The French abroad

The number of French nationals living outside France has grown substantially over the past decade, increasing by over 60% since 2000 at an average annual growth rate of 4%. Today, close on 1,611,054 million French nationals are registered as living abroad.

Key French expatriation figures:

  • 1,611,054 French nationals living outside France
  • 75% are professionally active
  • 74% are aged over 18

Who are the French abroad?

Gender parity

Expatriates are fairly evenly divided by gender, with 50.6% men and 49.4% women. The number of women living abroad has risen over the years. In 2009, only 34% of expatriates were women, making an increase of 15.4% over the last three years.

Highly qualified expatriates

Those with post-graduate qualifications (Master’s and Doctorate) are very much in the majority, accounting for 58% of the population concerned.

In second place, 29% of expatriates have higher education qualifications (Bac + 2 or Bac +3 and equivalent)

A largely active population

In 2012, 75% of French expatriates were professionally active.

Two socio-professional categories stand out:

  • corporate executives (33.33%)
  • civil servants and public sector staff (22.12%), (executives and employees).

Close on 80,000 students studied abroad in 2012.

The Working Holiday Programme

The Working Holiday Programme (Programme Vacances-Travail, PVT) takes the form of an agreement between States.

The programme is designed to enable young people aged between 18 and 30 to spend a year in a foreign country on a special visa that entitles them not only to explore the country of destination and its culture but also to earn money by working during their stay.

France already has agreements in place with seven partner States: Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Argentina.

The French international school system

Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE)

A public establishment, the AEFE, founded in 1990 and based at two sites (Paris and Nantes), is a public administrative body under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The agency, in partnership with the Mission Laïque Française (MLF), is responsible for steering, supporting and running the network of 480 French educational establishments around the world known as the French international schools.


  • Provide a public education service on behalf of French children living outside France.
  • Contribute to the strengthening of relations between French and foreign education systems.
  • Contribute, particularly by welcoming students from abroad, to the spread of the French language and culture.
  • Provide aid for the education of children of French nationality.


  • Manage the human and financial resources allocated by the State to the running of French international schools.
  • Recruit, assign and remunerate the tenured Ministry of Education teaching and managerial staff (numbering over 6,500) made available by the AEFE to schools under its direct authority (75) and associated with it by agreement (156).
  • Ensure staff evaluation and in-service training.
  • Allocate operating, investment, equipment and pedagogical support grants to schools. Provide engineering support in various fields (pedagogy, academic and career guidance, real estate, management, etc.).
  • Assist families with the cost of schooling by granting scholarships.
  • Award merit scholarships to outstanding foreign students wishing to pursue higher education in France.
  • Develop cooperation projects between education systems and universities.
  • Lead and unite the network by organising joint events.

Pedagogical project

The pedagogical and educational project for French education abroad combines the principles of respect for the programmes in place in France and openness to the host country.

  • A commitment to openness
  • Integrate host country pupils through a specific approach to the teaching of French.
  • Teach the language of the host country to both French and local pupils.
  • Promote the use of English in an international context.
  • Adapt certain programmes to make use of local resources or examples.
  • Encourage innovative pedagogical initiatives open to the linguistic, cultural and environmental setting of schools.
  • Pilot language teaching
  • Allow for the diversity of audiences attending the schools.
  • Offer intensive and early language learning opportunities.
  • Quality of education
  • Pursue success for all (an average 95% baccalaureate pass rate).
  • Assist with guidance on and integration into higher education courses in France.
  • Prepare students for the upper echelons of the higher education system.

The French international school network, unique of its kind

The French educational model abroad

  • Over 480 primary, secondary and high schools in 130 countries, attended by some 310,000 pupils, of whom 115,000 are French nationals, offer a French education according to Ministry of Education standards. These officially accredited schools promote universal values: tolerance, openness, humanism, equality of opportunity, the fostering of critical thinking, etc.
  • The schools prepare pupils for France’s national high school diplomas, the brevet and the baccalaureate.
  • The uniform curriculum followed throughout the network means that pupils at every level may move from one accredited school to another, or to a state school or private school under contract, without the need to sit an entrance examination.
  • Because they are part of a dynamic international network and open to cultural and linguistic diversity, French primary, secondary and high schools offer a particularly rewarding educational experience.

A diversified, attractive and open network

  • French international schools are managed in a variety of ways and most are governed by local legislation.
  • The network attracts growing numbers of pupils year on year. This increase in pupil numbers is driven as much by recognition of the quality of education provided as by an increase in the number of French expatriate families.
  • French international schools are open to children of French nationality living outside France (approximately 40% of total pupil numbers) and to children of other nationalities (approximately 60%). Because of the key role these schools play in promoting mobility and expatriation, they are an excellent means of attracting young people from all backgrounds to learn in a French-speaking and international environment.

The network in brief :

  • Over 480 schools in 130 countries
  • 310,000 pupils, of whom 115,000 are French nationals
  • Close on 13,000 baccalaureate passes a year
  • Over 6,500 tenured Ministry of Education staff, expatriate or resident 20,000 staff recruited locally

For further information on the French school system abroad

Where do the French abroad live ?

50% in Western Europe,
13% in North America,
8% in the Near and Middle east,
7% in Asia-Oceania,
7% in French-speaking Africa,
6%in North Africa.

Western Europe: the main destination for the French living abroad

Geographical and cultural proximity, coupled with the harmonisation of administrative procedures, ensure that Western Europe remains the main destination for French nationals living outside France. Their number was swelled by a further 8,500 expatriates in 2012. The biggest increases occurred in Belgium (3.8%), the United Kingdom (2.2%) and Switzerland (2%).

North Africa and Asia-Oceania: two regions enjoying faster growth than the rest of the world

In 2012, these two regions reported an increase of around 3% in the number of French people living within their borders. North Africa now has a population of 98,090 French nationals, with significant increases reported in Algeria (+5%), Morocco (+3%) and Tunisia (+3%). The number of French expatriates registered as living in Asia-Oceania is now in excess of 120,000, an increase of 2.8%. Indonesia (+9.6%), Australia (+4.3%) and China (+1.6%) have experienced significant rates of growth.

Motivations and reasons for expatriation

The main motivation cited for living abroad is professional reasons (58%), in pursuit of new experiences and a different way of life.

The second most common source of motivation for expatriates is to discover new countries and new cultures (36%).

Other reasons given by expatriates include accompanying a spouse (26%), hopes of higher earning power (17%) or the desire to learn or perfect foreign languages (10%).

The move abroad may also be dictated by professional mobility within a company or government department (17%) or the wish to continue in education (7%).

Updated on 31.12.12