Teaching English in France
French history, culture, cuisine, architecture, fashion, and beautiful scenery have made France one of the most popular destinations for tourists and English teachers alike. It is one of Europe’s most geographically diverse countries and has been one of the world’s favorite tourism destinations for a long time, attracting an average of 81 million visitors each year.
There is a high demand for qualified English teachers, but the French require more qualified and experienced teachers than many other countries. While it can be difficult for non-EU citizens to secure a job offer and work visa, resourceful teachers can find wonderful opportunities to explore all that France has to offer.
FINDING A JOB
Because France is both such a popular tourist destination and a place to live as an expat, positions to teach English are extremely competitive. Most teachers seek positions in Paris or the French Riviera, so to increase your chances of finding a job, you should be flexible with your location. Smaller villages and rural areas will also have a much lower cost of living.
Outside of Paris, there is still a high demand for well qualified teachers. For this reason, it is important to improve your skill-set and present yourself in a manner which will make you stand out from the crowd.
Teachers from countries within the European Union receive preference since they do not require a work visa; if you are not an EU citizen, you must prove that you have additional expertise which makes you unique among the candidates. (More on this below.)
The French school system follows the two-semester year, meaning the peak hiring seasons are at the start of the year in September and after Christmas break in January. Many large language schools and government programs will advertise available positions online, but most English teachers have more success if they search for jobs in country.
While it is possible to obtain a position directly through an employer, most teachers have better luck applying through agencies which offer placement for ESL teachers. The Cultural Service of the French Embassy often provides placement for teachers and teaching assistants. Most positions are within lower-level institutes or in teacher training colleges.
If you’d like to seek out schools, you can use the directory at Oxford Seminars, which provides a directory for schools across France.
TYPES OF POSITIONS AND SALARIES
There are a variety of positions available for well qualified teachers. As Paris is the largest city, it will have the greatest number of positions available. As many teachers would like to live in Paris, however, the competition will also be greater. You may have more luck if you look outside of Paris.
For those who do secure a position, there are few benefits included beyond paid holidays and health insurance. A typical contract will last for one year, but short-term employment may also be available.
Teachers generally receive anywhere from 10-30 teaching hours per week. Class sizes will vary depending on where you teach.
How Much Do English Teachers Make in France?
Salaries will greatly depend upon your personal experience and qualifications, but wages average 1,400-2,000 € ($1,800-2,600) per month.
English instruction is part of childhood education in France, but classes are conducted in French by local teachers. The school system is divided into five sections:
- maternelle (kindergarten, ages 3 – 5)
- école primaire (primary, ages 6 – 10)
- collège (middle school, ages 11 – 14)
- lycée (high school, ages 15 – 18)
- andenseignement supérieur (higher education)
There is less emphasis for native speakers to fill these positions, meaning applicants with previous experience and French fluency may have a chance at finding a position in public schools.
Teaching in Universities
Those seeking positions within universities will need even more qualifications; graduate degrees, teaching experience, and fluency in French are the bare minimums for these positions.
It is also helpful to distinguish your skill-set from other candidates holding EU citizenship. Typically, these positions are filled by bilingual candidates with related degrees and backgrounds in the courses they teach.
University towns like Toulouse, Grenoble, Montpellier, and Bordeaux offer more opportunities to find work in tertiary institutions and to recruit private students.
Private Language Schools
These institutions service a large segment of the population, ranging from children to adult professionals. The largest chain schools include IFG Langues, Inlingua, and EF English First. They will require language certification or equivalent classroom experience, but these schools provide valuable experience and support for new teachers since they hire many foreigners at the same time. Wages are typically lower than other teaching options, but this will greatly depend on your qualifications. Some schools will also specifically offer summer camps beginning in late June and early July.
Many companies also devote large amounts of money to improve the language skills of their employees. Although many positions to teach business English are organized through the French Chamber of Commerce, individual employees seek instruction through private institutions. English is a highly valued skill, which allows many young professionals to advance within their respective fields.
The French Ministry of Education recently enacted programs to recruit applicants from the United States through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (application instructions here). You must be under 29 years old and preferable a recent college graduate; if accepted you receive a work permit and a contract from October-April with three 2-week breaks. The Cultural Service of the French Embassy may also be able to assist with job placement within lower-level institutes or in teacher training colleges.
This is a great option for teachers looking to supplement their income and assist with monthly living expenses. Of course some also make it their full-time job (especially those without visas).
