The ups and downs of starting a firm in France

After months of hard work, American expat Jason McDonald is poised to open his US firm's European outpost in Paris. He tells us how French school holidays and a difference in client relationships made the process a hugely challenging one.

The ups and downs of starting a firm in France
What are the pluses and the minuses of having to set up a company in France? Photo: Screengrab Invest in France

For US-born Jason McDonald (pictured below) the move to France seemed to happen at the will of the Gods, but settling in and setting up has taken a bit more determination.

He was sent to France by US digital marketing firm StringCan Interactive to set up its European office. Not only was it a great career opportunity for him, but it proved a great chance for his wife.

However, learning how to work with French clients and navigating the arduous process of founding a company in France, has proved to be a steep learning experience for him. Here he shares all he has learned with The Local. 

(Photo: Jason McDonald)

So why did you move to France?

We had always in the back of our heads planned to come back to France, so that my wife could experience being an adult in France, as we always joke.

StringCan Interactive was looking to expand and we couldn’t find any other competitors in Paris that were doing exactly what we wanted to do. The moons just kind of aligned.

What has been the most difficult?

The business cycle is very different in France than in the US. With the "vacances scolaires" (school holidays) we’re really having to adjust how we work with clients based on when they are going on holiday. In the US we usually just have two weeks vacation.”

It was a little difficult in the beginning because we don’t have kids and I didn’t realize that there were these "vacances scolaires". I couldn’t figure out why nobody was returning my calls. Thankfully a friend of ours sent us the calendar for their kids’ school and that has just been a big help.

I feel like the French are very motivated and things move very quickly the month before vacation, so it’s matter of understanding when that time is and having things lined up before then.

How is doing business different here?

There is a longer "get to know you" process in France. What I think happens is, when you finally start to work with someone, it’s a long-term relationship typically. Whereas in the States I think the "hired-fired" game is a lot quicker.

Also in the States I might meet with a potential client ,tell them who we are and find out what they are looking for, follow up with another meeting and give them our proposal and then another follow up meeting and either we are going to sign the contract or not. In France there is probably two or three more meetings that need to be added in. They just really want to be clear about what they are getting.

What’s been the best thing about setting up here?

Invest in France. It’s an agency that is funded by the French government. They give guidance to foreign companies setting up in France. I just found them recently and they have been great. They are helping with contracts and setting things up. I can’t think of anything in the US like that.

They are going to help us with recruitment, they are going to make sure that our employment contracts are in line. And they will not necessarily do the legal work for us, but they are definitely giving us guidance.

How does it feel to be operating in France?

We don’t have French employees yet, that’s going to definitely be a dynamic that we are going to have to learn about. I think that things are much different for a French employee than for an American one.

I’m from Arizona, which is a right to work state, so basically any boss can walk in and say "you are fired" and you are gone that day. They don’t have to give a reason and there are very, very few rights for an employee."

Coming over here where employees have so many rights I think that that’s going to be a learning curve for the company, which we will overcome. We don’t know what it’s like to be a French company yet.  I think you need to do a full year, taxes and everything, before you really get a feel for it.”

And any advice for setting up a company in France?

Find somebody locally to be a guide, you don’t necessarily need to hire them, you could take them on as a consultant. Work with them in the beginning so you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. We spun our wheels a little bit at the beginning.

In the US you can set up an Limited Liability Company (LLC)  in three days, so I thought oh this will be easy. We came over and then just started bumping into walls and figuring stuff out. We have a great attorney now who has been leading us through all of this.”  


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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.