Doing Business In France – The Smart Way

Many English companies are exploring the possibility of setting up a business in France, or other European countries. Whilst there is still great uncertainty about what post Brexit international trading regulations will look like for English businesses, there are also huge opportunities for companies for future expansion into the French market.


Where to start?

Much of the initial research will depend on the size and nature of your company and the type of premises needed.  It may be that you want to live in a particular region of France for personal reasons, or you may know that there is likely to be a better market for your goods or services in a specific town or city.

Typical considerations include:

  • Drawing up a realistic and authoritative business plan;
  • Deciding on the location and size of premises needed;
  • Ensuring you have any business loans or other financial arrangements in place, especially with sufficient contingency cover for the first few months whilst your business is being established;
  • The number, experience and qualifications of staff needed;
  • Whether your business lends itself to staff working from home or whether they need to be in one central location;
  • Establishing contacts with local banks, a solicitor, an accountant, suppliers and tradespeople as appropriate;
  • Your marketing strategy, including online marketing (which may involve a website in both French and English).

Unless you are already an expert on the French Company Register and French VAT and other tax regulations such as Corporation Tax, the first step is to take advice from someone who has that knowledge.  One such company is found at with a team of English speaking specialists, including a French Chartered Accountant which certification in France to help steer the process of doing business in France.

The next steps

Once you have suitable premises, your company has been registered appropriately in France, including obtaining a French VAT number, and you have an understanding of the VAT requirements – which are not straightforward as there are several different rates for different items, as well as separate arrangements when importing goods from another EU country – there are a number of fundamental issues to sort out before you can start operations.  These include:

  • Arranging for utilities connections (e.g. electricity, water, possibly gas in a city, telephone and broadband).
  • Recruiting staff as necessary – ensuring that you are complying with French employment law with regards to employment contracts, payslips and social statements (again, utilising the services of a specialist may be advisable in the short term).
  • Purchasing whatever is needed in the way of office equipment and furniture, raw materials and machinery or any specific items for your particular business.

Anything else?

Where you actually live whilst you are discovering how to set up a business in France will, of course, depend on your personal circumstances.  If you have a young family then arrangements have to be made for their education, registering for medical care and, possibly, some additional French lessons to ease the transition to a new language in a new country.

It may be that you already own a property in France but, if not, it may be best to rent somewhere whilst you discover as much as possible about the immediate area, its facilities, schools, recreational opportunities and transport before deciding on buying a house or apartment.

 Maintaining Business Success

Whilst the volume of matters which have to be sorted out before you start your business in France may seem overwhelming at times, the key, as with any type of business in any country, is always in detailed planning, including having a contingency budget to cope with the unexpected.

Once your business is established, the subsequent activities will be more familiar to you; keeping full accounts, keeping a very close watch on cash flow, arranging for an audit to comply with local regulations – all of these come under the heading of good business practice.  Allocating a sensible budget for ongoing marketing and keeping up to date with changes to your market is also essential.

Getting to know your staff and building on their strengths is very important as it is the effort of the whole team which will, in the end, determine how successful your business in France will be.

About the author

My children were aged one and three when I first moved to France to set up a new business.  We have learned from our (many) mistakes in the early years and now, thirteen years later, have no regrets about the move.  The whole family loves the country, its climate and the opportunities offered.

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