What is a NAF or APE code list & how do you choose yours

By Valérie Aston on 13 May 2024 · Viewed 286 times · Questions

You are in the process of registering your business in France and you are being asked for a NAF or APE code. What on earth is it and how do you find yours?

In this article, I’m explaining what a NAF or APE code list is. I’ll give you a few examples of common APE codes for expatriates in France, share an English version of the APE code and confirm other things you need to pay attention to. 

1 - What is a NAF or APE code list?

APE stands for Activité Principale de l’Entreprise, i.e your business main activity. While NAF stands for Nomenclature Française d’Activité, which is an official classification of French activities last updated in 2008!

An APE code has 4 digits plus 1 letter. The 4 digits are referred to as NAF code. It relates to your main activity and under which your business will be classified.

Why is this very important:

  • The APE code will appear on your official business papers - Synthèse INPI, INSEE Attestation or Extrait KBIS.
  • It might have some impact of your registration process and the rules applicable - Depending on your code, you will relate to URSSAF, Chambre de Métiers or Greffe du Tribunal.
  • If you have employees, this classification will impact the employee’s work convention that will apply to your business.
  • For employees in France, the APE-NAF code also appear on your payslip. If you have to prove your experience in a specific field this will help. I’m thinking about an unqualified manual activities called artisans wanting to prove 3 years of experience for a regulated trade (hello carpenters, roofers, builder, tiler, etc.).

For instance, you might register as a business consultant and programmer. If you choose “consultant” as your main activity “activité principale” this will appear on your business papers and online directories. Your business papers will show the whole activites, but business directories tend to just show the main APE code.

You can already see that it is important to decide which is your main activity as it will appear everywhere. Let's say you are a business development coach and yoga teacher. Decide which one you want to appear first, so it shows in most places. Do you want to be seen as a consultant or a yoga teacher?

2 - What does an APE or NAF code list look like

What does the APE or NAF code look like? Let me put a bit of context here before I scare you. Just know that the NAF 2 code list was updated in 2008! We can all agree that e-commerce, Uber or Deliveroo, social media or coaching didn’t exist at the time. You are therefore going to look for the “closest activity description” from what you do.

This means that:  

  • E-commerce comes under mail order or VPC sale in French - Vente Par Catalogue. Most of you won't even remember those! 
  • And coaching, personal development or dog walker comes under “autres services personnels”.              

Be aware that the APE list covers all possible activities in France from tobacco or clothes manufacturers to insurance brokers, farmers or fishmongers. Be ready to go through a long list!

3 - Where do I add my APE NAF code

Before you spend too much time looking for the exact code - just know this. The most important thing when you register a business is to describe your activity simply in French so that Insee can choose the best ape code.

You’ll see that when you register your business, you have to write a description in French, and then choose up to 4 sub-categories. This is what enables INSEE to choose your code. There is no way for you to type the code you wish to have! You can add your APE code in your activity description, but INSEE will have the last say.

 4 - Example of popular APE or NAF codes for expatriates 

Here are a few examples of APE codes popular with expatriates in France. I.e the type of business I tend to register the most:

  • AirBnB, gites, B&B -  55.20Z : Hébergement touristique et autre hebergement de courte durée.
  • Consultant in management, marketing, PR, community manager - 70.22Z Conseil pour les affaires et autres conseils de gestion.
  • Programmer, IT Specialist - 62.01Z : Programmation informatique.
  • Website designer, graphist - 74.10Z - Activités spécialisées de design.

If you need help registering my business, you can look at my Micro Entrepreneur Registration Service

5 - When will I need my APE or NAF code

As we’ve just seen, you will need your APE code to register your business. But you will also need it when:

  • You set up your liability insurance. Your insurance broker will ask for a copy of your business paper to check your APE code before giving you a quote.
  • Your bank manager will also check your official activity on your business papers.
  • When you hire employees, your APE code will also impact on which employee convention applies to the work contract.

6 - What else should you think about besides NAF codes

This might sound strange to you, but for me the most important thing isn’t finding the right APE or NAF code! Finding the APE code is INSEE’s job.

Your job is to:

  • Check if your activity is regulated and gather your proofs of qualification or experience it it is. You can download a copy of my 100 Business Ideas to Freelance in France where I indicate the activities that are regulated in France.
  • Describe your activity as simply as possible in French. They won’t bother second-guessing!
  • Decide which is your main and secondary activity - activiré principale and activité secondaire.

And my last words of warning: Don't write a shopping list of what you might do if you feel like it. Decide your core 2 to 3 activities. Mixing completely unrelated activities means that you might have to comply with more rules & qualifications;

7 - Where can you find an APE or NAF code list in English

Now that you’ve been briefed and warned, here’s the full list of APE NAF codes in France.

Grab your spectacles! 

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What is a NAF or APE code list & how do you choose yours

Valerie Lemiere: Start Business in France

About the author: Valérie Aston

I've been helping people who want to start or already have a small business set up in France since 2009. After graduating from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, I worked as a senior marketing consultant in the UK and France for various International companies. I worked as a conseillère en création d'entreprises (senior business advisor) for BGE here in France and run this independent business on a daily basis.