Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. Is your dream to live, or continue living, in France? It is possible, as a non-EU citizen, without needing to get married or become a student to make it happen.
American Allison Lounes lives in France. She runs the website Paris Unravelled, and she helps people to navigate French administration, like visa applications, in a way that’s much less stressful than going it alone.
Allison’s going to talk through the main options for non-Europeans. From getting PACSed, to moving off a student visa, being sponsored by a company, or going it alone as self-employed. And she’s going to explain what you need to put into your application to make your French dream a reality.
I wanted to ask you, first off, you say on your website, the second time you moved to Paris you were essentially addicted to the struggle of French bureaucracy. I know when I have to do anything to do with French administration, I wanna run the other way (laughs)! What made it so addictive for you?
Allison: Wow, that’s a really interesting question! So, I think I was just wrapped up in the idea that I, that it had to be hard. And, you know, when you, whenever you talk to people, even now like when I talk to people in my facebook group, or when I talk to my clients, if you ask multiple people like how to do some task in French bureaucracy, you’re going to get a different answer from each person. You’re not gonna have any clarity, and then once you go to do the thing, it’s not gonna be anything like what the people said.
I think, I’ve always been somebody who was like a researcher who wanted to get as much information as I could before I went to do the thing. If I had to go to the bank, for example, I would like make up my little lists of vocabulary, so I made sure I knew all the words that I needed and all the phrases that I needed before I would go. And, when you’re used to doing that type of research and knowing in advance, like I did that because I was very anxious. And I was afraid of like doing the wrong thing, and getting in trouble, or like missing something that was really important. And so, you know, when I did all that research, the only effect it had was that it confused me more (laughs). And then, it makes things seem really hard. And then you get like a little bit of a rush when you finally like get it figured out, you’re like yay, I did this thing!
Carlie: Wonderful dopamine, an injection of achievement!
Allison: Yeah, exactly, and so like, you know whenever you check off things on your to do list, it’s like, you know I feel so good that I was able (laughs), that I was able to do all this stuff, when, you know, there was all the, that, when there was all this struggle behind it, like it feels like a much bigger win than it actually was (laughs).
Carlie: So specifically today, we’re gonna be talking about visas, and the different types that exist for France, and the common issues that people come up against when it comes to getting the right visa, applying for the right visa, and navigating that. You know, I know I’m personally quite lucky, as a European passport holder I was able to come to France quite easily. How was that for yourself as an American?
Allison: So, both of the times that I moved to France I came to study abroad for a year, and so I was on a student visa then. And, after I graduated college, university, and came back, I was also on a student visa. And I stayed on a student visa for a couple of years, like I just kept accumulating Masters degrees, because I wanted to stay in France!
And so, it also happened to be very lucky that I met my husband while I was teaching English, and so by the time I was sort of running out on, on being a student and then not wanting to con-, not wanting to continue my studies any more, I was able to just get married and, and switch over my visa that way. And at the time, yeah, I was very unclear on how I would have stayed otherwise. Because I was working in a job that wasn’t related to my field of studies, or to anything that I wanted to do. I had done my degrees in comparative literature and French literature, and like, fairy tales, literally. And then my job was like working in taxes.
And meanwhile I was starting my website, Paris Unravelled, and I was writing and doing all this stuff, but I really didn’t have a clear path for how I would have stayed in France if I hadn’t happened to get married. So it was (laughs) a lucky, a lucky qu-, I didn’t get, I didn’t get married to be able to stay in France, like that wasn’t the, the motivation. But it certainly made things a lot easier for me.
Carlie: Is it a pathway that a lot of expats seem to think they have to take to be able to stay in France, is to do a quickie marriage?
Allison: Sometimes. I do get kind of a lot of questions about that. What happens even more often is that people get PACSed. And, I always really worry when people are enquiring about PACS, because PACS is a civil partnership that does not guarantee the same rights as marriage. And, you don’t actually have a right to a working visa and a private life, private family life visa, if your partnership through a PACS.
And so, you know, if people are considering it, like they think PACS is like well, it’s, it’s not like getting married, it’s less serious, and therefore, you know, I’m going to have the same rights to be in France as if I were married, but you know, it’s not like, it’s, it’s not the commitment of marriage.
But the problem is, is that it doesn’t give you the same rights. You have to be living together and PACSed for at least one year before you’re even considered eligible to apply for the private life visa, if, if you’re, if you haven’t been together and living together for a year then you only get, or you can only get a visitor visa, or maybe a student visa or something.
