This entry should answer most of your questions. Please feel free to contact me if it doesn't!
A lot has changed in the massage profession since I first came here with my French fiancé in 1992. While it is still a complicated project, the climate is much more favorable than before.
I recommend that you adopt the principle, "Where there is a will, there is a way"....
What you need to know, briefly.
*France is 20 Years Behind North America in Massage.
Massage, as a profession has grown exponentially in the last eighteen years. Yet the French public is just now catching on. There are an increasing number of spas and day spas here and a real shortage of good massage professionals. (That's the good news.)
If you plan on coming here to work, one of these establishments would be a good place to start looking for work. The pay will be low due to crippling tax and social charges incurred by employers, but you might find an arrangement that keeps you going and doesn't exclude you from seeing people outside of the spa.
*Getting hired will require a work visa or a passport from an EU member country.
This is potentially your biggest obstacle. Visa laws change from time to time. Some student visas allow for limited employment. Your consulate will have all the information you need. I don't have the details. My situation was facilitated by the fact that I am married to a French woman.
*If you wish to set up a practice on your own, you will need to rent a space.
There are some spaces available in Paris that can be rented on a short term basis without the usual six to twelve month deposit require for a commercial lease. Renting a space will require that you are insured. There are a few private companies that are just now starting to offer reasonable rates for a product that will serve your needs. I will have more information about this in the coming weeks... You will still need a visa that allows you to earn money in France.
*Working on your own, you will be required to create a structure for tax purposes.
There are Anglophone accountants working in France who can facilitate this. France is all about taxes, but there are some new possibilities now that didn't exist in the mid 1990's, when I first declared my practice. If you manage to bring all of these things together, you can expect a period of eight to twelve months before you can live off of your massages, if you are good .
My advice if you really want to work here, is that you find some other activity that you can live on while developing your practice. I would never suggest here that you massage undeclared for cash. (Just where there is a will there is a way.)
*Speaking at least some French is very very helpful.
The more the better. But there is an enormous anglophone expat community here starving for good professional massage. Especially if you are able to make outcalls.
I am currently developing my professional training program and will have details available about my new structure very soon. My goal is to also create a professional placement structure for good massage professionals with valid working papers. If you are interested to know more, please let me hear from you. Details will be available by April of this year.
When I arrived, I was very surprised to learn that France was not the Massage Utopia I imagined it would be. Massage is a French word. France produces the finest essential oils in the world. According to sources I read before coming, massage is covered by the state medical coverage program, Securité Social. There are hundreds of listings for massages in the Paris Yellow Pages alone.
What I quickly found out was there is a difference in what North Americans consider massage and what the term actually means in France.
In France, MASSAGE is a strictly medical term used to describe manual physical therapy, or reeducation. Only state licensed physical therapists, called kinésitherapeuts have the legal right to practice massage or, until recently, use the word massage to describe their activity. A masseur is a masseur kinésitherapeut. Also, the French as a culture, have not yet discovered the benefits of getting massage. At the time I arrived, there was only one small American equivalent massage school in the whole country and it was reserved for medical professionals
So, basically, I learned that I had moved to a country where I didn't speak the language, my diplomas were worthless, and the people were not into massage!
According to the law, it would be illegal for me to practice my chosen profession without first completing the diploma requirements to become a kiné. That would mean first taking an exam to prove that I had at least a high school level of education, or the BAC.
Taking an exam that requires reading and writing in French on subjects like Chemistry, Biology, Math and Literature was not an option since my command of the language was limited to saying "please", "thank you" and "where is the toilette?"...... Besides, I felt like I should have spent enough years in school already. Thirteen from kindergarten through high school, six more in a university and another in a professional massage training program makes twenty years of school. If I couldn't make a living with that, then I needed to reconsider my line of work!
Shockingly, I began my career in France as a criminal, working for cash, undeclared. My first clients were friends and family. I was painfully hauling my massage table all over Paris in the Metro. I was charging so little that there was no margin for taxis. Looking around I found that there were a few other people in my same situation. Some of these people were practicing out of their homes. They were mostly doing Shiatsu and what they called "Massage Californian". All of them had some other part time job or source of income to cover their tax purposes. I also learned that there were several American trained Chiropractors in Paris. They were organized into an association and had strong practices, but were constantly being sued by the Kiné trade union as they were considered to be practicing medicine without a license. It turns out that France, being a supreme bloated bureaucracy, has a slow and self-contradictory legal system, especially in terms of it's medical services. I befriended a couple of these Chiropractors and soon started getting referrals. Damn the torpedos...
After about six months in France, I stumbled on an interesting opportunity. A family friend was a member at the exclusive Ritz Health Club. RHC is the spa at the original Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome in Paris. It seems that this "spa" was regularly searching for staff that could do massage as well as other spa treatments. One didn't necessarily have to be a Kiné to do massages in the spa???? At the time, spas in the modern sense were a rather new concept here.
France has a long history of seaside health resorts called "Centres de Thalassotherapie". Since the late 1800's there have been hotels featuring heated sea water pools and mud and seaweed treatments. These establishments employ Kinés to administer massage. I learned that not all of the staff practicing massage in these thalassos are licensed kinés. The team is headed by a medical doctor and the staff follow his orders. The Ritz also has a doctor on staff, but he doesn't actively supervise the administration of treatments like in traditional thalasso.
