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World-class industries and organisations, the protection and regulation of contracts and property rights, and the world’s seventh largest economy all are encouragements for doing business in France. Those aren’t the only reasons to consider investing in the country. You will also find an abundance of successful companies and a consumer base that’s vibrant and sophisticated.
Add a highly educated workforce, largely pro-investment government policies, and a low level of corruption among officials to the mix, and you can see why the country continues to attract investors.
The advantages of doing business here does not come without a few challenges. You may need to deal with bureaucracy and red tape if you invest in the defence, financial, power, or public transport sectors. Complex labour laws, a 10% unemployment rate, national budget deficits, and high public debt are other challenges.
Despite those challenges, the relative ease of doing business here makes it an attractive consideration.
Guide to business in France for foreigners
What are the major industries in France?
Energy is big business here – Électricité de France (EDF) is the largest utility company in the world and another key player, Engie, is also based in France. Nuclear energy accounts for over three-quarters of the country’s power production, and there are many major players working on renewable energy, making it a low-carbon country despite extensive manufacturing and industrial plants in a range of specialised fields.
As well as automobile and aerospace manufacture, the technology park Sophia Antipolis is home to many well-respected European institutions leading the field including ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), Skema Business School and the ERCIM (European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics).
Traditional industries also thrive in France; it is the second largest exporter of agricultural goods in the world and it remains a respected home of fashion and luxury goods and exports French taste and style across the globe.
Business etiquette in France
Despite some very modern industries, doing business here remains relatively formal and almost exclusively conducted in French. Those used to a faster-paced business world may feel frustrated with the focus on etiquette and particularly the enjoyment of a long meal with good wine. Business in France for foreigners may take a little patience. It’s worth taking the time to build productive and positive relationships and if you’re starting a business here, you’ll find the time you invest early on will make a big difference to your success in the long term.
What are typical business hours in France?
Statutory working hours are technically 35 hours a week, however the majority of office-based employees work longer than this. While working hours here are generally regarded as lower than in many other European countries, companies typically adhere to operating hours of between 8:30-9:30 to 17:30-19:00. This also includes a lunchbreak of anywhere between 1 and 2 hours (depending on company policy) and several extended coffee/tea breaks throughout the day.
Working longer than contracted hours is a common theme, as with most other countries, and time in lieu is generally taken seriously and awarded appropriately. Annual leave in France is often considered generous, with the average employee entitled to five full weeks of paid holiday per year.
Taxation for businesses in France
Corporate taxation in France can be difficult to navigate initially for foreigners, which is why it’s important to know which tax your business will need to pay as well as how and when you can submit your tax returns.
Read our guide on paying corporate tax in France to find out everything you need to know.
What are the challenges of doing business in France?
France welcomes those starting a business and global companies looking to set up an office or headquarters in the country, but the expectation is that the company will adapt to French business culture.
While the legal and financial infrastructure are modern and supportive of business, utilities can be another issue. The application for electricity takes 20 days, a compliance certificate requires a further 20 days and the whole process takes roughly 70 days. It takes a similar period of two months for a suitable internet connection such as ADSL or fibre connectivity – it can be faster for an individual requiring broadband as a sole trader, but takes longer in small and historic towns.
Brexit is likely to disrupt the export business in France, but in general the country is seeing the departure of the UK as an opportunity to attract global companies seeking a new base within the EU.
Visit our Brexit Hub to stay up to date on all of the latest Brexit developments and the effect they have on the currency market.
How to register a business in France
EU citizens do not require a visa to set up a business here, but it’s worth noting that there are different types of personal visa for those who do need to apply and not all allow starting a business.
Tourism or student visas do not automatically allow for starting a business, but if you’re applying for a commercial visa or have personal ties to France then you can open a business. In addition, visas for people with specialist or in-demand skills may apply if you’re planning a venture which meets with these requirements. Residents of more than ten years can also start a business without the need for further paperwork.
You can’t apply to start a business without a visa, so it’s an important, though sometimes lengthy, step to take. If you’re planning on applying for a visa entrepreneur, you’ll also need a clear business plan that demonstrates that income will be at least €1500 a month to cover living expenses. Savings will be taken into account, but make sure your numbers are accurate or you may have future visa applications rejected. You’ll also need those business details when you register a business in France – you’ll need both a financial plan and a concise business plan as part of the application.
It’s important to note that post-Brexit, all these documents will need to be delivered in French, so it’s worth brushing up on your language skills and investing in a professional translation service to avoid any misunderstandings or delays.
There is a lot of opportunity in France; speaking the language will prove to be a big advantage, but if you can work through the notorious red tape, it’s a country where there are broad opportunities for businesses looking to succeed on the global stage. While you’re working through the process, a currency specialist can help you manage funds across borders. As well as great rates, expert guidance and a wealth of business FX solutions to support your business in France, an understanding of currency risk costs can help you develop a strong business plan to support business registration requirements.