services account for more than 70% of the country’s GDP. The French government is especially putting further emphasis on educating and caring for their population.


Despite recent terrorist attacks, France still remains in the top five most visited countries in the world. The country offers many places of cultural and historic interest — including, but not limited to, Paris, Cannes, and Nice. Although the country is still profiting from tourism, the industry has indeed felt the aftershock of the terror attacks and threats and people in this industry are increasingly worried about its future. After all, tourism is crucial for the French economy; in Paris alone, over 260,000 people are employed in the industry.

Unemployment and the Public Sector

It isn’t a secret that France has a high unemployment rate, with about three million people registered as unemployed — mostly, the French youth. The country has one of the largest public sectors in the world, which in 2016 accounted for 57% of the total GDP. Many economists believe that this is one reason for the high unemployment rate, as the sector is too large to sustain itself. What is more, the OECD — Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development — claims that less people are considering occupations in the service sector because of the large amount of labor taxes imposed on workers in these fields.

Practical Advice for Your Job Search

Before you apply for a job in France, you should make sure that your CV is relevant and up-to-date with your current details. Your CV should include your past places of employment, educational institutions, volunteer work, and any other positive qualities that could benefit your future employer. Make sure to keep your personal life separate from your professional one.

You should only provide information about yourself that will prove valuable to your potential employer. You won’t need to put your marital status or birthdate on your CV. However, you should provide a business appropriate picture of yourself for your CV — this isn’t required, but it’s recommended in order to present a professional image of yourself. Lastly, if you are applying to a job listing that is in French, you should send a French translation of your CV in addition to an English one.

If you speak enough French to work in it proficiently, that opens up a huge path for career possibilities. Most expats come to France to work in its major cities, but there are a lot of job opportunities for French-speaking expats in the countryside as well. Depending on the region, occupations needing skilled workers are found especially in healthcare, engineering, information technology, and education.

There are many online tools available to aid you with your job search, including but not limited to:

Understanding Your French Employment Contract

There are five main types of employment in France: full time-time permanent contracts (CDI), full-time fixed term contracts (CDD), temporary work contracts, part-time contracts, and intermittent employment. These types of employment are better described below:

  • A CDI employment contract does not require a fixed employment term. This type of employment is considered genuinely stable, as French labor laws can make it complicated and expensive to fire someone without good reason. With a CDI, there is a three to six month trial period, where both parties have the option to end the contract. After this period, the employee can continue working at that company as long as they would like.  
  • A CDD employment contract is a full-time employment contract that is only valid for a certain amount of time. There is no minimum period, but the maximum period that an employee can work under a CDD contract is 18 months. After this, the employment should either end or be changed into a CDI contract. 
  • Temporary work contracts are nearly the same as CDD contracts. The only difference is that the employee is hired through an employment agency instead of the employer directly. Companies prefer to use employees with a temporary work contract to work on short-term projects.  
  • Employees with an intermittent contract usually work in a sector that sees unforeseeable fluctuations during the year.

Workers employed through a part-time contract are payed — on average — for 23 hours per week. In order to be eligible for social security benefits, employees will need to work a minimum of 60 hours per month. Before signing your employment contract, be sure to read it thoroughly. It is especially important to pay attention to the paid leave, maternity benefits, medical coverage, and daily working hours.

It is important to note that due to the aforementioned high unemployment rate, it can be difficult to find jobs with permanent employment contracts. Most of the available contracts are for short-term workers, i.e. 18 months.

Tired of Your Job?

If you are not happy with your current position and feel like quitting, you will need to write an official termination notice. It is best to keep your notice professional, short, and to-the-point. Refer back to your contract regarding the proper notification time period. Your official letter should include:

  • your employer’s name and address
  • the exact contract that is being terminated
  • the date that you wish to leave by
  • your signature

You will need to hand in your notice either in person or by registered post. If you hand in your notice in person, you should ask your supervisor for a signature of acknowledgement. This is good to have so you can legally prove that your supervisor had knowledge that you planned to leave your job.

Alternative Options: Be Your Own Boss

If you would like to work as a freelancer in France, you will need to set up a sole proprietorship — or a micro-enterprise — to make sure that your income is recognized by the state. You will also need to make sure that you have an adequate healthcare plan in place.

If you are an EU/EEA citizen or Swiss, you are allowed to stay and work in France for as long as you like, since it is part of the European Union; you will only need an address in France. This is also true for freelancers or self-employed expats.

If you are not from an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, then you will need to get a Skills and Talents permit — or Compétences et Talents. This permit is granted to those whose business is expected to have a positive impact on the French economy. In order to apply for this permit, you will need to have a detailed business plan and present it to your nearest French consulate or embassy. Make sure that you have enough funds to carry out your business plan and that you meet all other criteria.


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