Essential French vocab for self-employed people in France

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Essential French vocab for self-employed people in France
(Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

These are some of the most important terms and acronyms you should learn if you’re planning to work for yourself in France.


Being self-employed in France comes with its fair share of paperwork and bureaucracy, not to mention confusing vocabulary terms that foreigners might be confused by. 

Here are some of the words you might come across if you work for yourself in France;

Business type


The official new term for auto-entrepreneur – which is often still used and is pretty interchangeable with the new formal term – and is basically equivalent to ‘sole trader’. This is the simplest form of legal business set-up for a self-employed person in France.

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

It operates a simplified structure for taxes and employment rules, and if you go over a maximum earning threshold for your business type, you can re-register.

It’s not the only type of business set-up open to sole traders. Others include...

Entrepreneur Individuel à Responsabilité Limitée (EIRL)

An individual entrepreneur with limited responsibility, where the company is managed by the individual. 

It follows the same scheme as the ‘Entreprise individuelle’ in terms of social contributions and tax. However, there is a possibility with this structure to opt into Corporate Tax. This may seem like a bizarre idea, to pay more tax, but if Corporate Tax is paid, the director’s salary is then deductible from the taxable income of the business.

Entreprise Unipersonnelle à Responsabilité Limitée – EURL 

This means being a one-person company with limited responsibility. This is the creation of an actual company (SARL), but with a single shareholder and share capital.

An EURL has to be registered with the French Register of Commerce. The single shareholder’s responsibility is only equal to that of their contributions, but the manager of the company has criminal and civil liability for any errors committed during the years of their duties.

Société par Actions Simplifiée Unipersonnelle (SASU)

This is a simplified one-person joint stock option company (similar to an Ltd. in England and an LLC in the US). 

Business areas

Activité commerciale

If you own a shop, e-commerce, food stall, or gîtes, you are involved in an activité commerciale.

Activité artisanale

These are manual activities - from the building trade, crafts to hairdressers and beauticians. 


Activité Libérale

AKA Profession Libérale, or intellectual-based services, such as coaches, consultants, teachers, and programmers. 

READ MORE: France's 'entrepreneur visa' and how to apply for it

Other important terms

Chiffre d’affaires

Think turnover, rather than revenue. This is important because, in French, ‘revenu’ is income from a business or (dread phrase incoming) side hustle and is very different for tax purposes.


Social contributions – cotisations are all social charges payable by employers and employees to finance the Social Security system, including the national housing assistance fund (fonds national d’aide au logement – FNAL), Family Allowance (CAF) and Pôle Emploi.

Les salariés doivent également payer deux contributions sociales qui sont la contribution sociale généralisée (CSG) et à la contribution au remboursement de la dette sociale (CRDS). Ces deux contributions sociales ont pour but de financer la protection sociale et combler la dette sociale. La CSG et la CRDS sont des impôts prélevés sur la rémunération des salariés.

READ MORE: Cotisations: Why you might get an unexpected French health bill

Cotisations are all collected by.. 


Unions de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales – more usually known, because that’s a mouthful, by the acronym Urssaf – are the administrators who collect social security contributions that fund a large part of France’s labyrinthine social security system, including, notably, health insurance.


READ ALSO URSSAF: What is it, how it works, and how it affects you


The nine-digit Siren is your business ID number. You’ll get one of these when you register your business, along with a 14-digit …


This acronym stands for Système d’Identification du Répertoire des Établissements. 

This number is, basically, your business ID, plus five more digits that are specific to the location of the establishment. If you change address, you need a new Siret. It should appear on all company invoices – and also on any payslips.

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?


See TVA, think VAT. It stands for Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée, which is French for Value Added Tax. Above certain turnover, businesses have to start collecting TVA, and can also claim back TVA.

Compte Personnel de Formation (CPF)


All employees in France are able to access money each year for free professional training (€800 for unskilled workers, €500 for full-time, skilled workers). The money can also be 'carried forward' so if you don't use it one year, you will have €1,000 to spend the following year.

It’s also available to self-employed people – who pay into the fund as part of their social charges and cotisations.

The money can be for all sorts of professional development or entrepreneurship courses, but of particular use to foreigners it can also be used for driving lessons or French-language lessons.

READ ALSO Mon CPF: What changes with France's €500-a-year training budget

Contribution Fonciere des Entreprises (CFE)

This is a local tax payable by any company or self-employed person earning more than €5,000 per year, even if they conduct their business at home, at the kitchen table. This one is due every December.



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