At daybreak most mornings, I find myself gazing out at the Eiffel Tower, watching as the sun rises slowly over the horizon and illuminates the famed Iron Lady. The Trocadero platform, which offers the most incredible views of the tower, is now my office. This is typically where I meet clients, vacationers from around the world, before I guide them on one-hour personalized photo shoots of Paris.
I moved to the French capital and started my vacation photography company in 2012. In the years since, it has grown into a lucrative business, providing me with a six-figure income. It is, in fact, the second photography business I have built. The first was in my native Washington, D.C. Like my Paris company, that business was thriving. Then came the 2008 financial crisis, and like so many other small business owners, I watched over the next several years as my income declined, then disappeared.
Having long harbored a dream of living overseas, I thought, what better time to take a chance and move to Paris? I’d fallen in love with the city the way most people do, during a vacation some years previously, and I’d sworn during that trip to return permanently one day. There were, of course, plenty of reasons not to pursue this dream. I did not speak French. Nor did I know a soul in the city. Still, I was confident in my ability to shape a new life in Europe.
To live and work in France, I secured a Profession Libérale visa, which allows you to launch a freelance business. To qualify for this visa, you need to outline your professional goal and provide evidence of your ability to achieve it, such as diplomas and previous professional contracts. You also need to have enough money in your bank account to support yourself, as well as medical insurance and a clean criminal record.
Despite my optimism, my initial introduction to full-time life in France was not a positive experience. Finding an apartment was an arduous process requiring a ton of paperwork. Then there were the difficulties in getting my business off the ground. As I wanted to start a photography company, I had to register with the Chambre de Métiers et de l’Artisanat (CMA) for trades and craftspeople, after which I was required to complete a two-week course on how to pay taxes and run a business.
This course is geared toward artisans and freelance workers—everyone from Uber drivers and hairdressers to writers. The program is delivered completely in French, and since I was at the beginning of my journey studying the language, I understood very little. Still, I passed just by showing up and paying the €300 ($340) fee.
Afterward, I received the equivalent of a tax ID so I could pay my social security contributions. Levied every three months, these total about 23% of my income and cover benefits like government-subsidized healthcare. Once a year, I also pay my regular taxes, which amount to an average of about one month’s income.
Attending the CMA course was a daunting experience and left me concerned that my lack of French-language skills would be an insurmountable obstacle to finding success as an independent businessperson. Soon, however, I discovered a large American expat community I could tap into, comprising an association for everything you could think of, like the American Library in Paris, American University in Paris, American Chamber of Commerce, and American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay.
In the beginning, to get my name out there, I offered to photograph a few big events for these organizations for free. I also joined the American Women’s Group in Paris to network with other business-people in the city. Now, I get regular paid photography assignments from all of these organizations, as well as the U.S. ambassador to France.
To grow my core vacation photography company, I built business pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. I use a free website called Canva.com to create beautiful looking advertising materials and regularly post these to my social media. More recently, I’ve started a podcast in which I interview fellow creatives who’ve been similarly inspired by France. This has brought financial benefits, since every time I interview someone, they share the podcast on their social media accounts, further boosting awareness of my company.
All of these promotional efforts send a steady supply of clients to my vacation photography business. The shoots are always engaging, joyful experiences, spanning everything from big family portraits to surprise marriage proposals… frequently framed against that most iconic backdrop, the Eiffel Tower.
Paris has grown into my home and inspiration.
I cannot even begin to calculate how many times I’ve photographed the landmark, but even now, it still holds such magic for me. It serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come since arriving here. From those stressful, disconcerting early days in the city, Paris has grown into my home and the source of my income and inspiration. The lesson I’ve taken away from these experiences is to have patience and keep pushing forward, even when the challenges seem overwhelming. Persistence and passion can overcome any obstacle.