Self-Employment in France


There is so much talk about how hard it is to get a work permit for France. There is more to this that you should know.

It is indeed hard to get permission to be an EMPLOYEE in France if you are from outside the EU. It IS possible to get permission to be self-employed in France. I wish I had known this when I moved here.

With six children at home, I don’t have much time for entrepreneurial pursuits, but I do enjoy having a project. Also, the total cost of all the social charges are fixed at a low amount for the first two years of your self-employment. This turned out to be less than we were paying just for French medical insurance.

You can apply for permission to do this before you move to France, or you can do it after the move. I can’t comment on the experience of applying before you move. I applied after living here for almost three years.

As is often the case in France, there is a lot of French administrative paperwork involved. The main requirement is patience! The first step, officially, is to apply for a carte commerçant etranger at the Prefecture in your Department. This is a type of carte de sejour. You fill out the normal 4-page form, plus a questionnaire and a Dossier de Carte Commerçant Etranger. This amounts to 15 extra pages. You must provide your business plan, complete with anticipated detailed financial statements (somewhat different from American financial statements). I feel qualified to comment because I was a C.P.A. before becoming a physician.

I strongly recommend you take a short (or long) course through the Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce et de Industrie/CCI). I took a course all day for five days called “5 Jours Pour Entreprendre”. It would have been very difficult to complete the 15 pages of extra paperwork, otherwise.

The carte commerçant etranger essentially gives you permission to ask permission to start your own business. Once you get your carte commerçant etranger (usually 4 to 6 weeks after you apply), you have to apply for any special licenses or permits required for whatever particular business you propose to start. In my case, I was applying to sell brocante at some brocante fairs in the area. I was required to get 2 special licenses – one to sell “mobilier de occasion” (used furniture) and the other to be “ambulante” (sell from other than a fixed location). Selling from a fixed location is called “sedentary”. There is a special office in the Prefecture that handles these special licenses.

Once you have applied for your licenses, then it is time to call the C.F.E. (Centre de Formation de Entreprises) for an appointment. Your license paperwork (provisional) will be sent to the C.F.E., and must be received by them before you can have your appointment.

For your appointment with the C.F.E., you must choose which legal form your business will have – Entreprise Individual (sole-proprietor), EURL (limited liability one person), SARL (limited liability more than one person). For the EURL or the SARL, you must deposit an amount of money equal to the amount your liability will be limited – a minimum of 7,500 euros. You can’t use this money for your business.

You must bring a list of papers with you the the C.F.E. meeting, including an official copy of your marriage license that has been issued within the past 3 months. It doesn’t matter how long you have been married. If you have an official copy obtained even one day more than 3 months earlier, they will make you get another copy. It is best to learn not to ask questions for these things – just do what they say without getting all mad and frustrated. If you are divorced or widowed, you must equally supply official documentation for that, too.

You will leave the C.F.E. appointment with provisional papers allowing you to start your business. A week or two later, you will receive by mail your “Kbis”. This is important paperwork proving your business is registered. The banks, insurance companies, etc. will all want a copy of it.


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