Few location independent entrepreneurs would consider France a good residency option. High taxes, heavy bureaucracy and a system that is generally hostile to entrepreneurs being some of the reasons why. For those not running location independent businesses, however, France can be a great residency option. In this guide, I cover the self-employment visa, the visa most appropriate for freelancers, traders and those who draw investment income.
This little-known visa is, in fact, not a true self-employment visa but a regular long-stay visa which allows self-employment. Its official name is “Visa de long séjour” in the “entrepreneur / profession libérale” category and it is issued for a period of up to one year.
Qualifying is surprisingly easy and mainly revolves around being able to prove that you have enough funds in your bank account to survive for the duration of your stay. This should be at least 1500 EUR per month (18000 EUR if applying for the full year). Obviously, the more the better.
You will also need a proof of accommodation (this can be an Airbnb booking confirmation, a rental agreement, a letter from a friend in France etc) and some sort of proof regarding your self-employment (past work, clients list, a website etc).
If approved, you will be authorized to live anywhere in continental France, Corsica, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte and Reunion. You will not, however, be authorized to live in the other overseas territories of France (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, St Pierre and Miquelon, French Antarctica, Wallis and Futuna). See the section below for information about those territories.
While the visa is only issued for a period of up to one year, it can be renewed indefinitely without the need to leave France. It can also lead to permanent residency and citizenship if certain conditions are met. Interestingly, it can also be used as part of the French citizenship hack which allows for near-instant French citizenship for the citizens of a number of countries including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
It is important to note that being a resident of France only allows you to live in France. It does not allow you to live elsewhere in the EU. In other words, you are still bound by the 90 days per 180 days rule (although to be fair, it is unlikely that you would run into any issues if you went over 90 days, as long as you enter and exit the Schengen area from France).
It is also important to note that if you spend most of your time in France under this visa, you will likely qualify as a French tax resident. As a French tax resident, your worldwide income will be liable to tax in France regardless of whether it is remitted. Personal income tax rates start at 0% (the first 10000 EUR or so) and go up to 45%. On top of that, you need to pay a social tax (the rate vary but is usually around 20% for those who are self-employed).
Do note that while tax rates are high, France is a territorial taxation country for corporation tax purposes and so there may still be ways to tax optimises, depending on your circumstances.
How to apply
In most cases, you will have to apply for the French self-employment visa in your country of residence. There are circumstances, however, where you will be allowed to apply from a third country or directly in France. As such, I recommend giving the nearest French consulate a call to inquire about your options if travel to your country of residence is not possible or practical.
The application must be initiated online here. Along with the form, you will need to submit a letter explaining your self-employment activities and what you intend to do in France. You will also need the supporting documents mentioned earlier in the guide (a proof of accommodation, a proof of self-employment etc).
The application fee for most nationalities, as of 2023, is 99 EUR.
Applications are usually processed within a month. If approved, you will have to travel to France as soon as possible to activate your visa and apply for a “Carte de Sejour” (resident ID card) at the nearest prefecture office to your place of residence.
France’s overseas territories
The French government has always loved to complicate things and this is reflected in the way their overseas territories are administered. A number of them are considered fully “French” and therefore use the same laws and visa regime as continental France (and are part of the EU). They are Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte and Reunion. The rest are considered separate jurisdictions and have their own laws and visa regimes (and are not part of the EU, except for Saint Martin). They are French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, St Pierre and Miquelon, French Antarctica, Wallis and Futuna.
Of particular interest here is French Polynesia, in part due to its excellent quality of life and in part due to its lack of personal income tax. Acquiring residency is easy for those who are self-employed even though the process is fairly obscure. An added bonus is that time spent in French Polynesia counts towards French citizenship making it one of the few legitimate potentially tax-free routes to EU citizenship.
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As an added note, while Saint Barthelemy also lacks a personal income tax, it is not a residency option I would recommend due to its very strict presence requirements (including a five year qualification period for tax residency).
The German self-employment visa is the best alternative for those looking to live in a major European country. Applying is easy, even more so than the French self-employment visa, and it provides similar benefits. Those interested in EU citizenship should give it a pass, however, as Germany does not allow dual-nationality for non-EU citizens. Norway and Sweden also have self-employment visas and while the climate in both can be brutal during winters, they are otherwise very nice countries to live in and have economies which are far superior to that of France. Other interesting alternatives include Bulgaria, where it is possible to obtain residency by registering a local business and Portugal with its NHR program.