Becoming self-employed or working on a freelance basis is a popular option for many expats who need to earn a living after moving to France. Here’s what you need to know to get started
Opting to become self-employed or freelance is a popular option for many British residents in France and it makes sense on many levels. Those with prior experience of being self-employed in the UK will have a slight advantage. They will be familiar with all the potential pitfalls (as well as the plus point of being able to work while wearing pyjamas!); however, there are big differences in terms of rules and regulations when you work on a freelance basis in France and whether you are an old hand or just starting out in the world of self-employment, it’s well worth checking out French employment law and regulations for sole traders.
HELP AND ADVICE
Start by checking whether you are allowed to carry out your chosen activity under one of the business structures that govern self-employed home workers in France. The most commonly used is the micro-entreprise (ME) regime formerly known as auto-entrepreneur. This is a simple and easy route to self-employment; however, certain professions such as estate agency are excluded as are those who receive royalties such as authors. The simplest way to find out whether you qualify is to check with your local Chambres de Commerce et d’Industrie (CCI) or Chambres de Métiers et de l’Artisanat (CMA). They are a valuable source of advice and information and will be able to inform you about any regulations that may affect your profession, as well as advising on any financial assistance that may be available for new businesses and putting you in touch with the appropriate bodies.
THE RIGHT STRUCTURE
They will also be able to advise you on the type of business structure you need to create. While the ME scheme is simple and user-friendly it may not be appropriate if your turnover is likely to exceed certain thresholds (currently €70,000 for services and €170,000 for sales of goods and materials for example) or you are likely to incur significant expenses as the allowances for costs are inbuilt into the ME tax bands and no deductions for expenses are available. If your chosen activity falls into the regulated professions category which includes hairdressers, accountants, builders and wine importers, you will need to be registered with the appropriate body and may need to prove that you possess the necessary qualifications or experience before you are able to start up. Again, your local CCI or CMA will be able to advise. Certain professions, most notably artisans (trades) will also need to attend a training course known as a stage de préalable à l’installation. This usually lasts around four or five days, costs around €200, is organised by the CMA and covers the various aspects of running your own business.
You can also choose to use an umbrella company rather than register as a business in your own right. Once you have signed a contract with them, they act as your ‘employer’ and deal with all the paperwork, while you get on with finding the clients and doing the work. This is known as portage salarial and provides peace of mind in terms of invoicing and means that you are entitled to the same healthcare, unemployment and retirement benefits as any other employee. You may also be able to offset some costs (such as travel to client meetings), and it can be useful if you are working for overseas clients. However, these companies do take a percentage, usually between 7-10% and you will need to calculate potential earnings and see if it will be worth your while.
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REGISTERING YOUR BUSINESS
Once you have decided what you are going to do and how you are going to set it up, you will need to register the business. Previously this involved a visit to the Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE) and could have been the CCI, CMA or URSSAF depending on the activity; however the move to online formalities means that most people will be able to quickly and easily register their business using the Urssaf website. You will need to provide ID and you may also need proof of the appropriate insurance, most notably assurance décennale (a 10-year guarantee) for builders; other regulated professions will also require insurance. Processing your business registration usually happens quite quickly and you will then be allocated a unique SIREN number. This proves that you are a legitimate business and will be used by all government and official agencies. You will also get a SIRET number (which is your SIREN plus a five digit code which identifies the location of the business); clients and employers will often ask for this SIRET number, and you may also be asked for the APE or NAF codes which identify the main activity of your business and which will be issued at the same time. A list of the various CFE centres can be found online here.
Part of the responsibilities of being a freelancer is keeping track of paperwork and although the ME system is fairly simple, you will need to get organised. This includes keeping track of receipts (cahier de recettes), keeping expense records (if applicable), making monthly or quarterly income declarations, using a separate bank account (although this doesn’t need to be a designated business account and many of the online banks have suitable products), paying CFE tax (cotisation foncière des entreprises) every year in December and making sure that your invoices are fully compliant with French requirements. As well as the usual elements such as dates, client details, price, payment terms, description of goods or services etc, you also need to include your SIRET/SIREN number, and professional qualifications or insurance details if appropriate and as you are not charging TVA (VAT), the following phrase, ‘TVA non applicable, article 293 B du CGI’.
With everything set up and organised, you are ready to get your business off the ground and if you’ve been looking forward to a new morning routine of having a healthy breakfast and going for a run before settling down to a productive day’s work, the reality of working in isolation can prove quite different! It can be very difficult to switch off when you work from home, especially when you are starting out and it’s all too easy to find yourself working through mealtimes and at weekends. You need to be firm with yourself when it comes to taking breaks; create a routine and stick to it. Finding online support groups (industry specific or more general) is useful and make sure you voice any worries to family and friends. Making more effort to socialise outside work hours is key; both the CCI and CMA are a good resource for details of local events and groups, and attending networking events is a great way to make potential business contacts and new friends.