There are distinct, prescribed arrangements for business registration as a professional artist or author in France.
POSTSCRIPT Jan 2019 - Significant changes have been introduced commencing 2019, notably in relation to social security contributions and rights of affiliation, and we published an article in our Newsletter that sets out these changes.
In recent years the formalities of starting a business in France have become substantially easier and cheaper, mainly due to the creation in 2009 of the auto-entrepreneur business status, but also more general streamlining of the process.
Nevertheless, the general wave of entrepreneurial fervour that has swept over French officials has not entirely reached the registration process for becoming a professional artist or author, where there still remains a great deal of confusion and a number of bureaucratic obstacles.
A large part of the confusion is due to the fact that artists and authors retain their own social insurance agencies, unlike other self-employed businesses who have all become subsumed under the umbrella of the Regime Social des Independants (RSI).
The social insurance agency for artists is called the Maison des Artistes, while that for authors is called AGESSA.
Those who need to affiliate to MDA include painters, engravers, sculptors, graphic designers, potters, ceramists, while AGESSA is reserved for literary, scientific and dramatic writers, composers, photographers, filmmakers, animators, illustrators, translators, and software writers.
Strictly speaking, the former is restricted to those who create limited, individual pieces of work, while the latter to those whose income comes mainly from royalties. In practice, neither rule is strictly enforced and, although you will be expected to show photos of your work, the agencies do not normally undertake a detailed examination of your oeuvre.
The great advantage of affiliation to MDA or AGESSA is that you will pay a reduced rate of (circa) 15% in social security contributions on of net earnings, the lowest rate payable under any self-employed regime in France.
However, gaining access to this exclusive club is not automatic, for not only is entry restricted by the nature of your activities, but also by the level of your income.
Although as a start-up you need to registered with either body, unless you can demonstrate a minimum level of earnings you will not be affiliated, although this should give you health cover through the general health system (PUMA).
It is a peculiarity that is unlike any other business status in France, where no minimum level of earnings is required to obtain social insurance cover.
The minimum net annual income to obtain affiliation with MDA or AGESSA in 2012 is €8,289, a figure that is increased each year in line with the minimum wage.
If you are merely registered, then you will still be liable for social security contributions, at the rate of 15% of net earnings. If you do not generate an income, or your net result in the year is a loss, no contributions are payable.
Accordingly, if you are seeking to start up as an artist or author in France, a number of possible options present themselves:
- If you are already an established artist or author in your home country and you can produce proof of earnings this may suffice;
- Become registered and if you have S1 health certificate cover then continue to use this until you can affiliate, or it expires, whichever is the earlier;
- Become registered as part of which make application for health cover to the Protection universelle maladie (PUMA).
- If you cannot gain access to PUMA, take out private health insurance cover for the first year.
- Obtain health cover by setting up another (possibly related) business as an auto-entrepreneur, with the artist/author business as secondary activity.
Alternative Business Registration
If you are unable to register with either of MDA or AGESSA then you will face an additional wall of obscure acronyms.
Depending on the nature of your activity you will need to register either as an artisan through the Chambre des Metiers, or as a profession libérale through CIPAV (Caisse Interprofessionnelle de Prévoyance et d'Assurance Vieillesse) .
However, for start-ups the best bet is simply to register as an auto-entrepreneur through the social security contributions collections agency, URSSAF (Unions de recouvrement des cotisations de sécurité sociale et d'allocations familiales).
For those seeking affiliation to MDA or AGESSA, the actual process of business registration takes place through either your local Centre des Impôts or, since July 2012, URSSAF.
It is worth noting that once affiliated as an artist or author you are not required to maintain the minimum level of earnings each year to remain affiliated. Only if you have five successive years of earnings at less than half of this figure can you face removal from their register.