New rules 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, new French regulation has made it simpler for foreigners to set up a small business in France.
You may now 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 work through a portage salarial or join a workers’ co-operative instead.
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. However, you 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, 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. Taxes don’t apply 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 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 €82,200. If you’re offering services or a ‘professional’ (professions liberals), the threshold cannot exceed €32,900 a year. You can remain with the micro-entreprise scheme for as long as you don’t 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% 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 businesses are excluded from this status (e.g., estate agents, lawyers, finance companies, those who receive royalties). 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 must make a déclaration d’insaisissabilité that protects your home and other assets from being seized by creditors. 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 liability insurance called assurance responsabilité professionnelle. If you’re 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:
- Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie (CCI), if you want to set up a shop or a commercial company with no ‘craft, trades or artisan’ element.
- Chambre de Métiers et de l’Artisanat (CMA), for manual/trades and crafts people.
- URSSAF for the professions and intellectual services like translators or website designers
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 must send in a photocopy or upload a scan of your 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
If you want to set up a business as a tradesperson, you must undertake a four or five-day training course (stage de préalable à l’installation or SPI) from 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.
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 organization 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, nine-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. 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 also get an APE (Activite Principale de l’Entreprise) or NAF code that identifies the main activity of your business. Each business in France uses 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 the 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, just 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 freelancer 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 paperwork. You still find clients and agree on payment terms independently, but invoices and payments (with a payslip) are arranged via the portage company, under which you are an employee (salarié).
Essentially, an umbrella company employs you for the duration of your assignment, provides insurance, and invoices either the end client or your recruitment agency. As the role of your employer, your portage company deducts social charges for you. They then deduct their fee and pay you a net monthly income. You pay a fee of 7–10% of your total monthly invoices to the portage company.
Depending on your operational costs, you may be able to claim part of each invoice as expenses – unlike a micro-entreprise.
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 stop without notice. Typically, you only pay social charges on earned income. If work is scarce or you take a break, you stop paying social charges momentarily as well.
You must still pay your own income tax (Impôt sur le Revenue) via a Déclaration de revenus pré-remplie form. French tax authorities send this each spring. The income tax return is generally less thorough, however.
This system is suitable if you provide intellectual services such as writing, translating, telemarketing, business consulting, and IT.
For your clients or recruitment agency, the portage system is beneficial as it allows them to buy your services without having to commit to the responsibilities of employing staff. This also gives you the flexibility to have clients outside France.
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% of your earnings to the SCOP.
For more information, see SCOP.
- APCE is the French business start-up agency, with information on all aspects of setting a business in France from assessing the market to controlling growth.
- www.lautoentrepreneur.fr is the official portal for sole traders and small businesses where you can find information and advice as well as register, make declarations and pay online.
- Le Guide du Portage for in-depth information on the portage system.
- SCOP for information on workers’ co-operatives.
- Le syndicat des Professionnels de l’Emploi en Portage Salarial (PEPS) represents 90 percent of the portage salarial companies in France. You can find a local portage company through their site.