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Living in France: Articles, Key Resources, and Websites

At Home Abroad

How to Run Your Own Business in France

Paris street scene Paris street scene.

Thirty thousand is the estimated number of Americans living and working in France, one of the largest assemblies of U.S. expatriates anywhere. Many work for the government or large corporations. But a growing number work for themselves. Indeed, as the information economy erases national borders, more and more independent-minded Yankees manage to live part of the American Dream of running their own business and doing it overseas.

With low-cost international telephone calls, the Internet, email, overnight delivery services, and ATMs, it’s possible to operate a stateside business from Paris, or anywhere else in France. Those who do it often avoid French bureaucracy by working and living in France but being paid for the work outside of France. Typically—but not necessarily—such businesses are in the creative or information fields. Many such independents already operate home businesses in the U.S. and want to transfer their business (and themselves) to France.

Before You Go

Banking. Getting paid outside of France is easier if you maintain bank accounts stateside. Arrange for remote access to U.S. banking and credit cards and set up online banking and bill-paying accounts.

Telephone Help. Be sure to get non-toll-free telephone numbers for all banks, credit cards, and other accounts. It’s difficult to reach a U.S. toll-free number from Europe. Most credit cards provide international collect call numbers on request.

Delivery services. Federal Express, DHL, UPS, and other major courier services deliver packages to your door, which can be billed to an account.

Equipment. Everything needed to run a business is available in Western Europe. However, technology is not always cutting edge, and many bring their own equipment.

Internet. Choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) carefully. Be sure that the ISP supports the software version to be used and offers technical support in France. It pays to check with the French subsidiary of whatever ISP you choose before you go. Before moving, we decided to stay with our stateside ISP. Once in France, however, we learned that the French subsidiary of the ISP did not support our version of their software, had no toll-free technical support, and did not offer unlimited Internet access for a flat fee.

After You Arrive. It’s said that American businesses (banks especially) will not recognize you until you have debt. In France, the critical elements for recognition are official documents stating that you are who you are and that you live where you live. For the French, the proof is their national identity card. Americans cannot simply substitute a passport. Personal identification, even a carte de sejour, is not sufficient to open a bank account or activate a telephone line. This can be one of the most frustrating parts of moving to France. But ways exist to obtain that important documentation.

First, get an official paper, like a utility or telephone bill, stating that you live in the place that you live. Even this simple formality can cause no end of travail. Although all services in France require such a document, no entity seems willing to be the first to issue one. It’s a Catch-22. France Telecom won’t activate a telephone line without a bank account. No bank will open an account without a paper from, for example, France Telecom, stating that you live where you live. Get on at the wrong point of the circle and nothing is accomplished.

The best place to start is with the electric and gas utility. Visit the local EDF-GDF (Électricitié de France/Gas de France) office and arrange to switch service to your name. EDF-GDF is willing to do this because it is one of the few entities that accept cash or credit cards for payment. (France Telecom, by contrast, does not.) Schedule a rendezvous with a service technician who will read (to prepare a final bill for the landlord or previous tenant) and seal the meter. The technician will write out an official EDF-GDF triplicate form—bearing one’s name and address—recording the service call.

Next, take your carte de sejour (indicating you are who you are) with the EDF-GDF form (indicating you live where you live) to a bank, where you may be able to open an account. Not every bank is accommodating. Branch offices of smaller banks, like Credit du Nord, are more open to foreign nationals as account holders than large banks like BNP or Credit Lyonaisse. Of the large banks, Société Genérale is most likely to let you open an account. Once the account is opened, ask the banker for several copies of papers indicating the account, its number, and that the account may be tapped for a direct deduction, called a prelevement.

With those papers, go to a France Telecom office. France Telecom will activate telephone lines only if it has an account to bill by prelevement. Depending on the type of service requested, a service call by a technician may be required.

Equipment. Buying office equipment is no problem in Europe. A fax machine (a French invention) can double as a desktop copier. Different makes of printers are also available, although laser printers tend to be expensive and replacement toner cartridges are extremely pricey.

Internet. Think before deciding whether to have France Telecom install a DSL line. Because French bandwidth per capita is low, it may be tempting, but so is a DSL line tempting to computer viruses. Wanadoo, the Internet arm of France Telecom, installs DSL lines that seem particularly prone to viral infection.

After You Settle In. Many government and private organizations offer assistance to those planning to open a business in France. DATAR, Délégation à l’Aménagement du Territoire et à l’Action Regionale, is a French government agency that assists foreigners considering starting businesses in France. CCIP, Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Pairs, is a government-industry trade group that provides services for all kinds of businesses. A department of the CCIP, the Foreign Investment Department/Paris Develop-ment Agency, provides information in English and help in setting up a business in Paris. It even has a one-stop business registration center, the Centre de Formalités des Enterprise. CCIP also publishes a booklet in English,"Business and Commerce Undertaken by Non-French Nationals."

On the American side, the U.S. Embassy Foreign and Commercial Service Section has a business library (in English) and can offer valuable advice and contacts. The American Chamber of Commerce has a small business committee and a library for members. It also publishes the Guide to Doing Business in France.

Referrals for accountants, tax consultants, and lawyers are available from the Bourse du Commerce and from most major banks.

France Info

Orientation. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, or neighborhoods, each with its own mayor’s office. The postal code indicates the arrondissement. For example, 75001 is in the first arrondissement; 75008 is in the eighth.

Online Banking. Most sizeable U.S. banks encourage online banking. To open or switch an account visit their homepage and follow the links. Citibank has a link from its homepage. Bank of America and Wells Fargo have links at their homepages and technical support by telephone.

Overnight Delivery. Open a Federal Express, DHL, or UPS account online at,, or respectively.

Networking in France. Valuable contacts are yours at: Lions Club; Rotary Internationa; American Chamber of Commerce; U.S. Embassy Foreign and Commercial Service Section; American Library in Paris.

Agency Contact Information. Bourse du Commerce, 2 rue de Viarmes, Paris, 75001; 01-55-65-55-65. CCIP is at 27 avenue de Friedland, Paris, 75008; 01-42-89-70-00, fax 01-43-12-21-72, but its Foreign Investment Department/Paris Development Agency is at the Bourse du Commerce; 01-55-65-33-93, fax 01-53-40-48-88. DATAR, 28 rue du Docteur-Finlay, Paris, 75015; 01-43-37-05-85, fax 01-44-37-05-90.

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