You've decided to come and live in France in 2023 - time to balance work and life. You've also decided to start freelancing as it will be the easiest way to earn a regular income locally.
That sounds like a great plan to me - applying for the business visa from home, to save you time in the future. In case you didn’t know, coming over to France with a visitor's visa, will mean no work options and having to go home to apply for a business visa.
In this article, I'm going to share 5 mistakes you want to avoid, to ensure you get this business visa or carte de sejour entrepreneur/profession libérale. Everything I mention here will apply both to business visa and carte de sejour entrepreneur (English citizens).
Business visa mistake No1 - Too much complexity or uncertainty
My brain freezes when a customer says "I want to buy a chateau with my wife and best friends. We’ll run it together as a yoga retreat and B&B". Ok, so how many business visas are you applying for? And will that generate enough income for 4 people to live on?
Same thing if you plan to create a café or restaurant while you are still living abroad. This means that you can't visit any premises, that you can put an offer in, check the state of the kitchen or talk with potential suppliers (decoration, furniture, supplies budgets).
The French Embassy will say no to this type of project unless you have a signed leasing contract for the property or signed a business purchase called "achat de fonds de commerce". Believe me, this would be very hard from abroad, not to say very risky too!
So, make it easy for the French Embassy to say yes. Which short-term project could you do, that will enable you to come over and earn a regular income? Chef, traiteur à domicile, yoga teacher? Apply for a business visa for this business first. Create and develop this business, while working on your second, longer-term project from France. Having extra time to look for properties or business premises, building up a realistic budget by contacting local suppliers, etc.
Business visa mistake No2 - Not checking French rules & regulations.
Gone are the times when you could set yourself up as a "labourer" and actually do regulated restoration work (i.e builder, tiler, carpenter). Gone are also the times when a simple gite or one chambre d'hotes was enough to set up a French business or apply for a business visa.
The need to request a carte de séjour entrepreneur /profession liberale for British citizens post-Brexit, means that tougher rules are now enforced in France. And these types of projects are now being rejected.
You will have to prove your qualification for regulated activities (e.g. hairdressers, beauticians, building trade) and you will have to show that your activity is a full-time professional activity or at least generating a regular income. Gites are unfortunately often seen as a secondary source of income - but there are ways around this, by adding extra activities.
Business visa mistake No3 - Applying for a business without owning the property needed for the project.
Let me clarify things here, before you have a heart attack! I’m talking about the need to own the property or have a signed rental agreement for professional premises when your business visa application is based on a property/premises. For instance, it could be someone planning to run gites, retreats, or weddings from a chateau they want to buy. Or it could be someone planning to open a café or restaurant. This isn't the case if you just plan to use the address for your business paperwork. For instance, a copywriter working from home.
Let’s take the example of someone having just signed a “compromis de vente'' to buy a large property from which they will run linguistic and cooking retreats. The sale hasn’t officially taken place with this signature. The property will become theirs after 3 months, once they have signed the “Acte de Vente”. If this person sends the business visa application at the compromis stage, the French Embassy will consider that both parties can change their mind. It’s risky for them to issue a visa, and therefore they will say “Non”.
I’m not saying that you have to buy a property before you apply for any business visa. Many business visas can be submitted without a property, it is just a different type of project altogether.
But if your business plans are based on a property, hold onto your visa application until you officially own the property. And include a copy of the “titre de propriété” issued by the notaire in your visa application.
Business visa mistake No4 - Low income or profitability issues
The French Embassy expects you to have at least 19,000€/year of income to live from once in France. This can be business income or savings. Make sure that your business financial plan shows this source of income from the 1st or second year.
Please note that I am talking about business income here, and not sales! Your business income is what’s remaining once you have deducted all your running expenses and social charges. So, to me, someone providing services such as a programmer needs to make at least 25,000€ of sales to make an income of 19,000€.
Now, let’s talk about profitability issues… I know that some people can be rejected by being too cautious. They don’t want to seem overly optimistic or to brag about their potential and therefore show a loss in year 1 or even year 2. That’s a big “No-No” for me! Talk about adding red flags to your business visa application.
I would suggest upping your sales to show a profit or at least 50% of the aimed income target, plus show some savings for the remaining 50%. Even better, showing that you earn this target income in year 1.
"But Valerie, I may not reach it!" In that case, decrease your investment or running expenses. What can you do to make it easier to reach your targets? Believe me, the aim is to get a business visa to come to France, then work super hard on developing your activity to show an income for the visa renewal in a year’s time.
Again keep the heavy business projects for once you’ve settled down in France, with a business visa in hand.
Business visa mistake No5 - Underestimating the prep time
Applying for a business visa or carte de sejour entrepreneur is a long-term game. You have to put in regular hours of work over 6 months to make it happen. Whether it’s doing some research, booking some time to work on your business plan, speaking with experts, looking for a rental property, gathering the paperwork, etc.
It takes both stamina and motivation. This is why it’s good to get some support, whether it’s from a Facebook group, experts, or like-minded ex-pats.
If you are looking for this kind of support, as well as specific resources and how-to guides, join the waiting list for My French Business course. The next group session will be starting in mid-March 2023 with a group of 10 to 15 people. Send me an email to be added to the waiting list.
If you are reading this article at a later time, just know that I have 2 group sessions per year for My French Business - Mid-March and Mid-October. Alternatively, you can take the self-tuition course and go at your own rhythm (without the monthly live Q&As with me and live monthly Meet the Expert sessions).