Expat work in France

I thought it might be useful to explain how expats in France make ends meet. Just possibly this will give you an idea of how you could earn money as an expat and enable you to make the big leap yourself.

I am not concerned here with expats who work in France as an employee of an international company and just happen to be based in France for a couple of years, but with those of us who have to scrape together our own income just using our wits. I have also ignored criminal activities although I believe they can be quite lucrative.

I will also ignore retired folk who receive a pension and people who have sold businesses elsewhere, and can afford to sit around in the sunshine sipping wine for the rest of their natural lives. Finally I have ignored those who have no plan, and choose to slide gently into poverty until they are forced to return to where they came from.

The following are all jobs and businesses run by people we know working in rural France:

  • Running gites and bed and breakfast - yes, this can still work well if you do a good job, and have the initial funds to set-up an attractive environment
  • European Sales representative for a pharmaceutical comapny
  • Website Designer and website publishing, or professional blogging
  • Audio-editing
  • Tree-felling and ground clearance
  • Builders, plumbers etc
  • International DJ
  • Freelance graphics designer
  • Swimming pool maintenance or general gardening - typically for other retired expats
  • Maintaining second homes for foreign owners - keeping an eye on properties for absentee owners
  • Estate agency (usually involves teaming up with a French estate agent, since it is difficult for an expat to obtain the correct licence)
  • English shops / importers - bringing in the staples of a foreign diet - baked beans, marmite, Indian spices etc, and reselling them to the expat community

You can see that expat work in France falls into two broad types - earning money by working in the local economy (eg gardening, gites), and earning from jobs that could be based anywhere (eg internet based and freelance jobs).

Of course, some of these earn more money than others, but all can generate a sufficient income for expats putting in the time and effort to do a good job. Word gets around pretty fast if you are reliable, honest and good-value. I am not aware of any expats also paying a French mortgage from their income. This would make the challenges significantly greater.

Note that there are official registration requirements for most businesses, that your local Chamber of Commerce will be able to help you with. Remember, it can be expensive to start a business in France! I am NOT recommending you work illegally.

I'm sure that across France there are expats doing hundreds of other jobs, but hopefully this gives you some ideas. The paradox is that many of the jobs involve making money from other expats, and it is difficult to see the options available until you live here yourself.

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  1. TED August 25, 2007 at 11:16 am

    This is an excellent article. I will add you to our expatriate website, I think this is the best French Expat Blog I have read through in a long time. I hope you keep it going and all the French Expats find your thoughts and advice useful.

  2. Rasher March 31, 2008 at 11:20 am

    What are the EU rules concerning moving to another EU country. Isn’t one supposed to have a job, or some source of income within 3 months of leaving one’s country.

  3. Brian January 9, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Im a mechanic in England looking to move to France.
    Could I make a living serving the british community ?
    This would not be our main income but hopfully it could help to ease the burden !

  4. Boris January 10, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Hi Brian,
    Do you mean car mechanic? Or small machinery perhaps?
    I don’t think it would be easy to compete as a car mechanic – most of the British community take their cars to the local garage for servicing (every town has a garage or three), and I’m not sure that you could undercut them on price.
    For small machinery I’d be more optimistic – our local garages always seem very expensive for repairs and servicing of small equipment – chainsaws, lawnmowers etc and I think there is perhaps a niche there waiting to be exploited – maybe more so when people will prefer to repair things than replace them.
    But in truth I know little of the business or the demand for it, so am only speculating…

  5. Paul April 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Hi Boris,
    I’m considering moving to France within the next couple of years, I’m already a qualified electrician & I will have completed a course in installing photovoltaic solar panels(for producing your own electricity). Do you know if this is a viable industry in France, have many people installed solar panels? Do you know of any companies possibly?!?

  6. Boris April 6, 2010 at 3:25 am

    Hi Paul, I believe it’s a booming industry in France, we get a lot of companies promoting the idea to us, but I’m not sure how it would work for an expat – at the moment the government (through EDF) encourage people to have these and subsidise them through special schemes, grants, low interest loans and high buy-pack prices for the electricity produced. I don’t know all the details but I understand they guarantee that you won’t ever be left out of pocket, and should make a residual income each month (perhaps only after a few years?)
    All well and good but I think the installation companies need to be EDF approved to be able to offer all the grants etc. So the answer is perhaps – if you could get approved and market the scheme to expats it could well work out quite well, but if you couldn’t get approved and offer the same terms I have no idea whether the numbers would work out for people or it would be profitable (doubtless the edf approved companies are charging twice as much as they need to…)
    On balance, sounds like a good idea but needing research first to be sure.

  7. Brian September 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm


    Great list, my wife and I run around 4 different types of business altogether some of which you have listed. Website design, running a gite, soft furnishings with reupholstery plus I also do Internet marketing. But you are right, they do fit into your broad categories.

