Do you want to start a business in France? Read on to learn how to get started, from legal structures to logistics.

Whether you’ve just arrived or are a long-term resident, looking for work in France may not be your cup of tea. Another option is to consider establishing a business in France. 

French Business Culture

Foreign entrepreneurs may have been wary of France because of its image as a country focused on joie de vivre and strong unions. Recent reports like the OECD Productivity Insights – PDF have confirmed that, despite lengthy holidays and a 35-hour work week, French workers are among the most productive in the EU and the OECD. Some critics argue that the French economy is plagued by a rigid labor market, a complex tax system, low competition, relatively poor management practices, and a skills mismatch.

According to EY’s most recent business attractiveness survey, France remains Europe’s top FDI destination, ahead of the United Kingdom and Germany. Life sciences and e-commerce are the most promising business investment areas. Despite a significant drop in investment during the COVID-19 lockdown, France launched an economic recovery plan, France Relance, to assist business ventures. As a result, 74% of investors believe France’s attractiveness will improve in the coming years. The number of limited liability companies (LLCs) in France has been steadily increasing. Over 218,000 new companies were registered in 2020. With a significant movement called La French Tech, France’s current government has highlighted its support for start-ups. Its goal is to bring together start-ups, investors, policymakers, and community builders to attract global businesses to France. Its website features an interactive map that depicts the level of investment, start-up activity, and funding rounds in each French region.

Who Can Start A Business In France?

You must have a residence permit or be an EU citizen to start a business in France. A French address and a social security number are also required. Furthermore, you must be at least 18 years old. So, depending on your field of work, you may require qualifications or diplomas recognized by French authorities.

When establishing your own business in France, you should also look for professional advice from a French financial expert. Using a one-stop shop like Companow is one way to handle registration quickly and efficiently. The website of the Ministry of Economy also includes guidelines for foreigners who want to start a business in France, as well as links to the necessary forms.

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Legal Structures For French Businesses

It would help if you decided which business structure – and tax regime – is best for your company. So, you should contact your local Chamber of Commerce or a professional organization. Factors influencing your decision include whether you want to protect your personal assets and how you want your company to pay taxes. The main types of legal structures are listed below.

Micro-Entreprise

In principle, the micro-entreprise is a tax status rather than a business structure, and it is the simplest way for freelancers to set up their activity. Accounting obligations are limited; you do not charge VAT or claim business expenses. Because you and the business are one legal entity, your professional and personal assets merge. This status was previously called the auto-entreprise, which is still used in some cases.

Entrepreneur individuel à responsabilité limitée (EIRL)

The EIRL scheme grants sole trader status with limited liability. So, you can work under your or your company’s name. It is also quick and straightforward, and URSSAF, the French social security organization, provides an English step-by-step guide.

Entreprise Unipersonnelle A Responsabilité Limitée (EURL)

The EURL is another limited liability structure, similar to the SARL (see below), but for a single person and shareholder. This is a good starting point if you plan on hiring others soon. Because your personal and professional assets are distinct, you can charge expenses to your company. It is, however, a more complicated structure to set up, requires articles of association, and requires a registration fee. To commemorate the creation of the EURL, you must also publish a legal announcement, which costs €121 in mainland France. Depending on how much legal assistance you require, you can expect to pay anywhere between €400 and several thousand euros.

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SASU – Société Par Actions Simplifiée Unipersonnelle

SASU is a legal entity for sole proprietors with no maximum turnover. Your liability is limited to your contributions when establishing your business. You can then make it available to multiple shareholders. There is no required minimum capital, and you must pay corporate tax (impôt sur les sociétés). It’s also simple to hire employees and turn your SASU into a SAS (see below). However, just like the EURL, you must create articles of association and jump through some legal and administrative hoops. It would help if you also created monthly payslips for yourself. The total price can range between €225 and €1,500.

Société à Responsibilité Limitée (SARL)

The SARL, a natural progression from the EURL, is a limited liability company with two to 100 partners. The liability is limited to capital investment, and no minimum capital is required to establish a SARL. All associates have to sign the articles of association, and they can have more than one company head. The founding partners must approve new associates. Because access to share capital is limited, this structure is especially recommended for business projects between friends or family members. It is possible and common for a SARL to be converted into a SAS.

