Freelance tips
Your step-by-step guide to becoming a freelancer in France

Your step-by-step guide to becoming a freelancer in France

Devenir développeur web freelance - Le guide complet

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Let’s be honest : setting yourself up as a freelancer in France is not for the faint of heart.
This guide will walk you through the steps you need to take.
Buckle up – at the end of this you’ll have a clear idea of what you’re in for, and that’s half the battle won !

The French reputation for mind-bending bureaucracy is well deserved and the Kafkaesque levels of form-filling and red-tape wrangling (paperasserie in French) are intimidating even to the locals.
But I – and thousands of other expat freelancers like me – are living proof that it can be done.
While at first it may seem as though you’re drowning in a sea of incomprehensible acronyms and mysterious organismes, there is a step-by-step path to follow.
And if you want to side-step it all, there’s an option for that too.

Step 1: Have the right to work as a freelancer

If you’re a citizen of the EU, you’re good to go.
And anyone who holds a visa (known as a carte de séjour here) that allows them to work a salaried position is also allowed to work as a freelancer.
For those who don’t fit these categories, there is a specific carte de séjour that gives you the right to work as a freelancer (but not in a salaried role), called carte de séjour "entrepreneur / profession libérale".
Getting this carte de séjour is an excellent strategy if you want to live and work in France but don’t have a sponsored salaried position.
It takes time and effort, but it is totally possible.
How? That’s for another article : you can read all about how to get your visa to work in France here.
But be aware that you need to have a well-thought-out business plan, including market need, client sourcing and financial projections.

Step 2: Choose your business structure

Here is where the complexity begins – but the good news is there is a clear and (relatively) simple path that has been set up specifically to make it easy for people to launch themselves as independent workers.
And if you want to side-step the paperasserie altogether, there’s an option for that too.

A business structure (or status) is simply how your business is set up.

There are two basic categories – sole trader or company.
Sole trader, or entreprise individuelle (EI), is by far the more straight-forward. It’s easy to set up, the financial obligations are simplified (so in theory you don’t need an accountant), and the tax and social charges are lighter.

A third option is portage salarial, a uniquely French arrangement whereby an umbrella company acts as a go-between, invoicing your clients, paying you a salary and taking care of all the associated administrative tasks.

Bye-bye bureaucracy blues! If your head is already spinning, this may be the option for you.

Entreprise individuelle & micro-entreprise

If you are just starting out and your business costs and level of investment is low, entreprise individuelle is likely the best structure to go for.

It’s time to introduce the concept of micro-entrepreneur. (You will also hear “auto-entrepreneur” which was its original name, now changed but confusingly still commonly used.)
EI is the sole-trader statut. Micro-entreprise is a simplified system for paying tax and social charges (known as a régime micro-social and micro-fiscal), which you can adopt as an EI.
Many new freelancers choose this option.

It’s important to know that there is a limit to the amount of money you can earn within the micro-entreprise regime.

For most freelancers (for example developers, designers, writers and translators) that limit is €72,500 per year; for the sale of goods or accommodation, it’s €176,200.
If you exceed this limit for two consecutive years, you’ll be obliged to adopt the tax status of regime réel, which imposes much more detailed accounting requirements.

If you think you’re likely to ultimately exceed the limit, it’s a good reason to consider choosing portage salarial – no limits apply if you adopt this model.

Limited company: EURL & SASU

For more complex businesses with a higher cost base, it might be worth considering a limited liability company – a EURL or SASU.

If you’re making a high initial investment or will have to hire employees in the future it’s possible one of these statuts would be more advantageous to you.
They have no restrictions on turnover, but there’s a greater weight of administration in set-up, reporting and costs.

You can read more about EURL and SASU in our dedicated articles.

Portage salarial

If your appetite for plunging into French bureaucracy is low, this is perhaps the option for you.
Portage companies establish a three-way contract between you and your client, invoicing them for the work you do, collecting payment and “transforming” it into a monthly salary from which they pay your social charges and taxes.

You find your clients and set your fees, the portage takes care of the rest.
Under this model, to all intents and purposes, you are an employee (salarié) of the portage company. You don’t have to register yourself as a business or worry about what taxes and charges you need to pay – that’s all taken care of for you. And you have the same rights to chômage (unemployment) and retraite (retirement) as a “normal” employee.

An added benefit of portage salarial for expats is that you avoid the mental load and time drain of learning the French system’s complexities.

You have the comfort of knowing all your admin boxes are ticked, so you can devote your time to finding clients and earning money.

Learn more about portage salarial here !

By Kézia Varde

With an expertise in business law, Kezia specialized in accompanying small businesses and freelancers in their entrepreneurial journey.

Published on 6/2/2022 - Updated on 5/31/2024

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