I’m a French immigration lawyer. Of course, I’d love for you to move to France – and in order to succeed in your move, you’ll want to make sure you’re going into it with eyes wide open. Here are some of the challenges my clients would have liked to have known before they make their move to France.
France, like the US, has websites like Glassdoor to compare salaries. The average monthly salary in France is 1 789€ - compared to $5,493 monthly in the US. For one Saudi client who immigrated to France from a high-powered consultant job in Dubai, she took a salary cut of 1/3 of what she was earning before.
French residents can rationalize this by saying that there’s a strong social safety net, and the salaries are lower but with stronger social services. It’s the deal I accepted when I moved to France.
2. Properties costs are nevertheless high
Buying a property in Paris is a solid investment, as property values regularly increase a few percentage points per year. This also means it’s very hard to buy good housing in Paris. Paris real estate sells for at least 10,000€/m², which means a small apartment with a living room and a bedroom may go for 500,000€. Then, there are notary fees the buyer pays (usually 8%) and real estate agent fees (the seller pays, usually 3%).
As you’ve just read, salaries aren’t high. This means Paris is a place where proportionally the salaries to cost of living is most disproportional.
Housing in France is going to be more affordable in any other town than Paris – although the banlieues proches, the neighboring towns like Versailles, Vincennes, or Boulogne-Billancourt will be just as pricy as Paris.
Bois de Vincennes, Source: Paris office de tourisme
3. France is not a country made for entrepreneurs
In my article on the top 5 reasons to move to France, I mention that France is a country where the Employee is king. I think that applies not just to employee/customer interactions, but the entrepreneur/employee distinction.
The process of a non-EU national becoming an entrepreneur is long. The checklist is incomprehensible, the form to fill out is long and confusing, the work authorization website crashes if you don’t submit the application in one sitting:
The application can take 2-4 months; on one application it took the Paris prefecture 9 months to approve a change of status to entrepreneur. Once you receive work authorization, the website to create a micro-entreprise looks like it was made in the 90’s.
France has made efforts to be innovative – it has over 60 start-up incubators, including the famous Station F. But Station F’s acceptance rate for new start-ups is less than 9%, making the “French tech” visa allusive.
Station F. Source
Importantly, the social charges for an entrepreneur are high – 20% value added tax on transactions, then 22% (or 40%) social charges on your turnover, then income taxes. A law professor once told me over coffee, “for every 3€ I earn, I keep 1€ of it.”
This ties in nicely to my personal philosophy about this country: France is a better country to spend your money in, than to earn your money in.
4. France as a country of “No, no, yes”.
France has a national motto: “C’est pas possible”, it’s not possible. Overcoming the French immigration authorities requires – and an understanding of what you can and cannot insist on.
Take the example of a work authorization request. You want to work for a French employer – and you’ve finally found one who wants to hire you! The authorization is going to have to go to the French labor authority for approval first. If the job posting is to work as a waiter, amongst the 500 million EU nationals who could take that job, the French labor authority is going to say no. But if that job is to be a rocket scientist, requiring a PhD in Astrophysics, they’ll likely say yes. In-between those two points is a spectrum, and it’s up to you to prove to the French authorities that this job application is in fact exceptional enough to push past the “No’s” and get to the “Yes”.
Often, when the French say “c’est pas possible,” it’s an invitation to show them under what dire or exceptional circumstances it is in fact possible. Tom Wilscam, the Director Serve the City Paris calls this the “no, no, yes” attitude in French culture. It’s the starting point of a negotiation where the presumption is no, unless otherwise convinced.
5. You’re going from being an insider to being an outsider
This applies for any country. In short, you’re leaving behind a country where you are an insider, where you can vote to change policies you don’t like, where you have automatically the right to work and the right to travel as you please – and you’re making it all conditional. You’re entering a land with a different set of customs and culture, and likely a language barrier – and then you’re asking for various rights: the right to stay, perhaps the right to work, and ultimately, the right to join the private club and become French. It can be very frustrating, at times, to become an outsider.
Ultimately, we chose to move to France because it’s worth it, on the scale of things: the positives outweigh the negatives. Personally, I love the free open-air cinéma of movies projected in front of my small village’s town hall on late summer evenings, the long weekend trips to Bretagne, and I’ve accepted being an entrepreneur in this country even with the high costs and frustrations.
It is a personal choice, and it is up for you to decide.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Daniel is a dual-qualified French-US attorney, and practices exclusively French in-bound immigration, with a focus on private clients.
Should you feel like France is the right fit for you 👉 reach out to Daniel today!