Company Formation in France

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How to start a business in France - company formation & registering a new business

Download our free guide on opening a business in France

Learn the ins and outs of company formation in one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious markets

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France is currently one of the go-to countries for entrepreneurs and startups. With the UK's exit from the EU, France is taking the lead in welcoming foreign businesses who want to set up in Europe. Whether it's big businesses that want to expand, medium-sized traders who want to explore new markets or small tech startups who want to take advantage of the fantastic startup scene and tech innovation in Paris, France is now one of the biggest countries to cater for entrepreneurs who want to set up a company abroad.

Since the appointment of more business-minded presidents, France is now one of the top attractive destinations for outside investment. As well as undertaking significant work towards reforming labour laws and making employment regulations and contracts more flexible for employers, France now encourages greentech and cleantech businesses, with boosts to R&D funding and the La French Tech scheme. France continues to cement its reputation as one of the biggest tech capitals of the world, and the day-to-day running of businesses is becoming easier and less bureaucratic.

France is also a great destination for foreign entrepreneurs for many other reasons. As well as the beautiful capital of Paris that provides a delux image and kudos for various international businesses, it also happens to be one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world and houses the biggest startup hub - the incredible Station F - which gathers a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem under one roof. If you want to register your business in Paris, Euro Start Entreprises has one of the most prestigeous left-bank addresses in the capital to base your business.

But there are plenty of cities in the rest of France that have their own unique appeal for entrepreneurs in different sectors. For instance, the central city of Lyon has a large eco-technology and digital entertainment business community; the coastal city of Marseille in the south has large port makes it the perfect place for import/export business who wish to trade through Europe and North Africa; the western coast city of Nantes is a creative centre for design and architecture and the picturesque city of Lille in the north is known for its banking and finance community.

Whatever your destination, the process of setting up a business in France will require local knowledge and expert advice. Luckily, company formation in France has changed significantly in recent years. The country has managed to throw off the old-style bureaucracy and now has a very easy and straightforward company formation system in place which makes setting up and registering a new business in France a much simpler process. As long as you have the advice of a company formation agent such as Euro Start on your side, you can get your company up and running in a matter of weeks.

What is the best way to form a company in France?

There is no fixed pattern. Options range from opening a small representative office – a bureau de liaison – through to acquiring an existing company or setting up a new business from scratch. Many foreign investors want to project a French image as part of their marketing strategy - for instance having the distinguished word "Paris" attached to their name or logo - and an easy way to do this is simply to acquire a French company or open a branch.

What is the most common type of company in France?

There are three main kinds of business entity in France:
  • business corporation – Societé Anonyme (SA)
  • limited company – SARL
  • simplified stock corporation - SAS

For in-depth information, click on our useful article about the differences between a SARL, SAS, SA, EURL and Micro-Entreprise or if you are more interested in expanding your business by opening a branch, see our article How To Open a Branch in France

What are the requirements for an SA company?

  • the minimum share capital is €37,000, of which at least half must be paid up
  • the company must have at least seven shareholders
  • shareholders are liable up to the limit of their capital contribution
  • accounts must be audited in line with statutory requirements
  • with regard to tax and social security, senior management are considered as employees

What are the requirements for a SARL company?

  • the minimum share capital was recently reduced to €1 but banks require more than this figure to set up an account. The traditional share capital was 7,500 euros but a minimum amount could be deposited of around 4,000 euros ex-VAT. Please bear in mind that this is "working capital" and can be taken out of the account for use at any time.
  • the minimum number of directors is one. If the company only has one director, the burden of these payments is incurred from the first day the company is formed.
  • Bank accounts can be opened remotely most of the time.

What is an SAS company?

The Societé Par Actions Simplifieé (Simplified Stock Company) is a vehicle for creating a joint venture between a French company and a foreign partner. Previously, French companies had found it difficult to enter into joint-venture relationships with foreign companies because of the rigidity of French corporate law. However SAS companies are increasingly finding favour with foreign investors, particularly in the USA, who wish to set up subsidiaries in France.

What are the requirements for an SAS company?

  • The minimum share capital was recently reduced to €1 but banks require more than this figure to set up an account. The traditional share capital was 35,000 euros but a minimum amount could be deposited of around 15,000 euros. Please bear in mind that this is "working capital" and can be taken out of the account for use at any time.
  • A president and one shareholder is required. They can be the same person in which case the company will incorporated as a SASU.
  • The president can be a legal entity
  • An auditor is required if the annual turnover exceeds 8,000,000 euros and/or if you have more than 50 employees

How easy is it to recruit staff?

Recruitment itself is reasonably straightforward in France but labour laws need to be adhered to. We have a carefully selected team of legal and recruitment specialists based in France. For any employment, staffing or employment issues, just call or email us directly so we can help you with any questions you may have. Click here for a useful article about how the payroll system works in France.

What is the regulatory environment like?

France has a well-developed legal and regulatory system broadly similar to that in other EU member states. There are only a few restrictions on setting up companies, except in certain areas such as banking and insurance, and there is no restriction on imports or capital from abroad. However state ownership is still a significant feature of the French economy, particularly in infrastructure industries and some restrictions still apply.

Financial incentives and banking facilities

France has a world-class international banking network, and there is a wide range of financial institutions with expertise in arranging financial transactions and transfers. The first step in opening a French company should be to establish a local bank account – we can arrange this for you and for more information, consult our bank account introduction in France page.

On top of commercial bank loans, numerous types of assistance is available for new companies. Subsidies and loans from local collectives help with the research into obtaining loans, offering access to shared expenses with support services, with tax and subsidy incentives for new and innovative companies. We have French tax experts and English speaking chartered accountants, ready to help you.

If you need more information on French company formation, tax advice in France and registering a new business address in France – you can download our free guide above, contact us directly by calling 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or emailing us from our contact page and we’ll be happy to discuss your requirements.

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