For many Americans, the hope of France is romance, with hit movies and television series like Amelie, Chocolat, and Amelie in Paris attesting to France’s charm, charm, and friendliness. But while the allure of France’s lifestyle and culture is undeniable, the country offers something less well-known — a wealth of business opportunities ready to be seized by globally minded American entrepreneurs.
With an estimated 4,500 American companies operating in France, it is clear that the country is an attractive prospect for American businessmen, and there is potential for great success in La République Française. However, if you want to start a business in France (or expand there) as a US citizen, it always pays to know as much as possible in advance to plan well, avoid common pitfalls, and give your business the best chance of prosperity.
As the third largest economy in Europe (and seventh in the world), there is a long list of reasons why France is so attractive to business people, some of which include:
- France is a vibrant and diverse country that boasts a skilled workforce, a large consumer base and the world’s largest trade bloc thanks to its membership of the European Union.
- The French government is welcoming and business-friendly, offering financial incentives to both new and established businesses and investing heavily in research and development.
- France has a strategic location packed with highly developed transport infrastructure, which makes it convenient for travel and transportation both within and outside the country. For example, London can be reached in less than 2 and a half hours by Eurostar from Paris.
- France is not only big in terms of economy – by land, France is the largest country in Europe and is made up of thirteen regions, all of which represent unique opportunities for entrepreneurs. It also borders eight countries and has Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines.
- An international business hub, the Paris region enjoys global status as a major business hub, and is the number one region in Europe hosting the world’s 500 largest corporate headquarters.
Five tips to start your business in France
one: Be prepared to manage the bureaucracy
For foreign company founders from outside the EU, EEA or Switzerland, when setting up a company in France I imagine there are quite a few to do and cross, and the process can take some time. That being said, France is welcoming enough to entrepreneurs that you may find there are fewer hoops to jump than you first expected, and there are plenty of resources available to ease the process.
Anyone can set up a business in France by registering as a business address and opening a bank account in the country, but if you want to move to France to start your new business, you must apply for a long-term visa. Temporary residence permit as “Entrepreneur/Self-Employed” (VLS-TS).
Eligibility is determined by factors such as the ability to provide evidence that you will engage in economically viable activities during your stay, and once approved, the visa provides a 12-month residence permit. At this point, you are allowed to live in France and engage in the business activities you have described in your application.
This includes a trip to the French Consulate, of which there are ten located in major cities in the United States. Once established, you will need to register your French business under the correct category of your company. It is also important to consider that France has specific regulations on various business sectors and work practices and that corporate banks in France require a low capital investment.
two: Start learning the language
Despite its cosmopolitan population, multilingualism is not uncommon in the USA – one in five American adults speak a language other than English at home (with Spanish being the most common). But while the USA has no official language, it’s fair to say that English is de-facto, especially in the business world.
In addition, English is the most widely spoken language in the European Union, and a significant number of Europeans speak English as their second language (25% can hold a conversation in two languages in addition to their mother tongue). Moreover, 39% of French people say they can speak English, and many ex-pats left the country without being able to speak French.
However, it is a mistake to think that you can easily enter and thrive in the English language when doing business in France. The French people primarily speak French both personally and professionally, and the French people have great linguistic pride.
English may be widely spoken in business circles, but showing a willingness to learn and use French greeting phrases would be highly appreciated, and note that English skills are not a given. Over time, many expats have discovered that improving their French language skills is key to taking advantage of everything the country has to offer.
Also, since French is the only accepted language for official documents and contracts, and 61 percent of French people don’t speak English, you need a plan to mitigate language inconsistencies in your business.
three: Consider the new audience
In many important ways, France is not that different from America, but it is still important not to underestimate the cultural differences when setting up or expanding a business here. Although certainly less so than the US, it’s worth remembering that France is a bit more remote by European standards, and just like the differences between US states, there is considerable regional variation across the country.
Whether it’s something as simple as the prevalence of smoking among French adults (33 percent compared to 12 percent in America) and the absence of a widespread tipping culture, or the more complex subtleties of language, politics, and history, there are many things about France that can be surprising as an American. That’s why we recommend seeking the advice of people who know the country in many of your businesses to understand how it will fare with the French customer base.
There are also differences in laws and regulations that may affect your business, so it’s always worth doing thorough research to identify and consider factors that don’t apply in the USA when preparing your French business plan.
four – Understand the French work culture
American work culture is different from its European counterparts, American citizens generally work longer hours, take fewer breaks and eat lunch (if not skipped) at their desk. It’s also not unusual for people to take calls and return emails outside of working hours, and employers have more flexibility when it comes to hiring and firing.
The French, on the other hand, enjoy a more relaxed pace of life, facilitated by state-mandated worker protections and the expectations of their working population at every pay scale. This may take some adjustment when running a business and it’s something you have to plan for – but the bottom line is that if you choose to live in France, you’ll enjoy this slower pace of life!
Some things to consider about French work culture:
- The French tend to take their lunch breaks away from their desks, so unless you’ve organized a separate lunch trip, this is a bad time for calls, meetings and emails (if you want a quick response).
- Americans aren’t just entitled to more vacations than they enjoy, they actually take them (by contrast, the average American salaried employee takes only 54 percent of their allotted vacation time.) This is usually in July, and it’s obvious. August, when business slows down the most, and many employees have extra time off around public holidays, it pays to plan around these times of year.
- Starting in 2017, managers and employees of companies with more than 50 employees are not required to answer emails outside of working hours, and employees in smaller companies may follow suit.
- French corporate jobs are, for the most part, very hierarchical. When doing business with another company, take the time to understand the chain of command to make sure you’re talking to the right people to get results.
- Hiring in France is a very expensive proposition. Employers must take into account the individual’s maximum tax when determining employee wages and employment benefits to be provided. Although these costs are high, people doing business in France are rewarded with a skilled and secure workforce.
- Networking is key to success in the French business world, where personal recommendations often mean more than awards and titles. Building business relationships in France can be more difficult than in America (although the collaborative nature of American business can give you a ready advantage), but they are long-lasting, making them well worth the effort.
There is an opportunity to be found by American entrepreneurs who venture into France and start a business, and with the right research, a comprehensive business plan and that famous American work ethic, success a la française can be well within your grasp. .
This post was written by Katya Poirad, company formation expert at EuroStart Entreprises, which helps entrepreneurs Starting a business in France And take the headache out of opening a company abroad.