So, I see a lot of people who do that, and who end up in a precarious situation, because they were expecting to be able to work and, you know, they were really just doing it to be able to stay, and then it doesn’t work out how they expected, so. And then of course, once you get PACSed, and try to go for the visa through PACS, if you then back up and try to get married instead, that throws up a whole lot of red flags in the French administration, who realise that, you know, you’re just trying to do it for the visa. And that can cause you to, to undergo a lot of scrutiny.
So, I don’t think there’s a ton of people getting married specifically for the visa, but, if people are in a relationship, and, and that’s where it’s headed, I usually advise them, well the best thing to do is to get married, you know, even if it’s a little bit before you’re ready, because that makes your path a whole lot easier to navigate.
Carlie: You’re gonna have a whole lot more options, than, than getting PACSed.
Allison: Exactly, because PACS, PACS is considered an ele-, element d’appreciation, in your, in your dossier for a resident card. So, if you’ve been here for a couple of years, and you’ve been a student, and you have a job, and you’re otherwise well integrated, and you’ve lived together for 6 months, and then you get PACSed, and then you live together for a year after you get PACSed, and you have this whole relationship, then, you know, pictures of travelling together and whatever, then you’re going to be a really good candidate for the vie prive visa.
But, if you have been here as an au pair for, if you’ve been in France as an au pair for a year, and you don’t wanna continue your language studies but you wanna stay in France and get a full-time job, and you decide that the best way to do that is to get PACSed with your friend, they’re gonna see that you haven’t explained these other, you haven’t been in France very long, that you, that you haven’t had a job that’s going to continue. And they’re going to tell you, well, you can enrol in classes and stay on a student visa, or you can, or you can get a visitor visa. And then people, people realise like, oh well if I’m on a visitor visa I can’t work. You know, my, my partner can’t support me, because we’re young. And then it can, it can cause a lot of issues.
Carlie: So, do people in that situation, you’re a student, you’re in a relationship, you’re not at the marriage stage, it’s early days, or maybe you’re single. Can students transition into a visa that allows them to live and work in France with full kind of rights, or are they in a bit of a tricky situation?
Allison: It kind of depends. The thing about the vie prive visa that you get when you’re married, or if you’ve been PACSed for more than a year, the advantage of that is that it gives you full working rights to any profession in France provided that you are legally qualified to do it. So, you can set up your own business and be self-employed, and work as a micro-entrepreneur. You can get a salary job in a CDD or a CDI. And, your, your ability to stay and work in France isn’t tied to, specifically to your employment. So for example, if you fall into a really bad job, that isn’t working out for you, you can leave your job without consequence.
If you get fired and go on unemployment, then you can collect unemployment and it’s not going to put your visa in jeopardy. Now, if you’re a student, it really depends on what your field of study has been, how, how long you’ve been in France, how much you’ve studied. And, what kind of work you want to do. It, obviously there’s certain fields that are much, that are much better than others in terms of finding employment and getting sponsored.
So, if you’re a student, the way you’re gonna do things is, you know, if you’re a language student, then it’s really hard to transition from being a language student to getting any time of full-time employment, any kind of full-time employment. Because the company has to treat you as though they’re sponsoring a foreign worker. And that means, in most cases, they have to prove that they tried to hire somebody who already has working papers in France, so a French citizen, an EU citizen, or somebody who is already here as a long-term resident. And they have to pay a tax to OFI, a 55% of one month’s salary. So, in most cases, that first hurdle is going to be pretty much insurmountable, especially if you’re young, especially if you don’t have a lot of qualifications, if you have less than a Masters degree…
Carlie: The competition is just too high, there’s too many other cheaper options.
Allison: Too high, exactly. Exactly, and if you don’t have, if you don’t have the special qualifications, even if the company, you know, wants to hire you, they’re going to send your file off to Direcct, Direcct is Direction Territorial du Travail, du Commerce, de la Consommation et de l’Emploi. I think I got that right (laughs)!
Carlie: I believe you!
Allison: It’s like a really, it’s a really long, I, you know, all of those French acronyms are, you know, can kind of run together in your head. But the Direcct is basically a French organisation that validates any work contracts for foreigners in France, and any businesses that foreigners want to create in France. So, if you get hired by a French company, they have to send off the job posting, your resume, your diplomas and everything to Direcct. They also have to submit copies of the applications from the people who were not hired. So, basically…
Allison: You know, Direcct have to say…
Carlie: So much proof!
