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I am an EU citizen (not French) currently living in France and working for a French employer. I do not need or have a work permit or residence card to do this. My non-EU-citizen spouse (who needs a visa) is staying with me.

In this situation, could I work as a freelancer in the future, staying in France, but doing work for clients who are abroad? Would I need any special permission from the French government to do this? If yes, could you give me a few general pointers on where I can learn more about this, preferably in English? Will it be a severe hindrance that I do not speak French?

If I were to do this, would it impact the residence permit of my spouse? When applying for this residence permit, it was not sufficient to prove that I am an EU citizen. I also needed to show that I have a paying job. Will this be a problem if I switch to freelancing? Will it be a problem if there is a period of a couple of months during which I am unemployed, especially if this coincides with the time when my spouse's residence permit needs to be renewed?

  • You might wonder why I would even want to stay in France (not being able to speak French) in this situation. The answer is that it would significantly ease moving to a different job which may be in a different country. I could be forced to have a long gap before moving on and I would prefer that during this time: 1. I stay put 2. Have some income if possible. I heard that becoming a freelancer in France is not bureaucratically easy, nor quick, so I worry it may not be practical at all in my case. – Praline May 2 '16 at 12:00
  • This answer implies that there shouldn't be a problem, but I'm not so confident about this ... I also don't understand whether being a spouse of an EU citizen is sufficient to give the right to reside in France, or whether something else is needed too (sufficient funds, etc.) – Praline May 2 '16 at 12:05
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    Basically, being the spouse of an EU citizen working in France is enough, it's not required to prove anything else (like income, health insurance, language ability or what not). If the EU citizen is not working at all, then you do need to prove you have sufficient income and health insurance. Interestingly, under some conditions, looking for work is enough to qualify as a worker. See this earlier question for more details and some links on the topic. – Gala May 2 '16 at 12:37
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In this situation, could I work as a freelancer in the future, staying in France, but doing work for clients who are abroad?

I think so: I'm doing that.

Would I need any special permission from the French government to do this?

I think so, well some ordinary permission anyway: because I think you're expected to pay taxes, e.g. income tax if you're earning income and are resident?

And apart from income tax there's also pension/retirement benefit payment, health insurance, and family-and-unemployment-etc insurance.

Actually I think that the income tax is relatively tiny compared to the various social security payments.

You might (I don't know) have to fuss with VAT as well.

If yes, could you give me a few general pointers on where I can learn more about this, preferably in English?

If you earn less than about 30,000 euros per year you can work under a simplified scheme called autoentrepreneur. Otherwise I think you're required to have an accountant who prepares your returns.

In either case I think you might start by registering at your nearest https://www.urssaf.fr office. They have brochures and/or you can read their web sites.

Plus you need to register elsewhere for health insurance, and elsewhere again for pension ... I can't tell you where because which organization it is will vary depending on what type of work you do (in my case I'm a programmer which is a profession libérale so for me it's the RSI and CIPAV).

Will it be a severe hindrance that I do not speak French?

Maybe you can find someone bilingual to guide you? An accountant for example, who will also prepare your taxes?

The Chrome (web browser) is quite good at translating French web pages?

There may be someone in an office who speaks some English, even if not everyone does?

I can't answer that from much experience though because I can speak French. I suppose there are English-language publications and/or communities and/or professionals (as a random and maybe suboptimal example http://www.connexionfrance.com/index.php has advertisements in the paper) but I can't recommend one.

The finances of self-employment are quite complicated to understand, I found (e.g. reduced/deferred payments due on the first year of income, which may be an unwelcome surprise later when they ask for regularization payments on your income from two years ago); and all the various official/bureaucratic acronyms are things you won't have learned in school; and some things (e.g. getting a carte vital) may take a good long while to process, like a year.

