For many Americans, the prospect of France is romantic, with hugely popular movies and TV series like Amélie, Chocolat and Emily in Paris cementing France’s reputation for glamour, charm and indulgence. But while the appeal of France’s lifestyle and culture is undeniable, the country also offers something lesser-known: a wealth of business opportunities ready for America’s internationally-minded entrepreneurs to seize.
With approximately 4,500 American companies already operating in France, it is clear that the country is an attractive prospect for American businessmen, and there is great potential for success in La Republique Française. However, if you want to start a business in France (or expand there) as a US citizen, it is always beneficial to know as much as possible in advance in order to plan well, avoid common pitfalls and give your business the best chance to thrive.
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 dynamic and diverse nation that benefits from a skilled workforce, a large consumer population and access to the largest trading bloc in the world thanks to its membership in the European Union.
- It is also welcoming and business-friendly, with the French government offering financial incentives to new and established businesses and investing heavily in research and development.
- France enjoys a strategically useful location bolstered by a highly developed transport infrastructure, contributing greatly to the ease of travel and transit within and outside the country. London, for example, can be reached in less than 2h30 by Eurostar from Paris.
- France is not only big in terms of economy – by area, France is the largest country in Europe and is made up of thirteen regions which all represent unique opportunities for entrepreneurs. It also borders eight countries and has a Channel, Atlantic and Mediterranean coast.
- An international business centre, Île-de-France enjoys worldwide status as a major business hub and is the first region in Europe to host the world’s top 500 head offices.
Five tips for starting your business in France
A: Be prepared to navigate the bureaucracy
For foreign business founders outside of the EU, EEA or Switzerland, there are predictably some things to bend over backwards when setting up a business in France, and the process can take some time. That being said, however, France is welcoming enough to entrepreneurs that you’ll find there are fewer hurdles to jump through than you might expect, and there are plenty of resources you can access to make the process easier.
Anyone can set up a business in France by taking steps such as registering 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 known long-stay visa “Entrepreneur/Self-employed” temporary residence permit (VLS-TS).
Eligibility is determined by factors such as your ability to provide proof that you will engage in an economically viable activity during your stay, and when approved, the visa allows residence for 12 months. During this period, you are authorized to reside in France and carry out the commercial activity that you described in your application.
This will involve a trip to the French Consulate, of which there are ten in major cities across the United States. Once established, you will need to register your French business under the correct category of your business. It is also important to keep in mind that France has particular regulations in various business sectors and employment practices, and that corporate banks in France require minimum capital investments.
Two: Start learning the language
With a population hailing from every corner of the globe, multilingualism is not unusual in the United States – one in five American adults speak a language other than English at home (of which Spanish is the most common). But while the United States has no official language, it’s fair to say that English is de facto, especially in the business world.
It is also true that English is the most widely understood language in the EU and that a significant proportion of Europeans speak English as a second language (with an impressive 25% able to carry on a conversation in two additional languages to their mother tongue). In addition, 39% of French people say they can speak English and many expats move to the country without being able to speak French.
Despite this, it would be wrong to assume that you can easily default to English and thrive while running a business in France. The French population mainly speaks French in personal and professional contexts, and the French are very proud of the language.
English may be widely spoken in business circles, but demonstrating your willingness to learn and use French greeting expressions will be greatly appreciated, and you should keep in mind that fluency in English is not a given. Over time, many expats find that improving their French skills is key to enjoying all the country has to offer.
You should also take into account that French is the only accepted language for official documents and contracts, and since 61% of French people do not speak English, you will need a plan to mitigate language incompatibilities in your business operations. .
Three: Consider your new audience
In many ways, France is not much different from the United States, but it is always important not to underestimate the cultural differences when starting or expanding a business here. While certainly smaller than the United States, it’s also important to remember that France is far from small by European standards, and like the differences between US states, there is significant regional variability across the country.
Whether it’s something simple like the greater prevalence of smoking among French adults (about 33% compared to 12% in the United States) and the absence of a widespread tipping culture, or more subtleties complex in language, politics and history, there are many things that can be surprising about France as an American. This is why we suggest that you seek advice from those who know the country well in many points of your business to understand how it can land with a French clientele.
There are also differences in laws and regulations that may affect your business, so it is always worth researching thoroughly when developing your French business plan to identify and consider factors that may not be relevant. apply in the United States.
Four : Understand the work culture in France
The American work culture is quite different from its European friends, with American citizens generally working longer hours, having fewer vacations, and eating lunch (if not skipping it) at their desks. It’s also not uncommon for people to take calls and answer emails outside of working hours, and employers tend to have more flexibility when it comes to hiring and firing.
The French, on the other hand, tend to have a more leisurely pace of life, facilitated by both government-mandated worker protections and the expectations of their working population at all levels of the wage scale. This may require some tweaking when running a business and is something you will need to plan for – but the upside is that if you have chosen to live in France you will also be able to take advantage of this slower pace of life !
Some things to consider regarding the French work culture are:
- The French will take their lunch break away from their office, so unless you’re arranging a specific lunch trip, it’s a bad time for calls, meetings and emails (if you need to). immediate response).
- Not only are they entitled to far more time off than Americans usually get, but they take it (whereas the average US employee who receives paid time off actually takes only 54% of the allotted time each year). This is usually most evident in July and August, when business slows down considerably and many employees will book more time off during the holidays, it pays to plan around these times of the year.
- Since 2017, managers and employees of companies with more than 50 employees are no longer required to respond to emails outside working hours, and employees of small companies are likely to follow suit.
- The functioning of French companies is, for the most part, very hierarchical. When dealing with another company, take the time to understand the chain of command to ensure you are talking to the right people to get results.
- Hiring in France is an expensive proposition. Employers must consider high individual taxes when determining employee salaries and the list of benefits they are expected to provide. Although these costs are high, people doing business in France tend to be compensated by a skilled and secure workforce.
- Networking is often the key to success in the French business world, with personal recommendations often meaning more than accolades 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 definite advantage), but they tend to last a long time, which is well worth the effort.
There’s a world of opportunity out there for American entrepreneurs to take the plunge and start a business in France, and with proper research, a comprehensive business plan, and that famous American work ethic, success the French way may be within your reach. .
This article was written by Katya Puyraud, business creation expert at EuroStart Entreprises, which helps entrepreneurs set up a business in France and eliminate the headaches of opening a business overseas.