Expert advice: earning a living in France

If you’ll need to earn a living in France, it’s important to have firm plans in place before you take the plunge, says Sally Stone

More people to go France on holiday than any other country in the world, but to provide a family with sufficient income to live on, three or four gîtes will be needed. This does require considerable initial capital outlay: so let’s consider all the other realistic options for earning a living in France.

Employment is obviously one consideration: but unless you are bilingual and have a skill in a niche where a foreigner might be considered for a job, this is rarely an option. France has a high level of unemployment, and with any shortlist for a permanent job, the preference will always be to employ a French national. I wish I had a euro for every time that someone seeking my advice has said: “I don’t mind what I do”; in the sense of the safety net you might be used to in the UK – shelf-stacking in any of the major supermarkets, for example – but jobs like that don’t exist in France. You need to have a plan.

In essence then, we are talking about setting up a business in France: providing something you already know about, or have experience of. This is a new start, a new beginning, and you will have enough new challenges without totally re-inventing yourself. It’s a case of using your existing skills, albeit in a brand new way. You need to carry out research to find out whether a market exists in France for that service or those goods you might supply: and if it does, whether the people who love what you are offering, have the budget for what you intend to provide.

The latter is something which is often forgotten. People might love what you are offering: but they also have to be able to afford it for you to make a living. I met someone at The France Show last year who was planning to move to France and sell carved, wooden, garden ornaments, which were indeed beautiful. However, the issue I had with that idea was: will the people to whom they appeal, actually be able to afford them? An interesting thought and if the answer is negative, your plans will come crashing down.

My advice to anyone in a similar position, would be to research existing business opportunities. This would put bread on the table while you slowly build up contacts and credibility in the area, and can start to supply what you originally hoped, as an adjunct to the main business. I have seen this scenario repeated successfully time and time again; and perhaps over the years the balance could change.

For the main bread and butter income, consider a franchise. It’s no wonder that franchise opportunities work so well for expats moving to France. Franchising is very well regulated, franchisees are regarded as having an immediate professional standing, and there is ongoing hand-holding for the new entrant. The latter, especially, is priceless when you are making a life-changing move.

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If you are intent on using some existing skills in France, please don’t take it for granted that these will be transferable the moment you have them translated. It may well not be that simple. You need to do some local research in the area where you are intending to settle to find out whether this will work. A surprising fact for many people thinking of moving to France, is how many rules and regulations are decided at a very local level; or to put it more precisely, the rules are interpreted at a local level.

This means you cannot assume that just because the authorities gave your friend the green light for their business that you will also get the go ahead 100km away in the adjoining department. Quite seriously, registration for some types of work may be easier in Côtes-d’Armor than it is in Côte-d’Or. There is no right of appeal. If it’s not possible where you live, then it’s not possible. It counts for nothing to have done homework on the internet or at a distance. Go down in person to the local chambre de métiers and talk to the clerks there at an early stage to see about your chances of success; and always have a plan B.

I do see people who have moved with the hugely optimistic attitude that it will all work out; that they will find some way of earning a living without having a real plan in place. Whilst I’m the biggest fan of a ‘can-do’ attitude, making a go of earning your living in a foreign country is rather like having a successful party: for it to go apparently effortlessly on the day, it has to be planned with something akin to military precision. The rewards are there, if you find the right niche and you tackle it in the right way. Being your own boss, and living in a wonderful environment, certainly takes some beating.

Once you have decided what you are planning to provide, don’t forget that taking it to the market needs just as much planning. Isolation can hugely affect your integration into a new country, and this issue is magnified many times over if you are starting a business. You must be able to network easily – for example, installing yourself in your local café of a morning can be both pleasure and business. It can be hugely rewarding to sit sipping a large coffee and discussing the state of the nation with other regulars – knowing this is all part of your business plan – while your old colleagues are commuting on a packed train to a busy office. It’s called ‘living the dream’.

Last, but certainly not least: advertising. You may (and certainly should) create a great website but unless you point people to it via other advertising, it will hang in cyberspace with just your friends and family admiring it. Any advertising needs to be in the right place, and that sometimes means advertising in places you may not particularly like. With a lifelong background in marketing, it always amuses me that people think you have to like where you are advertising. Wrong. You need to advertise where your prospective customers will see you, and if that’s somewhere you would not actually go to yourself, then so be it. Good luck!

Sally Stone runs property management company, Les Bons Voisins www.lbvfrance.com