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Don’t fear the reaper

March 2020

From Wikipedia:
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is a song by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from the band’s 1976 albumAgents of Fortune.

Also from Wikipedia:
Death is frequently imagined as a personified force. In some mythologies, a character known as the Grim Reaper causes the victim’s death by coming to collect that person’s soul. Other beliefs hold that the Spectre of Death is only a psychopomp, serving to sever the last ties between the soul and the body, and to guide the deceased to the afterlife, without having any control over when or how the victim dies.

I have been listening to Blue Öyster Cult since my first year in high school and probably have most of their albums. I find their music a lot more eclectic than the vast majority of hard-rock bands.

The world is now looking with great fear at the rapid spread of the coronavirus from one country to the next. Those who have some historical perspective might think of the Black Plague, the terrifying bubonic plague pandemic that swept through Asia, Europe and Africa in the 14th century, killing an estimated 50 million people. The termla Grande Faucheuse, French for the Grim Reaper, dates from that time. It has been over a century since the last major pandemic: the Spanish flu at the end of World War I, which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920.

The American presidential campaign is now in full swing, with one pundit or another saying the USA will be doomed if President Trump is reelected or Mr. Sanders or now Mr. Bloomberg becomes president. All this hyperbole sadly corresponds to the current American political debate. To such commentators in the media, I would like to say, “Don’t fear the reaper.” Clearly a lot is at stake when choosing a presidential candidate, but extreme statements do the country no good.

By contrast, some speak of global warming and the accompanying destruction of life in similar terms. In this case, though, showing how scary the situation is and how much worse it will become if nothing is done is the right thing to do, as climate change poses a serious risk that must be addressed: a future with human life wiped off the face of the earth. This said, describing the Reaper harvesting whatever is left, seems excessive to me.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is a love song, which I find very interesting. One reason I like the band is that they come up with some interesting twists. In a moment when fear seems to be the prevailing emotion in many countries, we need a message of hope and love, a promise that we can get involved and build a better future.

From the lyrics:
All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone.
Seasons don’t fear the reaper,
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.
We can be like they are.
Come on, baby, don’t fear the reaper.
Baby, take my hand, don’t fear the reaper.
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper.
Baby, I’m your man.

In many countries, when the government wants to reduce the immigration flow, more undocumented aliens are expelled from the country and fewer foreigners are granted immigration status. Both liberal and conservative governments can favor increasing or decreasing the immigrant population. Right now in several countries, including the USA, immigration policy is a political issue. President Reagan was strongly in favor of the American tradition of welcoming immigrants. In France, the conservative government of General de Gaulle and his successor, Mr. Pompidou, opened the French borders wide before the rules became much stricter under the Socialist government of President Mitterrand.

In 2019, France increased both the number of immigrants allowed to stay and the number of expulsions. There were 276,576 first-time immigration cards issued, representing a slow but steady increase; in 2015, for instance, around 217,500 new cartes de séjour were issued. The 2019 total included some 31,200 undocumented aliens who obtained the legal right to live in France.

Also last year, 18,900 foreigners were physically expelled from France – a 20% increase from 2018.

I am not sure there is an obvious conclusion to draw from these figures, other than that at the national level the system is working. This statement is not true at the prefecture level, where the procedures are more and more complex. For example, most prefecture websites barely give such basic information as when which office is open to the public and whether procedures need an appointment or not. In other words, it is increasingly difficult to get accurate information, so several trips to the prefecture are often required when one would have been enough if the information were readily available.

For several months, a radical idea has been under discussion within the French government, although nothing is likely to happen with it for a long time, given the current political climate. Media reports indicate that the government is looking at the situation of undocumented aliens living in France who, under French law, cannot be deported and cannot be regularized yet.

It costs France at the national and local level, a huge amount to pay for hotels, medical expenses and so on for such people. The radical idea is that if they had legal status in France, they would work legally and thus contribute to the national and local budgets, and might even rent in the private sector.

For strictly financial reasons, then, some in government want to change the conditions for regularizing such undocumented aliens so that it could be done sooner and more easily. Politically, implementing such a policy today would be suicidal and the French government has many more pressing issues. But I find it interesting that a conservative policy looking to cut costs reaches a conclusion that is now considered to be liberal.

For what many consider to be an excessively long time, interest rates for loans have been much too low and interest earned on saving accounts has been barely above zero. This is a radical way to put people off saving money and forcing them to invest in the economy, especially the stock market. On both sides of the coin, time is money, whether you borrow or invest it. To encourage a more sustainable real estate market and banking industry, the French government has issued guidelines to secure the banking system by increasing its reserves. It has also increased the benchmark interest rate. This has been done while the economy is doing well enough to handle this increase without slowing growth too much.