Allison: Yeah, and so they, and so Direcct has to say OK yeah, we believe you that this person is the best person for the job, even though there’s EU competition, you know, clearly you have a degree that is superior, and have, you know, these additional technical skills, so you have to be like heads and, head and shoulders above the rest in terms of your qualifications, because otherwise Direcct is gonna come back and say well, this other candidate who already is an EU citizen, and who is on unemployment, looks good for the position as well, so you have to hire him instead. So that’s what happens if they ha-, if a company wants to hire a foreign worker, or if they want to hire you from a student visa, if you don’t have a degree.
Now, if the salary is above €36,000, then they do not have to prove they tried to hire a, a French or EU person. Because then you become eligible for something called the passeport talent. The passeport talent salarier. And the passeport talent salarier has employment that is non-opposable, which means that Direcct cannot object to them hiring you for that high of a salary. Now, in France though you have to realise, 97% of French salaried employees earn less than €37,000 a year. So, €36,000, even though it doesn’t, it may not seem like it’s a really high salary to an American, that’s a really high salary in France. And so you have to realise that that’s not gonna be the entry level salary that you’re getting out of college, or even out of a Masters degree, you know.
Carlie: Definitely the exception to the rule.
Allison: Yeah, that’s going to be a management level position, after at least 5 to 10 years of professional experience. So, what are your other options? If you’re a student who has done at least 2 years of higher education, in a French university, gotten a degree, so most of the time this is going to be a Masters degree, although it can be an undergraduate degree, if you had those 2 years of education completed in France, then you are eligible for something called an APS, which is an autorisation provisoir de sejour.
Now, an APS is one year, where basically you’re on a student visa, but you don’t have to be completing studies. It’s one year where you’re, you’re allowed to continue working if you have a part-time job as a student, you know, you’re babysitting, you’re working at Starbucks or a, or a bar or whatever. You’re allowed to continue working on your student job up to 20 hours per week, while you are looking for full-time employment. Once you find a full-time CDD or CDI contract, then you can switch to [unclear French word – 00:13:45] status. And, the company does not have to prove that they tried to hire the French or EU person. So they only have to pay the tax to OFI, which is 55% of one month’s salary. Which, a lot of companies unfortunately are still not willing to do.
So the situation is slightly better if you have a degree. The only caveat I would say for that particular situation is that if you have done your studies in a field where there is high unemployment, Direcct could still theoretically oppose you being hired. So, if you do something really, a bit nebulous, like communications, or, I mean, hell, mine in comparative literature, like, focusing on folk tales (laughs), I was never (laughs), you know that, that, that doesn’t lead to very many …
Carlie: Direct employable options! (laughs)
Allison: Direct employable positions. I mean now, now I could probably finagle it into marketing, or, you know, something to do with storytelling, there are ways to, there are ways to frame your, your skills and your expertise, but, but if you’re something, if you’re in something purely academic, yeah, or a field with high unemployment, then you’re going to have trouble getting sponsored, especially because, you know, the job that you find has to be directly related to the degree that you just completed, so, it’s not like, you know, I did my, I did my degree in comparative literature, and then the first job that I had after I graduated and was waiting to get married was working in a tax office. And that has nothing to do, you know, that had nothing to do with what I had done in school, and so, he wouldn’t have been able to hire me off of APS, based on that degree.
Carlie: Allison, it sort of makes me realise why suddenly getting PACSed or getting married sounds so much more attractive, particularly to students! (laughs)
Allison: Yeah! (laughs) Or to anybody really!
Carlie: So what if you are not a student, you’re a professional who’s trying to be able to move to France to continue in your career. You don’t have the benefit of an EU passport or a family that means that you could just move to France. Is being sponsored by a company as a professional realistic in France?
Allison: It can be if you’re really highly qualified in your field and have a lot of professional experience. But it’s something that takes a lot of time, and is going to cause you a lot of frustration. Like I said, you’re looking at jobs that mostly are going to have salaries over €36,000. They’re jobs that people are going to recruit you for, you know, if it’s management, if it’s management or higher usually, usually it’s a possibility, but, honestly, it’s really hard. And not many of my, not many of my clients end up, end up going that route. A lot of times I help people who are in their 30s or early 40s who want to do some kind of career change, and who go the route of learning French as a student, enrolling in a Masters degree programme, and then leveraging some internships during their Masters degree to that position that they get hired …
Carlie: To find a way to get a job.
