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Employment and Business Start Ups

France - Self-Employment and Business Start Ups


All businesses in France need to have a legal structure. The business must be registered as an individual or as a corporation. Many people will be working for themselves and will be registered as self-employed (enterprise individuelle), some will be registered as a limited liability single shareholder corporation (enterprise unipersonelle à responsibilité limitée)and others will be limited liability corporations with more than one shareholder. These may be referred to as a ‘société anonyme’, ‘société par actions simplifiée’ or a ‘société à responsibilité limitée’.

Businesses need to be registered with the CFE (centre de formalités des entreprises). There are offices in every locality and there are different departments depending upon the type of business that you are starting. For example, if you are opening a shop or other commercial enterprise that has no ‘artisan’ type output you will go to the ‘Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie’. Artisans and other tradespeople where the business is considered to be a craft will go to the ‘Chambre de Métiers et de l’Artisan’. Those in an agricultural industry will go to the ‘Chambre d’Agriculture and professionals, whether regulated or not, will go to the ‘URSSAF’. There are several other departments which cover different enterprises and the CFE has a website with a search facility which can help you to determine which office you should visit to register your business.

The application for business registration will be distributed by the CFE to all the different departments which need it. This includes the INSEE department which places the business on the national list of businesses and gives the business its own SIRET number, SIREN number and an APE number, the tax department, the department of social security and other departments too, depending upon the type of business.

The SIREN number is a business reference number. This is set out as three groups of three digits. The SIRET number is made up from the SIREN number and an additional NIC code of 5 digits and is used to identify the establishment. A company may have more than one SIRET number. The APE number is also known as NAF and gives details of the type of business that has been registered. It consists of four digits and one letter. In addition a business will be given a VAT number (numéro de TVA intracommunautaire).

Establishing a business as a sole trader does not cost a great deal of money and does not take up very much time. This type of business means that the trader is responsible for any debts that the company establishes. There is no business name with this type of company as a person will need to trade under their own name but for marketing purposes you can use a business name as well. To establish this type of business you will need to send a number of documents to the CFE. This includes the application form, proof of address, proof of ID and proof that you comply with the regulations of any regulatory body. You should take the documents to the CFE office and you will be given a receipt. The receipt will allow you to set the business up with utilities if need be. After a processing time of up to 10 days you can officially open your business.

There is now the auto-entrepreneur scheme for those who are self employed or running a small business. Social charges used to be a fixed percentage of the turnover of a business. This newer system allows a small percentage of actual turnover to be charged for social charges and to cover income tax too. The scheme also allows for a reduction in the amount of paperwork that needs to be completed by a small business. A wide variety of commercial enterprises and service providers can opt to be an ‘auto-entrepreneur’. A commercial enterprise will need to pay 13% of their actual turnover while a service provider can pay 23%. There is a limit on annual turnover as there is no requirement to register for VAT. This is a good option for those who are looking to work from home as charges are not applicable until the business begins to make money. Existing businesses are not able to register as an auto-entrepreneur as the scheme is for new businesses only. Registration can be done via the auto-entrepreneur website with all the information that you need and the relevant forms.

A limited company owned by an individual or several shareholders will need to establish if the activity is a regulated one. If this is the case then licences and liability insurance will need to be set up at the same time. The CFE has a list of regulated professions on its website. A managing director will need to be established and the ‘statuts’ of the business need to be written. Advice is needed in case the ‘statuts’ which have been adopted have tax implications. An accountant or notary should be able to give advice in this instance. With the application form you will need to send a certificate of domicile for the business. Company details will need to be published in a legal gazette to inform others of the establishment of the business. Two copies of the statutes will need to be submitted to the CFE along with proof of ID for the managing director. The business is open as soon as the documents are submitted.

Finding a registered accountant in France is fairly easy. Accountants are ‘experts comptables’ and most will be able to meet with you free of charge before you decide to take your business to them. In this time you can establish their credentials and accreditations.


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