    You are also right about the mortgage, we don’t have one here.

  8. Boris September 8, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Don’t know how I forgot internet marketing…
    I also notice architect / surveyor type jobs aren’t on the list, also one or two of our local market traders are English and seem to do OK selling their own home-made produce. Another possibility for the bilingual which is quite popular is helping those who don’t speak French very well to deal with solicitors and other bureaucratic matters.

  9. Steve September 30, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    very interesting, just starting too look into this. I am an IT consultant and have built 1,000s of PCs etc. I was told a couple of years ago that there is a real shortage of English speaking IT experts in France who can look after the Expats computers. Is this the case. It cant be easy for a non English speaking person to repair a corrupted Windows.

  10. Boris October 1, 2010 at 5:22 am

    Hi Steve, Yes I think there is a shortage of people able to look after expat computers – I get asked from time to time if I can do it because people know I work with computers (I can’t, I don’t know about hardware, windows, viruses etc) and I am also often asked if I know anyone who can do it. I also get asked by local French people, so learning how to deal with French versions of software etc would also make sense…and as for my friend with a Dutch version Apple Mac they can never find anyone at all!

  11. Barbi October 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    I really enjoyed the article! We do have a French mortgage, I am American and my partner is Dutch, and we work from the computer just as we did in Holland. However, there are many more costs now that we have a home rather than rent, and we need to fix it up, so thanks for the tips! You can also add babysitting perhaps or nannying for ladies. I am a good cook and will try to see if I can find something wherein I can babysit and then cook dinner for the family afterwards.

  12. José T. March 19, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Hi Boris, I am really happy to have come across this great blog.
    I am Bolivian, I did work for many years in the electronic industry, as an Eng Tech. and all the way to test and them design Eng. in the Silicon Valley, California. I do speak fluent English, German and of course my native tongue Spanish. French, I can read but very weak on speaking and writing.
    I just started getting my retirement pension in the US, which is not that much. so I can not afford to sit on a patio sipping French wine all day long, besides I just feel doing nothing.
    I do feel just as energetic as when I as 30 years old, have said that, I need to ask you: what I could do to earn enough money to get by in France?, I will be spending every Summer (4 months) there. Thanks

  13. Boris March 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Hi José, thanks for stopping by! It’s not easy making money in France, your best chance is to see what needs there are wherever you live and that your skills can deal with – anything from painting and decorating to freelance writing or website design according to your knowledge. Depending where you will be there might be a need for people in the tourist industry during the summer as you have good language skills (our daughter works in a theme park because they like to have staff who can speak to customes from all over the place). But there is a lot of luck in being at the right place at the right time…!

  14. José T. March 19, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Boris, thanks for your quick reply.
    A correction on my previous post: ¨… besides I will just feel BORE doing nothing.¨
    I love Paris, already 3x in short vacation there. This time I would like to stay in a different place, maybe Toulouse, I hear it is one of the cheapest places to live in France. My main objective is to learn French, the second consideration is budget (It allows for one month and a half, unless I can supplement it with some kind of a little income).
    As I said in my previous post, I have electronic skills, also very proficient with computers (hardware and software), no so with web design of sorts.
    Language: Your theme park tip is a good one, the only problem, that may come up, with this kind of employer, is a demand for a work_permit papers. So, I will have to look for gigs or short jobs, one at the time, because I will be entering the country as a tourist with no rights to take a job. Once there I will try to explore changes of becoming a ¨permanent resident¨ ala USA.
    I will appreciate suggestions on towns and places to reside in France with considerations on cost of living AND Adult Education Schools which offer French classes
    Thanks again.

  15. Boris March 20, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Unfortunately I don’t know the cheapest towns in France to live – large towns are all quite expensive nowadays! Most big towns will have somewhere to learn French, many towns have free classes to help foreigners integrate.
    Lots of French people work ‘cash in hand’ and presumably plenty of foreigners work without permits or the necessary permissions but that isn’t something I know about personally…to find work straightaway will be pretty tough in those circumstances I think.

  16. Susana October 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Boris,
    Great blog, I love your writing style, funny and easy.
    My husband and I are very close to retiring in our country, Argentina, and are planning to spend some years in France, which we both love.
    I’m an artist and my husband is an electronics engineer. Although we think we will not have too many money problems, we are a little concerned about to get bored without our jobs. Do you thing that I as an art teacher (I speak Spanish, English, Italian and learning French) could get some art pupils , or could I sell paintings at fairs or markets? My husband is planning to do something with his long experience as a circuit designer, but just making plans.
    I would appreciate your opinion, and congrats for your blog!

