Many expats who start a business in France will find their activity falls into one of the profession libérale business categories.
A profession libérale is one of the main business categories in France, alongside artisans, commerçants and agriculteurs.
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.
Article 29 Loi n° 2012-387, 22 March 2012 defines them as: "Les professions libérales groupent les personnes exerçant à titre habituel, de manière indépendante et sous leur responsabilité, une activité de nature généralement civile ayant pour objet d'assurer, dans l'intérêt du client ou du public, des prestations principalement intellectuelles, techniques ou de soins mises en oeuvre au moyen de qualifications professionnelles appropriées et dans le respect de principes éthiques ou d'une déontologie professionnelle, sans préjudice des dispositions législatives applicables aux autres formes de travail indépendant."
What this seems to amount to are that they are service based self-employed occupations that are primarily intellectual or technical in nature, whose activities are subject to a professional code of conduct.
Their activities are neither primarily commercial, industrial, artisanal or agricultural.
To assist in the definition, it is possible to divide the professions into those that are regulated and those stated to be 'non réglementées'.
The regulated liberal professions are subject to a legal regime which determines access to and exercise of the professions concerned; a professional qualification is required, they must generally respect a set of ethical principles and most are controlled by a professional body. As a result, they exercise monopoly control over the services they offer.
The professions include the medical and paramedical sector (doctors, dentists, midwives, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists), professions in the legal sector (lawyers, auctioneers, bailiffs, notaries, court clerks, judicial administrators) and technical professions (land surveyors, architects, chartered accountants).
Unregulated professions are not subject to the same level of supervision. Some are totally free, without any control of access by qualification or administrative authorisation, whilst others are still subject to some specific regulations. There is actually no official list of their activities, but they include consultants of many kinds, computer programmers, statisticians, designers of many kinds, guides, writers, trainers, translators, psychotherapists, osteopath, and private teachers.
A list of both regulated and unregulated professions libérales can be found at Liste Complete des Professions Libérales.
Legal and Tax Status
It is possible for the unregulated liberal professions to adopt micro-entrepreneur status, but most of the highly regulated activities are excluded, eg notaires, doctors, accountants, lawyers.
As a micro-entrepreneur, from 2018 the turnover of the business is limited to a maximum €70,000 pa. The basic social security contribution rate is 22.5% against turnover, with liability to income tax on the basis of Bénéfices Non Commerciaux (BNC), which grants an abatement for costs of 34% against turnover. Some professions, notably an agent commercial, pay social security contributions as commerçants, which vary slightly.
Alternatively, you can opt to be taxed on the basis of the régime de la déclaration contrôlée/régime réel and pay tax and social security contributions on the basis of actual profits, whether as a sole trader or limited company.
The business registration process for most liberal professions is undertaken through URSSAF, the social security contributions collection agency. Although the formalities can be done on-line, you would be best advised to make a visit to your local URSSAF centre, preferably by appointment. The process of business registration is called ‘immatriculation’.
In terms of health cover, most liberal professions are affiliated to the RSI, but there are several pension insurance bodies, although the largest is CIPAV, to which the majority of non-regulated liberal professionals are affiliated. Commencing 2018 the RSI and CIPAV will be merged with the general insurance fund.