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Working in France

Expatriates are often attracted by France’s promising working conditions and good social security coverage. If you are also intrigued by the idea of working in France, our InterNations guide helps you learn more. We cover France’s industries, business climate, and work permits.
Agriculture and agribusiness are still strong players in France's economy.

Working in France is a pleasant experience for most expats, despite recent attempts to reform the labor laws, which have been met with passionate protests by the French population. However, most employees in France still enjoy a high standard of living and the benefits of one of the best welfare states in the world. Close to 30 of the world’s 500 biggest companies are French, with a considerable share of their staff working in France, indicating that the country is certainly a global player on the economic stage. However, unemployment figures are significantly higher compared to the UK and Germany, for instance — around 10% of France’s general population is unemployed, and this figure rises to a shocking 24% among young people.

Multiple reasons have been given for this, with some experts believing that the relatively high unemployment rate is due to the country’s large public sector and the inflexibility of its labor market. Despite obeying the laws of a free market economy, the French labor market is still characterized by government interventions and state enterprises in some key sectors. Striking is common, and workers enjoy strong employment protection legislation, making it difficult for employers to get rid of underperforming employees.

Other economists blame some further perks enjoyed by employees, e.g. high minimum wages and an early retirement age (for now). Whatever the reason, France’s economy has shown few signs of growth, leading the government to introduce labor law reforms in 2016 which aimed to give companies more influence over working conditions e.g. extending their working hours, firing employees for economic reasons, giving individual companies more power. These reforms have been met with strong opposition and widespread strikes, and their implementation is still ongoing.

The Biggest Industries in France

The main industrial sectors in France are telecommunications, machinery, and defense, and industry overall contributes almost a fifth of the GDP. France is also the biggest producer of nuclear energy in the world.

Tourism is another major sector and provides plenty of job opportunities. The country attracted about 83 million tourists in 2016, making it the world’s most popular tourist destination. Disneyland Paris is especially popular, and a favorite destination among young people interested in working in France during vacation periods.

Historically, agriculture has always been an important sector, and France is still the agricultural powerhouse of Europe and the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter after the United States. French cheese and wine, in particular, are famously high quality and are renowned around the world. However, agriculture is also quite a small industry, employing less than 3% of the population and contributing less than 2% of the GDP. 

The French fashion industry contributes a similar amount to the economy, and is worth a surprising 150 billion EUR, partly due to the six fashion weeks it holds each year. The country is known as the home of haute couture, and acts as a magnet for young fashion designers and talents who want to enhance their career prospects by working there.

However, if you want to work in France outside a traditional foreign assignment, you should also be aware of the country’s economic issues. Growth has been stagnating, and competitiveness is said to be decreasing, due to a lack of innovation. In recent years, sectors like construction and vehicle engineering have had to cope with particular difficulties.

Working Conditions under Strict Laws

Working in France is regulated by strict employment laws. Contracts between employers and most employees are of permanent duration (except for seasonal workers, maternity covers, etc.), and everyone working in France is entitled to five weeks of annual leave. In addition, there are special vacation allowances for deaths in the family, as well as one’s wedding.  

The 35-hour week was introduced in two stages between 2000 and 2002 in order to combat unemployment, but subsequent laws have accorded more flexibility to companies and their employees. Now a certain amount of annual overtime is legal for those working in France, but free days or extra payment must be granted in exchange.

Business Culture: Conservative and Formal

Partly owing to good childcare facilities, France has the second-highest rate of women in the workforce in Europe, after Finland. However, there is still a gender pay gap of around 15%, despite a government campaign to abolish all gender inequalities.

In general, the business environment tends to be on the conservative and formal side. Hierarchy and ceremony are valued highly among people working in France, and an authoritarian style of leadership prevails. This does not, however, prevent employees from having lengthy and heated debates in business meetings, even if the decision might ultimately rest with one person. At least in big companies, socializing across various hierarchy levels is uncommon.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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