Guide to Starting a Business in France

3. Getting Advice

It is not the intention of these pages to give out advice about whether or not to set up a particular type of business in France, and even less on how to run one.

We think you are the best person to decide those questions, in collaboration with your professional advisors.

Nevertheless, one thing we are certain about is the importance of getting good advice, and to get plenty of it, from different people. The stories are legion of expatriates who have jumped in recklessly, only to later regret it.

We appreciate language is going to be a barrier for some people, but many of the advisors speak English and, if they do not, take someone to translate for you.

Accordingly, we provide below summary information on the main sources of advice that you will find in France.

i. Accountant

The first and most important visit needs to be to a good, commercially orientated accountant.

An accountant is called an expert comptable.

Most have a good understanding of business law, the business climate and taxation matters – as well as providing accountancy advice!

Nevertheless, you need to determine the choice of your accountant on the basis of your requirements. Is the priority taxation advice, advice on setting up the business, or commercial advice? Not doubt many will be seeking comprehensive advice on all of these matters, but not all French accountants are able to offer such a service, so you need to choose with care.

Ask around in the area as to the best accountants and visit a few before you decide on the one you wish to use.

Most will be prepared to provide you with an hour or so of free advice, in the hope of picking up your business account.

ii. Notaire/Avocat

If you are proposing to establish a limited company to run the business then you should visit a good notaire who should be able to provide useful advice and assistance on setting up a company, notably in relation to the legal aspects, business registration and business tenancies.

The preliminary advice is likely to be given free of charge.

Some notaires are not active in business creation and development, so you may need to look around.

If your circumstances are complex or, particularly if you are buying an existing business, then as an alternative to a notaire you may wish to see an avocat specialising in commercial matters. The fees are unlikely to be a trifling matter so ask them about their rates.

iii. Chambre de Commerce

A third source of advice is your local Chambre de Commerce/Metier/Agriculture. The chambres are important statutory bodies in France with a major role in business registration and development.

As they do have a semi-regulatory function you may need to be a bit cautious about what you tell them, but if you can find your way around their organisation, they can provide you with invaluable information about the local market, regulations, tax and social security matters.

iv. ‘NACRE’

You can get free business advice, plus an interest free loan, through a national network business start-up scheme called 'NACRE' (Nouvel accompagnement pour la création et la reprise d’entreprise).

The assistance is available mainly to the unemployed, those on social security, or those being made redundant. You can register as unemployed when you arrive in France, without the right to pick up social security benefits. Once you have been on the unemployment register for six months, you become entitled to assistance under NACRE.

An interest free loan is also available as part of the service, for a sum up to €10,000, for a period up to 5 years. You will need to demonstrate that you have found other complementary financial assistance of an equivalent amount and duration from your bank (or other source) in order to be eligible for the loan.

If you believe you may be eligible you should make enquiries to the Direction régionale des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l'emploi (Direccte) (!) in your préfecture.

v. Business Start-Up Agency

The national business start-up agency in France is called Bpifrance Création.

They have a good website and offices around the country.

vi. ‘Boutiques de Gestion’

This is another national business start-up agency who have available a list of business advisors all over the country. They also run a range of useful training courses, many of which you can attend free of charge, or at minimum cost.

Whilst their web site is less useful for business advice it contains the list of local advisors.

The site can be found at Boutiques de Gestion.

vii. Trade Association/Professional Body

We also suggest you contact the national trade association or professional body responsible for the business activity in which you intend to operate.

Whatever type of business you propose to enter you are sure to find in France a national representative body that can provide useful information.

viii. Market Research Consultants

A couple of sources of high quality market research for the serious entrepreneur ar Euromonitor and Xerfi.

The former is written in English, the latter in French.

Their reports cost anything from €500 to €5000!

ix. Forums

Apart from the professional sources of advice listed, if you have not already done so, we also suggest you try one of the many expat Forums available on the web.

Your circumstances and queries are unlikely to be unique, so learn from the experience of others.

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