Guide to Starting a Business in France

4. Business Activities and Professions in France

  1. Business Professions
  2. Regulated Activities
  3. Artisan Business Activities
  4. Profession Libérale Business Activities

4.1. Business Professions/Activities

Given the French obsession with wanting to classify and regulate just about everything, it may not surprise you to learn that there is a system of classification and registration in place for all business activities.

The registration process, laws and tax regime that apply will depend on the type of business you enter.

The system of classification is somewhat archaic, and it is not clear that it serves any major purpose in a modern economy, other than to provide employment for those who administer the system!

Normally, you should be able to slot your proposed business into one of the business categories, but they can sometimes overlap.

If this occurs, there may be some discretion available to you to determine into which business profession you fall, and with which regulatory body you then need to register the business.

If you have more than one business activity, then things can get a bit complicated, depending on whether or not it is a related activity. The authorities do have a set of rules to determine on what basis your activities should be registered and to whom you should pay your social security contributions.

As a general rule, you should decide your principal business activity and register on this basis. Your other business can normally be registered as a secondary activity. You will then pay social charges on your income from both activities to your main social security Caisse.

The other alternative is to set up a limited company and undertake the multiple activities through the auspices of this legal vehicle.

If you undertake a secondary activity, your biggest consideration may well be your professional and civil liability insurance. Public liability and/or professional indemnity insurance is not obligatory for all business activities, but if you do need it you may well find that your insurer is unwilling to grant you cover for the related trade/profession, or will only do so at extra cost.

For the purposes of business registration and taxation all business activities are classified into six main professions.

If you are in any doubt as to into which category you fall then you should ask at your local Chambre de Commerce, or at the Chambre de Metiers for trade based activities.

The business professions are as follows:

4.1.1. Trade - Artisan

This group of business activities includes what is generally understood as one of building trades (builder, plumber, electrician) and a wide variety or other manual based professions, e.g. mechanic, hairdresser.

However, it also include manufacturing activities, food processing and certain services.

We cover these activities in more detail in section 4.3

4.1.2. Professional - Profession Libérale

The range of business activities undertaken by those who are in one of the liberal professions are so varied that it is almost easier to say what they are not then to define what they do.

Broadly speaking, there are four main categories of profession libérale, which are freelance or private practice occupations:

  • Legal
  • Medical/Para Medical
  • 'Technical'
  • Artistic/Teaching

We cover these activities in more detail in section 4.4.

4.1.3. Commercial and Industrial

Within this category sits most other business activities of a commercial or industrial nature. Thus, running a shop, café, hotel, restaurant, factory, or otherwise engaged in an occupation that is predominantly commercial or industrial.

This list includes within it the letting of furnished accommodation, although not unfurnished accommodation, which is not considered to be a business profession. You can read more about letting of accommodation in France in our Guide to Letting Property in France.

4.1.4. Commercial Agent - L’agent commercial

Acting as a representative for another company in the negotiation for the sale, purchase or letting of contracts for goods or services.

4.1.5. Agriculture

Farming related occupations, which covers direct farming, as well as related and support activities.

4.1.6. Artists/Authors

If you are in one of the artistic professions (painter, sculptor etc) then you will to contact with La Maison Des Artistes, whilst authors will need to make contact with AGESSA. We wrote an article in our Newsletter concerning affiliation to one of these insurance regimes, which you can read at Becoming An Artist or Author in France.

Next: Regulated Activities

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