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Visas For Members

France's 'entrepreneur visa' and how to apply for it

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
France's 'entrepreneur visa' and how to apply for it
People work on computers in an office in France (Photo by VALENTINE CHAPUIS / AFP)

You might think of entrepreneurs as large-scale investors or businessmen, but in fact if you want to work as a freelancer or contractor in France, or set up your own small business here, the 'entrepreneur' visa might be the one for you.

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When it comes to working visas in France there are broadly two categories - salaried employee or self-employed (plus the talent passport, more on that later).

If you want to come to France as a salaried employee you will need a job offer already in place and your company will need to sponsor your visa application.

For this reason, many people find it easier to come as a self-employed workers and work on a freelance or contract basis. Unlike some other European countries, France does not offer a 'digital nomad visa' - instead, freelancers who work online or remotely are often recommended to apply for the 'entrepreneur' visa.

Ask the experts: What's the deal with remote working and French visas?

You might also qualify for this visa if you are looking to start a small-business in France, or if you are a self-employed contractor.

It is intended for people who want to "create or participate in a commercial, industrial, or artisanal activity" or "work in a liberal profession in France for a period of one year," according to the French government website Service-Public.

The activity "must be compatible with public safety, health and order requirements."

The different categories and who qualifies

While this visa is intended for self-employed people broadly, there are two categories to apply under: profession libérale and entrepeneur. The category you apply under depends on the type of work you want to do.

The Local spoke with immigration attorney Maître Haywood Wise, who is based in Paris, to understand the differences.

According to Wise, the 'profession libérale' category is for freelancers and self-employed people working in a field that would offer some kind of intellectual service.

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"This could also include coaching, a consulting activity, and some para-medical fields, like acupuncture" Wise said. Some examples of careers that would fit under this might be architects, journalists, computer programmers or graphic designers.

The lawyer went on to explain that the primary legal difference between profession libérale and entrepeneur has to do with whether you are engaging in 'commerce'.

Generally, the entrepeneur category, which encompasses 'artisans', includes tradespeople such as plumbers or carpenters as well as those selling goods. For instance, someone wishing to open their own shop to sell homemade items would be an 'entrepeneur', not a 'profession libérale'.

"Ultimately, it depends on the nature of the activity. Usually, you will fit into one category of the other based on your work profile," he said.

Profession libérale

There's no doubt that the profession libérale pathway is more straightforward.

In terms of paperwork you will need to provide ID (passport), a certificate providing you have no criminal record (if you do not already live in France), as well as any and all supporting documents that can attest to your ability to carry out the job you intend to do.

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This might include diplomas, employment certificates, and even letters from previous employers or colleagues attesting to your abilities. You may also need to take steps to get your foreign qualifications recognised with an EU/ France equivalent, depending on the field you work in.

If you are continuing to work as a freelancer, you would need to show documents attesting to funds earned previously, such as tax declarations from your home country.

If you are starting off, you will need a business plan to prove that you will be able to support yourself financially - or evidence of savings. 

Generally, you should offer any and all proof that your freelancing activity will provide sufficient income at least equivalent to France's legal minimum wage.

READ MORE: 10 things to think about before moving to France

The biggest potential complicated is whether your profession is 'regulated' in France, meaning you must show specific qualifications to practice (and your qualifications from your home country may not transfer).

You can find if your profession is regulated in France in this EU regulated professions database.

If the field is 'regulated', then you would need proof you can work in the field. An example of a document offering proof of this might be applying to join the 'order' (ordre) that regulates that sector. For example, if you are an architect, you would apply for registration with the 'Ordre des Architects' HERE.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can I work while in France on a visitor visa?

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The 'entrepeneur' category

This category applies to both people setting up a business such a shop or tourist business and to people working a trade or craft. "While an architect would fall under 'profession libérale', a construction worker would fall under 'entrepeneur'," Wise explained.

The biggest different between the two categories is that most people who fall under the 'entrepeneur' category would need to register a company, whereas people working in a profession libérale field could simply work under their own name. 

"If a French person wanted to become a plumber tomorrow, they might not have any problem acting under their own name and not registering a company," Wise explained.

"But if you are a foreign person and you want to work in plumbing, then that won’t be done without company creation. This is in part because the French government is expecting you to provide some financial guarantees in your visa or residency card application," Wise said. 

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This makes the process more complicated, and there's also the fact that many of the sectors that tradespeople or artisans work in are regulated.

READ MORE: Working in France: What to know about getting foreign qualifications recognised

There are some fields that are regulated in France which might not be in your home country, like hairdressers for instance. If the field is regulated you will need proof that you meet the requirements.

In terms of other paperwork you will need to provide, plan to show the basics: proof of ID (passport), a certificate providing you have no criminal record (if you do not already live in France), as well as any and all supporting documents that can attest to your ability to carry out the job you intend to do (eg. diplomas, letters, etc).

You will also need to include a business plan, which would demonstrate the project's economic viability, defined as equal to or above French legal minimum wage. There are several other business-related documents you may be asked to include, including proof of the company's registration (eg. 'extrait K or Kbis) and the completed 'CERFA' form for "commerçant, artisan, industriel".

You will also be required to include the 'avis' (official opinion) from the 'Plateforme interrégionale de la Main d'œuvre Etrangère' département in which you are planning to work. This can be requested online HERE.

To compile all of the documents you might need - depending on your situation - you should start by filling out France's online visa simulator with the 'motif' of "Entrepreneur (artisan, industriel ou commerçant)". 

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How long is the visa good for?

The first time you receive the visa, it ought to be for a period of 12 months.  After that, you can renew in France to receive the carte de séjour residency card.

You will probably need to register as a micro-entrepreneur (if you haven't created a company) and with URSSAF, which deals with social contributions for self-employed people. You will also need to register with the immigration office OFII

Are there other French visas that might be better for me?

Depending on your situation, you might be eligible for a different French visa.

"Before getting into the 'entrepeneur' visa, first I look with clients to see if they qualify under any of the 'talent passport' categories, because this can offer up to four years of residency on the visa," Wise explained.

"Some categories of people like artists, people looking to open a business or shop, or anyone who qualifies as a 'person of renown', might be better suited for the 'talent passport'.

For those looking to start a business, you might be eligible for the 'talent passport' if you have at least a master's degree in the field or five years of relevant work experience. You would also need to include proof of investment of at least €30,000 in the business project (from your own resources or borrowed).

Otherwise, for freelancers whose work does not involve France or French clients - and is not done for a company with a presence in France - it might be possible to continue working while on the 'long-stay visitor' status.

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