Working in France as a Newly Graduated American
Thread poster: Maverick Blanton

Maverick Blanton
Switzerland
Local time: 23:26
French to English
Mar 6

Hi, everyone!

I'm relatively new to ProZ and to the translation market in general, so I apologize if this question is either inane or constantly being asked. However, I was hoping to get some advice from any non-EU translators currently working in France on how to best start my career there.

For a bit of context, I'm currently in my last semester of a master's in French to English translation at the FTI in Geneva, and for various personal reasons I'd really like to s
... See more
Hi, everyone!

I'm relatively new to ProZ and to the translation market in general, so I apologize if this question is either inane or constantly being asked. However, I was hoping to get some advice from any non-EU translators currently working in France on how to best start my career there.

For a bit of context, I'm currently in my last semester of a master's in French to English translation at the FTI in Geneva, and for various personal reasons I'd really like to start working in France in the fall (just to specify, I'm American). I've read a lot in the past that a great way to get started in the industry is to work for a translation agency; however, most of the research I've been doing also seems to imply that most translation agencies in France (if not the rest of the world) prefer to contract work out to freelance translators. Going the freelance route from the start, however, feels pretty daunting, especially in terms of financial success and obtaining a work visa. As a result, I was wondering if it wouldn't be a better idea to look for a position in something else (i.e. teaching English with my TEFL certification) while building a client base on the side, especially since my goal is just to stay in the country. Is that a reasonable step to take, or should I focus on becoming a translator straight away? Will there even be any sort of work out there for me?

Thank you all in advance for your help!
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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 23:26
Member
Italian to English
Hello and welcome! Mar 7

Maverick Blanton wrote:

Going the freelance route from the start, however, feels pretty daunting, especially in terms of financial success and obtaining a work visa. As a result, I was wondering if it wouldn't be a better idea to look for a position in something else (i.e. teaching English with my TEFL certification) while building a client base on the side, especially since my goal is just to stay in the country.


I would teach as you build up your business - I don't think you have any other viable options. Plus you will be in contact with lots of people, perhaps even professional people, who you can network with and tell about your work as a translator to help you bring in more clients.

Maverick Blanton wrote:
Will there even be any sort of work out there for me?


That depends what you have to offer. You should begin by filling out your profile here, reading the forums and taking part in Kudoz.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:26
Member (2018)
French to English
agency Mar 8

I would suggest first working at an agency, it can be very useful to see how they work. I certainly learned a lot. It's also a very good way of making contacts. You're quite right that they prefer to outsource, however they may hire you for proofreading, which is a great way to improve as a translator, you get to see how the pros do it. And even project management can be a useful experience, to get to know what clients are like and how the agency mindset works.

 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:26
German to English
Residency requirements Mar 8

As a self-employed non-EU citizen you may encounter bureaucratic obstacles to getting a residency permit in France. You might want to check on the related regulations before proceeding with your plan.

Eliza Hall
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
Kay Denney
 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 17:26
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
How to live in France Mar 8

If your personal reasons for wanting to live in France are that you have a French girlfriend/boyfriend, your easiest route to becoming legal there will be through a civil partnership ("PACS") or, if you're ready, marriage. Here's something on PACS: http://www.info-droits-etrangers.org/vivre-en-france/la-vie-de-famille/le-pacs/

If you don't go th
... See more
If your personal reasons for wanting to live in France are that you have a French girlfriend/boyfriend, your easiest route to becoming legal there will be through a civil partnership ("PACS") or, if you're ready, marriage. Here's something on PACS: http://www.info-droits-etrangers.org/vivre-en-france/la-vie-de-famille/le-pacs/

If you don't go that route, you need another legal way to reside in France. You can't just move there and look for work or set up your business. I would strongly suggest talking to a French immigration lawyer with experience in the realm of American expats and self-employed people. Some info on French visas for self-employed people: https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/self-employed-person-or-liberal-activity

Another alternative would be to apply for a university course in some relevant field (if you have a third language, look into Langues Etrangères Appliquées, for instance), pay the absolutely ridiculously low tuition, get your visa as a student, and apply for a work permit for part-time work (last I checked, students could work up to 20 hours/week during the school year and full-time in summers).