The most difficult part is recruiting students; you can advertise your services in local newspapers, websites, or spots that have bulletin boards for such a thing. This is much easier outside the larger cities where the job market is less competitive. Teachers with more experience and qualifications can charge more for their services, but typical rates average 10-20 € ($15-25 USD) per hour.
In order to teach English in France, the government requires at least a bachelor’s degree, but candidates with graduate degrees receive preference. It is also necessary to hold a CELTA/TEFL certification.
With the competitive job market in large cities, most schools hire applicants with at least a basic understanding of French. These standards may be more relaxed at schools in small villages and rural areas that will simply require that you are a native English speaker. Teachers from other countries within the European Union are preferred because they do not require a visa to teach legally; it is not impossible for non-EU citizen to find employment, but the visa process can be extremely lengthy.
WORKING LEGALLY IN FRANCE
Those with an EU passport will bypass the bureaucratic red-tape other nationalities will encounter. It can be difficult to find an employer who is willing to sponsor a work visa because they will need to prove to their government that there are no candidates from the EU to fill the position. This is extremely difficult since the United Kingdom and Ireland provide a steady flow of teachers looking for work in France. If you do qualify for a work visa, French officials will consider the applicant’s fluency, education, experience, and unique qualifications that will assist in the position.
If there are no qualified French or EU citizens applying for the position, and you are sponsored for a work visa, you must obtain authorization from the French Ministry of Labor (DIRECCTE).
You cannot receive a visa without an application first filed by a French school or company. This authorization is then sent to the Immigration Bureau (OFII) for transmission to the appropriate consulate. You will then schedule an interview with the consulate to receive your long-stay visa, or visa long “séjour,” if approved. The entire process can take 3-9 months.
The next step is to apply for a residence permit once you are in France. This will require a medical assessment and another interview to assess your language skills.
Typically, the following documentation will be required for a long-stay visa:
- Valid passport for at least 3 months beyond the expiry date of the visa
- 3 copies of the photo page in your passport
- Proof of current address
- Proof of status in home country(birth certificate, citizenship card, social security card)
- 2 copies of the application, signed in ink
- 2 passport sized photos
- Payment for application fees
If you are an Australian, Canadian, or New Zealander under the age of 29, you can also apply for a working holiday visa. Visa requirements can change without notice, so it is best to contact the nearest embassy or consulate to confirm current requirements prior to the interview. For more information, you can visit MFE.org to locate the nearest embassy or consulate. It may be helpful to obtain a French translation of your birth certificate and several copies of all documents.
HOW CAN AMERICANS TEACH ENGLISH IN FRANCE?
That, however, will not be suitable for all Americans looking to teach in France.
You will find non-EU teachers working in France, and if you surveyed them, you would probably find that each came by their positions in a slightly different way. And so while it’s not impossible for a non-EU citizen to get a position, you will likely need a fair amount of determination and even creativity.
The challenge for the American teaching in France is to “prove” that they have some skill that a British or Irish teacher doesn’t have. Being a native English-speaker alone won’t do the trick, obviously. And so this is where the creativity comes into play.
If you have some sort of special skill or training, that may help. For example, perhaps you have an engineering degree, and there’s a school that teaches English to a company full of engineers. Of course Britain and Ireland have engineers too, but the pool of Engineer/English teachers in any country is pretty small.
In some cases, you may be able to convince a school that your “Americanness” alone is the missing piece of the puzzle. For example, there may be a school that sends teachers out to businesses that work with a lot of American companies, and the company prefers American teachers in order to teach not only American English, but also American customs and cultural norms. Or you may get on with an American company itself that would like to give its French employees American English lessons.
In any case, while not impossible, thinking outside the box and a LOT of persistence may be required.
COST OF LIVING
Living in France (especially outside of Paris, it should be noted) can be relatively inexpensive when compared to other European countries, but this is largely dependent upon your lifestyle and spending habits. It is very easy to get caught up in the finer things France has to offer, and so it may take some discipline to stay within your budget.
Life in Paris and other large cities is considerably more expensive than rural areas or smaller villages, of course. Since teaching positions do not offer comprehensive benefits packages, you will also need to factor this into your budget.
Housing will be the largest expense, which is the reason many teachers rent out rooms or share expenses with other teachers. If you choose to live alone, a one-bedroom apartment will average 500-650 € ($650-800 USD) per month; however, this number significantly increases in large cities and downtown locations.
Utilities will average an additional 125 € ($165 USD) per month.
Transportation is reasonably priced and readily available. A one-way pass will cost about 1.50 € ($2 USD) per ride and a monthly pass is 48 € ($60 USD).
