Starting a Business in France
By Maria Thermann

Starting a Business in France

Starting a new life in France needn't be complicated, as there are many things that can be done while you are still living in your own country. English-speaking estate agents are always willing to help with advice and information, helping you through the complex process of buying an affordable property in France. If you are hoping to start a business in France, the French government has already started to make the process faster and easier by putting information online. Starting a business in France takes between 5 and 7 days, so is not a drawn-out process, provided you get the basics right.

Types of Business Registrations

It is important to note that not all businesses have to follow the same process of registration. In France registration will depend on the nature of your business. For example, some types of business must be registered at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. These are mainly sole proprietorships that are not involved in crafts or creative arts.

Artisans and companies that involve crafts must register at the Chamber of Trade, while commercial agents and professionals must register at the Registry of Commerce. This can now be done online at (English-language site).

What type of corporate entities are there in France?

The most common types of business entities are:

  • sole proprietorship (Entreprise Individuelle), usually chosen by artisans and sole traders, but this type of company foundation comes with full liability for any potential debts;
  • sole proprietorship with limited responsibility for liabilities (EIRL or Enterprise Individuelle à Responsibilité Limitée);
  • commercial partnership (Societé en Nom Collectif or SNC);
  • limited liability company (Societé à Responsabilité Limitée or SARL);
  • French joint stock company (Societé Anonyme or SA);
  • simplified stock corporation ( Societé par Actions Simplifée or SAS).

Sole traders or proprietors do not need to invest any capital to register their company.

The SA set-up, or joint stock company, tends to be more burdened by administrative requirements. It requires 7 shareholders to set up the company. Shares can be traded on the stock exchange. The risk to investors is the amount initially paid in.

The SARL set-up of a company is very similar to the LLC in the USA or forming a private company limited by shareholding in Britain. The requirement is for the SARL to be established by 2 to 50 shareholders and the company must have a nominated director, who often receives a salary.

To set up a simplified stock corporation or SAS takes a minimum of two share holders. The company's shares cannot be publicly traded.

Setting up a company such as a SARL for example requires several documents:

  • Articles of Incorporation, which all concerned in the set-up of the business must sign in the month prior to registering your company
  • Notice of company formation, published online in a legal gazette and
  • Proof of address for your business

These documents must be taken, together with the named director's proof of identity, to the local "Centre de Formalités des Entreprises", or CFE. However, some of this process has now been simplified by being put online: The site is at the time of writing only available in French. Registration of your company may cost around 300.00 euros.

If your application is accepted, you will receive a receipt. This allows you to open a bank account for your business, and you can make other preparations for your business. However, at this point you will not be allowed to trade.

The CFE will pass on your application details to all relevant authorities. Once your registration process is complete, you will be sent a certificate. At this point you are free to trade.

Company Registration Numbers

Any newly registered business is given a company registration number, or SIRET. This number has 14 digits, which also contain the company's SIREN number. SIREN comprises of the first 9 digits of the SIRET number. Any business registering will also be given an APE code, a 5-digit number that identifies the business activity.

In addition, companies may have to register for VAT, depending on their type of business activity and volume of trading. At the time of writing, the standard VAT rate in France is 20%.

If you do not speak French and want to avoid paying a translator, you can simply hire a law firm to set up the company for you. This will cost more, but avoid pitfalls and speed up the process of your application.

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