  17. Boris October 8, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Hi Susana,
    I understand that becoming a teacher in France, even of evening classes, can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t have qualifications that the French deem to be equivalent to their own – and they are very protective of their qualifications. I’m not sure if this would be a problem if you informally start teaching a few art students, perhaps, perhaps not.
    Likewise selling art at fairs and markets – I have been told that some markets are very protective of existing stall holders if their current trade is likely to be threatened, others less so. But this sounds in principle to be quite possible, and most markets would not have traders already selling paintings.
    Quite a lot of ‘tourist towns’ have art galleries and shops, perhaps in your position I would try to reach an agreement with some of those to sell paintings on your behalf?
    Overall I think that at first you will find challenges you hadn’t anticipated but sooner or later will get round them and all will work out well!
    Let us know in a year or two…

  18. Susana October 13, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Thank you, Boris, your advice is very helpful. You are making a nice work trying to help us, “disoriented future expats” in our projects and doubts. I’ll let you know when the time comes. Regards!

  19. Andrew October 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Here is another idea that some folk might want to consider to make a modest living in France. Becoming a buyer for artisans is a surprisingly interesting occupation and can create a small business for just about anyone. I’ve been doing it for 18 months now and I can say that it works just fine. The ‘secret’ however is to get as many artisans to buy for as possible as its volume which matters the most. Income comes in by commissions on orders and using the Auto Entrepreneur scheme it’s not too expensive as far as cotesations are concerned and there is on cost upfront. Seems to me to be an opportunity for anyone with a brain and the desire to be occupied doing something worthwhile.

  20. Boris October 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Andrew, sounds like a great idea, although I still can’t quite see how it would work. Are you talking about buying in bulk to get discounts in order to get orders from artisans or just taking the hassle of time spent purchasing off their hands? What kind of artisans would use such a service?

  21. Z November 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Hey Boris just stumbled upon your site and wondering if you can help .

    I was in the army when I was younger and have worked as a tree surgeon for a few years and am qualified and competent . Do you know if there are any company’s over there if I was to come over as a single bloke who would provide a place to stay with the job ?

    I would be looking for 3 -6 months work as I need to keep making money to pay things off back here and also to absorb into the French culture and learn a bit of the language before fulfilling my ambition of joining the la Legion .
    I don’t have a criminal record and not on the run as such , just looking at getting back into military life but to old for the brits now .


  22. Boris November 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Hi, I’m not aware of any such companies but I guess they might exist – finding a job of any type with a French company, especially if your French isn’t great, will be far from easy but hopefully someone reading this will have an idea or two.

  23. Michael and Bev January 17, 2013 at 4:09 am

    I just found this site it’s brilliant we’ll done. As a self employed painter decorator paperhanger in the trade for 32 years I would like very much to work in France with expats initially to get established . Maybe campsite work maintienace etc looking after empty properties. I also wonder what benifit it would be if I got painting work etc to bring supplies with me as paint etc is much cheaper here in Belfast than in France which would automatically change the overall price of the job. I am very experienced in the building trade having worked alongside in many years of site work which makes me a great all rounder yet def not a jack of all trades as my trade as a painter decorator paperhanger is what I am qualified at . How would I find expats who own small sites gites etc who would avail of this service, is there a directory which would have them all detailed. I would be very grateful for any advice as I am very serious about this and very much want the chance to make it work. Thank you in advance Michael

  24. Boris January 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Gnereally speaking there isn’t a directory that I know of, but quite a few expats look at sites like angloinfo for information so advertising there might work.
    In reality most people move to France first, start doing work for people (neighbours etc) and word gets around if they are any good.
    There are also issues about how to become registered as a business in France (you are not supposed to just start earning undeclared income!) also best tackled after you arrive.

  25. toni March 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I just found this post, I am a qualified beauty therapist and my husband is a personal trainer we were thinking of moving our young family to the south of France, I speak fluent French as I lived there when I was younger but my husband does not. My question is do you think there is a market for our trades, we would not have the pleasure of not working we need to sustain a living but want a better lifestyle for our family, what do you think?

  26. Boris March 12, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Hi Toni, first you would need to check whether your qualifications ‘count’ in France – for some types of business it can be difficult to convince the French authorities that a UK qualification entitles somone to operate in the same business in France. You also need to decide if you are targetting the French or the expat community (will affect where you live etc). Fluent French is a major advantage of course.
    The French are keen on beauticians (although I’m not sure if that is the same as ‘beauty therapist’) and I imagine that could be possible, although certainly it is very competitive in our local town so you would need to be very good and/or offer something slightly different.
    Re a non-fluent personal trainer I am much less sure, but must admit I don’t know anything about the business or who the target audience is (aspiring athletes? middle-age people trying to stay fit? rich banker types?) so I can’t speculate on how successful it might be or where it might be best to live – many expats, like people in general, have limited resources, and while beauticians seem to be considered a necessity by many I am less sure about personal trainers, but it could be I mix with the wrong crowd!