Allison: Yeah, yeah. The thing about that route is that it takes several years, obviously, to put that into place. And during that time as a student, you know, you’re not allowed to work full-time, and so if you’re, you know, a real adult (laughs) and want to work full-time and, and earn real adult money, so that you’re not living in 10 square metres, you know, then it can be a hard, it can be a hard shift to, to shift down to, to being a student and everything. What I advise people to do a lot, and what I usually help my clients with, is to apply for something called the profession liberale visa.
Now, the profession liberale visa is not something that is heavily advertised by the French government, because they promote the passeport talent entrepreneur visa. The passeport talent entrepreneur visa is for investors who want to start a company, and who have either a Masters degree or 5 years of professional experience, and who want to invest at least €30,000 in starting a company. So, normally that’s for companies that would have, you know, either hire employees, or would have some kind of need for space, materials, whatever, that would, you know, require those expenses to be invested upfront. It doesn’t have to be a material investment in equipment or physical space rentals or anything like that, but it does have to be starting a company with at least a €30,000 capital. My …
Carlie: Not achievable for everybody, for example.
Allison: It’s not achievable for any-, for everybody, unless you have, unless you have savings, a lot of savings, and the other issue is, you can only, when you’re on this particular visa you can only support yourself with revenue from your company, you can’t work for anybody else while you’re…
Carlie: So fingers crossed you’re actually successful!
Allison: Yeah. So, that’s a big investment for a lot of people, and it has, it has a lot of requirements. Running a company is also much more administratively complex, especially if you’re not familiar with the French system. So for a lot of people that’s, you know, it, that seems overly complicated for them. Especially, you know, if you have a business like mine, where I literally just need my computer, you know, it wouldn’t make sense to make a €30,000 investment in that. So where does that leave people?
So, so a lot of people hear about that particular visa and think well you know, I can’t start a company, I can’t start a business in France, because I don’t need to make that investment, and maybe they don’t have a Masters degree or whatever. And they don’t have €30,000. So, what they don’t realise is that there are two other types of visas. One is called commercant, and one is called profession liberale, and those are also for people who want to be self-employed.
Now, commercant is going to be for anybody doing a commercial activity like buying and selling things, or for somebody who’s starting an actual limited liability company, and so there is some kind of investment in that, there is, you know, engaging with the French system and setting up the, setting up the French business structure. And usually even that is too much of a financial burden, and an administrative burden, for somebody who has a very simple business.
So the profession liberale visa allows people to set up as freelancers, using a business structure called micro-entrepreneur, or it used to be called auto-entrepreneur. And what that allows you to do is to be self-employed, to have clients anywhere in the world, and to declare your income, pay social taxes and income taxes in France, and to start your path towards becoming a French, permanent French resident and a citizen.
There’s no minimum requirement for, for education, for investment. You do have to have enough money in the bank to support yourself. You do have to have a strong business idea with potential clients. But, normally, if I have clients who have a minimum of professional experience, and even some people who want to work remotely for jobs in the US or teaching English to kids in China, or doing freelance writing, or anything that can be done via the internet, there’s almost no cost upfront in starting the business. They have the skills and the education required to do those things. The internet makes it really easy and basically free to, to find people who can be your potential clients, and so I find that to be a really great solution, because no company has to sponsor you. You just have to, you just have to put together the business plan and put together a, a realistic idea of what you’re going to be able to, to do.
Carlie: I guess you would also need the funds to show you can support yourself while you’re getting your business off the ground, if it’s a physical business in France, and not just bringing your clients, to continue servicing them over the internet, for example.
Allison: Yeah, it does get a little bit tricky if there are actual, there are actual business expenses, like if you’re starting a store, or, you know, some kind, yeah, some kind of shop, some kind of…
Carlie: Holiday home, or…
Allison: Yeah, physically making products, you still, obviously in your business plan you have to show that you have the money to invest, that you’re able to pay your expenses, and that you’re able to pay your own living expenses while you’re building up your business. But, for somebody who has a really simple business, like a virtual assistant, or teaching English, or even photographer, anything like that, you know, you show you already have the equipment that you need, and the amount that you have to have in the bank is going to be at a maximum €1,500 per month for one year. So that’s, that works out to about €18,000.