What we are hearing about the French economy is that there is no bull market or strong and sustained growth in GDP. Hence the government considers it more important to strengthen the banking industry and maybe moderate the real estate market than to protect the current sluggish growth.

This new policy is likely to have an effect on the Parisian real estate market, including lowering the value of some properties.

One often hears tall tales in the expat community about French tenants having more rights than owners when it comes to real estate. The reality is that French tenants are indeed better protected than in many countries. Expulsion of a non-paying tenant can easily take three years, and it is virtually impossible to collect the back rent.

This situation explains why there are so many Airbnb-type rentals in France and why owners and agencies subject prospective tenants to scrutiny that can almost amount to stalking. Since France does not have credit ratings and there is no database of who is a bad payer, French real estate agents are promoting the idea of listing defaulting tenants so it will be a lot more difficult for them to rent with another agency.

By American standards this makes sense and would facilitate everybody’s job. It would allow agencies to rent to people with more peace of mind, while good tenants would have an easier time being approved and have to meet far fewer requirements. The main demand, which is punitive for many expats, is to find a guarantor. This means an individual or corporation joins the tenant in the obligation to pay rent on time. Many foreigners have to ask their bank to act as guarantor.

So much has changed in recent years, especially under President Macron, that I cannot state that the agents’ project will never come to fruition. But gutting the protection of French tenants in this way would face enormous opposition. The first objections have come from the government, which already has enough troubles without adding another big one.

At the same time, common sense says such a database would lower the risk of renting to bad tenants. So although it would be highly unpopular, a bill allowing it is likely to be submitted to the National Assembly and voted on. The real question is how it will take. As we know, it can take decades to get such a project completed in France.

In the expat community, the name of this school comes to everybody’s mind when the topic turns to learning French cuisine. Recently a client who had taken courses there insisted it had always been a school but might have started as a restaurant. All one needs to do is go to the website and read the history page. It started out as a magazine, which invited subscribers to take cooking classes.

Here is what the website says about the early days of this adventure, before WWII:

XIX Century
Paris, 1895 • French journalist Marthe Distel publishes a culinary magazine, “La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu”. In October, subscribers are invited to the first Le Cordon Bleu cooking classes. 
1897 • Le Cordon Bleu Paris welcomes its first Russian student.

XX Century
1905 • Le Cordon Bleu Paris trains its first Japanese student. 
1914 • Le Cordon Bleu operates four schools in Paris. 
1927 • The newspaper « The London Daily Mail » dated November 16 relates a visit to Le Cordon Bleu Paris school. 
1933 • Rosemary Hume and Dione Lucas, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu Paris under the guidance of Chef Henri-Paul Pellaprat, open the school L’Ecole du Petit Cordon Bleu and the restaurant Au Petit Cordon Bleu in London. 
1942 • Dione Lucas launches Le Cordon Bleu School and Restaurant in New York. She also authors the bestseller “The Cordon Bleu Cook Book” and becomes the first woman to have a televised cooking show in United States.

For me this illustrates how old some French businesses are, and how they often started in unusual circumstances.

There is a fine line between the desire to protect people and intrusion into people’s freedom. I make this generic and almost philosophical statement to introduce a discussion of the way French invoices must be written to be considered legal. My American clients are surprised when creating proper templates for invoices and receipts is on the agenda for our meeting. They think there is no need for it, and they want to continue doing what they have always done, maybe translating into French if their clients do not speak English.

One thing that should be obvious is that a French invoice should be written in French first and foremost. It can be bilingual if the client is Anglophone, but only the French wording is legal. The invoice must quote an amount in euros; it can indicate how much is expected in a different currency but only the euro amount is considered legal.

Aside from those obvious points, there are other rules that surprise many people:

  • 1 – All French legal documents must have a date and location. The date especially is of huge importance because of the way invoices are issued.
  • 2 – The complete mailing address of the client must be mentioned.
  • 3 – The word facture must always appear, because the way to issue a receipt is to write facture acquittée (bill settled)
  • 4 – The name of the business owner or independent professional is mentioned with the business address, and the SIRET number and APE/NAF code must also appear.
  • 5 – There must be a libellé (description) of what is being invoiced, which gives details of what the product is, how much it is per unit, how many units are invoiced, and the total. If a teacher charges 40€ an hour and the session was three hours, the total is 120€.
  • 6 – There must be a line without TVA (VAT), then what is charged in terms of TVA, then the sum of the two, even when the TVA amount is zero.
  • 7 – The obligatory invoice number works like a meter, adding this bill to the previous one. That is why the date is so important, as the numbering must be chronological. This is the simplest way to make sure that the payment received after the invoice is issued does not disappear from the bookkeeping in an attempt at tax cheating.

