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Being an entrepreneur in a foreign country – France

My journey to start my own company in France is an incredible adventure. Though it’s not directly related to recruitment matters dedicated for this blog, I hope it can help to provide a perspective for companies aiming to start operations in another country.

As a non-european foreigner in France, it took me 18 months before I can even start operating. There were times when I just lost the will to continue and this is when strong partners such as lawyers, accountants and friends got me through. Below is a month-by-month account.

March 2011 – My immigration lawyer has failed to obtain for me a long-term residency card. Without this card, it means I’m still on work permit and will have to get a commercial permit to own a company.

April 2011 – Armed with a business plan and offering, I found a lawyer to start work on administration.

May 2011 – A decisive time. Nicolas Sarkozy amended the immigration law to win votes for election in 2012. The quota for student visas to be converted to work visa is reduced and very limited. However, this office also deals with work visas to commercial visa.

I translated my life into French including: birth certificate, passport, diplomas and professional resume.

Other documents to prepare in French: Business Statute, Business plan, budget for 3 years, forecast for 3 years including treasury, business bank account with funds deposited, proof of work in France, salary slips for 12 months, proof of health insurance, proof of domicile, approval from my apartment syndicate, proof of insurance for my apartment and tax filings.

*If you are a local or European citizen, you don’t need any of these other than a business statute.

June 2011 – We had approval from EU commission to operate in France as a foreigner. My lawyer applied for company registration with above documents. We were informed that our application would only be looked at in August with the immigration office.

July 2011 – I wait.

August 2011 – Meeting with the immigration office. They require more recent documents than June documents. This means all proof of domicile and insurance has to be resent dated August 2011. I completed their request.

September 2011 – I wait

October 2011 – Immigration office asked for more detail business plan and budget. We supplied.

December 2011 – They officially rejected my request on 2 reasons: My business plan is unclear and my budget is unclear and not conformed to the French format.

I was told we can appeal and the office has 3 months to review. If the response is positive, I will receive a confirmation, otherwise we can assume refusal.

*My business plan is similar to all consulting services, there are no products and the service is simple. The budget was an internal format with indication on capital to operate for more than 6 months without income and a further injection should that be the case.

January 2012 – I worked with the lawyer to appeal against the decision. We appealed to the foreign ministry with the following arguments:
– I am not competing with a French national for job. I am creating jobs for future employment.
– I am not competing with French companies for business. My business is international. And since I’ll be paying taxes in France, it is a form of investment into France.
– I have been living here for 7 years.

My ex-colleague in Finance helped me put the budget in the French format.

February 2012 – We sent the appeal letter with a renewed version of all the documents stated above.

March 2012 – I wait.

April 2012 – I wait and getting desperate since our 3 months to appeal is up.

May 2012 – Francois Hollande was elected and one of the first things he did was to repeal the law by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011. I received news that my appeal is considered.

June 2012 – I received a letter to present all documents to the immigration office in July.

July 24th 2012 – I went to the immigration office. I almost vomited into the bin with the stress of the meeting. The lady at the immigration office could decide if my case is approved or not. She said I had to provide more documents on proof of previous work, unemployment status and tax payments.

I ran home and got the documents and submitted.

My temporary commercial visa is granted but I had to return in September with proof of registration of my company.

*At this point, you’d think it is homerun! Actually not. Because I now have to make sure the company is registered within a month and it was summer holidays in France.

August 2012 – My lawyers and bankers took turns to go on summer holidays. My bank had misspelt my company name and thus had to reissue proof of funds. Without this, we cannot register the company.

Meantime, I’ve decided to provide free coaching services to launch business activity.

September 11th 2012:

– 1015am, my company is finally registered. The confirmation is available online and I request for email download of proof.
– 11am, I met with the immigration office. I’m still missing a document for insurance. I explained that the office takes 3 weeks to confirm insurance after registration of the company. It was too impossible in summer.

*This would be probably the first time I missed an important deadline. Even when my ex-boss had asked me to conduct a European wide client survey in over 12 countries in August (summer month), I had managed to produce 2300 completed responses from all countries without exception. That is a different story to tell.

Finally, after 2 hours of waiting, the lady told me that it has been approved and I can collect the final permit in a month.

The Starting Line
Often I was asked why I had persisted even after months of waiting. Aside from the incredible amount of respect I get from French people when I say I’m starting my business here, the biggest reason is a personal decision to not quit.

Having said that, at many different points in the 18 months, I had given up, laid in bed and decided to have my own hunger strike against life and bureaucracy. Each time, a well-meaning phone call or coffee from friends and business associates helped me through.

Because going back home is far too easy. (Although I had mentally packed and unpacked my bags umpteen times.)

And despite reports on a weak Europe and a rising Asia, I still believe it makes business sense to have a people business in Europe. Asian employment market is still immature to coaching and development needs albeit growing.

And finally, I do plan to establish in Asia but having my feet planted in Europe will mean I have both markets open to me.

After more than 18 months, I am only at the starting line. As any Olympian can attest, years of training are only a ticket to be at the starting line of the race. So I’ve arrived. This is just the beginning of a marathon. There are miles ahead and mountains to climb but at least I can say, I’m on the line, competing.

And I’ve learnt a great deal. The most important lesson is to find the right people to work with you such as lawyers, accountants, bankers etc.

Post Note:
Since starting, I had encountered more administration that had been overcome 1 by 1.
– I’ve since found a good accountant.
– It’s also my accountant who informed me that I had been scammed. It’s a famous scam in Europe targeting new companies. I count several hundred euros of loss.
– I’ve been insured.
– I’ve set up postal services.

The list is long. I can only deal with each one step at a time. In the meantime, I remind myself of this word everyday: breathe.

About Jas Chong

Organisation change and transformation.


4 thoughts on “Being an entrepreneur in a foreign country – France

  1. When I read your story and your fight against Slow and Heavy French Administration, I feel so sorry for you (I am French). Congratulations for having won this battle… Good luck with your company!


    Posted by dje | November 21, 2012, 2:45 pm
  2. Congratulations. After having read your post, I would just apologize on behalf of my country for all the administrative inconvenience and hurdles it has caused you. It is even more unacceptable that you are bringing opportunities of activities, employment and revenue for the state. Your story is a great exemple of courage and perseverance in entrepreneurship. Bravo!


    Posted by remi | October 25, 2012, 11:48 pm
  3. Well done Jas! Amazing perseverance. Good luck with the new business. Charlie


    Posted by Anonymous | October 25, 2012, 3:13 pm

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