Pursuing an internship in France is compelling for individuals who are looking for a competitive edge in the European job market and the chance to experience some of the best cultural activities in the region. Though the recession has certainly taken its toll on the French economy, a legacy of a strong work ethic and some of the most pro-employee benefits (which apply to those interning in France too), makes France an ideal location to gain international work experience. Plus, the French have a tradition of learning by doing; for centuries young people have been learning through apprenticeships so why not learn your profession à la française through an internship in France!
Mais Quelle Ville? There are many cities in which you might opt to look for an internship.
Of course, the glittering capital of Paris in all of its European, metropolitan splendor comes first to mind. Internships in Paris are great for those who might lack a strong background in the French language (of course, anyone going to France should learn some basic French as a general rule—it will make your stay that much more pleasant). The sheer number of industries represented in Paris, means that it’s a safe bet that you can find an internship for most any field, although finance, fashion, and culinary internships certainly top the list. However, Paris can be an incredibly expensive city in which to live, and if your goal is to improve your French, it can be difficult to do compared to some other locations where locals do not speak English as readily.
For a more quintessentially, French experience, you might consider Lyon, France’s third largest city. Just a short two hours’ train ride away from Paris, Lyon captures the elegance of the nation’s capital and transplants it into a bite-size, student-friendly city that is rich in French tradition. With four major French universities based in Lyon, the city certainly caters to its students, and this shows in the cheaper standard of living. Also, in terms of French language acquisition, with Lyon being a smaller, less-traveled city, the opportunity to practice French is more easily accomplished, yet with enough locals knowing English to lessen the intimidation factor. Top industries represented among internships in Lyon include banking, engineering, tourism, and entrepreneurship, thanks to a budding startup sector.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, then Provence is the region for you. Nice is the administrative capital of the beautiful Alpes-Maritime département. With kilometers of coastline of the beautiful Côte d’Azur to explore, lovers of the ocean, sun, and some good rosé wine will feel satiated interning here. As the fifth largest city in France, internships in Nice provide an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in French culture while enjoying the more laidback vibe of the Provençal region. After Paris, Nice is the most visited destination in France making it ideal for tourism internships, although computing and education are also big industries as well.
Since the economy is robust, there are internships in France offered in a matter of fields, especially in the larger cities. However, business, fashion, art, tourism, and engineering internships in France are all popular because these fields have a strong foothold in the French economy.
What to Expect. France is a country proud of its culture and history, so ideally interns should have a basic understanding of the French language; more Internship placement opportunities will be available to interns who have a stronger command of the language. French supervisors are accustomed to longer placements to allow interns the ability to learn more aspects of the job and to work on projects; nevertheless, the increasing demand for summer internships in France is making summer internships easier to find in cities such as Paris.
Working in France can appear to be a much more formal affair than many places in the U.S., of course this is always dependent upon industry. Respect for hierarchy is very important in the French workforce, so interns will do well to remember their place in the office environment and set realistic expectations about the nature of work that they will actually be doing. Yet, if interning at a start-up or smaller business, interns, especially English-speaking interns, may find themselves being given greater responsibility and working on a breadth of projects—definitely something to consider when searching for an internship placement.
And it would be remiss to not write about standards of dress when considering expectations for internships in France. As one of the fashion capitals of the world, dressing appropriately for work in France, and specifically in Paris, can be a make-or-break aspect of integrating into your new work environment. Make sure to research the specific attire for your industry, no matter where you obtain internships abroad, but looking classic and polished at all times is the key to remaining en mode in France specifically.
Vivre la Bonne Vie! Whereas most internships stateside tend to be unpaid these days, France lets its laborer-centric focus shine through in internship arrangements, as there is now a law in place where interns must be paid a certain percentage of the national minimum wage. This means that no matter the internship placement, you can expect to receive some remuneration. Although, at the very least, this would equal to a wage of €436.05 per month, meager but certainly a long ways toward baguette and fromage! However, in cities such as Paris, interns most consider that studio apartments can start at €500 a month to rent.
As of July 2014, U.S. citizens do not require a visa if their internship and stay in France will be less than 90 days, only the convention de stage is necessary. For longer placements, a visa with convention de stage is required. Since the convention de stage is a contract between you and your employer, you will need to make sure you locate your internship placement in France well ahead of your arrival in the country, in order to obtain your visa.
Aside from this aspect, obtaining the necessary visa is not very different or difficult than the process for most countries, although interns should note they will be expected to show proof of sufficient funds to support themselves while living in France and contact the closest French embassy or consulate in their home country for the most up to date visa information.
Finding an affordable place to live in some of the bigger cities can be a challenge, however thanks to France’s status as one of the top study abroad destinations, finding a roommate to help reduce costs is a viable option. In Paris specifically, chambres de bonnes are a popular way in which poor college students can secure a place to stay and remain on budget. Literally meaning the maids’ rooms, these rooms are typically the topmost floor of apartment buildings and smaller than your average studio, providing just enough space for a small bed, chair, desk, and hotplate, but for interns in France on a budget the price cannot be beat!
Completing an internship in France won’t come without its challenges. As already mentioned, perhaps more than some European countries, an understanding of the host language is key to your success at navigating the culture and helping you to fit in on the job. Also, the French workplace is known for bureaucracy, so if you have trouble dealing with lengthy paperwork processes and rules that might seem as though they are designed to prevent efficient progress, perhaps France is not for you.
Those interns willing to work on their accents and play the French game will be rewarded with a rich cultural experience that shows why the French really do know how to appreciate the finer things in life. For those looking to gain experience in fashion, art, or tourism, you will be hard-pressed to find a country that boasts the same caliber and option of internship placements, and as France’s economy makes a comeback, its quality in finance, marketing, and business internship options will also continue to grow.