A guide for British businesses interested in selling goods and services in France.
Visit www.great.gov.uk for guidance on how to research overseas markets as well as a range of other important issues for exporters.
France in world business rankings
Doing business in France
France is the world’s fifth largest economy and the second largest consumer market in Europe.
It is a large, open and diversified market, is within easy reach of the UK and offers opportunities to sell UK products and services across all sectors.
France is a similar market to the UK with similar business risks and requirements. If your product or service is successful in the UK, there’s a good chance you’ll be successful in France.
However, French businesses can be wary of buying outside France. UK companies need to reassure customers and clients about quality, price and reliability.
Read the EU’s practical guide to doing business in Europe which gives detail on rules and processes common to European countries.
Industries importing into France
The top 10 industries importing into France in ranked order are:
- machines, engines and pumps
- electronic equipment
- aircraft, spacecraft
- medical, technical equipment
- organic chemicals
You can read more about what France imports at World’s Top Exports.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) ranks the value of France’s top services imports.
Getting started in the French market
There are specialist trade experts in the British Embassy in Paris and trade offices in Lyon and Bordeaux. These teams focus primarily on high value sectors that offer the best fit with UK exporting strengths and provide the best potential for UK export success. Core interests for exports include aerospace, defence and security, energy (including supply chains for both nuclear and renewables), food and drink.
Outside these areas, the Department for International Trade (DIT) team in France increasingly works with external partners to support British exporters.
Visit the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI) to find information and support about exporting to France.
Consult local English speaking lawyers to avoid costly mistakes and ensure you start out in the way that is best suited to your sector of activity.
Before trading with a new company in France you should obtain a credit report from a credit management agency. French companies are listed on Infogreffe.
Direct exports and sales in France
Direct exports means you supply your products direct to the customer. You handle all the logistics of marketing, selling, sending overseas and getting paid.
If you do not have a high level of fluency in business French, you may wish to use local representation.
DIT’s trade specialiasts can help you identify local representatives for your products in France.
Setting up a company or office in France
Sales through a local branch in France can be through either the establishment of a permanent branch or a French subsidiary company.
If you set up a French subsidiary company you need to register with the local Chamber of Commerce (site in French).
If you set up a branch or subsidiary in France you will need a bank account for day-to-day business activities. Most international banks have offices in France and it’s easy to set up foreign currency accounts.
Online selling to France
If you’re selling your goods over the internet to private consumers you must be registered for Value Added Tax (VAT) with the French tax office when your annual turnover reaches €35,000.
You can start exporting in a few steps online. The DIT can help you find the online marketplace best suited to your product or service in France and access preferential deals negotiated by government.
Check out online marketplaces in France where the government has negotiated preferential rates for UK businesses to see their products online.
Find out about DIT’s e-exporting programme which can help you export your products to France.
Licensing or franchising in France
You can license your goods or services to be sold in France.
Visit the international section of the British Franchising Association for more information on franchising.
The Franchise Expo Paris event in Paris is an opportunity to understand franchising in France and meet local players.
Getting finance to fulfil an export contract to France
Schemes are available to UK companies selling products and services to France to make it easier to fulfil an export contract. Contact your bank or specialist financial organisations for assistance.
Getting paid in France
You may wish to talk to a specialist about finance, including how to get paid in France. This could be a bank, accountant or you can contact the DIT team in France to help find a financial adviser in France.
Your contract will specify the terms for payment. If there is any dispute you will need to go through the French legal system for resolution.
Within the EU, many businesses use payment on account in much the same way as within the UK.
Customers in France may require credit terms to buy your products and services.
Payment conditions must be factored into prices. For business-to-business transactions these can range from immediate payments on receipt of goods (often with a negotiated small discount) to a negotiated 60-day payment.
Standard payment terms for business-to-business transactions in the EU are 60 calendar days and 30 calendar days for public authorities. However, in France, payment terms are often 90 days. Late payment interest can be claimed when terms are not met.
Find out more about the EU’s late payment directive.
Payment risks in France
UKEF helps UK companies get paid by insuring against buyer default.
Currency risks when exporting to France
If you have not fixed your exchange rate you have not fixed your price.
You should consider whether the best option for you is to agree terms in Sterling or Euros in any contract. You should also consider getting expert financial advice on exchange rates (sometimes called FX).
Transferring money from France
Capital can be moved in and out of France within the EU without any restrictions in principal.
Legal considerations of doing business in France
EU legislation is the basis of the law for business in France.
Contact the DIT team in France to help find tax and legal advisers before entering into agreements in France.
Export licences for France
You may need a licence to supply goods on the UK strategic export control lists to France.
Find out about supplying goods on the UK export control list to France.
Some other products may need certification and licensing.
Find out which products will need certification or licensing before they can be exported to France.
Consumer protection law in France
If you are selling to consumers (rather than businesses) you must comply with EU consumer protection law.
Customers in France have various consumer rights when you sell at a distance (not meeting the customer face-to-face).
Find out about consumer rights in the EU.
Employment law in France
As a non-French company, if you employ staff there are different rules depending on whether they are UK or French nationals.
Unions de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales (URSSAF) is the French government body that helps non-French companies with employment in France.
Read the URSSAF guide Employers with no place of business in France to find out more information.
Find out more about temporary posting of workers in France from the French Ministry of Work and Employment.
Standards and technical regulations in France
Find out about standardisation in the EU.
Packaging for export to France
Packaging must conform to EU legislation on the prevention of health risks to consumers and the protection of the environment, especially with regards to waste treatment.
Find out more about packaging regulations in the EU.
Find out about requirements for using wood packaging in the EU.
Product requirements in France
Product standards are the same in most EU member states. If you sell products in the UK it’s likely that you already comply with standards in other EU countries.