Société Par Actions Simplifiée (SAS)

When drafting the articles of association, associates with SAS status have more legal leeway. It functions similarly to a SASU (see above) but for group projects. This is a popular choice among start-ups due to its flexibility. Associates involved can be physical or moral entities, and they elect a president to oversee day-to-day operations. This status also provides associates with excellent social security coverage allocated.

How To Start A Business In France Being An Expat

The good news is that if you already have a legal residence in France, you will only need four days to start a business there. However, you will need to conduct market research, create budget forecasts and financial plans, and, if necessary, seek funding. You must also choose your legal status and register your business.

To make the process easier, you could contact a company specializing in international business formation, such as Companow. Furthermore, LegalPlace provides detailed information about forming a company based on your country of origin and business project.

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Obtaining A French Business Visa

An advanced French Tech Visa system has been established to encourage business creation and investment outside the EU. Employees, founders, and investors from start-ups are welcome. It does not require a diploma, automatically extends to immediate family members, and is valid for at least four years. This is a streamlined procedure for obtaining a French residence and work permit. However, it is only the most recent of many types of work visas available; each has its own requirements.

Choosing A Business Category In France

Businesses in France fall into one of four categories:

  • Commercial or industrial – For instance, running a shop, purchasing for resale, and providing rental services.
  • Trades/artisan – This includes manual labor, construction, manufacturing, and hairdressing services.
  • Independent or freelance professional – for those who work independently and offer an intellectual service
  • Agricultural

Each category in France has its registration center (Centre de Formalités des Entreprises or CFE) in each department.

Registering Your French Business

The first step, depending on the nature of your business, is to contact your CFE (registration centre):

Starting your business with the CFE may provide more personalized guidance and advice. Another option is to set up your business online through the government website Formalités d’entreprises (business formalities).

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Regulated And Unregulated Businesses In France

Whatever category your business falls into, you must determine whether your activity is unregulated (non-régleméntée) or regulated (réglementée). Copywriters, interpreters, musicians, and consultants are examples of unregulated activities. Lawyers, architects, hairdressers, medical professionals, builders, and even wine dealers are among the regulated professions. You must register with the relevant organization if your company is in a regulated profession. Before you can work, you may need to demonstrate that you have the necessary qualifications, experience, and insurance liability.

The list of regulated activities provided by the French government is not exhaustive. They recommend that you check with your local Chamber of Commerce or professional body to be sure.

Getting Siret, Siren, And APE Numbers

Once you’ve registered your company with the appropriate CFE, they’ll send you an official document known as Extrait Kbis to confirm the registration. This document will contain the Siret and Siren numbers that will identify your company to your customers and the authorities.

The Siren is made up of nine unique numbers for your company. The five digits of the NIC follow the Siren number. These numbers are used (for Numéro interne de classification – internal classification number) to form the Siret. The latter identifies your company’s geographical location. As a result, while your company’s Siren number remains constant, you receive a new Siret number whenever you change the company address. The Siret number must appear on all official documentation for your company, including invoices.

You will also be assigned an APE (Activite Principale de l’entreprise – primary business activity) or NAF code. This identifies your company’s main activity. These codes, which contain four digits and a letter, are used to categorize each business category in France.

Choosing Your Company Name

The National de la propriété Industrielle Institute allows you to check whether your desired name is already used by another company online and for free (INPI – National Institute of Industrial Property). To protect your company’s name or logo, you must register it with the INPI as a trademark (dépôt de marque). If you don’t, and someone else uses the same name or logo in the future, you won’t be able to keep it.

Before creating a website, check that the name you want is not taken through the AFNIC, the registry for “.fr” domain names.

