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Getting a job

Though it has a reputation for a relatively laid-back working environment and a 35-hour working week, France is currently undergoing reforms that challenge its business culture.

In 2009, France's GDP shrank by 1.2% as a result of the global financial crisis. After four quarters of contraction, it then returned to a period of growth, but unemployment is still relatively high. To combat this, contentious labour reforms were introduced in 2016.


The average monthly salary in France is €2,998 (February 2018). The minimum wage (salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance, also known as SMIC) was set at €9.88 per hour (around £8.30 or $10.40), or for monthly full-time employment of 35 hours a week, €1,498.

Labour Reforms and Working Hours

The recent labour reforms in France in May 2016, saw France adopt employment laws closer to those found in the UK. These have caused contention, being opposed by the labour unions. The bill, which was passed without parliamentary approval, has resulted in recent riots in Paris and other cities.

To lower France's high rate of unemployment, the new bill gives more power to individual companies regarding hiring, working hours, pay, and firing. Some key points of the labour reform bill are: 

  • “The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay.
  • The law eases conditions for laying-off workers, which is strongly regulated in France. It’s hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn.
  • Employers to get more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated.”

The quality of working life is relatively good in France, with the average 35-hour week being the lowest in Europe compared to Spain's 40-hour limit, and 48 in the UK. With the new labour bill, 35 hours a week remains average, but it is now possible for firms to ask employees to work up to 46 hours a week, or even 60. However, an employee’s working hours must average 35 hours over a three-month period. So if you work extra hours one week, you will compensate by working fewer during another to ensure the average is maintained. 

Daily work hours range from 8.30 or 9.30 am to 5.30 or 7 pm Monday to Friday. Many companies are flexible within these hours, offering shorter working hours on some days of the week. The lunch break tends to be relatively long, from about 12 to 2.30 pm.

You can also expect to enjoy generous holidays, a relatively early retirement, and if you work for a company with over 50 employees you will automatically become a member of a French employment union, without officially joining.

Tax and Employee Rights

Thanks to France’s notorious levels of bureaucracy, it can take a little time to get your head around the employment and tax system. Make sure you do your homework and familiarise yourself with the different types of contract on offer — e.g. CDIs (permanent) and CDDs (temporary); cadres (management) and non-cadres (non-management).

A useful resource when thinking about moving to and working in France is the French government website. Written in English, the pages for newcomers on subjects like working rights, the tax system and benefits can be found here.

Public Holidays

Public holidays are numerous and enthusiastically celebrated in France:

  • New Year’s Day – 1st January
  • Easter Monday – set by a lunar calendar but held in March or April every year
  • Labour Day – 1st May
  • WWII Victory Day – 8th May
  • Ascension Day – again, dates vary but usually in May
  • Whit Monday – dates vary but usually in May
  • Bastille Day – 14th July
  • Assumption of the Virgin Mary – 15th August
  • All Saints’ Day – 1st November
  • Armistice Day – 11th November
  • Christmas Day – 25th December

The French love a holiday, so you may find that when one of these days falls towards the middle of the week, say a Tuesday or a Thursday, workers may bridge the gap between it and weekend and make a longer time of it.

Feeling happy and settled at work is vital to enjoying your new life in a new country — don’t allow concerns about health care insurance ruin this. Our team are on hand to guide you through the process step-by-step and make sure you get off to a great start.

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