I managed to arrange an interview with the Ritz and was hired on the spot. I was told that what was offered at the Ritz was not considered medical, so the diploma was not an issue. I was not called a "massage therapist" or a "masseur", but an "agent de soins".
Aaahhh! So if we call massage something else... something different than re-education or therapy, if we don't claim to cure anything or offer medical benefits, and more importantly, we don't ask the Securité Social to pay for it, then it's OK!
Over the following sixteen months, I was an agent de soins at the Ritz Health Club. It was there that I learned that I could actually be a massage therapist in France, if I called it something else.
I wouldn't trade my experience at the Ritz for anything. It was all very glamorous massaging wealthy people including celebrities and diplomats. But soon the long hours working three stories underground in an environment stiffled by Ritz internal politics began to wear me down physically and spiritually. And the ultimate reality was that the job was extremely low paying.
When me wife became pregnant, I made the decision to strike out on my own. I had made a lot of great contacts and continued to develop my private clientele outside the Ritz. After doing the math, I saw that if I did one massage a day on my own, I would make more money than working five or six days a week all day long under the weight of that hotel!
When one of my chiropractor friends offered me space in his central Paris office I jumped at the opportunity. Setting up shop required that I declare my activities with the French Services Fiscaux, the tax man. An accountant helped me with the paperwork. This required describing my activity in such a way that it didn't describe it too much. The country seemed to be teaming with people who have nothing better to do than to denounce others. I certainly didn't need any problems with the kiné unions. (Even though, by this time I counted several kinés and a few medical doctors among my clients.) What the accountant came up with as my activity title was
"Professeur de Relaxation et Soins Corporells". This put me in the category of teachers. I was a Teacher of Relaxation and Body Treatments... So I wasn't really giving massages, I was giving relaxation lessons. The word massage was used nowhere in the description of my activity. I never advertised, relying on word of mouth. For my business cards, I used the term
"Integrated Bodywork". I have always liked the word "bodywork". "Integrated" fits nicely because I integrate many different techniques in my work with the hope of integrating all the different aspects of the body. After the declaration went into effect, I was ready to commit all of my energy into developing my practice, and the startling world of paying French taxes.
Eventually, I started to notice more and more people advertising "massage". Openly violating the taboo surrounding the word massage. However, they were always careful to use and adjective such as massage energetique or massage relaxation or massage anti-stress or massage bien-etre. This had the effect of separating the word massage from it's medical context. In my case, since I was declared, I could talk about "Soins Nonreglementes" or nonreglemented treatments. It seemed that the country was starting to relax it's reservation of massage done only by Kinésitherapeuts. I chose to continue not using the word except verbally in speaking to describe what I do..
The situation and ambiguity surrounding the status of massage came to a head in 2001 when Joel Savatovsky was taken to court by the Kiné unions. Joel, a kineé himself, is also the founder of the nation's only real massage training program in Dijon, France. With a group of his students, he was giving free chair massages to weary motorists during a busy vacation travel period. The kinés charged that his students were practicing medicine without a license.
Thus started an escalation on the part of Sovetovsky and others to take a stand. His supporters and others who recognize the benefits of massage organized into what has become our professional association, The Federation Francaise de Massage Bien Etre, or FFMBE.
The kiné union's argument was that massage is a potentially dangerous thing for the public if administered by anyone other than a physical therapist. This very exaggerated statement was doubly sad because kinés generally don't even DO massage. They are obliged to see dozens of people a day, thus the average time with each person is about twenty minutes. They have found it necessary over the years to almost rely heavily on electrotherapy, hot/cold treatments, exercise prescription and even UVA lamps to treat most things their patients suffer from. Manuel work takes time and a kiné needs to see too many people a day. Some kinés massage a specific are for a short time, but it is not very cost effective for them.
(Note: Not all Kinésitherapeut's are in agreement with their union. Some of my close friends and clients are kinés. They send people to me who just need a good massage. I don't want to make their profession seem diabolic. Unions are sometimes another story...)
Stress related issues have never been addressed by kinés, and no one goes to the kiné to simply relax.... The court case was very long with much deliberation over a period of years. During this time, supporters of Joel Savatoysky and other people who recognize the many benifits of our art have organized into a professional association.
The creation Federation Française de Massage Bien Etre has been the best thing to ever happen for massage in France. Not only has it been crucial in overturning the case against, Mr. Savatotsky, it has increased public awareness about massage and given a much needed boost of credibility to our profession.
The FFMBE also requires a certain amount of training to become a member, but foreign study programs are considered and foreign applicants can be admitted after successfully completing an evaluation process. The main advantage in becoming a member, besides the reassurance it provides potential clients, is that membership includes professional insurance. This insurance is necessary for renting a commercial space. It also gives peace of mind in the eventual, yet increasingly unlikely event that one is attacked by the kiné unions. Late in 2009, the courts declared not only that Savatotsky was within his rights and dropped all charges, but also ordered the Kiné union to pay a huge fine for an abusive suit.
It's hard to overstate the positive impact this will have for massage in France.
As it is now, massage practitioners must still make the distinction between massage for well being an medical massage, but the threat is no longer hovering over our heads.
There are still a lot of issues to address for the future, but I believe that France is now on a good path for developing it's potential as the Massage Utopia I once imagined it to be.