But usually it’s far less than that, because you’re going to show that you already have income coming in to your business. So, if you have €8,000 in the bank, but you’re going to provide letters with your business plan saying, you know, I have John Smith from Kansas City who’s going to pay me €800, $800 per month for my virtual assistant business, and I have this French company who’s going to pay me €400 per month for social media services, that’s already almost €1,200 per month that you’re going to have coming in when you arrive. So by setting up those clients, and this is something I help my clients to do, when I help them to start their self-employment activity, we nail down a couple of clients right from the beginning, so that it shows the government that OK, you’re going to have the, this money coming in. So, even though you only have €8,000 in the bank, you know, you’re not going to be using that up right away as soon as you move.
Carlie: Allison, how long does it take to actually be green-lighted for your visa in France? Because I know, sometimes you can be waiting for quite a long time when it comes to making applications for various things.
Allison: That’s a good question, and it really, the answer, with every-, as with everything, is, it depends (laughs). So, if you’re applying in France, you’re only allowed to do change of status for certain visa types in France, so this would be if you’re changing status from a student to an APS, or an APS to salarier, or student or APS to profession liberale. There are a couple of things to consider.
One, you have to make the appointment in advance. Two, when you go to the appointment, if it’s just a simple renewal, then you’re just going to get renewed automatically on that day. The clients that I have who are switching to profession liberale in France normally get approved the same day that they have their appointment. Normally the way it works, at least in Paris, is we go to the appointment, they review the business plan, it gets approved, and they say OK, go set up your business, register, bring back all these forms to us in 2-3 months, and then they officially issue the card. So they give you time to, to get set up before they officially confirm it. If you’re starting a company, or going for a passeport talent visa, those are evaluated by committee, or committees, who are external to the prefecture, and so those can take 3-6 months.
I had one client who was waiting on a positive response, they approved her, and then they requested more information, and she was waiting for close to 9 months before she actually got her card. Meanwhile, she was able to work, but she was in a little bit of limbo while she was waiting. If you are applying from outside of France, you know, at a consulate in Australia, in the United States and Canada, in most cases for a profession liberale visa you’re going to have it in less than 10 days. I do have one client…
Carlie: Wow, that’s super-quick!
Allison: Yeah. It does take some time, for a profession liberale it does take, take some time to put together. I usually want to start working with my clients 8-12 weeks before their visa appointment, and then I advise them to make their visa appointment no later than 1 month before the day they want to leave. So if they want to leave on April 1st, I suggest they have their visa appointment no later than March 1st, which means we start working together basically now, between November and January, to get that visa application ready for March. I have heard some stories about visas taking longer than that, but normally, when that happens, it’s because, it’s because the business plan sounded too complicated.
So I had one client who put together this really beautiful business plan for her web design business, it sounds really great, she has all these potential clients, and she put the name of her business as, as a studio. So she had it, her business name studio. So, when they hear that they think, oh, this person is starting like a real design studio, and she’s going to be starting a company and having employees and it’s going to be this big thing, so then they really scrutinised her financials. And they see like, are you going to be able to do it? And a lot of times, if you, you know, if you make it sound really good, and then your financials are kind of wimpy because it’s really just you, they get a little bit confused. So, it is really important when you’re putting together the business plan and the financial projections, to make sure everything is congruent with the idea that it’s just going to be you and your computer, or whatever, you know, doing your whatever service it is that you provide. You don’t wanna, you don’t wanna confuse them with too much information, or too many big ideas.
Carlie: And be aware of those language nuances that could confuse.
Carlie: And, do you, I mean, if you’re a sole trader, you’re a freelancer, you, you kinda work month to month based on your clients, do you need to be earning a large amount of money to be able to move to France and run your, your little business in France? Or is a modest income going to be acceptable?
Allison: So, when I work with my clients, a lot of them are just starting out as business owners. A lot of them have not, have not been freelancers before, and they’re doing this as a way to leave their jobs and move to France. So it’s absolutely not required to have already had a business before you move, and that’s something that I coach my clients through.
I say that my service is part doing the visa application, but it’s also at least half business coaching, in helping them figure out OK, this is how you start a business, this is how you decide what services you offer, what, what prices to charge, how to make sure you’re not undercharging, how to make sure you have enough clients, all of that stuff that goes along with the things that you need to figure out in the first couple of years of business, that I didn’t really figure out until my fourth year in business! What the prefecture is looking for ultimately is about €1,500 per month, which is not a whole lot. That’s gross. That’s, that’s your total gross income before expenses.
