Starting a Business in France

Starting a Business in France

Illustration by Grace Helmer

This post is part of a series called Q&A Tuesday: French Visas. Our resident expert is Laurence Raybois from Americans Moving to France and Rural France Resources. We want to hear from you! Send me your questions or put them in the comments below. We’ll try to get your question answered in an upcoming post.

This month's question: 

My husband and I have a travel-related business idea that we would like to start in France. Do we start the business first, and then get a visa? Or do we get a visa first, then start the business? And what type of Visa should we apply for?


If you intend to run your business, once in France, in a way that meets the definition of “working in France,” and provided you will be spending more than three months there in any contiguous six-month period, then you should first apply for a work visa at the consulate in your home country before proceeding to develop your business in France.  In a self-employment situation, you would be assumed to be “working in France” if your business were reliant, in part or completely, on resources found in France.  That would be the case if you sought customers in France, or used a French natural resource in the course of either developing or providing your services.  

In such a case, it would be helpful to show the consulate that you have done your homework and researched your market.  Ideally, you may want to try having a few customers already lined up by the time you apply.  Also, consulates prefer to give a self-employment visa to individuals with a history of successful business experience.  Besides a regular self-employment visa, you could also apply for a Compétences et talents visa, which allows self-employment (as well as salaried employment).  It is given for three years, instead of one, and enables the recipient’s spouse to obtain a work visa on the basis of the main recipient’s status.  However, it takes to be fairly accomplished and have a substantial project in mind to obtain such a status.  In addition, French immigration rules are currently being reconsidered and this option is scheduled to disappear by the end of 2015 or early 2016.   

If you intend to create a business that would be virtual in nature, and that you could operate from anywhere in the world and still manage to provide the exact same services, delivered in the same manner, regardless of where you are, then your business would not constitute ‘working in France.” In this case, you would still need to get a visa at the consulate of your home country if you intended to be in France for three months in any contiguous six-month period, but it could be a visitor’s visa, which is generally easier to get than a work visa.  You would only need to show that you have the resources to support yourself while in France, without needing to resort to what would be considered “working in France,” since the visitor’s visa does not allow its recipients to work in France at all, whether as a self-employed person or as a salaried employee.  In this case, it would not matter if/when you develop your business, provided you have other, sufficient resources to show.

Finally, there are no tax advantages to choosing one option over the other.  In both cases, you would become a French “contribuable” (tax resident), simply by virtue of living in France for more than six months a year, and would have to declare all of your worldwide income to the French government.

Laurence Raybois Consulting © 2015