Working in France!

This article aims to offer practical information for international people working in France. 

COVID-19: For more information on Covid-19 and the professional environment see Marché du travail pendant le Covid-19 and Travail : tous mobilisé pour la relance

  • Salaries are often paid over 13 months and this will be confirmed in the “convention collective” (Collective bargaining agreement covering 95% of all French employees even in non-unionised environments) that applies to each sector of activity. The idea of the 13th month was originally to pay your taxes. Since January 2019 taxes are deducted at source. When you negotiate your salary, discuss your annual salary taking into account that each month you may normally get paid a 13th part, not a 12th. The 13th month is “generally” paid half in June and the rest in January. The 13th month will likely disappear over time once PAYE culture is firmly entrenched. See Fiche de Paie : ce qui change avec le prélèvement à la source
  • French salary slips are long! Since January 2017 employers can send electronic pay slips. It won’t change the length of slips, but it does help dematerialisation!
  • French public transport is great value! In France 50% of your public transport costs (carte Navigo in Paris) are reimbursed by your employer. It is a legal obligation! If you live in zone 5 (the Paris region) you will pay 827,20€ per year (2020) (Monthly tickets 75,20€ & weekly 22,80€) of which 50% is reimbursed by your company. Dematerialisation: You can now save your travel pass on most phones.
  • If you have a CDD (a fixed-term contract) at the end of your contract you will have a legally binding bonus of 10% calculated on your total earnings. If you are offered a permanent contract that you accept at the end of the CDD contract, you lose your claim to the bonus (although in practise this can often be negotiated). CDDs cannot be in excess of 18 months and use of them has to be justified, typical reasons are maternity leave cover or a temporary increase in workload.
  • Without a permanent contract (CDI), finding accommodation in larger cities can often be a headache! Happily, there are internet sites which can help you find temporary accommodation whilst stabilising your professional situation. Guarantees are very often required for rented accommodation (normally from third parties). The idea being that if you do not pay your rent, your third party will pay it for you.
  • The minimum wage in France is 1,219€ net per month for a 35 hour working week. 
  • Training – Each salaried person in France has a compte personnel de formation (“CPF”) (see Appli-Mon compte formation. Whilst you work you acquire rights to training. Your training rights are transferable when you change jobs. Full-time workers get €500 each year (unskilled workers get €800), and the account has a maximum ceiling of €5,000 (€8,000 for unskilled workers). For part-time workers, the amount of money per annum is calculated pro-rata to the hours worked.
  • Unemployment – most bilingual people are highly employable! However, if you find yourself between two jobs, French benefits are very generous. The amount you will receive depends on your situation but it’s “about” 70% of your last salary for a maximum of 2 years. Calculate your Unemployment Indemnity You must have worked full-time in France for 6 months before you are eligible for unemployment benefit. 
  • Leaving a job to start your own business! Since 2019 you can resign from your job after 5 years in the same company to start a business and be eligible for unemployment!
  • There are 30 days holiday.  
  • The 35-hour week  means that if you work more than 35 hours per week you get extra days off to compensate (réduction du temps de travail commonly “RTT”). How many RTTs you are entitled to depends on what was negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement applying to your sector of activity. As an example 39 hour week will ‘generally’ give rise to an extra days holiday per month on top of your annual 30 days!
  • There are 10 bank holidays per year (dates vary according to the region). If they fall on a weekend, you will not recuperate them. Very often if they fall on a Thursday, for example, employees will faire le pont (meaning “make a bridge”) resulting in a long weekend. 
  • During holiday periods don’t expect lots of professional activity between the 14 July and beginning September (when children return to school=la rentrée). Generally holidays are taken either in July or August and children’s summer break is 2 months (July and August). Many companies close between the 1st and the 15th August. There is also less activity during the Christmas and Easter periods.
  • Lunch hour still has its importance. Although it is not obligatory, most companies offer luncheon vouchers and 50% or 60% of their face value is paid for by the company, you pay the difference. They can have a value of up to 19€. If your company has a cantine, they may well not provide luncheon vouchers (it’s “generally” one or the other). This encourages the wonderful French tradition of lunch in bistros and restaurants. 
  • Since January 2018 employers are obliged to offer health insurance (mutuelle) to their personnel. When you leave a company if you want to keep the same mutuelle you can take it with you in most cases (portabilité mutuelle). If you are married or similar and covered by your partners health insurance, you are not obliged to accept the health insurance from your employer.  Some employers pay a part of your mutuelle, generally 50-60% and some even pay it 100%. Health insurance coverage is generally excellent and includes teeth and glasses. If you are affiliated to the French social security system, you pay at the doctors, however, about 70% of this will be reimbursed to you and the mutuelle is for the remaining amount. You can chose your own doctor and go direct to specialists. If you have certain illnesses all medical expenses relating to it are free, regardless of whether you have insurance or not see Prise en charge d’une affection longue durée. Since 1 January 2016 there is PUMA (la protection universelle maladie), it is open to anyone who lives and works in France regularly.
  • The right to disconnect! Since January 2017 French employees have the right to disconnect droit à la déconnexion (the right to not consult their mobile phones and emails during evenings/weekends…).
  • Since January 2018 employees are able to telework (Le teletravail – Fiche Technique) by right. An employer who objects, must justify his refusal. 
  • In France, there are 4 types of workers (we will discuss 2 types, covering the situation of the majority), employees et cadres. Cadre status is normally reserved for managers upwards. Below, there are some general differences:

