Becoming a freelance or self-employed worker in France

Becoming a freelance or self-employed worker in France

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New rules came into force in January 2015 for freelancers and small businesses, making it easier to set up as a self-employed or freelance worker in France.

If searching for a job in France is not something you would like to do and you are thinking of setting up as a freelance or self-employed worker, new French regulation has made it simplier for foreigners to set up a small business in France. As from January 2015 under a new law you will be able to set up a small business or be self-employed or freelance in France under a new micro-entreprise regime, which merges the old auto-entrepreneur and micro-entreprise systems. Some freelancers can also choose to work through a system called portage salarial or join a workers’ co-operative instead of setting up their own business.

Becoming a French micro-entreprise

It is quite easy to register and run your business as a micro-entreprise. It has simplified tax and accounting requirements and you pay your taxes and social charges online. Are you Looking for a Job
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However, you will pay tax and social charges on any expenses that you invoice so if you are likely to incur substantial costs of this nature, then you should investigate other business set-ups.

Details of the new law, known as the Loi Pinel, after Sylvia Pinel, the minister who proposed the changes, are still emerging so check for any new updates.

Working as a micro-entreprise (previously micro-entreprise or auto-entrepreneur) is not a legal business structure but a tax status. The legal structure is an Entreprise Individuelle (EI) that is someone running a business as a sole trader rather than as a limited company. You can’t be taxed under this system if you set up a EURL or SARL. For more information on these forms of business structure, see our guide to setting up a business in France.

To find out about taxation and other charges for small businesses and freelancers, see Expatica's guide to taxation and social charges when setting up a business in France.

Who can work under the new micro-entreprise regime?

You can set up your business under the micro-entreprise or auto-entrepreneur regime if your turnover is below certain thresholds. If your business involves buying and re-selling goods or materials, or setting up a restaurant or bar or furnished accommodation, the threshold is under EUR 82,200. If you’re offering services or a ‘professional’ (professions liberals), the threshold cannot exceed EUR 32,900 a year. You can remain with the micro-entreprise scheme for as long as you wish you do not exceed the thresholds over a two-year period. If you do, then you have to change to the standard business structure (see setting up a business in France). Under the new law there will be optional support once you reach 50 percent of the turnover ceiling to help you decide whether it would be advisable for you to change to a different business structure.

Some types of business are excluded from this status – such as estate agents, lawyers and finance companies – and those who receive royalties, like authors. Check with your local Chambres du Commerce et de l'Industrie (CCI) or Chambres de Métiers et de l’Artisanat (CMA).

Liability and insurance for freelancers

You have unlimited liability so you will need to make a déclaration d’insaisissabilité which will protect your home and other assets from being seized by creditors if you got into financial difficulties. There is also the EIRL scheme, which provides sole trader status with a form of limited liability. For more information, see www.eirl.fr

All businesses in France need to have a liability insurance called assurance responsabilité professionnelle. If you’re going to be working in the building trade then you’ll need to take out assurance décennal which is a 10-year warranty and you have to put information about the insurance on your invoices.

How to register as self-employed in France

You can register your business in three ways:

1. You can visit the appropriate Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE). There are different CFE for each type of business activity so find the right one for your business. For example:


To find the correct CFE for your type of business, click on this list.

2. Send in this form to the appropriate CFE.

3. Online, here, through a series of forms on the official portal for auto-entrepreneurs.

You’ll need to take in or send in a photocopy or upload a scan of your official ID or passport when you register. You may also have to prove that you have professional insurance for example, the assurance décennale for builders.

If your business is a trade then you also need to register with the Répertoire des Métiers (RM) using this form. If you will be selling goods, you must declare your business to the Registre Spécial des Agents Commerciaux (RSAC) through the Greffe de tribunal de commerce using this form.

Mandatory business administration course

As from January 2015, if you want to set up a business as a trades person (artisan), you will be required to undertake a four or five-day training course (stage de préalable à l'installation or SPI) organised by the Chambres de Métiers et de l’Artisanat in order to learn about different aspects of running your own business. There are similar optional courses available to those setting up commercial and industrial businesses. You have to pay for this training – check with your Chamber.

Regulated businesses

Some occupations are regulated in France, including accountants, vets, hairdressers, builders and even wine dealers. If your business is one of these regulated professions, you will have to be registered with the appropriate organisation and may need to prove that you have the right qualifications, experience and insurance liability before you can work.

Find out if the business you want to set up is regulated here via the APCE website  – just click on the appropriate letter of the alphabet to find the sector you need.

SIREN, SIRET and APE numbers

After you have registered and your declaration has been processed, you will be sent a unique, 9-digit identification SIREN number. This official business number is proof that your business is registered and will be used by all government and official agencies when referring to your company.

You’ll also get a SIRET number that consists of a SIREN number plus a five digit number identifying the location of your business. Tip: if you want to find out more about your competitors, you can key in your competitors’ SIREN numbers here to discover when they set up their business, how many employees they have and, if they’re a limited company, financial information such as turnover, profit and loss – it can be a useful research tool.