I heard that becoming a freelancer in France is not bureaucratically easy

I found it fairly easy actually in retrospect:

  • Figure out who (which organizations, three or four of them) I need to register with
  • Go to their (each) office in person
  • Explain myself to the receptionist
  • Show ID (e.g. a suitable passport)
  • Let the receptionist register me (using their own computer)
  • Go home and answer the mail (which includes sending them cheques) about 12 times per year

I guess answering the mail (e.g. their requests for payments) might be difficult if you don't speak French, unless that's something an accountant/translator/office assistant can do for you.

Just the figuring out which organizations I needed to register with took a bit of reading (many hours).

I didn't have the additional complication of a non-EU spouse.

  • How long did it take you to register with all these organizations? Days, weeks, months? I'm trying to decide what is the shortest amount of time that I'd be doing this that's still worth the trouble. – Praline May 2 '16 at 14:45
  • It probably took me a few days (or weeks of doing it part-time) to figure out what I had to do, but only hours to actually register. These "hours" included my travelling to the office during their opening hours and talking there, without making a prior appointment. The registration subsequently took them time (weeks) to process (or months in the case of the carte vital, which since you're already an employee maybe you have already) but having registered I started my work for my (non-EU) clients immediately. – ChrisW May 2 '16 at 15:00
  • (+1) If you choose to work as an auto-entrepreneur, you don't need to worry about contacting different organisations, you do it all in one place, on the official website. No need to worry about VAT either, you are outside the VAT system. – Gala May 2 '16 at 15:23
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You don't need anything to stay in France and work as a freelancer (no visa or permission needed).

There are a few things that are going to be more complicated however:

  • You need to take care of all the tax/insurance formalities for freelancers, which does involve quite a bit of interaction with the bureaucracy. It's not insurmountable (especially if you go for the auto-entrepreneur status) but there is a lot of information to digest, not all of it available in English, and you will need to do all the formalities in French (but the good news is that it's mostly on the web, which is not too bad as far as French bureaucracy goes!).

  • You need to be able to prove you have some genuine activity to secure your spouse's visa or residence permit (i.e. you have to show that you did not merely register as a freelancer to get a residence permit for your spouse but that you have real paying clients). If you can do that, you still count as a worker, so no income/funds requirement. Working as an employee is easier because you only need to show your work contract (and a proof of your relationship), no questions asked (at least in theory). Alternatively, you can also sponsor your spouse as a "economically non-active" EU citizen and that's where the income and health insurance requirements kick in.

  • Working solely for clients abroad might be difficult. I guess it depends a bit on where your clients are located (EU or not) but I personally had to give up a very interesting opportunity in Switzerland because of this. My prospective client needed some standard form proving I was registered as a freelancer and paying the mandatory contributions to the French health and social insurance system and the organisation in charge of that would not issue the relevant document before I could show that I had been active as a freelancer in France for a year or so (IIRC), which was not the case at the time.

Two alternative ideas you might want to explore to stay in France while waiting on your future job:

  • Getting a job in the meantime, any job. It can be part-time (like 10/12 hours a week) or short-term (i.e. CDD), with a very low salary, it does not matter. If you are a worker, there is no requirement to have sufficient funds or anything else. Your spouse will be able to stay in France under the same status as before (and work in France if they wish) and you can freelance on the side, but the work contract will take care of the residence issue. If you end up working less than you did until now, think about applying for unemployment benefits (you are also entitled to that for "partial" unemployment, i.e. taking a part-time job after you lost a full-time one).

  • Look up the rules for unemployment benefits. Doing contract work has some advantages over being unemployed but if you worked long enough in France (i.e. more than 4 months), you should be entitled to benefits for the same length of time (up to 2 years). This would both give you some income and health insurance coverage for the transition period and be enough to sponsor your spouse (see service-public.fr), at least as long as you are actively looking for work and registered with Pôle emploi.

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    Both answers are equally useful, but I can only pick one for the green checkmark. Thank you, not only for this, but also all your other well-referenced answers on this site about living in France! – Praline May 3 '16 at 9:35

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