Citizens of EU/EEA countries (European Union, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) don't need a work permit to hold a job, be self-employed or create a business in France.
And, since the original transition period ended in July 2008 for the eight newest EU states, nationals of these eight countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) can now work in France (and in other EU countries) without a work permit
All non-EU/EAA nationals need both a work and a residency permit. These are applied for at the same time, as they are interdependent. The permit type required depends on the planned activity and whether you ask for a temporary or long-term work permit.
For Swiss nationals there is a special agreement between France and Switzerland that makes the application for a work permit straightforward, but Swiss citizens still need to follow the regular visa application process.
How it works
In order to hire a non-EEA citizen, especially long-term, a company must demonstrate that there is not a suitably qualified EEA candidate interested in the position. It is not impossible to satisfy these conditions, but some smaller firms are simply not willing to make the effort as they are typically not short of candidates and the approval process itself can take 4-6 months.
The company wishing to employ you should first publish the position at the Pole Emploi, the national agency for employment. If no suitably qualified French residents apply, the application dossier (including your candidature and company's undertaking to employ you) will be submitted to the DDTEFP (Direction départementale du travail, de l'emploi et de la formation professionnelle), the Department Directorate of Work, Employment and Training.
To make a decision, the DDTEFP will examine the application, taking into account your qualification, your experience and the employment situation in France. If the decision is positive, the DDTEFP will inform your company as well as the prefecture and OMI (Office des migrations internationals). At this point the process of your 'introduction' to France will start. This includes a medical examination either in your country or France, the issue of the relevant visa (if applicable) and the issue of a temporary residency permit. If the decision is negative, the DDTEFP will inform your company about the decision and its reasons. For some professions this process is much easier, such as for scientific or information technology experts!
If you have a temporary resident permit that does not give you the right to work (visitors, students), you can apply for a change of status. This is usually easier than starting from scratch. Apply directly at your local prefecture (services des étrangers). The prefecture will forward your application to the DDTEFP, which will examine the regularity and conditions of your stay in France and your profile and employment situation in the sector you have qualifications for.
Types of work permits
Work permits (Autorisation de travail) have various forms. They may be issued as residency permits, giving the right to work in France or issued as a specific work permit (in this case accompanied by your passport and/or visa).
If you hold a permanent resident permit (carte de résident, CR) in France, you have the right to work in France.
If you hold a provisional stay permit (autorisation provisoire de séjour, APS) or short-stay visa (visa court séjour), you have to apply for permission to work (autorisation de travail). If successful, you will receive one of the following:
- Temporary residency permit (carte de séjour temporaire, CST) specifying the type of work permitted, such as 'employee' (activité salariée), 'self-employed' (activité non salariée), 'scientific' (scientifique), 'cultural and artistic profession' (profession artistique et culturelle) or 'trader' (commerçant), as well as where you can do it (e.g. France métropole, Ile-de-France, etc.)
- Temporary work permit (ATP, Autorisation provisoire de travail). This applies to certain cases, e.g. where the employee remains on the payroll of an overseas company (i.e. Detaché status)
- Seasonal work contract (contrat de travail saisonnier) which will define the type of work, its location and validity.
The temporary resident permits with the status 'private or family purposes' (vie privée et familiale) gives, in most cases, the right to work everywhere in France without limitations (there are some exceptions, such as for nationals of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco), while the status 'visitor' (visiteur) does not give the right to work and you have to make a separate application for a work permit.