  27. bessy March 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Hi love your article just wondering if you have any insight into nursing in france. I’m qualified and was born and qualified in Britain. I’m taking French lessons but we’re not looking to move to France for 3-4 y years. I suppose I’m wanting to know if my qualifications are sufficient and if I’d be considered for employment in France. I do believe that expat nursing homes are an option. Many thanks

  28. Boris March 23, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Hi Bessy, unfortunately I don’t remember ever coming across a British nurse working in France – although I have also never come across expat nursing homes and they sound like an excellent place to start looking. Certainly the usual challenges of proving that your qualification is the same as a French one and that your French is good enough to deal with patients will present themselves in due course, I’m guessing that learning French from lessons in the UK will not get you to the required standard unless you are working extremely hard and putting a lot of hours in and have a great teacher (but it could just be that I am a slow learner myself…)
    Whatever, all the very best with your plans, and planning 3-4 years in advance sounds like a great way to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

  29. cerys trayner April 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Hi there, I am a self – employed garden designer/plantswoman, organic gardener, grower, horti therapist. I would like to move to the south of France to work and live. Would there be enough work to earn a living? how easy is it to get a market stall? would I have to register as self employed in France or would I just continue to pay tax and NI in the Uk (they have a 24 months abroad scheme) I can speak a little french – not fluent yet, would that be a huge problem? I am planning to continue lessons. How easy is it to rent some land to grow organic produce? Sorry, I have so many questions…. Cerys

  30. Boris April 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Cerys, I know of UK expats with market stalls in France – but I think it often depends whether there is already a French stall offering the same thing as existing stalls or not. But in principle it is certainly possible.
    I never heard of the ’24 months abroad scheme so don’t know if that applies to people starting a business in France but I think the French will insist you start a French business and pay taxes etc in France! In any case it’s quite straightforward to register with the (newish) auto-entrepreneur scheme in France.
    Whether there is enough work and whether French language is important depends a lot on your target audience, but I suspect it would be slow for the first year or two while you get to know people / build up a client base, then with word of mouth etc would get easier.
    As for renting land I think that would be reasonably straightforward – but as you know there are lots of rules about labelling things as organic, including how long since pesticides were used on the land etc. So finding land that was immediately eligible might be more of a challenge.
    But moving here would be no fun if it was challenge free…
    ps our local garden centres here in France always seem quite busy (Mrs B drags me along to them sometimes) so I’m guessing there is a market for quality plants at a reasonable price – perhaps becoming known as the local rose / hedge / etc specialist might be a ‘way in’?

  31. Paul wilson April 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Hello my name is Paul . I’ve been a professional gardener now for 8 years. I live on a narrowboat in Oxford with my dog, because I can’t afford a mortgage on a house, so I have a boat mortgage , in 5 years time I would have paid off my mortgage and would like to live and work somewhere in south France. I know I could afford a small house from the sale of my boat, eg £20,000-£50,000. I would like to know which area which I could garden for rich expat and to rent for 1 year b4 I buy. Can any one help.. Paul.

  32. Boris April 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Paul, I think it will be quite a challenge to buy a house in a region where expats live and that doesn’t need lots spending on it for that sort of budget.
    I would think your best chance of finding your kind of work would be in the south-west (dordogne/aquitaine) although there are expats in most areas of the south, and probably more money in the south-east.
    I have to say that I think it will be challenging to just turn up and start, at least without having funds to see you through a couple of years as you get established unless you have some definite job-leads before you arrive.
    Sometimes wealthy people like caretakers to stay in their properties, looking after the garden and house when they are absent a lot, not usually paid much (if at all?) but would give free accommodation while you settle in, an option which might be worth investigating.
    Good luck with your plans.

  33. Christine April 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Hi there guys,
    Have just come across this blog/website by chance while travelling around France. We have no intention of moving here, not because I don’t love it, which I do but because of family ties elsewhere. But as an British expat now living in Australia I like to ask a lot of questions and am pretty astounded when I learn the tax system in France and the amount of bureaucracy, many people say that you are watched all the time and if for example you wish to rear a few animals the ones in government will give you a hard time?? They seem to be out to collect taxes everywhere? It appears that the best chance to make a living is to go for the very high end gite market, never mind picking up discarded furniture, you need to be 5 star and maybe register with a really well established uk travel company. I do not wish to promote anyone here but with a bit of research you can work it out for yourselves. Good luck to you all and I just wish that I had looked at France before emigrating to Australia, because it is so far away and to be honest it is plastic world!