As if all this were not enough, on October 1, 2019, two more obligations took effect: 
1 – If a purchase order was issued, its number must be mentioned on the invoice. 
2 – If the billing site of the buyer or the seller is different from the headquarters, then both addresses must be clearly mentioned.

The fine for not complying with these regulations can be as much as 375,000€ for a corporation and 75,000€ for an individual. I am sure many find these amounts out of line with the offense, and wonder how this can be considered to be a serious offense. But look at it from the French administration’s point of view: Omitting or falsifying any of these required items can be an easy way to cheat taxes by hiding income or cost.

Now you see why I always add “French invoice” to the agenda of the meeting in my office either before or after the registration of an independent business with URSSAF, including for auto-entrepreneurs (which are the majority of the cases).

Best regards,



I run my own business, consulting to big companies, and I manage my portfolio with a very decent return. I would like to continue doing the same in France at the beginning, and maybe later build a company in IT. I can show up to EUR 1.5 million in my own funds, which I will be ready to invest in France.
Our questions are:
1. Do I have a chance to get an entrepreneur/profession libérale visa or passeport talent créateur d’entreprise if we live exclusively on the returns of my own funds? Or do I have a chance if I want to provide consulting to French companies? What is the difference between entrepreneur/profession libérale and passeport talent?
2. In case the above does not work, can I come to France under the visitor VLS-TS, live for two years in France on income from abroad, and convert to entrepreneur/profession libérale or passeport talent when I am ready to start my business? Will we be allowed to do preparation for starting my business while on visitor visas? Will the time under the visitor VLS-TS count towards the five-year naturalization time? Can we convert to entrepreneur/profession libérale or passeport talent quickly (e.g. after five or six months as visitor, if business moves quickly)?
3. If we come to France under the visitor VLS-TS and then our IT business does not start successfully, can we stay under visitor VLS-TS for five years? Is it renewable for five years? Can we get naturalization after five years?
4. If none of that works, is there any other way that could help us achieve our priorities? These priorities are a) live, b) do business, c) get naturalization in France.


Clearly you are not certain of your end project. I understand that the creation of a business does not always lead to success. But to be absolutely certain of staying in France, you need a plan that makes sure you can stay even if your business venture fails.

It is possible to have a strategy once you move to France that requires changing immigration status as you progress further on your project.

I would like to explain some very basic issues so you can see if you meet the requirements and understand the specific things that need to happen.

Let’s start with the most basic thing: an article of the Code de l’Entrée et du Séjour des Étrangers et du Droit d’Asile (CESEDA L313-10 3°), which begins:
Pour l’exercice d’une activité non salariée, économiquement viable et dont il tire des moyens d’existence suffisants, dans le respect de la législation en vigueur. Elle porte la mention “entrepreneur/ profession libérale”.

The requirements stated in this article are limited, so some further explanation is needed once we know the administration’s interpretation of this provision.

1 – It states in very vague terms that non-employee activity must make enough money to live on. That is in effect the official definition of what minimum wage should be. In France, the amount is 14,000€ a year net taxable, i.e. about 22,000€ in sales for self-employed under the MICRO BNC regime. This minimum amount of income – i.e. the minimum wage, or SMIC in French, or the same amount in assets is the absolute minimum required for almost all types of immigration status.

This requirement is not an issue for you, given your assets. The key is to make sure that no matter what happens to your business, it always makes more profit than this.

2 – The French administration will review your request and accept it if you can prove that you have a French clientele waiting for you and that you have the expertise and professional experience to deliver the services you want to sell. If you do not prove that a French clientele is waiting for you, you have no business reasons to be granted the visa. However, your professional profile shows significant expertise and therefore you should be a good professional consultant.

As for your idea that to begin with, “we live exclusively on the returns of my own funds,” this would be possible only if you hold visiteur immigration status.

Thus you are looking at two radically different scenarios regarding your immigration status.

  • a) Start with visiteur and when your IT business is up and running you create your activity and change your immigration status.
  • b) Start with profession libérale and begin working right away as a consultant. Your acquaintances living in France provide enough letters to prove there is interest in your consulting work. You make sure you always earn at least the annual minimum as noted above. When your IT business is ready to launch, submit a request to change your immigration status to one compatible with the IT project, but also retain your consulting business as a buffer.

