3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to France Magazines today click here

Ian Moore: how to navigate French bureaucracy

PUBLISHED: 14:46 14 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:31 15 September 2017

Ian Moore learns that you should always check with the mayor before starting a business in France (c) Rita Evans

Ian Moore learns that you should always check with the mayor before starting a business in France (c) Rita Evans

Archant

In the first step towards setting up a B&B-gîte business, Ian Moore pays a visit to see his local mayor

American President Theodore Roosevelt said that “nothing in life worth having comes easy”. A fine sentiment, and a regular exhortation from parents to children the world over. Of course, I doubt President Roosevelt ever came up against the amorphous beast of French bureaucracy, in which case he’d have edited his maxim to something like, “nothing in life comes at all” or a more damning, “do you know what? I really don’t know why I bother sometimes.”

Having made the decision to renovate our outbuildings and set up a chambres d’hôtes-gîtes business, the first official step, following some rudimentary calculations and tentative market research, is to approach your local mairie. This is the ‘formality’ that all the chambres d’hôtes forums tell you about, a simple courtesy call to register your budding business with the local bigwigs. It’s also a very good opportunity to see who the competition might be as the mairie will have those records to hand, and also to ask for a future leg up.

Not only that, it gives you the chance to see how all those rules governing chambres d’hôtes-gîtes, think Encyclopaedia-Britannica large-print version, have changed in the few moments between parking your car on the Place de la Mairie and walking the few steps to the inner sanctum of local government. Our preferred builder, the proudly named Gustave, had been out for a quote, even though his arm was in a sling, and he had been adamant that no planning permission would be needed. “Not unless the rules have changed,” he said dubiously on the Tuesday. Well, by Wednesday, emergency diktats had emerged from the ‘Ministry of Let’s Look Like We’re Doing Something’ and planning permission was indeed now necessary, as we were converting a building of over 150m2. The building we are converting is 165m2.

“But we’re only converting two-thirds of it,” we said.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Madame le maire apologetically, “It’s all the same building.”

“But’s that’s like charging me for the whole gâteau, even though I’ve only had two slices!” I pleaded, giving it the full Tony Hancock.

Again she looked at us apologetically while simultaneously nodding towards a couple of baguettes keeping warm on her office radiator. You’ve reminded us it’s nearly lunchtime, she was clearly saying, best get out before the rules changed any further.

Planning permission therefore being a legal requirement, an architect has to be employed to do the official plans and what started as a formality, the simple no-strings-attached aforementioned courtesy call, had added a few grand to the bill and a few weeks to the timetable. Henri the architect arrived with Gustave in Henri’s car. Gustave was by now on crutches, and so Henri took confident charge of the project. I gave him my own sketchy drawings, which he took gracefully like an indulgent parent forced to put yet another childish painting on the fridge door, and looked at them intently, though, I noticed, the wrong way up. He had the look of a man who clearly felt that he’d got there just in time, like some pencil-wielding, building planning superhero, and he explained patiently how he would change things around, saving us money and making the whole thing fit together perfectly.

I’ve banged on for years about the multi-layered, unpleasant surprises hidden in the dark recesses of French bureaucracy, but every now and then a pleasant surprise emerges and it’s likely that these new rules will in fact leave us no worse off and with a better finished product. Who knows, maybe old Teddy Roosevelt was right on this one? Although, of course, his is one of the giant faces carved into Mount Rushmore, if that was in France I suspect they’d still be waiting for planning permission.

Read more of Ian Moore’s columns:

Is the two-hour lunch break still observed in France?

Don’t ask me for advice on living in France!

English food I miss in France

The changing rules in French restaurants

Article by Living France Living France

More from Living in France

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

His chambres d’hôtes renovation continues and the builders are making progress, but Ian Moore soon learns there’s never a dull moment when communicating in a second language

Read more
Ian Moore
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

She made an impulsive decision to move to Limousin 10 years ago and a decade and five children later, Gillian Harvey has no regrets about jumping in feet first. In fact, she couldn’t be happier

Read more

Relocating to France? Make sure you prepare these 6 things before the big move to your French property

Read more
Expats in France
Yesterday, 11:07

Need something new to watch? Check out our list of French TV shows that you can watch in the UK.

Read more
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thinking of setting up a campsite in France? Here’s what you’ll need to consider when it comes to planning permission.

Read more
Friday, April 6, 2018

Understand the home-sharing website Airbnb, including the latest French rules, and follow our top tips for using it to rent out your property in France

Read more
Running a business
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

With its unbeatable wine and cheese and laissez-faire attitude, there’s nowhere better to retire than France. But which cities are best for growing old in? Here’s the top 10

Read more
Pays de la Loire
Thursday, January 25, 2018

If you are buying in or moving to France you will need a French bank account but before you open one make sure you read these 11 things you need to know to avoid making a costly mistake

Read more
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The French pharmacy is so much more tham a place to pick up your prescriptions. Here are 11 things you might not know about pharmacies in France.

Read more
Healthcare in France
Friday, March 9, 2018

If you’ve just moved to France then you will need to get to grips with the French welfare system. Here’s our guide to the system including healthcare, benefits, social contributions and the changes Macron intends to make this year

Read more
Subscribe today

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now