The good news is that members of the European Union do not require any visa or titre de sejour in order to start a business in France. Things are slightly different for non European members.
Which visa do I need to start a business in France?
If you are or plan to become a resident in France, i.e. to live in France, be aware that all visa or titre de sejour do not allow you to start or run a business. There are four residence permits compatible with your business projects:
- Carte de séjour vie privée et familiale - Visa for private and family life. You can take advantage of personal and family ties in France to apply for this visa. If you are married to a French national, have French parents or have a family member already living in France with a titre de séjour, this visa is for you. Easy to get, this visa will allow you to exercise any professional activity, either as an employee or self-employed.
- Visa commerçant - visa for trading activities or business visa. This is the visa most commonly requested by people staryting a business in France, since by including the mention commerçant on the visa, it is adapted to any business functions such as president, manager or general manager. It also works for any small business such as auto-entrepreneur or entreprise individuelle. There is also another version for visa profession libérale.
- Visa compétences et talents - skills and talents visa. This visa is interesting if you have a project related to a skill or talent, having a direct or indirect interest for France and your country of origin. The visa competences et talents is often used for high tech or startup companies, as France is trying to attract new skills that will help develop the country. A new version of this visa was launched in spring 2017 for technology companies. This new version is called competences et talents French Tech. Both visa last for 4 years.
- Carte de résident de 10 ans - A resident card of 10 years. Thanks to this residence permit you will be able to exercise any professional activity (employee or self-employed). This card is however hard to get, hence being the last on this list.
If you already have a visa such as tourism or student visa, you will have to apply for another visa before starting your business. Some student visa allow you to start a business with higher studies, but the visa should mention this option (if not, you will have to up-date it).
When should I apply for my visa to start a business in France?
Should you be registering a business first or should you request a visa first? The reality is that you will not be able to register a business in France until you have the right visa. So it is best to look at the list of business visas I mentioned above, and apply for the one most suitable based on your personal situation.
I would not recommend coming to France on a tourist visa, then apply for a business visa once in France. You probably have heard about French administrative red tape and believe me requesting a visa in French at your local Prefecture will be a test to your patience!
I find that applying for a business visa in your native country is the best option. If you go for the visa compétences et talents or visa commerçant, you will have to provide a short business plan as well as a financial plan. It will be much easier to provide these in English. If you were to apply for these visas in France, you will have to provide both in French, which can be tricky or time consuming.
Where should I apply for a visa to start a business in France?
If you apply for your French business visa in your native country, you will have to get in touch with your local French Embassy or Consulate. Here is a list of the French consulate in the USA for instance. If you are already living in France and need to change your visa, you will need to get in touch with your local Préfecture .
Do I need a visa to invest into a Business in France?
You may also plan to invest into a business in France without becoming a French resident, i.e. without living in France. Investing in a French company when you are a foreign citizen and planning to only be an investor does not pose any difficulty. No visa will be required.
However if you plan to exercise a corporate mandate, such as being a partner (associé), managing director or president or a French company, then you will have to comply with the conditions listed above.
Need some help
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