3 – The activity must be legal. This seems obvious, but French law defines a lot of jobs that can only be done as an employee, for example, and the same is true for the three types of independent work. Furthermore, many jobs require a French diploma. Thus the question is not just, “Are you qualified?”, which I assume you are, but rather becomes, “Do you have the diploma/license/membership, etc. that authorizes you to start and run such a business?”

The reason I am emphasizing this is your stated intention to start out living on your investments. If you intend to buy and sell equities, it is trading when it reaches a professional level, which I assume you either are at or could easily reach. But once you launch your business, you cannot give any advice about financial investments, money management, banking, investment practices or the like, if indeed you had an interest in sharing your expertise with others. This profession is one of those that are strictly regulated in France.

4 – I am pushing you to have a completely developed business plan mainly because the French administration works best when no changes are made during the procedure. To a certain extent, this is true of French society as a whole. France is notorious for being inflexible in such situations. Consequently you are better off creating a plan that evolves with time while making sure that your immigration status is tailored in such a way that you can grow within it for several years. This is true for profession libérale as well as the corporation you will create for the IT project.

Indeed, profession libérale can evolve from micro BNC to BNC réel simplifée and then réel normal with the same carte de séjour. In other words, there is no rush to launch the IT project for immigration reasons. You can have your consulting activity grow quite large once you have the right immigration status.

For the second step, choosing subcategory 8 of the passeport talent status, which is called mandataire social, offers the same advantage. The corporation created can add or get rid of an activity and can increase or decrease its profit. As long as you remain in charge of the corporation as mandataire social and give a good explanation of what is happening to it, your carte de séjour is never at risk.

My conclusion is that you need a strong business plan covering at least five years, even if the consulate and prefecture only ask for three. That way you can anticipate the transition linked to the change of immigration status and the related change of business.

Now I would like to address some details that are important for making the right decision. Your question shows confusion between two things that in effect have nothing in common:

1 – There are categories of work status, which French law defines with a lot of detail. Some of these have existed for centuries or even a millennium. They are:
– employee
– profession libérale
– artisan
– commerçant

– running a corporation.

2 – There are types of immigration status. Most of these can involve several immigration categories. Some, such as passeport talent, with ten subcategories identified by law, cover all five types of work status. The ten subcategories are:

  • jeunes diplômés qualifiés salariés ou salariés d’une jeune entreprise innovante
  • travailleurs hautement qualifiés (carte bleue européenne)
  • salariés en mission
  • chercheurs
  • créateurs d’entreprise
  • porteurs d’un projet économique innovant
  • investisseurs économiques
  • mandataires sociaux
  • artistes interprètes
  • étrangers ayant une renommée nationale ou internationale (domaine scientifique, littéraire, artistique, intellectuel, éducatif ou sportif).

At this point you need to make some basic choices:

1 – Entrepreneur/profession libérale immigration status allows you to start small and gives you room to grow a lot. You would start with a one-year stay, renewed to a four-year card if the profit exceeds 14,000€. At the end of five years you can ask for a carte de resident if you meet certain other requirements.

2 – With passeport talent immigration status you would choose the subcategory mandataires sociaux as you would be creating a corporation. The problem you will run into is that you need to create a French corporation to obtain the immigration status, but having secured your immigration status is a condition for creating the corporation. Resolving this paradox is complicated and cumbersome. Furthermore, you must convince the administration that the corporation is financially sound and can grow as planned. You may have ample financial means of securing financing but you must convince the French administration that the earnings mentioned in your business plan are credible, which can be a lot more difficult. Once you obtain a visa and arrive in France, you should receive a four-year card from the prefecture. But several prefectures have recently stopped issuing four-year cards fairly automatically topasseport talent holders. To have a chance for a four-year card now, your plan must be robust and up to date. Also, keep in mind that entrepreneur/profession libérale grants a four-year stay, a year later but without the hassle.

Regarding the naturalization procedure and its chance of success, five years in France is the minimum requirement. Thus, the carte de résident should be your goal once you have been here five years, as the requirements are much easier.

To sum up, your plan of action should be as follows:
1 – Prepare the business plan for a consulting business in France, which could become Plan B when you launch your IT project. 
2 – Choose the structure and nature of the businesses on which you will base your immigration status, which will determine which visa and then carte de séjour you will get. 
3 – Once in France, it is urgent both to secure your immigration situation and to start the long process of creating your IT business.



I started as an intern in September. Initially I was working on my tourist visa. I recently graduated with a master’s degree in Paris, and I got an internship visa using a contract from the company and also from my French university.

The company was horrifically unprofessional. The working hours were flexible, and the two bosses championed the “startup” culture. Initially I was promised housing and 600 euros a month. It didn’t work so I stayed at a co-worker’s family home until I could move on my own. I was told there was another 250 euros that they would take as a subsidy in order to pay for some of the things in my house, which I never got in writing.

