Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Becoming an auto-entrepreneur

There has been talk for months and months now about my doing some freelance work for a prestigious Parisian institution which shall remain nameless, which I've held back on blogging about since it dragged on and on with nothing happening for so long. However, it looks like thunderbirds are go, so I thought it might be helpful to some of my readers to talk about the process of becoming self-employed - an 'auto-entrepreneur' in French. Please note that this is my own personal experience, so while I've tried to put down the process to the best of my ability, you should probably seek further advice if you're thinking of taking the plunge yourself. Also, I have an EU passport, so I have no idea what hurdles you need to jump through if you are here on an existing visa or you want to move to France to set up a business.

I was initially quite reluctant to go ahead with this, due to a number of concerns - 1) I wasn't sure whether it was okay for me to take work on the side while remaining an employee, 2) I wasn't sure what it would do to my tax bill, and 3) I wasn't looking forward to jumping through administrative hoops that I would regard as a headache in my own country, let alone in a foreign language and in France, kingdom of bureaucracy.

To take those points in order: 1) legally, you are allowed to be an auto-entrepreneur and salarie, with the usual caveats about advising your employer and not entering into direct competition with them. I told my boss when this was first raised with me, and I never actually got a response to my email, so hopefully it's okay! I assume so, I'm not doing the same work or stealing clients (we don't have clients for starters) or anything like that.

2) The tax rate for people providing services is 21.3% of your gross revenue, and you can earn up to 32,600 euros per annum as an auto-entrepreneur. This covers all social security payments as well. You can choose to pay this online monthly or once a trimester. Everyone seems to say that this is absolutely ALL you have to pay as an auto-entrepreneur and you pay nothing if you don't make any money. *However* I ran a couple of simulations on the tax calculator at and adding in the auto-entrepreneur money seemed to add a couple of hundred euros on to my overall tax bill (on top of the 21.3% which is paid separately), which isn't great news since I'm only getting 1000 euros for this job. After thinking about it, I decided to go forward with the job on the understanding that I might not really make much money out of it at all, basically because it will look good for me to have work for nameless Parisian institution on my CV, it will look good to have professional translation work on my CV, and you never know if something will come of it in terms of making professional contacts and potentially opening up new career options. When I get the chance, I'd like to go and talk to someone official and clear all this up, but in the meantime I'm planning on putting the money straight into my savings and holding on to it until tax time. Best case scenario, I'm doing something wrong on that calculator and it is only 21.3% and that's the end of the story, but if not, I'm prepared for that.

3) The most important thing you need to do is register online to create your enterprise and get the all-important SIREN/SIRET number, equivalent to your social security number as an individual. It's actually pretty quick and easy. I won't go through every step, but just some of the things I thought were important to highlight.

You will need (ideally) to have an electronic copy of your ID (e.g. passport scan). The first thing to do is say what the nature of your work will be - I ummed and ahhed a bit about this, since the work I will actually be doing, at least for this first job, is a bit difficult to define, but I opted for 'translator' as the simplest option. I later read somewhere (I think on a form I got sent in the mail) that this information was for statistical purposes only, so don't worry too much. This is classed as an 'activite liberale', which I think does make a difference to your tax rate.

Unfortunately, this next bit got cut off on my print-out of my declaration, but I'm pretty sure where it asks about the regime micro fiscal (BIC or special BNC) I ticked yes. Whichever option I ticked, it is meant to mean that you can pay all your taxes and charges when you do your monthly or trimestrial declaration, so there *should* be nothing left over to surprise you at the end of the tax year.

I think those are the main things I needed help with when filling out the declaration, the rest should be more or less straightforward if you speak French. You also have to pick a new organisme d'assurance maladie, although you still keep the old one as a salarie. I really don't know how the relationship between the two works - it still confuses me that everyone isn't just on the same system to begin with. It says there is no difference to your charges etc. depending on which organisme you choose so I just googled and picked one with an office in Tours, since I prefer dealing with people face-to-face if possible.

After I submitted my form, it only took a week or two for me to receive the notification that they had created my enterprise! Since then, mail has been rolling in about different aspects of being an auto-entrepreneur (plus I am now on the mailing list of every telecommunications company etc. in France), which I haven't really had time to look at. And by "I haven't had time" I mean "I've been too lazy to". It is quite funny getting stuff in the post directed to 'le dirigeant' etc.

