Starting a business in France is more straight-forward than it used to be and Macron is promising to make it even easier.  This is our guide to the different types of business and what they involve.  The information is taken from the government website.  However if in doubt as to which is best for you, please take professional advice.

Choice of Legal Status

The type of business will dictate how you declare it to the authorities, your liabilities and where you pay your charges.  The main things to take into account are:

  • Will the company be run by one person or will there be partners?
  • How will it be financed?
  • Do you want to separate your own finances from those of the company?
  • What is the predicted turnover?

For Businesses with a Turnover greater than €82800 (if selling goods/tourist accommodation) or €33200 if selling services (figures valid for 2017)

Legal Status Characteristics Who can use it?
Entreprise individuelle A business with either a trading name or in your name.  The business’ identity is the same as the owner’s who is personally liable for the debts.  (The same as a sole trader in the UK) Artisans, traders, industries, professionals
Entreprise individuelle à responsabilité limitée (EIRL) The limited form of an Entreprise individuelle where the owner has nominated a sum of money to be used for business purposes, with no further personal liability. Artisans, traders, industries, professionals
Entreprise unipersonnelle à responsabilité limitée (EURL) A company which only has one member but follows the rules of a SARL Artisans, traders, industries, professionals (but not legal, judicial or health professions except pharmacists)
Société en nom collectif (SNC) A company where there are 2 or more partners who are jointly liable for the company debts.  No minimum capital requirement Artisans, traders, industries, professionals (but not legal, judicial or health professions except pharmacists)
Société anonyme (SA) A private equity firm with at least 2 (7 for a quoted company) shareholders whose participation is based on the amount of share capital.  It can be run by a board with a CEO or by a surveillance council with a board
Société à responsabilité limitée (SARL) The French equivalent of the UK LImited Company where the partners (between 2 and 100) are only liable for the company debts to the extent of their investment.  No minimum capital. Artisans, traders, industries, professionals, (but not legal, judicial or health professions except pharmacists)
Société d’exercice libéral à responsabilité limitée (SELARL) A company which allows professionals in a regulated profession to set themselves up as a SARL Regulated professionals
Société civile professionnelle (SCP) A company that allows several members of a regulated profession to carry out their business in common, although each partner is taxed on his/her share of the profits Regulated professionals (except speech therapists, orthoptists, podiatrists, pharmacists, midwives, insurance agents, accountants, dieticians, psychologists)
Société par actions simplifiée (SAS) A form of limited company where each of the partners (at least 2 but no maximum) is only liable for the debts to the extent of their investments.  No minimum capital requirement Artisans, traders, industries, professionals, (but not legal, judicial or health professions)
Société par actions simplifiée unipersonnelle (SASU) A company with only one member which has the same characteristics as an SAS.  No mimimum capital requirement Artisans, traders, industries, professionals, (but not legal, judicial or health professions)

For single person businesses under these thresholds, the easiest form of company to set yourself up as is a micro-entreprise.  See our guide to how to do it.

To establish a business you need to

  1. Give it a name (dénomination sociale or raison sociale in French)
  2. Decide where it will be based (the registered address or siège social in French)
  3. Invest the minimum required money and/or equipment which will make up the company’s capital (capital social)
  4. Nominate one or more people to administer and represent it
  5. Set out written company statutes i.e. the rules that will govern how it is run (statuts)

There are various bodies that can help you with the formalities:

  • The Chambre d’agriculture (APCA) – the body that registers and acts for farmers
  • Centre de formalités des entreprises (CFE) – the French equivalent of Companies House and the National Statistics Office (INSEE)
  • Chambre de commerce et d’industrie (CCI) – Chamber of Commerce
  • Chambre de métiers et de l’artisanat (CMA) – the body that registers and acts for tradesmen, the equivalent of the English Guilds.
  • Caisse régionale du Régime social des indépendants (RSI) – the body that collects social security contributions for all people that run their own businesses (nb this could change shortly under reforms that Macron wants to bring in).

You can find the nearest ones to you by going to this page on the government website and typing your postcode into the box.

A good accountant can also help advise you on the best form of business for you and help with the formalities of registering it and also the paperwork for declaring turnover, paying charges, employing people etc which can be complicated.

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