One of the most popular approaches to setting up a business in France is as a micro-entreprise or auto-entrepreneur.
Their popularity is generally because the formalities of business registration are easy to accomplish and the tax and accounting rules are less painful than other forms of business status.
Since 2016, for new business-start-ups these two business statutes have been merged, and they are now referred to officially as micro-entrepreneur.
What then is a micro-entrepreneur? We can distinguish a number of key characteristics.
First, a micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur is not a legal business structure – it is a specific tax status that benefits from simple tax and accounting rules.
It is only available to someone who is self-employed as an Entreprise individuelle (EI). That is to say, someone running the business as a sole trader, not through a limited company.
So, if someone says to you they have micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur status, what they mean is they are actually an Entreprise Individuelle (EI) that has chosen to be taxed as a micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur, rather than being taxed under the other main form of business taxation, called the regime réel.
We examine the differences between the micro-entrepreneur tax regime and that of the regime réel in later pages.
There is no minimum level of social security contributions payable, in the same manner as occurs with other business statutes.
You pay your social insurance as you go, based on sales, and if you do not have any sales in a particular period (month or quarter) then you will pay none for that period.
However, 'sales', does not necessarily mean 'cash receipts' and it does not mean 'profits', so do not be misled by the terminology.
Only if you declare no turnover for a period of two years do you lose the status.
A micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur is not required to keep any books of accounting, other than a day-book giving details of income received, although commercants (traders) are also required to keep a book registering their expenditure.
This simple accounting rules is often cited as one of the main advantages of running the business as a micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur, as there is no need to employ an accountant. That said, the use of an accountant is never compulsory; you can do it yourself if you feel you are competent enough to do so.
The third important characteristic is that micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur tax status is only available if the business does not exceed certain turnover (sales) limits.
These turnover limits depend on the type of business activity you pursue.
In this respect the rules make a (rather bizarre!) distinction between those whose business activity is 'service' or ‘professional’ based, and those main activity is 'sales'.
The figures below are those for 2016.
In the first year of business the turnover limits are applied pro-rata to the length of time the business has been in operation. Be careful on this point, as it is often overlooked by new business start-ups.
Nevertheless, some limited tolerance is permitted in exceeding the limits, even in a full year, which you are able to to so for two years.
If the business does both types of activities (service and sales) then it can still be classified as a micro provided total revenues do not exceed €82,200, and the specific service based activity does not exceed €32,900 a year.
This is notably the case with those in the building trades, where the sale of building materials receives the upper limit, whilst the building construction activity itself is restricted to the lower rate.
A business adopting the tax status of micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur cannot charge VAT on their goods or services, and neither can they recover VAT paid on purchases.
If you wish to charge VAT you cannot adopt micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur tax status.
Finally, certain types of business are excluded from micro-entreprise/auto-entrepreneur status.
They include those who buy and sell property on a professional basis, estate agents, developers, finance companies and hire companies, with certain other limits on artists, writers, scientific and sports based activities.
You need to check with your accountant, or your local Chambre de Commerce/Metiers, on the full list.
In addition, the letting of unfurnished accommodation is taxed under rules of revenus fonciers, which you can read about in our pages on Letting Property in France.
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