You will also have an APE (Activite Principale de l'Entreprise) or NAF code which identifies the main activity of your business. Each business in France is categorised using these codes, which consist of four digits and a letter.

Preparing invoices (factures) in France

A devis is an estimate and a facture is an invoice. You must include the following information on your invoices in France:

  • Date of invoice.
  • Date of service or sale.
  • Description of service or sale.
  • Price, any discounts.
  • Total amount.
  • You cannot charge VAT (TVA) so all invoices must include the words 'TVA non applicable, article 293 B du CGI'.
  • Client name and address.
  • Your company name and if relevant, your professional qualifications.
  • SIREN number.
  • If a tradesperson, then details of the mandatory 10-year insurance (dates of validity, geographical area, insurer).


Legal payment terms are 30 days from the receipt of the goods or service.

Closing your business

If you want to stop trading all you need do is complete the online form available here at the official portal for auto-entrepreneurs.

Freelance work through a portage salarial

It is possible to work legally in France as a freelance or independent contractor in some fields – typically consultancy type jobs – without registering as a business but by working through a portage salarial. Under this system, you sign a contract with a portage company (an umbrella company), who in effect becomes your employer and handles most of the bureaucratic paperwork associated with self-employment in France. You still find your own clients and agree payment terms in an independent freelance role but your invoices and payment (with a payslip) are arranged via the portage company, under which you are classed as an employee (salarié).

Essentially, an umbrella company employs you for the duration of your assignment with a client, declares you as a worker in France, provides insurance and invoices either the end client or your recruitment agency for your services. As the role of your employer, your portage company takes into account any expenses, deducts social charges and pays these to the appropriate French authorities. They then deduct their fee and subsequently pay you a net monthly income. You pay a fee of between 7 and 10 percent of your total monthly invoices to the portage company.

Depending on your type of work activity and the operational costs involved, you may be able to claim a certain amount of each invoice as expenses – unlike a micro-entreprise – for example, transport costs to meet clients or internet fees.

Similar to traditional employment, because you pay social charges you are entitled to the same healthcare, unemployment and retirement benefits as any other employee in France.

You don’t have set working hours and can usually stop without giving notice. You will typically only pay social charges on earned income, so if work is scare or you take a break, you will stop paying social charges momentarily as well.

You must still make a tax declaration each year and pay your own income tax (Impôt sur le Revenue) via a Déclaration de revenus pré-remplie form, which will be sent to you each spring, although the income tax return is generally less detailed than that of a self-employed person.

This system is suitable if you’ll be working in a job providing intellectual services such as writing or editorial, translating, tele-marketing, web design, business consulting and IT, either working remotely at home or based in an office.

For your clients or recruitment agency, the portage system is beneficial as it allows them to buy your services on an 'as needed' basis without having to commit to the typical employer obligations or responsibilities associated with employing staff, such as making payments to URSSAF or establishing an office in France. This can give you more flexibility to carry out work for clients based outside of France who might not wish to become involved in the French employment system.

Self-employed workers’ co-operative (SCOP)

Another alternative to setting up a business for freelancers is to join a workers’ co-operative or société cooperative et participative (SCOP). These work along similar lines as portage companies. You sign a contract with the SCOP, and they will do your accounting, give you payslips and chase late payers. You pay around 10 percent of your earnings to the SCOP.

For more information, see SCOP.

Useful addresses

 

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6 Comments To This Article

  • John posted:

    on 27th July 2016, 11:30:18 - Reply

    This article is very informative to start a small business or become self employed. Its not just about France wherever you are you can start your own work. We need almost same things to become freelancer such as strong portfolio, a website and digital signatures to sign documents online with the client. It is important for safety reasons.

  • Sandra posted:

    on 31st March 2016, 16:08:10 - Reply

    Great article. How do you open a business bank account once you have the SIREN number? What are the deductible expenses (is there a list online, somewhere)? How do you report accounts and pay corporation tax? Thanks!

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Julia posted:

    on 25th February 2016, 17:43:55 - Reply

    Thanks so much for the tips about what to put on French invoices. The note regarding TVA was exactly what I was looking for and hadn't found it so clearly explained anywhere else. Thanks!
  • Me posted:

    on 15th December 2015, 22:23:23 - Reply

    What if I moved there and filed inventions, starting a business with them? what would I be a 5 year citizen? What kind of rights come with this situation?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • James posted:

    on 8th December 2015, 09:41:59 - Reply

    'new French regulation has made it simplier for foreigners to set up a small business in France'
    As a foreigner in France and and autoentrepreneur since 2013, I can assure you the new system is much harder to join and operate.
  • TheDude posted:

    on 17th October 2015, 16:48:53 - Reply

    Very interesting article, though for keep it updated the CFE list changed. I believe that the new link is http://www.insee.fr/fr/service/default.asp?page=entreprises/sirene/liste-CFE.htm