[Edited at 2019-03-08 20:49 GMT]
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Thomas T. Frost
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
Kevin Fulton
Kay Denney
 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
All true Mar 8

Eliza Hall wrote:

If you don't go that route, you need another legal way to reside in France. You can't just move there and look for work or set up your business. I would strongly suggest talking to a French immigration lawyer with experience in the realm of American expats and self-employed people. Some info on French visas for self-employed people: https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/self-employed-person-or-liberal-activity



I would skip the lawyer and just make the effort to understand the rules. There is a not insignificant risk of just wasting a lot of money on bad advice. I've seen too many useless and dishonest lawyers and accountants to recommend this (not just in France). Some happily take your money and then stab you in the back.

Translation is not a regulated occupation, and since many people in France don’t consider self-employment ‘real’ work, they don’t really care if someone wants to be self-employed. The difficult thing is to get a work permit for employment (except in specific situations such as the 20 hours a week for students).

It's not that complicated. You request a long-term visitor's visa at the French consulate in your country of permanent residence and fill in a supplementary form about self-employment. You may have to explain to the staff at the consulate which form it is. Apart from the financial resources (they typically want you to demonstrate that you have what corresponds to one year's minimum-wage salary) and the other things Eliza already mentioned, they want proof that you will have a place to live in France.

Once you get there, after 2–3 months, unless they lose your paperwork in the diplomatic bag, and unless it’s in August, where France grinds to a halt, you may find yourself in a Catch-22 situation, as the prefecture where you have to register will request evidence that you have declared yourself self-employed, whereas the authority where you register self-employment will ask for your residency papers from the prefecture. The prefecture is supposed to add the self-employment permission to your carte de séjour, but do check that they do it, as it is easily overlooked.

Be prepared for some people trying to take advantage of the fact you're a foreigner (particularly landlords) and be prepared for a lot of bureaucracy. Look around for websites explaining how to 'survive France' as a foreigner.

Also be sure to understand what you have to pay in taxes (there are many) and social charges and budget for it. France isn’t the easiest place to do business.


Kay Denney
 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 17:26
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Get a lawyer Mar 9

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

It's not that complicated. You request a long-term visitor's visa at the French consulate in your country of permanent residence and fill in a supplementary form about self-employment. You may have to explain to the staff at the consulate which form it is. Apart from the financial resources (they typically want you to demonstrate that you have what corresponds to one year's minimum-wage salary) and the other things Eliza already mentioned, they want proof that you will have a place to live in France.


Since you're an EU citizen, Thomas, I am not sure you quite appreciate how difficult it is for a non-EU citizen to get a long-term visa, the right to work, and a carte de sejour in France. I've done it twice myself (I'm American).

It's not simply a matter of filling out the proper forms and having enough money in the bank. Unless you are either (1) a student seeking temporary work while completing your degree (in other words, you fall into the category where it is fairly clear that you have the right to work by virtue of the visa you already have) or (2) participating in an established work-exchange program (such as the French-American Chamber of Commerce one, which I did: https://www.faccnyc.org/news/american-outbound-experience-france), you will likely be viewed as trying to "steal" work from French or EU citizens. There are plenty of FR/EN translators in France who are French, Irish or (until Brexit goes through) UK citizens, and they are effectively "in the front of the queue" ahead of Canadians and Americans.

There are, as you say, bad lawyers (just as there are bad doctors, bad translators, etc.). So look carefully: find one who seems well established, has good reviews online, and ideally was referred to you by someone you know. A good lawyer will save you vast amounts of time and greatly reduce the risk that your application will be denied. That's literally the lawyer's job.

[Edited at 2019-03-09 15:55 GMT]


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Yes I do Mar 9

Eliza Hall wrote:

Since you're an EU citizen, Thomas, I am not sure you quite appreciate how difficult it is for a non-EU citizen to get a long-term visa, the right to work, and a carte de sejour in France. I've done it twice myself (I'm American).