Grocery and alcohol prices are moderately priced, but if you choose to eat out frequently, it will become very costly. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant averages 12 € ($15 USD). For a more complete list of average market prices and entertainment costs, you can visit Numbeo – France.
France remains a safe country to travel in, with theft being the largest concern for travelers and foreign laborers. The majority of crimes directed against visitors is nonviolent and usually involves pick-pocketing, break-ins, or bicycle theft. These are more common in Paris and other large cities; robberies can involve physical assault, so it is important to always be aware of your surroundings.
Crimes against visitors are generally crimes of opportunity, so be extra cautious in congested areas and near tourist attractions. Avoid high crime areas, don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables, disperse your financial sources in various places in case you are robbed, and exercise extra caution if you have been consuming alcohol. If you use common sense, you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
France is home to a number of expats who both work and live there permanently. Some residents only maintain a second home but still retain resident status. Vacation homes are more typically found in rural areas and the French Riviera, which draw many retirees and weekend travelers. The majority of the 4.3 million foreign residents come from other EU countries, although there is a significant immigrant population from France’s former colony Algeria.
Most teachers choose to live in Paris and other large urban areas; popular locations include Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Toulouse, and Bordeaux. These cities provide wonderful sources of culture and entertainment, but they also attract many other TEFL teachers, creating a more competitive environment. Positions in rural areas and small villages provide better opportunities for employment, but you could be the only foreigner employed at the school.
Since it is one of the most visited countries in the world, there are international airports in all of France’s large cities and several more regional airports across the country. Flights are affordable and easy to find, with numerous airlines servicing the country. Intercity flights are relatively inexpensive since there is a lot of competition between airlines.
The modern rail service offers express service and links all major cities; it also provides convenient international transportation across Europe. With several neighboring countries, you may find lower airline rates in surrounding countries and then have the option to arrive at your final destination via train. The road and rail system are among the most extensive in the world, but be aware there is a lack of regular bus services to rural areas. The train system is truly the most efficient means of transportation; for more information on schedules and rates, you can visit TGV.com.
France’s cities and larger towns provide excellent public transportation with ultramodern tramways, metros, and rail systems. City centers are generally compact and can be visited on foot; there are also taxis readily available throughout the country. Bus systems are becoming a bit outdated with the new modes of transportation, and schedules tend to be unreliable.
It’s no wonder so many visitors travel to France each year; from the rugged coasts of Normandy to the picturesque French Riviera, there is truly something for everyone. The country is divided into six regions, each with its own charm, attractions, and activities.
However, Paris is undoubtedly the heart of the country; no trip would be complete without a visit to the iconic sites such as the Eiffel Tower or Louvre Museum. Its numerous landmarks, monuments, museums, art galleries, nightlife, fine dining, and shopping are world renowned.
Other popular destinations are the French Alps and Pyrenees, the castles and villages of the Loire Valley, the Mediterranean coastline, and the ancient Celtic sites in Brittany. Given the wide range of things to see and do in France, many people claim it would take an entire lifetime to fully explore the country.
The official language is French, and most schools will require teachers to at least have a basic understanding of the language. Higher paying positions will require a greater level of fluency. There are also many regional dialects which are spoken across the country. Most of those who speak a minority language also speak French, since minority languages are given no legal recognition.
You will also encounter many other languages near many of France’s borders. Basque and Catalan are commonly spoken near the French-Spanish border in the French Pyrenees. Flemish, German, Italian, and Breton are also spoken by significant portions of the population. With the large number of foreign residents from former colonies, you will undoubtedly encounter many languages while living in France.
As an English teacher, you will be expected to be prepared, professional, and knowledgeable, since the French hold their teachers to a very high standard. As an international trend-setting nation, many people will also make judgments based upon your appearance. It is important to make sure you dress well and maintain good personal hygiene habits no matter what the social setting.
The French are a proud people and love their language, so it is best to address French nationals in their native tongue. This has spurned many stereotypes, but it is important to remember you are a visitor and should learn their customs.
It is also better to err on the side of formality, addressing others at vous instead of tu.
It is also important that you take time to relax and enjoy breaks from your work. Many of your coworkers may think you odd if you are always working. Lunch breaks provide valuable opportunities to network and build relationships with your coworkers.
Also, make sure you take the vacation and holiday time you are entitled to; everyone else does, so why not enjoy this benefit? There are many social rules, but as long as you show tact and respect, the French will help you adapt. Learn to go with the French-styled flow, and take the subtle hints of those around you to ensure you make the most of your experience.