Carlie: Before taxes and …
Allison: Yeah. I don’t recommend putting a lot of detail into the expenses, because as a micro-entrepreneur, an auto-entrepreneur, you’re not allowed to deduct expenses. And so I kind of tend to ignore them as much as possible in the business plan. So, €1,500 per month gross is not a ton, that’s basically minimum wage in France, and for most people that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be 2-3 clients. I do like to have my clients have potential clients, or have future clients before they arrive here.
And that being said, they do understand to a certain extent that it takes time to build up a business. So, the way it works is the profession liberale visa is for 1 year. You arrive in France, you set up your business, something that I help my clients do, set up your business, register, start paying taxes, start hopefully earning income, start making connections. And, you do get a little, little bit of time to build it up. One year after you arrive, you go to renew your visa. And at that point, the prefecture is going to review all of your invoices, your billing, your tax declarations, and see how much money you’ve had and how much, how much money you’ve earned, and how much your business has grown through the first year.
Carlie: Have you been working or have you just been drinking wine and eating cheese? (laughs)
Allison: (laughs) Basically, basically! Yeah, so if your business is growing steadily, and you’re getting close to that €1,500 per month by the end of the first year, then that’s totally fine. I was there with one client, the agents were discussing whether or not to renew somebody who had only earned €10,000 the previous year. They gave her an additional year to, to try to get, now obviously she was going to have to, you know, focus on growing her business in the following year, because €10,000 is less than, it’s about €900 a month gross. So they did want her to improve that. But, the good thing is that if you earn more than €1,500, or if your income is very steady, then you’re going to be able to get anywhere from 1-4 years at the renewal. So, what I tell my clients is, I want them in their business plan to map out how they can earn up to €2,500-3,000 per month by the end of the first year, with the idea that that’s going to get them 4 years.
Carlie: Yeah, keeping that end goal in mind, of being able to have a longer-term life in France.
Allison: Yeah. And so, even if you only get one year, I mean you can keep renewing. 98% of visas are renewed automatically, you know, ‘scuse me, without an issue. You know, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to renew even if, you know, even if you earn slightly less than the €1,500, especially d-, especially during your first year. But, obviously, getting that 4 years, or even getting 2 years, takes the pressure off of you, because then you don’t have to worry about that administration and renewing, you know, renewing…
Carlie: Reporting in every year.
Allison: Yeah, so it takes, you know…
Carlie: It would be such a stress.
Allison: Yeah. And that’s, that’s the great thing about these multi-year visas that they’ve now put into place is that, it used to be, you would make an appointment, you would go to your appointment 3 months after your visa had expired, you would get a [unclear French word 00:32:05-06] for 3 months, pick up the card 3 months later, and then your card would only be valid for 6 months, so in another 3 months you had to make the appointment to go back to (laughs), to go back to renew your visa again. So you were constantly getting, sometimes people would get their cards issued, and the card was already expired.
So that doesn’t happen any more, which is great. But, yeah, I mean it takes the pressure off. So the idea, what they really want you to do is they want you to have one year where you’re really successful, you know, you’re growing your business, you’re getting up to €1,500-2,000-2,500 per month by the end of the first year. You get that 4 year card, and so then by the time your 4 year card is expiring, you’re going to get a 10 year card, and become a permanent resident, and then you’re also eligible to apply for naturalisation, because at that point you will have been paying your taxes for 5 years, and if you’ve been steadily self-employed that’s going to be a really solid application for being naturalised as a French citizen.
So, they’re really trying to streamline the process in, in that way, and by staying on the same visa type, and obviously paying, paying taxes and earning income, that gives you a much clearer path and much more straightforward path to residency than the example we had earlier, which was doing language studies and then being a student and then getting the APS and then hopefully finding a job, and then spending a couple of years tied to one particular employer because you’re on the salarier visa, and you can’t switch and you can’t get fired, and you can’t, and you can’t resign, so…
Carlie: It gives you a lot more freedom.