Many products require a CE marking before they can be sold in the European Economic Area (EEA). This marking proves your product has been assessed and meets EU requirements for safety, health and environmental protection.
Find out more about CE markings.
Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) has responsibility for standardisation, certification and assessment in France.
You should consider taking out product liability insurance if you manufacture or supply a physical product.
Labelling your products for France
Labelling should be translated into French. French versions should be clearly visible if multi-language labelling is used. Certain products, such as foodstuffs and textiles, have specific labelling requirements.
You can choose to use the e-mark on packaging when exporting food products to France, or use France’s rules on weights and measures.
Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF) regulates labelling of products coming into France.
Protecting your Intellectual property (IP) in France
If you do business in more than one EU country, an EU trademark and a registered community design gives protection in the 28 member states in one single registration.
Patent protection law is not totally standardised within the EU. You can apply for a French patent at L’Institut National de Propriété Industrielle (site in French language), or for a European patent through the European Patent Office (EPO). However, a European patent needs to be validated by the French patent office.
Read an overview of protecting your IP in EU markets.
Read the Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO) more detailed guidance on IP protection in the EU.
Taxation in France
The UK and France have signed a double taxation agreement, ensuring the same income is not taxed in more than one country.
Find out how to get help from the French tax service for foreign companies Le Service des Impôts des Entreprises Etrangères (SIEE) (in French).
VAT in France
VAT is known as Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée (TVA) in French.
Goods exported from the UK to France are zero-rated for VAT purposes if your customer provides their VAT registration number and you have proof of export.
You’ll need your French customer’s VAT registration number for your VAT Return and paperwork proving that the goods have been sent within certain time limits (usually 3 months).
You have to:
- record all the goods sold to France on your VAT Return
- fill in an EC Sales List
- fill in an Intrastat declaration if your total dispatches are worth more than £250,000
Check to see if a French VAT number is valid.
Find more information on VAT in EU markets.
Find out about VAT requirements if you’re supplying digital services to EU markets.
Find out more about complying with Intrastat rules.
If your customer is not VAT-registered you must charge VAT at UK rates and include the amounts on your VAT Returns.
Excise duty in France
You should check you’ve paid excise duty on any alcohol, alcoholic drinks, energy products, electricity or tobacco products you send to France.
Find out more about excise duty and duty drawback within the EU.
Customs and documentation for France
France is part of the EU single market. This allows the free movement of goods and services without customs checks or the need to pay duty (except excise).
Goods can be sent to France without special customs documentation except in the case of sales to international organisations based in France and to special EU territories controlled by France. These are treated as exports.
Les Douanes (French equivalent of HMRC - site in French language) can provide information on customs requirements in France.
Read HMRC’s guidance on dispatching your goods within the EU.
France trade agreements
France is a member of the EU and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Goods manufactured in the UK are exempt from import duties.
Contact the SOLVIT team if you have market access issues relating to the operation of the single market.
Shipping your goods to France
You can usually send samples of your goods through the postal system.
Your local post office can also be used to export small orders to France if they can be easily packaged and are within the current weight restrictions.
If you’re sending goods by post you must check that the items are not prohibited or restricted by mail services in the UK and in France.
Find out more about prohibited or restricted items in France on Royal Mail’s website.
When using postal services on a more commercial basis you must complete the required customs form with the commodity code that relates to your goods.
Find your commodity code in the UK Trade Tariff.
Email HMRC’s Tariff Classification Service for more help on tariffs.
You must get a Certificate of Posting (form C&E 132) from the post office branch and you should ensure it’s date stamped. This supports the VAT zero-rating of your goods. If you’re exporting UK duty paid excise goods, you will need the certificate of posting form to support a claim for reimbursement of the UK excise duty.
For bigger orders, most businesses use a courier or freight forwarder.
Special rules apply if you’re shipping dangerous goods to France.
A template invoice (and licence, if you need one) must be attached to your consignment. Records of invoices must be kept for 4 years.
Find out more about shipping your goods to international markets.
Terms of delivery for France
Your contract should include agreement on terms of delivery using Incoterms.
Language and culture in France
When in business meetings you should:
- avoid using first names
- recognise and respect where there is a business hierarchy and always address people as Mr (Monsieur) or Ms (Madame)
- remember if you speak French that the formal ‘vous’ form is probably most appropriate and ‘tu’ can be regarded as lacking respect
Finding opportunities in France
You should do as much market research and planning as possible before exporting to France, using both desk research and visits to the market. You need to determine if there is a market for your product or service and whether your pricing is competitive.
DIT’s OMIS service can help you research the French market.
DIT provides free international export sales leads from its worldwide network. Find export opportunities in France.
Government tenders in France
Find high value public procurement notices from the from the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) on Tenders Electronic Daily (TED).
French contracts above €90,000, but below the TED threshold, are advertised on Bulletin Officiel des Annonces des Marchés Publics (BOAMP). Other French public administration websites will have details of contracts below this threshold.
BOAMP provides practical advice in French on replying to tenders.
There can be considerable bureaucracy involved in applying for French government tenders, but the rewards for success are high.
When you apply for or win a tender, you have to provide an ‘attestation fiscale et sociale’. This is to prove that you are up to date with the payment of tax in the UK.
Contact Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to get the equivalent document. It takes around 2 weeks to deliver. Telephone: 0300 200 3200
Entry requirements for France
UK citizens don’t require a visa to enter France, but must travel with a valid passport.
Travel advice for France
If you’re travelling to France for business, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice first.
Department for International Trade (DIT) contacts
Contact a local DIT trade adviser in the UK if you’re interested in finding out more about doing business in France.
Contact the DIT team in France for more tailored information and advice on opportunities for doing business in France.