If I want to set up a business in France, where is the best place to invest? How do I do it?
The number of companies setting up operations and facilities in France has increased over recent years, confirming the country’s economic appeal. At the end of 2019, France was ranked first in Europe for welcoming foreign investments. The volumes at stake are considerable: 1,197 projects were identified in 2019 by the EY attractiveness survey, that’s an increase of 17% compared to 2018. More than ever before, France is seriously considered as a potential place to set up a company.
And it’s true that France has plenty of plus points: with its location as a strategic crossroads in the heart of Europe, a highly qualified workforce and good quality transport infrastructure, France has the ideal environment for setting up and developing a business.
Where should I invest in France and how can I set up my business successfully? Specialising in property investment support for companies, Dunkerque Promotion provides you with a full overview on the situation.
What are the keys to successfully setting up a business in France?
The reforms undertaken in recent years have made it easier for companies to set up in France and have given reassurance to many foreign decision-makers: 83% now believe that the country is committed to modernising its economy and 88% see France as an attractive location for investments .
However, to set up a successful business in France very careful preparation and quality support is required, preferably using an intermediary on the ground. They will help you to address two important matters: choosing a legal form and carrying out various administrative procedures.
What legal form should I choose for my business in France?
First, you need to choose the right legal form for your investment. Company directors who wish to grow their business and benefit from setting up quickly can opt for :
- A liaison office, it carries out market development and advertising activities only (no commercial operations of its own). It does not have a legal personality.
- A branch, to create a business different to the parent company, which does not have legal autonomy or its own assets but does have simple operating rules.
- A subsidiary, to create a fully-fledged commercial company. In this case, you will have to choose a French company status. There are different options to consider such as a Limited Liability Company (SARL), a Public Limited Company (SA) or a Simplified Public Limited Company (SAS).
When it comes to a property investment for your company, the wisest choice of legal status comes down to the ambition and constraints of your business project.
What administrative procedures do I need to do to set up my company?
As a matter of principle, foreign business owners can invest in France any way they choose. They also have the freedom to set up their business wherever they want. Only certain sectors known as “strategic” sectors and listed exhaustively (national defence, arms, energy supply, etc.) are subject to an authorisation procedure for foreign investment in France, as provided for by Article L. 151-3 of the French Monetary and Financial Code .
Apart from this rare and rather specific case, company-related administrative procedures are limited to registration obligations. Depending on your business activity, you can register with:
- The Business Directory Identification System (SIRENE), which lists all the active companies in France and gives them an identification number
- The Commercial and Companies Register (RCS), for companies undertaking commercial operations
- The National Trade Register (RNM) for companies undertaking craft activities
- The National Centre for Foreign Firms (CNFE)
- The Foreign Business Tax Department (SIEE).
On a personal basis, a business owner wishing to set up a business in France who is not from a Member State of the European Union should apply for :
- Either a long-stay visa from the French Consulate or Embassy in their country of origin
- Or a temporary residence permit allowing them to carry out a professional activity, from the prefecture of the department where their business is based.
Which are the leading regions attracting business owners?
You are right to ask about where to invest in France. The country’s different regions offer a wide range of economic environments and quite different geographical advantages, which means you have to choose where you set up your company with great care.
The Express ranking of 2019 provides the most recent list of cities “where it is good to do business”. It is a summary of the 15 indicators published by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, including:
- The rate of business formation
- The gross change in the number of jobs
- The number of higher education courses
- The number of businesses affiliated with a competitive cluster
- The number of business incubators.
The results were used to draw up a ranking of the most attractive French regions for setting up a business, outside the Île-de-France.
- The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is dominated by the city of Lyon, making it number one in the ranking. The second largest city in France has a particularly dense and active economic fabric in areas such as banking, insurance, commerce, finance, high technology and the chemical industry. Furthermore, it benefits from its advantageous location with Paris on one side and Switzerland and Italy on the other.
- The Nouvelle-Aquitaine region is now the second most attractive region in France for business owners. Bordeaux stands out for its major wine industry, the heritage of a traditional craft that is now internationally renowned. However, the city is also a strong industrial location (automotive, aerospace, petrochemicals, pharmaceutical industry, etc.).
- In third position, the Pays de la Loire region benefits from the dynamic force of the Nantes urban area. The city of Nantes, for example, occupies first place nationally in the agri-food sector, and second place in aeronautics and finance.  It benefits from an open coastline and the mouth of the Loire.
Why should I set up my business in the Hauts-de-France region?
The Hauts-de-France is one of the most attractive regions in France: the urban area of Lille, in particular, ranks fourth in the cities where it is good to do business. It also claims second place in terms of the quality of transport infrastructure, range of professional training courses and the general economic environment.
The Hauts-de-France region is a natural crossroads between France, Benelux and the United Kingdom. It represents a very large potential market in the densest and richest area in Europe. Five major European capitals are located less than three hours away:
The urban area also has a large number of competitive clusters and business incubators:
- Euratechnologies is a centre of excellence and innovation in the digital field. Located in the city of Lille, it ranks as the first start-up incubator in France.
- Eurasanté is another centre of excellence in the Lille region, specialising in biotechnology, health and nutrition. It encompasses the Lille University Hospital and more than 60 companies and research labs.
- Plaine Image is another site of excellence and European hub in Tourcoing, working in the creative industries (video games, audiovisuals, virtual reality, etc.).
- Euraénergie is an innovation park in the Dunkirk territory. Dedicated to transforming the industrial and port activity area, it has two main areas of expertise: the energy transition and the circular economy.
- Aquimer works in the aquatic and sea-related products sector and is based in Boulogne-sur-Mer. The cluster has more than 130 members .
- EuraMaterials is a hub based in Tourcoing and specialises in the industry and advanced technologies related to the textile sector.
The Hauts-de-France coastline is an attractive international industrial and port platform for business owners who wish to set up a company in a territory with a tradition in industry and a strong business culture. Calais and Dunkirk are France’s leading ports, making them ideal for professionals wishing to set up a business in close proximity to the world’s busiest shipping route.
Finally, beyond Lille, there are regional urban areas with fewer than 200,000 inhabitants that are also very attractive:
- Valenciennes (6th place in its category) ;
- Amiens (13th) ;
- Douai (14th).
France offers a high performing and secure framework for setting up a business in good conditions. The Hauts-de-France stands out from the other attractive regions as it has a very diverse economic environment, excellent infrastructures and an advantageous geographical location. Contact Dunkerque Promotion for an in-depth study of your business plan.
Key points to remember:
- France is very attractive to foreign investors and business owners.
- The legal and administrative procedures required to set up your business in France are relatively limited in the majority of cases.
- As one of the major French regions, Hauts-de-France has numerous assets that attract business projects.
Kantar study (figures provided by the client)
- What are the keys to successfully setting up a business in France?
- Which are the leading regions attracting business owners?
- Why should I set up my business in the Hauts-de-France region?