Once you have decided to start a business, then you need to register the new business with the authorities.
If you are not proposing to set up a separate company then the registration process is very easy and cheap, as you merely need to go along to your local business registration centre to do so.
If you are setting up as an auto-entrepreneur then for some professions it is possible to do so on the on-line, although as you need to submit documentary evidence, this is probably best done in person. You would also do well to acquaint yourself with your local business registration centre.
Things are a bit more expensive and complicated if you want to create a limited company, such as an EURL or SARL. In this case you need to proceed through a good accountant, notaire or avocat who should be able to advise you on the most appropriate structure, and complete the formalities for you.
They will probably charge you circa €1000-€1500 for the pleasure of setting up the company for you.
If you know your way around, or you can get some informal help, then you can actually do it yourself, by purchasing and completing the pre-printed documents from APCE, the French business start-up agency! The total cost should be circa €250.
Under French law, business registration must be carried out before you begin to trade.
The registration of a new business is carried out at a business registration centre, called a Centre des Formalités des Entreprises (CFE).
The CFE acts as a clearing-house for the statutory bodies who need to be made aware of your new business, notably the tax authority and social security organisations.
Your application will also be forwarded to the French commercial court, called the 'Greffe', who will check that you do not have any criminal convictions that prevent you from starting a business.
There are different types of CFE, depending on your proposed business activity. There are offices located in most départements, although some are being regionalised as part of a rationalisation of the structure. Inevitably, this can make obtaining access to the CFE sometimes difficult to organise, so if the main office is not located nearby, give them a ring to establish if a local surgery or branch office is available for you to visit.
Table: Business Registration Centres in France
|Business Activity||Centre des Formalités|
|Commercial||Chambre de Commerce et d’industrie|
|Trad||Chambre de Metiers et Artisans|
You will find location details of each of these bodies in your local telephone directory.
URSSAF is the L'Union de Recouvrement des cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d'Allocations Familiales, the main social security collections agency, which has offices in each county. It will be similarly listed in the directory. It undertakes business registration as one of its related activities.
You will need to advise the CFE whether or not you wish to be TVA registered, but if you later feel you have made the wrong choice, you still have three months in which you may change your mind.
The process is fairly straightforward and the cost of registration should not be more than €150. In the case of those registering with URSAAF as one of the professions liberales there is no registration charge.
When you visit the CFE you will need to take your passport, birth and marriage certificates with you. You should also take a utility bill as evidence of your address and certificates of your qualifications, if needed.
Your spouse is also required to sign a declaration that s/he has been made aware of any debts being incurred against assets jointly held.
EU nationals need no residence or work permit to establish a business in France, although this rule is yet to apply universally to the new accession countries who joined the EU in May 05.
Non-EU nationals will need to apply for a residence permit - visa de long séjour - that will include on it the nature of the business activity to be undertaken. The application process is best started at the local French consulate in the country where you reside.
If you are a non-EU national already resident in France with a visa that does not grant authorisation to run a business, and you wish to start one, then you need to make application to your local préfecture.
The CFE will process all necessary documentation for notifying the relevant statutory bodies. You will be provided with a receipt (Récépissé de Dépôt de Création d'Entreprise - RDCE) confirming your application.
You will receive confirmation of your registration within two weeks. The confirmation will be in the form of a document called an extrait K for sole trader or a extrait Kbis for companies. The document may be best described as your official business identity card.
All of those starting as an artisan may be required to attend (and pay for) a four-day training course about running a business at the Chambre de Metiers before they can start their business. Most regions will run the course in English, although on a less frequent basis than the regular course in French. If not, you should be permitted access to the French one!! There are non–obligatory courses available to others.
As a new business you will be given a business registration number comprising 14 digits in total, known as your SIRET.
The first 9 numbers are your SIRENE, which is your registration number on the national business register.
The last 5 digits are your NIC (Numéro Interne de Classement), which identifies the business geographically.
In addition, and separately from your SIRET, you will also be given a 5 figure code which identifies your business activity. Since 2008 this code is called the APE (Activité Principale Exercée). It used to be called the NAF - Nomenclature des Activités Françaises.
There are hundreds of different business activity codes, a complete list of which is contained on the site of the French national statistical agency INSEE.
If you need to register the domain name of an internet site you intend to develop then you need to register the site with AFNIC, the French domain name registration agency.
If you need to register a patent, protect a name or intellectual process then you need to contact INPI, the French patents agency.
If you decide to terminate the business, then you need to go along to the Centre des Formalités des Enterprises (CFE), or send them a letter/e-mail, advising of the date your business ceased trading.
The CFE will then notify the various social security agencies, but you would be well advised to also drop them a line yourself as there is often administrative delays and errors.
Similarly, within 60 days of ceasing trading you should also notify your Centre d'Impôts, to whom you should also supply trading information to enable them to calculate your tax liability. This practice is variously operated across the country, with some offices prepared to await the normal submission of your annual income tax return. You need to ask.
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