My own nationality does not come into the picture. The advice I gave is based on what is needed for non-EU citizens, not least as I have assisted a few with visas.

Eliza Hall wrote:

Unless you are either (1) a student seeking temporary work while completing your degree (in other words, you fall into the category where it is fairly clear that you have the right to work by virtue of the visa you already have) or (2) participating in an established work-exchange program (such as the French-American Chamber of Commerce one, which I did: https://www.faccnyc.org/news/american-outbound-experience-france), you will likely be viewed as trying to "steal" work from French or EU citizens.


That is indeed the case if you want a work permit for employment, but as I explained, the French don't care much about the self-employed.

Eliza Hall wrote:
There are plenty of FR/EN translators in France who are French, Irish or (until Brexit goes through) UK citizens, and they are effectively "in the front of the queue" ahead of Canadians and Americans.


There is no such queue for EU nationals, as they just do what they want. And there is no queue for self-employment. It's important to keep the two apart: employment and self-employment. The former is the difficult part for non-EU nationals. Even for employment, there is no queue. If an employer wants to hire a non-EU national, they have to justify that they cannot find an EU national, although there are plenty of exceptions, and this is where a lawyer may be helpful.

There isn’t much a lawyer can add to the chances of getting a self-employment visa, except ensuring the forms are filled in correctly. But whether or not to pay a lawyer is obviously up to the person concerned.

As for marriage and PACS, it doesn't have to be to a French national, just an EU/EEA national.

There is another option for those who have already lived a few years in the EU/EEA, as after a certain period they can get a certificate of permanent residence, which makes it easier to move to another EU/EEA member state. I'm not sure if Switzerland participates. There may be exceptions too.


 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 17:26
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Not that simple Mar 11

Thomas T. Frost wrote:

That is indeed the case if you want a work permit for employment, but as I explained, the French don't care much about the self-employed.


Of course they care. They care that self-employed people enter France on the appropriate long-stay visa, which they can only get if they have, as I recall, a year's worth of French minimum wage in the bank (about 20,000 Euros). And they can only apply for this visa from their own country (the US in this case). It might be possible for the OP to apply for it from Switzerland, since he's been living there a little while, but he needs to check that, and even if the rules say he should be able to apply from Switzerland, it may not work. When I lived in England and went to the French consulate to apply for a long-stay visa, they said I had to go back to the US to apply for it.

They also care that self-employed people pay all the taxes that they're supposed to. That alone is a baffling procedure -- income taxes, payroll taxes, etc. etc.

To quote this website:

"...to cater to the freelancers growing share of the workforce, France began issuing profession libérale visa in 2009.
Though it magically unlocks your ability to freelance in France without working a day job for a local company or getting hitched to a Parisian, some find the process for actually applying for a profession libérale visa baffling. Many online resources don’t even list it as a possible visa you can apply for. It’s worth the expense to hire an immigration lawyer to guide you through the bureaucratic thicket. Time is money. One very important point: you must apply for this visa from the United States, not France."
https://transferwise.com/us/blog/freelance-self-employed-france


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
No need to complicate it Mar 11

Eliza Hall wrote:
Of course they care. They care that self-employed people enter France on the appropriate long-stay visa, which they can only get if they have, as I recall, a year's worth of French minimum wage in the bank (about 20,000 Euros).


What I meant was that they don't see that sort of self-employment as nearly as much of a 'threat' against French workers as employment. Self-employment has a low social status in France. And of course you need to follow the rules.

Eliza Hall wrote:
And they can only apply for this visa from their own country (the US in this case). It might be possible for the OP to apply for it from Switzerland, since he's been living there a little while, but he needs to check that, and even if the rules say he should be able to apply from Switzerland, it may not work. When I lived in England and went to the French consulate to apply for a long-stay visa, they said I had to go back to the US to apply for it.


https://france-visas.gouv.fr/web/ch/a-qui-sadresser says: 'A qui s'adresser ? L’accueil des demandeurs de visa résidant en Suisse et au Liechtenstein et la réception des dossiers sont assurés, sur rendez-vous, par le service des visas du Consulat général de France à Genève.'

