Guide to running a business in France

PUBLISHED: 11:00 06 April 2015 | UPDATED: 13:59 09 September 2015

© OT Paris/Amélie Dupont

© OT Paris/Amélie Dupont


Having established her own successful business ventures in France, Sally Stone offers some insightful advice to help others do the same

Nowadays, there is a distinct change in the demographics of people wanting to relocate to France. While for obvious reasons the early retirees make a beeline for the country and its relaxed way of life and affordable property, there is a growing number of younger families intending to make a permanent move who need to make a living once they get there.

Many who have never run their own business see it as an opportunity to be self-employed, and it’s encouraging that so many of those people do realise the amount of research they need to do, and the planning they need to have in place, to make a success of the move and their new business.

They are right to think that the realistic option is to be self-employed if they need to make a living. Unless you are completely bilingual and have a skill in a niche where a foreigner might be considered for a job, in practice salaried employment is rarely an option. Also, while you might not mind what you do, there is a distinct lack of ‘safety net’ type occupations like shelf-stacking in a supermarket. You need to have a plan!


This is a new start, a fresh new beginning, and you will have enough new challenges without reinventing yourself totally, so it’s a case of using your existing skills, albeit in a brand new way. You need to do some research to find out whether a market exists in France for that service or those goods you might supply, and if it does, whether the people who might appreciate what you are offering have the budget for what you intend to provide.

The latter is something which is often overlooked. People might love what you are offering, but they also have to be able to afford it for you to make a living! I met someone recently who was planning to sell carved wooden garden ornaments, which were beautiful, but my issue was whether the people to whom they would appeal would actually be able to afford to buy them. An interesting thought and if the answer is negative, it will bring your plans crashing down.

Another thing to consider is where you are going to be based – and I don’t mean whether you want to live in Brittany or Burgundy, but where you will base yourself in the local area that you have already pinpointed as your favourite part of France, for whatever reason.

For your own future personal happiness it’s good to be among other people when you move to a new country, but this is even more important when you need to be broadcasting the news of your new business.

Being several kilometres from the nearest neighbours might appeal for a short time, but settling on the edge of a large village or small town is far better for your business development. In fact, you need to go to the local bar or café every day (what a chore!) and make sure you are talking about what you are doing – if you haven’t been self-employed before, this is something very new and is what people refer to as networking.

You need to let everyone know what you are providing or selling, and never decide they don’t need to know – even if they don’t need your service or product, their neighbours or family might do.

If you are intent on using some existing skills in France, please don’t take it for granted that having the qualifications translated will make them transferable. It may well not be that simple. You need to do some (very) local research in the area where you are intending to settle. Rules and regulations are decided at a local level in France for many aspects of life and business practices, and for planning regulations in particular. Or more precisely, the rules are interpreted at a local level. This means not assuming that something which is acceptable for your friend in an adjoining region will work for you 100 kilometres further down the road!

Don’t rely on doing your homework on the internet or at a distance. You should physically go to the local Chambre de Métiers (if you have a trade) or Chambre de Commerce (if you are offering a commercial service or product) and talk to the clerks there at an early stage to see what your chances of success are – and always have a plan B.


My advice would be to research existing business opportunities which might perhaps seem a little more mundane than you are dreaming about, but which would put bread and butter on the table in the meantime. You can then slowly build up contacts and credibility in the area and supply what you had hoped to do in a full-time capacity as an adjunct to the ‘main’ business. I have seen this particular scenario repeated successfully time and time again.

For that main bread-and-butter income you could consider a franchise opportunity, which can work well for expats moving to France. Franchising there is very well regulated, franchisees are regarded as having an immediate professional standing and there is ongoing hand-holding. The latter in particular is invaluable when you are making a life-changing move!

So, you have decided what you want to do and where. Once the fact-finding stops, then the form filling-in starts. You do have a number of choices when it comes to the business regime you decide to opt for, and for many people the auto-entrepreneur system is the way to go. It is the simplest form of self-employment in France and doesn’t involve complicated accounting practices.


I was recently asked by a retired person in France why, in my seminar presentation at The France Show, I said that people moving to France and starting a business there should be prepared to be poleaxed! I believe they might have thought it was a negative comment but it was actually meant as a comforting thought for them to remember on a challenging day in their new country.

When I relocated to France and started my business, there wasn’t anyone who said out loud “this is hard” and it was all rather like the emperor’s new clothes. Nobody dared to admit that there were days when their resolve faltered along with their fluency, when some things took five hours which might have taken five minutes “back home” and when the rug did seem to have been pulled out from under their feet.

Administrative practices and bureaucratic procedures that seem totally alien to begin with will become second nature – I promise! You too will be able to practice a Gallic shrug when you discover the office you need to visit is closed on Wednesdays, or the queue to see the advisor has you at the front on the stroke of midday when the shutter comes down and you realise you need to return at 2pm, and preferably not in a bad temper!

My point is to prepare you for France – and that includes telling you for certain that it’s absolutely worthwhile. So grit your teeth, go and get some lunch and revel in that laidback atmosphere you so loved on holiday.

Sally Stone is CEO of Les Bons Voisins

Tel: 0033 (0)2 96 24 74 27

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