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Business in France

Starting a Business in France after Brexit

Tuesday 04 May 2021

British nationals who wish to start a business in France after Brexit now need a business visa.

Since Brexit in January 2021 a visa is required to visit or stay in France for longer than 3 months.

The visa normally issued is a carte de sejour ‘visiteur', which grants no right to run a business. Indeed, the visa specifically states that no professional activity can be undertaken.

To start a business in France after Brexit requires either that you:

  • Apply for a business visa at the time you relocate, or that;
  • You obtain access to France on a visitor visa, and later make application to change your visa status.

Prior to relocation the application is made on-line at France Visas and after relocation to your local prefecture.

The visa required is called a carte de séjour temporaire 'entrepreneur/profession libérale'. The cost is €225.

It is necessary whatever type of business activity you are proposing to undertake. It does not include salaried activity, for which there is a different visa.

Expats who have a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement visa (WARP) have no need to apply for a business visa, as they are automatically entitled to start a a business in France.

Similarly, although many expats let out gite accommodation as a business activity, in most cases there is no need for a business visa as it is regarded as investment income - revenus du patrimoine. You can read more at Business Registration as a Landlord.

Application Process

The authorities do not make the process of obtaining a business visa particularly easy, as applicants need to produce a business plan and a substantial amount of documentation.

The problem for most expats planning to start a business in France is that it may be difficult to produce a business plan. Having the skills or experience or the money to invest is of no consequence without a market for your products or services.

Unless, therefore, you are buying an existing business in France, or you can continue to run an on-line business you already operate in the UK, where it is then possible to demonstrate that it is economically viable, such a proposition is unlikely to be suitable for most expats.

Accordingly, one alternative is to apply for a standard ‘visiteur’ visa in the first instance, and when you are in France and clearer about the business and its prospects, to make application to change it for a business visa.

An application submitted as a resident in France is considered by the local prefecture, whilst if you are not resident it is the UK Embassy (or local consulate if you do not live in the UK) who make the decision.

The form used is Demande de carte de séjour temporaire autorisant l'exercice d'une activité commerciale, industrielle ou artisanale.

Whether you make application for the business visa prior to relocating to France or subsequently, the requirements of the authorities will be the same and the local prefecture where the business is to be located will be consulted; it is they who will undertake the business assessment.

The initial business visa is only valid for one year, which means that you will need to go through a similar process at the end of the year to obtain a renewal of the visa, albeit the second time around you will have a track record. The validity period of the new visa will normally be 5 years.

The interminable list of information required by the authorities is enough to discourage anyone from wanting to invest in a business in France, a situation compounded by the frequently woeful inadequacy of the prefecture to understand the business and assess it.

That is perhaps why there are only a few hundred business visas that are granted each year, against over 200,000 visas of other types. Many applicants considering setting up a business find it easier instead to obtain salaried employment, but these are mainly Francophones who have a good working understanding of the French language.

Nevertheless, obtaining salaried work is far less easy for UK nationals so if you want to start a business in France there is no escaping the process.

The requirement applies even though you may be proposing to undertake the business activity on a part-time basis.

The right to run a business is also dependent on having the requisite qualifications or experience. This applies not merely to professional categories such as doctors and architects, but also to tradesman (artisans) who are required to have a relevant qualification or at least three years’ experience. The list of regulated activities is quite substantial.

There is no requirement that the business owner undertakes the activity as a registered company, as the micro-entreprise status is equally acceptable.

However, in all cases they are required, as part of the visa application process, to make application for a business registration number (Siret). Only when a Siret has been obtained will a visa be issued.

On submission of the application for a visa, if the authorities are minded to approve it, they will issue a receipt, which gives authority to the applicant to obtain business registration.

Article 313-10 of the Code de l'entrée et du séjour des étrangers, requires that the applicant must justify the exercise of an activity 'economically viable and from which s/he derives a sufficient means of existence'.

That rule applies whether it is a new business or the acquisition of an existing business.

In the latter case the applicant must provide proof of its effectiveness and the ability of the activity to provide them with resources at least equivalent to the minimum wage.

Although there is no specific language test that is required, if the business is reliant on the French market then the authorities will wish to take into consideration the language ability of the applicant as this will affect their ability to generate sales.

The law states: 'the presentation of a financial forecast is not sufficient and it is up to the applicant to provide specific and detailed information on the project including the business strategy.'

Where the applicant is purchasing an existing business, the authorities will wish to examine the past performance under the former owner, as well as the capacity of the new owner to run the business, eg experience, qualifications.

In terms of financial performance, the law states that the applicant must be able to demonstrate that the income from the business should generate at less the minimum working wage. The capacity of the applicant to grow the business (market assessment and experience qualifications) will be considered.

In practice, the authorities take into consideration that a new business will take time to grow and that it may not be able to achieve the minimum wage from the outset.

It will assist that assessment if the applicant has other secure income on which they can rely, although it will not be determinant; the business has to work in its own right.

All British nationals who were resident in France prior to Jan 2021 are entitled to a Brexit WARP visa, which grants an automatic right to undertake a business activity, subject to business registration.

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