As I said, you have to apply in your country of residence. It's impossible to say what happened in your case without knowledge about it. French civil servants often try to impose their own personal 'law' instead of the official one, either because of ignorance or just to be difficult. That's the way it is in France. They often demand many more documents than required by law, more signatures, more obstacles, more complications, etc. Not just for immigrants, but for everybody. All the time. They don’t know what the law says. If you’re lucky, they accept it when you explain it to them. One of the advantages of using a service provider is if that provider knows key people in the administration who actually do things right, but it’s difficult to know in advance if that’s the case.

To be fair, they can also be flexible with certain requirements, such as proving you have a place to live, accepting that if a relocation company confirms it’s assisting the immigrant, no further documentation is required.

Eliza Hall wrote:
They also care that self-employed people pay all the taxes that they're supposed to. That alone is a baffling procedure -- income taxes, payroll taxes, etc. etc.


Tax is the only thing about freelancers that interest the French government. I certainly wouldn't recommend working in France. It can be extremely frustrating. But some expats claim to be happy in France. Some can adapt to chaos while it makes others frustrated. It’s not my cup of tea.

Eliza Hall wrote:
To quote this website:

"...to cater to the freelancers growing share of the workforce, France began issuing profession libérale visa in 2009.
Though it magically unlocks your ability to freelance in France without working a day job for a local company or getting hitched to a Parisian, some find the process for actually applying for a profession libérale visa baffling. Many online resources don’t even list it as a possible visa you can apply for. It’s worth the expense to hire an immigration lawyer to guide you through the bureaucratic thicket. Time is money. One very important point: you must apply for this visa from the United States, not France."
https://transferwise.com/us/blog/freelance-self-employed-france


Yes, time is money. If you have more money than time, it makes sense to pay for certain services. As for visas, it may be a better idea to use one of the large relocation companies in Paris, as they would be used to the procedure, possibly more than a lawyer. But if you have more time than money, it may work out to do it yourself.

I don't know why that blog claims that such visas have only been issued since 2009. I got someone a visitor's visa with the 'entrepreneur/profession libérale' label added some years before that. It isn't a separate visa category but just a visitor's visa with that label added, cf. https://france-visas.gouv.fr/fr_FR/web/france-visas/activite-professionnelle-non-salariee-ou-liberale , which is probably why many online resources don't even mention it. I encountered no difficulties when helping that American with the forms. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that anyone will have their application approved, with or without professional assistance.

It could be claimed that the real difficulties only start once you’re in France, as you’ll have to deal with all sorts of bureaucratic procedures and problems, and if you need professional service providers to do it all for you, it will quickly become very expensive.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 23:26
Member (2018)
French to English
being a burden on the welfare state Mar 11

What I understand is that the French government only grant someone the right to live in France if they can prove that they have the means to live well without being a burden on the welfare state. So they'll be wary of a freelancer, especially someone just starting out. I've heard of plenty of people applying for residence permits only to be told they don't earn enough. You might argue that you have a frugal lifestyle and will be living like a hermit rent-free in your aunt's old barn out in the s... See more
What I understand is that the French government only grant someone the right to live in France if they can prove that they have the means to live well without being a burden on the welfare state. So they'll be wary of a freelancer, especially someone just starting out. I've heard of plenty of people applying for residence permits only to be told they don't earn enough. You might argue that you have a frugal lifestyle and will be living like a hermit rent-free in your aunt's old barn out in the sticks where there's nothing to spend money on, they'll expect you to show that your earnings would enable a busy life paying city rent and smartphones for your kids even if you're not even thinking of having any yet.Collapse


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:26
Member (2008)
Italian to English
$$$$ Mar 11

Also - watch out for the double taxation rule that the American IRS applies to US citizens living and working abroad.

https://www.greenbacktaxservices.com/blog/paying-taxes-american-living-abroad/


 

Maverick Blanton
Switzerland
Local time: 23:26
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Mar 11

Thank you all so much for your advice! I've spent the past week poring over different visas and their requirements -- nothing like French bureaucracy to send a thrill of fear down your spine!