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Documentation Needed To Register Your French Business

The documents required for registration will vary depending on the type of business. You will undoubtedly require the following:

  • Proof of address (such as a rental agreement or utility bill)
  • Valid ID (national travel ID, a valid passport, or residence card)
  • A social security card

You may also be asked to provide the following:

  • Articles of association that cover the fiscal, social, and legal regulations governing your business structure (this is applicable to businesses set up as SARL, EURL, SAS, or SA for example, but not for EIRLs or auto-entrepreneurs)
  • Proof of authorization linked to the intended use of the future business premises
  • Prior tax statements or other relevant financial documentation
  • A completed application for registration

Starting Up An Online Business In France

The process for starting an ecommerce business (boutique de vente en ligne) in France is similar to that described above. Whether you intend to offer services or sell goods online, you must still select a business category and legal status and register your company.

Setting up a micro-business is by far the simplest way to get started. You can remain competitive with potential clients because you do not have to include VAT in your pricing. Furthermore, your social security payments are proportional to the earnings you declare each trimester. So if there is no turnover, there are no expenses. It’s a great way to start a secondary source of income because you can be a micro-entrepreneur while working another job. The only thing to remember is that there is a maximum amount of revenue you can declare as a micro-entrepreneur before you must change your business status. The upper limit for online intellectual services is €72,600, and the upper limit for e-commerce sales is €176,200.

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Foreign Companies Are Opening Up A French Branch Or Subsidiary

There are several forms to choose from if you want to establish a foreign-owned company in France:

  • A non-commercial liaison office (bureau de liaison) can be a starting step that enables you to prospect in the French market without establishing a legal or fiscal entity. Such a structure can cover canvassing, advertising, information, storage, and any other preparatory and auxiliary activity. You must still contact the appropriate CFE (business registration center) to obtain Siret and Siren numbers for your venture.
  • A branch (succurasale) is a structure that does not have its legal entity or capital in France that is distinct from the parent company. It is, however, subject to French taxation. If the parent company’s home country and France do not have a bilateral agreement, profits will be taxed twice. The branch must be listed on the Registre du commerce et des sociĂ©tĂ©s (Trade and Companies Register). Furthermore, the articles of association of the parent company and the application to register the branch must be submitted to the Tribunal de commerce (commercial court).
  • Filiale – A subsidiary – this structure will be a separate legal entity with its assets and capital. As a result, the steps for establishing a subsidiary will be the same as described above.

Starting Up A Non-Profit Company In France

In France, establishing a non-profit or charity, known simply as an association, requires at least two people to be involved in the project. The steps are straightforward:

  • Choose a name for your organization after researching which names and acronyms are already in use.
  • Create the articles of association, which should include the functions of the various positions within the association as well as details such as membership contributions and procedures for excluding members.
  • You can register the organization through the e-crĂ©ation portal, but you will need a social security number to do so.
  • Open a different bank account for the non-profit; you only need to notify state financial services if your non-profit generates more than €72,432 per year. You will also be subject to the same accounting and administrative requirements as for-profit businesses.

Administrating Your French Business

When starting a business in France, seeking professional advice is always a good idea. An accountant (expert Comptable) can guide taxation, fees, the law, and any available rebates. Find an accountant through the Ordre des Expert-Comptables, your local Chamber of Commerce, or our Business Directory. Consult an expert Notaire through Notaires de France if you want to set up a limited company.

Some important considerations for business administration in France include:

  • Keep all receipts.
  • Keep on top of the paperwork.
  • Put money aside to pay social charges, tax, and VAT (if applicable).
  • Have a separate business bank account.
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Invoicing In France

All of your business invoices must include the following details:

  • Invoice date
  • The price minus any discounts
  • Description and date of the service or sale
  • Client name and address
  • The total amount without the VAT (Prix HT – hors tax), the VAT (TVA) or a clear mention that TVA is not charged, and the total sale price (TTC)
  • Company name, company form (e.g., SARL)
  • Siren number (RCS if applicable)
  • Registered address

Hiring Employees In France

In France, hiring workers is expensive. If you decide to hire people, keep in mind that you will have to pay social charges for your employees in addition to your company’s social charges. You must pay your employees a net salary plus 75% in employer and employee contributions.

