Starting a business in France

The French economy

With a 2014 GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) of US$2.5 trillion, France has the world’s 9th largest economy and the 5th largest by nominal figures. It is the 3rd largest economy in Europe after Germany and the United Kingdom.

  • Population: 66.5m
  • Public Debt/GDP: 95.5%
  • Unemployment: 10.2% (2014 est.)
  • Inflation: -0.6%
  • #29 best countries for business

Source: Forbes

Main industries

  • Machinery – Michelin 
  • Chemicals – Air Liquide Group
  • Automobiles – PSA, Renault
  • Metallurgy – LA GTM France, VDM Metals France
  • Aircraft – Air France, EADS
  • Electronics – Schneider Electric, Alcatel, 
  • Food processing – Danone, Sodexo, Carrefour
  • Tourism – Accor

As % of GDP: services 78.9, industry 19.4, agriculture 1.7

Starting a business in France

Société à Responsabilité Limitée (SARL)

  • minimum of 2 shareholders and a maximum of 50
  • a managing director (gérant) who is usually a member of staff and can receive a salary

Entreprise Unipersonelle à Responsabilité Limitée (EURL)

a type of SARL formed by one person (sole trader) and has a single shareholder

Société Anonyme (SA)

  • minimum of 7 shareholders but no maximum
  • must be operated by a board of directors
  • must have a president i.e. a chief executive
  • minimum investment: €37,000

Société par Actions Simplifiées (SAS)

  • simplified version of the SA
  • minimum of 2 shareholders
  • minimum investment of €23,000
  • cannot trade shares publically

Société par Actions Simplifiées Unipersonnelle (SASU)

  • can be set up by a single individual
  • minimum investment: €37,000 or €225,000 to publically trade stock
  • subject to corporation tax (impôts sur les sociétés)
  • president considered an employee of the company and pays standard employee taxes

Société Civile Professionelle (SCP)

SCPs cover specific industries such as medicine, skilled workers and consultancy. Each industry has its own requirements and policies

Société en Nom Collectif (SNC)

  • general partnership with at least two partners or shareholders
  • no minimum capital requirement
  • profits and loss passed on to partners
  • social security payments from each partner’s total revenue

Registering your business in France

Check the name of your company hasn’t already been registered. You can do this online at the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI) 

Now you should register your new business. You can do this in person at the Centre de Formalités des Entreprises (CFE) or online http://www.guichet-entreprises.fr/

You can create a CFE file here (French)

What to take with you to CFE:

  • proof of address
  • proof of ID
  • proof that your spouse or partner understands liability (if applicable)


The CFE will send your documents to the relevant body. This may include:

  • National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) will register your company at the national business directory and allocate SIRET, SIREN and APE numbers
  • The tax office (Centre de Impôts)
  • The commercial court register (Registre du Commerce et des Sociétés (RCS)
  • Social security
  • The labour office (Direction Departemental du Travail et de L’emploi)
  • Health insurance (Caisse regionale D’assurance Maladie)
  • Employment office, unemployment office, pension (Pole Emploi)
  • Greffe du Tribunal de Commerce if starting a company or commercial enterprise
  • Répertoire des Métiers for trade/craft
  • The Caisses Socials and Inspection du Travail if you plan to employee people

Jargon buster

SIRET, SIREN and APE numbers explained

SIREN: the business reference number used by French administration offices

SIRET: identifies the business; a single business may have several SIRET numbers. Used in dealings tax, unemployment and social services.

APE: identifies the primary activity of a business at its time of registration

VAT (numéro de TVA intracommunautaire) issued to sole traders and businesses. It is compulsory/non-compulsory depending on your business’s income

forbes rankings


Comparison by country of various influencers on business. Scale runs from 1-100 with 1 being the best score.







Have you started a business in France? Leave your experiences and advice in the comments!

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