I do think that going freelance from the start might not be my best bet, and in the long-term I'll probably end up going the PACS/marriage route (Eliza, you were right, that's my main motivation here!). Even for that, however, I will need to spend time in France with my partner, which means I'
... See more
Thank you all so much for your advice! I've spent the past week poring over different visas and their requirements -- nothing like French bureaucracy to send a thrill of fear down your spine!

I do think that going freelance from the start might not be my best bet, and in the long-term I'll probably end up going the PACS/marriage route (Eliza, you were right, that's my main motivation here!). Even for that, however, I will need to spend time in France with my partner, which means I'll have to find some work. Is it unrealistic to think that translation agencies will sponsor me even for proofreading or project management positions? If that's the case, then I might focus my job search for the time being on teaching English in French universities, which I'd also be qualified for, and then later transitioning to translation work.

Thank you all again! It's encouraging to know that there are others out there, at least.
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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:26
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Ahhhhh Mar 11

Maverick Blanton wrote:

Thank you all so much for your advice! I've spent the past week poring over different visas and their requirements -- nothing like French bureaucracy to send a thrill of fear down your spine!

I do think that going freelance from the start might not be my best bet, and in the long-term I'll probably end up going the PACS/marriage route (Eliza, you were right, that's my main motivation here!). Even for that, however, I will need to spend time in France with my partner, which means I'll have to find some work. Is it unrealistic to think that translation agencies will sponsor me even for proofreading or project management positions? If that's the case, then I might focus my job search for the time being on teaching English in French universities, which I'd also be qualified for, and then later transitioning to translation work.

Thank you all again! It's encouraging to know that there are others out there, at least.


Ahhh--cherchez la femme! The same reason why I moved to Italy! And they say women have no power.....


 

Eliza Hall
United States
Local time: 17:26
Member (2018)
French to English
+ ...
Tips Mar 11

Maverick Blanton wrote:

Thank you all so much for your advice! I've spent the past week poring over different visas and their requirements -- nothing like French bureaucracy to send a thrill of fear down your spine!

I do think that going freelance from the start might not be my best bet, and in the long-term I'll probably end up going the PACS/marriage route (Eliza, you were right, that's my main motivation here!). Even for that, however, I will need to spend time in France with my partner, which means I'll have to find some work. Is it unrealistic to think that translation agencies will sponsor me even for proofreading or project management positions? If that's the case, then I might focus my job search for the time being on teaching English in French universities, which I'd also be qualified for, and then later transitioning to translation work.


You're welcome. A few points to bear in mind:

1. If you go the PACS or marriage route, you don't need anyone to sponsor you for a work permit. There's a bunch of paperwork to go through, but the right to live and work there comes from the PACS or marriage, not from a specific employer.

2. Don't bet on being qualified to teach in a French university. A PhD may be an adequate educational qualification, but that's not enough. With the exception of temporary language assistants (usually students from abroad living in France for one year on a specific exchange program), French university jobs generally require you to pass the CAPES exam (Certificat d'Aptitude au Professorat de l'Enseignement du Second degré), which, last time I checked, you can't even take unless you are an EU national. Some info on teaching in the French system: https://www.parisnanterre.fr/preparation-aux-metiers-de-l-enseignement/preparation-aux-metiers-de-l-enseignement-pe-capes-agregation-338068.kjsp

With an MA in translation, you're qualified for translation jobs, and that doesn't require a CAPES or EU citizenship. Apply to translation agencies if you go the PACS/marriage route, or go freelance if you have the requisite sum (which I think is $20,000) in the bank. Pro tip: if you have a US credit card, you can do a cash advance into your bank account, wait a month to get a bank statement showing that amount (you might want to wait two months so that the sudden huge deposit doesn't show), and then use the bank statement to show you have the resources. Then when you have the visa, pay your credit card back.

[Edited at 2019-03-11 14:34 GMT]


 


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