> Employees
– Trial period: 2 months renewable once
– Notice period: Often one month (it often increases to 2 months after 2 years service). See the convention collective.
– Unemployment: You will sign up with Pôle Emploi.
– Retirement: You and your employers pay into a general retirement fund.
– Hours: Your hours are fixed and normally overtime is paid.

> Cadres
– Trial period: 4 months renewable once
– Notice period: Generally 3 months
– Unemployment: You will sign up with APEC.
– Retirement: You and your employers pay more for your retirement than employees.
– Hours: Cadres are generally present until the job is done!

  • Finally, something that I had personally not envisaged was an Azerty keyboard, but you get used to it!

French employment law is complex and evolving! We cannot squeeze details into this short article! The above text is general. Every individual situation is different, you are advised to research your own  personal situation. Learn more about your rights in France by clicking on the links in the above article.

Lynda Petit is an experienced recruitment consultant. Member of the National Association of Human Resource Directors, Paris. MA (Human Resource Management) and qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, London. Her work experience has been acquired within international companies including start-up and agency in UK & France.



  1. Sandy

    With regard to “health insurance “: this is not free! Either this health insurance is deducted from your salary or you have to add the amount your employer pays to your tax declaration. This is because Tax Administration considers this health insurance “offered” by your employer as a benefit which must be declared. In the end, it can increase your tax income considerably. For instance, to me, it represents 150€+/month, albeit I don’t need it as I’m never sick, and there are much cheaper insurance proposed on the market. But employees cannot refuse their employer’s choice. Therefore, before choosing a new position in another company, always ask for precision about their health insurance (amount, deducted or to be declared etc.).

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Lynda, Great article! If only I had known all that when I came over to Paris in 2003. I answered an Ad in the Fusac magazine and so I didn’t go through a recruitment agency. I had no idea about the differences between the UK and France – until much later and after much questioning! Hope to see you soon, Joanna Gilbert-Sparks

  3. adminsmart

    hello Sandy, if you have a partner who has health insurance, you are not obliged to accept your companies health insurance. If you had health insurance prior to your recruitment at this company, you could have kept it and refused the companies offer. All companies are obliged to provide health insurance, but salaried staff are not obliged to accept it if they can prove they have an alternative health insurance plan. Hope this helps, Lynda