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WORKING IN FRANCE

Thinking of setting up a business in France? Here’s where to look for help

Starting your own new business in France can be a stressful affair - but you don't have to be on your own, as one British entrepreneur explained.

Thinking of setting up a business in France? Here's where to look for help
Photo: AFP

With administrative hoops to jump through and rules to follow from the outset, while you’re also trying to ensure you keep your new business afloat so you can keep a roof over your family’s head and put food on the table, starting out can be tough in France.

Then there are the different business regimes, ranging from the sole trader micro entrepreneur regime – still sometimes referred to, confusingly, as auto entrepreneur – through to the société à responsabilité limitée (SARL) and beyond.

It can seem, as many things in France often do, a bureaucratic minefield that only the bravest would dare cross. And, yet, thousands of people – French and foreign – decide every year to set up their own businesses, despite not necessarily knowing the system.

READ ALSO Five reasons to set up a business in France

“My oldest is 20,” said April Higginson, who set up industrial equipment supplier and manufacturer Maxima with her husband when they moved to Sarlat in the Dordogne from the Midlands in England 14 years ago. “The amount of stuff that he takes for granted, that he knows – because he’s been brought up with it – is incredible. 

“We have had to learn that.” 

All sorts of advice and opinions are freely available on internet forums – and while useful they may not always be accurate. But one place that can help is the local Chambre des Metiers, a kind of small business forum.

April hopes to be involved with the Chambres des Metiers in her home of Dordogne from October 2021, following an election process. The current president has asked her to join his ticket for the ballot.

“He wants the team to be represented by 50 percent men and 50 percent women,” she said. “I think around a third of businesses are owned by women – so for women in business that’s a great thing.

“He also wanted to reflect the number of foreign nationals who live in Dordogne – who are serious business people, opening businesses in France. They need to be supported and recognised.”

READ ALSO Micro-entrepreneur: How to set up as a small business in France

When April and husband Max decided to set up Maxima, which manufactures and supplies all sorts of accessories for diggers, help for new business owners was much harder to obtain.

She explained part of the Chambres des Metiers’ president’s mission, if he wins another term, is to ‘expel that myth that they’re not there to help because they are because they do lots of things, for new businesses and for people who start a business’.

She added: “When we started our business, we had no clue on business law, we had no clue on employment, because everything [in France] is so very, very different. 

“We’ve learned the hard way. And it was hard – it still is. We learn everyday, but that information is much easier to get now you know where to get it. 

“Fourteen years ago we didn’t have the Facebook pages that people have now or social media – that didn’t really exist. There are so many options open for businesses now.”

The most obvious difference, she said, was the changing face of France’s Chambres des Metiers – which is increasingly open, pro-active and welcoming.

“When we started our business, we hadn’t got a clue where to go, who to turn to. My husband was forced onto a course with the Chambres des Metiers – at the time it was run by an external agency – and for a week he sat there being lectured on how awful it would be if he worked on the black and how he couldn’t ever have a holiday because if he did he wouldn’t be contributing to the system. It was ridiculous!

“Other than being scared to death, the one thing that happened was he decided that he didn’t want anything to do with the Chambres des Metiers ever again!”

READ ALSO Seven essential tips for starting a business in France

Some of the problems were fundamental. “When we arrived, my husband didn’t speak any French. My French was A-level standard – but I hadn’t spoken it for 13 years. 

“So we learned a lot very, very quickly.  And I think as a business owner, if you don’t learn every day, then there’s something wrong.”

Some, however, were cultural. “The pace is a lot slower than we were used to when we initially set up the business.

And some differences were local. “In our area, Perigueux is obviously a very important economic area for Dordogne, as is Bergerac,” April said. “Other towns get dismissed as being too small, or too touristy. That’s one of our challenges here in Sarlat – we are an industrial company in a tourism town. It has its challenges – it took us four years, for example, to find a suitable depot … because it’s a tourist town.”

Six years later after they had set up the business, survived a global recession, and learned many of the ins and outs of French administration, they were contacted again by the local branch.

“When we started the business, we were lucky to have a neighbour who was in business himself,” April said. “So we did ask him for advice. He put us in the direction of his accountant. They helped us with setting up the business and everything. 

“But we had so little guidance in the early days and we fell foul of a few things. And we had to rectify them and make sure it didn’t happen again.”

It’s quite a common problem. People who don’t know what questions to ask don’t always get the information they need.

“One of the things that we fell foul of was customs,” April said.  “We were importing things from the UK and we had no idea. Even though it was within Europe at the time, we still had to do a customs declaration every month. It was something that was so simple to do, but we didn’t know.”

A grant from the local Chamber also helped cover part of the cost of machinery they were investing in and the Chamber also helped April and Max set up health and safety protocols for their staff and allowed them access to a range of training courses.

“I’ve been on courses for growing our business, courses for understanding how to read company accounts – and you can go on courses to increase your awareness of social media. 

“It’s endless, to be honest, and we just had no idea. I went on the website the other day and  saw that they’re running a course on how to put in place a CE mark. 

“We’re developing our own products, and we will need to have a CE marks. Otherwise, I’d be having to go to an agent to do that – and we’re talking five grand before you even start. 

“When those doors open for you, you actually realise just how much is there and how much is on offer. And in the last few years, it’s changed so much.”

“One thing that I would say to anybody who’s starting a new business is, go for it, basically. But getting your business set up right in the first place is really important. 

“They do a preparatory course now, at the Chambres des Metiers, so you can go on a course before you even started and learn what you need to know, before you start.”

You can find more about your local Chambre de Métiers – known in some areas as Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat – here.

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For members

WORKING IN FRANCE

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

Age

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

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. 

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