Carlie: With regard to these visas where you’re coming to France and setting up your own business, it’s a daunting thing for anyone, it’s not the ideal situation for everyone and not everyone is gonna be successful. Is there a safety net for you when you’re on these visas and you’re not earning enough money? For example, this woman that you mentioned that had only earned €10,000. Will the government, or should you expect the government to help you out, if you can’t pay your rent every month and your business is not going so well in France?
Allison: So the tricky thing about the, about the profession liberale visa, any of the self-employment visas, is that you’re only allowed to, you’re, you’re expected to work full-time on your business. So that it becomes a success. Now, you’re right in that that can put a lot of pressure on you as a new entrepreneur. I like to tell people, you know, I left my job, it was a really horrible, horrible job that was very toxic for me. I left it to start my business, and I tell people, I left a year too early for my financial security, and a year too late for my mental health.
So there’s that beginning, you know, that beginning bout of entrepreneurship can be really hard, and what I tried to do with my clients is ideally I’m working with them throughout the year, and providing that business coaching and those strategy sessions, to help them find clients, so that they don’t feel lost, and they don’t, you know, they don’t get stuck. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of help available, and the person who was earning €10,000, she wasn’t my client, so I just heard, overheard them talking about whether or not they should renew her, so I don’t know what her personal situation was.
Now, a couple of things you should know is that one, it’s pretty easy to find basic freelance work online, even if it’s, you know, from clients in your home country, in the United States, wherever, there’s always that as a safety net, including things like teaching English online, there are companies that offer that kind of contract, and what you can do is, you can add secondary activities to your freelance business. So, if for example your primary activity is as a web designer, or a photographer, or a consultant, and you find that, you know, a couple of months you’re just not making money, you can add that secondary activity of teaching English, and start working for one of these companies, and it will, you know, provide that, that support.
Another thing to know, I have one client who is a tour guide, and so her busiest times of year obviously are the summer, from, you know, April, March-April through October-ish. And so once January rolls around, she’s not gonna have a lot to do. But that doesn’t mean that having a couple of low months in January and February is going to completely throw her business off for the whole year. Having a seasonal business is not going to be a problem in terms of renewal, but, on the other hand it is up to you to have the savings in place to be able to pay your bills during, during those months.
Carlie: Are you entitled to unemployment payments when you’re on this visa?
Allison: No. No. The only exception, if you have had other employment in France, like let’s say, let’s say you were a student and you were working, you know, you were working on a CDD, and your CDD comes to an end, and you’re switching from your CDD to being a profession liberale. Then you might be entitled to unemployment from your CDD contract ending, and there are special provisions that allow for reduced taxes in the first year of starting your business, if you’re registered with Pol Emploi.
So, if you’ve already been employed in France, you’ve been in France for a couple of years, and you’ve already been working, then it’s possible that you would have some, some assistance during the first year or maybe two. I benefited from that when I left my previous job, I benefited from unemployment for about a year and a half, while I was starting my business, and that really helped, you know, really helped me to be able to focus on, on growing my business. But, if you’re just arriving in France, and this is your first visa and you’ve never, you’ve never worked in France before, then, then you’re not going to be entitled to anything.
Carlie: So, the main thing I guess is to make sure that you have enough savings when you come over and are prepared to do that work to make your French business a success.
Allison: Yeah, well that, I mean that’s gonna be a big part of it, is making sure you do have those savings, but even bigger than that is going to be, you know, having a really clear idea of what you’re doing, so, you know, that’s what I help people with is imagining the vision for what their business is going to look like, for what services they’re going to provide, getting really clear on their purpose, because those are things that people flounder with in the first couple of years of their business. And honestly, ha-, you know, being unclear about what exactly it is that you’re doing, and being stressed about whether or not you’re going to find clients. Those are the two things that will sink any entrepreneur really fast.
And so, you know, by investing a little bit of time and money up-front into having somebody help you, you know, figure out all of those aspects of your business, you’re going to go a long way to making sure that you’re really just focusing on getting the clients to you that, that are your ideal clients, and on, you know, providing the services that are going to help them. The most important thing is going to be creating your vision, and making sure that everything in your business plan supports that, that vision that you have in your mind of what you’re going to do.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you want to share your own experience of applying for a French visa, or wanna ask Allison any questions, head over to expatfocus.com, and follow the links to our France forum or Facebook group. Be sure to check out our previous episodes. They include a chat with the owner of the Breakfast in America diner chain, Craig Carlson, about starting a business in France. If you like what we do, please leave us a review, and I’ll catch you next time.