Once things were moving forward with the SIREN/SIRET numbers, I had to provide a bill for my services. I followed a model on this website, with some obvious adjustments due to the nature of the work. Note the line telling you that you cannot charge TVA as an auto-entrepreneur! Because I was billing for a mixture of translation and other services, I divided it into a rate per word for the translation and a rate per hour for the rest.

I will put what I'm charging on here since I think it can be hard, especially as expats, to get this sort of information. For this job, I charged 20 centimes per word for translation, and 36 euro per hour gross for my other work (basically liaison work with "clients" and updating the website - I don't want to get too specific on what/who I'm working for on the interwebs). I had actually drawn up a bill at 10 centimes and 20 euro, which I showed to a colleague who basically told me to hike my prices. I have seen rates for translation quoted online at around 7-15 centimes per word, so I initially went for 10 since I'm not a qualified translator or anything. It was good for me to get some advice on this as I tend to be a bit timid and to under-value myself, so sometimes it is good to get someone else to come in and tell you that you're pitching too low.

The translation work I am doing is in a quite specialised domain and intended for an academic audience, so arguably it should be charged at a higher rate. I think so far on average my rate for translation is working out at around about 50 euros an hour, although obviously that's subject to variation based on the complexity of the text to be translated. I had some further discussion with colleagues who have hired translators for similar work in the past, and this seems roughly commensurate with what they have been willing to pay. I don't know how competitive one would be at this rate out in the market, but all things considered, I think it's a fair rate. However, I submitted my facture right before Christmas, so I actually haven't got any word back on that yet!

If anyone is interested, I'll try to keep you updated on any developments as I get to grips with things myself (it's still all a bit new and scary to be honest) and any feedback on any aspect of the process, working for yourself, making contacts, translating, etc. etc. is welcome!


  1. Good post! I've also just become an auto-entrepreneur and I'm working on preparing my first bill so I'll have a look at the model you've given. Good luck with your new side job!

  2. Excellent post, Gwan.

    I am actually in the brainstorming process of entrepreneurship and am getting advice from the office I worked for.

    If I have anything that would be of service to you, I'll be happy to pass it on to you but you seem to have really done your homework. Bravo.

    I can't help but be curious about what it is you're working on. : )

    I'll wait for a later post..!

  3. Thanks for the kind words! All these auto-entrepreneurs coming out of the woodwork :) Good luck with your projects & I will keep an eye out for any info on your blogs/other stuff I can share.

    Ella - it's a project of such tantalising mystery that unveiling the details on the blog would probably make my readers' heads explode ;) I'm still waiting to hear what you're going back to school for!

  4. Wow! Good for you! I wish you lots of luck for the job!

  5. Congrats! And I know several expats who've become auto-entrepreneurs as well....seems to have been a fairly straightforward process for them too! (for once the French gov has actually made things simpler, huh?)

  6. Alors Mme La Dirigeant - there'll be no talking to you soon!
    It sounds like getting a strange malady is also compulsory for being an entrepreneur or did somethiong get lost in the translation?

  7. Thanks for the comments! Getting strange maladies is part of every bureaucratic practice in France.

  8. Nice one sis! V proud xxx

  9. Very interesting and informative post! Please let us know how things go. I'll be sure to direct anyone else who is thinking about becoming an auto-entrepreneur in France to your blog.

    I love it when creative and innovative expats succeed at whatever it is that they decide to do.


  10. Thanks a lot, that's very nice! I will do!

  11. thanks for this! belatedly.....i moved to france about a month ago, hvaing previously lived in italy...I am in the chicken and egg process of getting work, getting a legal status. I teach english so it seems AI would be for me.....thanks for the excellent tips........shall be referring to this throughout my process!

    1. Thanks Serena, good luck!!

  12. Hello Gwan,
    I'm in a similar position as you I believe and was wondering what you did about your "régime vieillesse"... through my other job I'm registered with Natixis (or someone or something... I don't fully understand) but basically I've been paying into the pension fund and a private pension fund... now the autoentrepreneur seems to impose that you pay into the CIPAV...

    what happens with the other accounts ? Did you not have a pension fund before ? Did I totally grab the wrong end of the stick ?

    I'm not anonymous - I'm called Lily - but there does not seem to be a simple name/email combination in the comment as: block.

    Hope you're well. Thanks for any guidance!

    1. Thanks for your comment Lily. Argh, pensions what are those?!? Honestly, I only did the one auto-entrepreneur contract, so I probably have about .002€ in my pension fund from that. But I've worked in so many different countries that I think my retirement is just a huge mess which I try not to think about :( Good luck to you though!


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