I stayed with my family in Arizona waiting for my visa to be processed. The company paid for my tickets, and I worked remotely. There were many communication and task allocation problems. I reported on my work once a week, but I was also required to have a daily Skype call with the CEO. I was shouted at and scolded. I was even threatened once by the CEO, who told me to stop arguing with him when I was asking for clarification. The delays in the visa were due to improper preparation on their end. Finally, I was flown back to Paris.

Now that I am in Paris, the verbal abuse in the office has become unbearable. They often call me names and blame things on me unfairly. I reported it to HR several times. It backfired against me. I was scared to go to work on Monday. All of my co-workers can corroborate that the management is harassing me. I do not speak French, and I am very alone without any resources. Help me, please.


There are three very different levels of issues and concerns implied by your question but not directly mentioned:

  • 1 – You are an intern, not an employee. But you are describing everything as if you were an employee.
  • 2 – The French university should be supervising the situation and be informed of what is happening.
  • 3 – As an intern, you are there to learn and be guided in the professional world. You should not be an employee producing operational work without supervision.

I would define an internship (stage) as a learning process in a work situation in which one acquires professional experience.

French law has strictly codified what an intern can do and what the company’s role is regarding an intern:

  • An intern cannot produce valuable work for the company without supervision.
  • An intern needs an immediate supervisor to coach and teach them.
  • An intern needs to report to the supervisor what they are doing to learn and grow in the work environment.

The first thing you should do is look at your daily routine: how do you work and how and to whom do you report your work? If it does not fit the above description, detail and document any deviation and give this record to the school to show how improper the situation is. The university is responsible for what you learn, so it should be notified of any wrongdoing.

The second thing is to identify what should have been reported to the university about your internship. I am not sure the university would see as terribly unlawful the fact that you worked while being on your visa waiver program. But without any immigration status, you were not allowed to work at all. Working remotely on your own is okay if the daily debriefing is coaching and supervising as it complies with the internship guidelines. If it is not the case, this is a clear violation of the internship status.

The fact that the visa took a long time to be issued is probably partly the company’s fault. Asking for or sponsoring a visa request is often quite complex for people who do not do them professionally. I understand the frustration on both sides. Each party blames the other for not doing enough to fix the situation. The fact that you finished a French curriculum without a legal immigration status should have raised some alarms on the part of the company. They appear to have completely underestimated the immigration issue.

A memo at the end of the internship is submitted to the university to be graded as part of the curriculum and it affects your overall average. For that reason alone, the university must be aware of your working conditions. Given how awful your situation is, you must report all this to the university, seeking guidance from the teacher who is assigned to grade you. While a complaint from you might go nowhere, a complaint voiced by your teacher should carry much more weight. The university and the company signed a contract with you. If the internship does not live up to the contract provisions, the school can consider the company liable and there can be consequences.

Some historical background may be useful here. At first interns were seen as a nuisance who drained resources and so they were given the least interesting tasks to do. In these “photocopy machine internships” the very purpose of an internship was ignored and the universities seldom cared.

Then companies realized that young people often had valuable expertise they could use. This addition to the labor force was cheap, as interns either worked for free or received only the indemnité de stage of about 600€ a month. Increasingly, a large portion of a company’s workforce was made up of interns, who were never hired at the end; instead, a new crew of interns came aboard. Supervision, learning and coaching were largely absent. Universities and schools were not accountable for the situation, seeing it as an easy way to earn money by charging tuition for zero education.

Then law 2009-1437 was passed on November 24, 2009. It imposed serious liability on the employer and the school. For the first time, the employer became accountable to the school for any wrongdoing. The law required the intern to be a real student: the internship now can only take place in the middle or at the end of the curriculum and must be graded. Interns finally gained significant leverage over the employer because they could go to the school if things went wrong.

There may also have been some common cultural misunderstandings at play here. A French employee is by definition a subordinate, following the lien de subordination, and an intern is even more obliged to obey the employer. A French employer thus might easily see a genuine request for clarification, explanation or information as a challenge to their legal authority. What is more, French employers are often frank and earnest, which can come across as brutal and condescending. Foreigners often qualify the manner in which their employers address them as “shouting”.

Because of this, on top of everything else, I strongly advise you to arrange for a serious, in-depth debriefing with your teacher. Under French law, there may not be as much horrific wrongdoing as you think. In any case, let the school act on your behalf. If nothing happens, and you think you are still experiencing harassment and violation of the contract, seek outside counsel. The best thing might be to find another company at which to do your internship, and chalk up this painful situation as a learning experience.


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