In France, workers are well protected by labor law. Getting professional advice on employment contracts, working conditions, employment law, and the minimum wage is a good idea.

Support And Help When Starting Up A French Business

It is worth investigating whether specific assistance is available in France for you and your business. Here are some examples that may apply to your situation:

  • Women entrepreneurs – Action’elles, Les Premières, Wom’Energy, CIDFF, and Force Femmes are examples of support structures and networks. There are also specific business funding programs such as La Garantie ÉGALITÉ Femmes and beneficial loans through the RĂ©seau Initiative France.
  • Young entrepreneurs – You can apply for Ă©tudiant-entrepreneur status if you are under 28 and are still studying or have recently graduated. When you’ve finished your business plan, you present it to PĂ©pite, your local student-entrepreneur network. If your project is accepted, you will receive a co-working space, mentoring, and training to help you launch your business.
  • Economie sociale et solidaire (ESS) – France offers a variety of assistance and funding to assist and encourage emerging businesses with a social and solidarity component. Such organizations may be concerned with sustainable development, culture, assisting vulnerable populations, education, or international solidarity. If you want to include these objectives in your business, register it with the ESS. So, you can find a list of suitable grants and funding on les-aides.fr.
  • Business angels, microcredits, and crowdfunding are other options to help you get started.
  • Finally, depending on your industry or geographic location, you may be eligible for specific financial assistance.
  • Contact the RĂ©seau Entreprendre association for general assistance and advice. Furthermore, les-aides.fr is a national directory of business grants, loans, and other assistance.
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Corporate Social Responsibility In France

Contributing to sustainable development is one of the primary axes of CSR. CSR is corporate social responsibility (responsabilité sociale des entreprises, RSE). Below are some ideas to help you begin with a CSR strategy in your company:

  • Examine the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals to see which ones your company can help.
  • In France, CSR action can be linked to reducing gender inequality within the company, innovating to reduce energy usage in its services and products, fighting corruption in stakeholder relationships or improving human rights.
  • Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and Industry to conduct a business diagnostic and define clear and precise CSR objectives and personalized advice.
  • Visit impact.gouv.fr to share information about your company’s positive environmental, governance and social practices.
  • Join the Plateforme RSE. It is a national platform for global CSR action for more general business advice and recommendations.

Finding Office Space In France

Starting a business in France necessitates renting an office or commercial space. You can look for this online, including the Bureaux et Commerces (offices and businesses) section of leboncoin.fr.

Look for coworking spaces (Ă©spaces co-working) as an alternative. These are becoming increasingly popular throughout France as freelancing and remote working become more popular. Some communal spaces are free to use, but you can rent a desk or an entire office by the hour, day, week, or month.

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Business Training Courses In France

If you’re starting, whether you want to work in a manual trade, commercial services, or freelancer, one option is to enroll in a Preparation Course – SPI – Stage de Préparation à l’Installation. It is a training course which was required for artisans starting a new business, but now it covers essential topics for starting any small business in France. Administration, fiscal and legal statuses, social security contributions, and essential business management will all be covered. SPI courses cost around €200, last about 4-5 days on average, and result in a certificate. If you wish to take the course online, contact your CFE to sign up.

Educademy also offers more comprehensive state-funded business courses. Once your company is established, you can gain free access to such courses through your Compte Personnel de Formation (CPF). These are geared specifically toward auto-entrepreneurs and cover funding and support, accounting, and online marketing topics.

Useful Resources

  • Economie.gouv.fr – It is the Ministry of the Economy site with information needed to support businesses.
  • Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI). It includes instructions for starting a business as a foreigner in France and establishing a foreign company in the country of France.
  • La French Tech – It is the official website in France for the start-up scene.
  • FormalitĂ©s Entreprises – It is a one-stop shop for businesses to be modified, closed, and created.
  • INPI – Institut national de la propriĂ©tĂ© industrielle is an online guide to naming your company, branding it, protecting your intellectual property and designing a logo.
  • Les-aides.fr – It is the Chamber of Commerce and Industry platform with business grants, loans, and support structures listings, as well as a calendar of related events and contacts.