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I currently live in France and have a residence card (spouse of EU citizen) that mentions that I am allowed to work. I am currently working part-time for an employer.

In addition to my current job, I want to do some occasional work through some of the usual freelancing websites. In this situation, work is done for international clients (in practice none of them are likely to be French). Interaction with clients, including payments, is handled by the website.

Do I need to do any paperwork to be able to do this? Do I need special permission from the government or tax office, or obtain a special status (e.g. auto-entrepreneur)? Or is it sufficient to declare this income at the usual time in May?

I am having difficulties finding this information because I do not speak much French (my job doesn't require it, nor does any of the freelance work I plan to do).

Since this would be a small amount of work and small income, I would prefer to keep things as simple as possible, and avoid going through bureaucracy as much as possible.

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As @audionuma explained, if you are freelancing, you are effectively running a business as far as the law is concerned and you are expected to register accordingly. You also need to have a status allowing you to work in France, but as the spouse of an EU citizen you are covered in this respect.

Depending on the status you choose, you would also declare the additional income as part of your income tax return at the end of the year or pay income tax right away (prélévement libératoire) but that's not enough. The important difference are the mandatory tax-like contributions to the state insurance system (sécurité sociale, which covers health, unemployment, old-age pensions, work accidents and occupational illnesses, and family benefits) and corporate tax. As an employee, your employer takes care of all that for you but you are not allowed to simply circumvent the whole system because you're freelancing (or selling things abroad)!

Auto-entrepreneur” is precisely a status to make all this (relatively) easy when your freelancing activity is limited (in theory, it's intended for people who are just starting or doing it besides a regular job, even though there is a bit of abuse going on). Unless your employment contract has a very restrictive non-compete clause, doing that beside a job should not be a problem at all (certainly not as far as the state is concerned). The main limitation is that your yearly turnover should be under a certain threshold (depends on the type of activity, for services it's something like €35k). If you exceed that threshold, you will have to switch to another status (with heavier bookkeeping requirements, proper VAT accounting and many choices to make regarding taxes and the like).

Concretely, you register on the official website, your registration will be transmitted to the relevant authorities and you will get a number of letters confirming that, a SIRET number, etc. After that, you can declare your freelancing income directly on the website and pay the relevant taxes and contributions automatically. You are out of the VAT system (i.e. you don't have to worry about it, you pay VAT like a private customer, you don't charge it to your clients) and you have limited accounting obligations (basically you need to issue invoices with a few key pieces of information – stuff like “TVA non applicable - article 293 B du CGI”; no proper double-entry bookkeeping).

It really is quite easy (and completely free, except perhaps sending out one or two letters, you only start to pay something once you have a contract/client) but the main issue in your case will be the fact that you expect most of your clients to be abroad. If they are inside the EU (and associated states), you are supposed to get some sort of special document attesting that you are covered by the French state insurance system (so your clients don't need to pay similar contributions in their country and/or can prove they are not trying to defraud their country's statutory insurance system by hiring a freelancer abroad) and I never managed that. After much back and forth to find out who could actually issue this document, it seems you first need a certain level of activity in France before you can get it and I lost an interesting contract in Switzerland that way. On the other hand, if your clients are completely outside the EU, maybe that's not relevant and you could just send them a regular invoice and be done with it.

A small note: Once you register, you will be listed on official lists of business owners, which are public. Because of that, you will receive a number of scam attempts, official-looking forms with a letter demanding a ~€100 payment to be added to some directory or other, which are neither mandatory nor really useful. Ignore them.

  • Is there a similar status to auto-enrepreneur but for full time freelancers? – Iguananaut Sep 16 '16 at 13:05
  • Could you please give some more references about in what way foreign clients are going to be a problem, so I can research this more easily? I would be providing services through websites such as freelancer.com or upwork.com. Who the client is depends on what projects I find there. – Karol Sep 16 '16 at 13:28
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    @Iguananaut Not really, the idea is that the state can afford to make things (relatively) easy because the details do not matter so much in this bracket. For example, the whole calculation makes assumptions about costs and your contributions are computed on a set fraction of your turnover (because you have no actual bookkeeping). If you go over the threshold, then you do have more complex bookkeeping obligations and you have to choose one of the traditional corporation forms, the simplest of which is probably the EURL. – Gala Sep 17 '16 at 0:25
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    One drawback of something like the EURL status is not so much the constraints of creating a corporation (although bookkeeping does require some time and/or money to pay for an accountant) but the fact that you can have some upfront costs (to register your corporation) and the way you have to pay contributions/taxes in the first two years: taxes are always calculated on your turnover/profit from the year before last and since you just started, the state uses a fictional turnover that might be above what you are actually doing as a newly established freelancer. – Gala Sep 17 '16 at 0:37
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    @Iguananaut One last remark: It's best to look into that ASAP because you're supposed (1) to be registered before you start working and (2) to report your turnover on the website quarterly (not in one or two years like most other taxable transactions), and (3) the thresholds are computed “pro rata temporis”, meaning that if you register, say, in June, you are only allowed to register €15k or so for that year. If you do register and choose not to use it or don't have any contracts, you can keep the status active by reporting a €0 turnover every quarter or simply withdraw at no cost. – Gala Sep 18 '16 at 10:13
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You do have to do some paperwork to do this. Just declaring the income is not legal.

When working in France, besides income taxes, you also have to pay income related taxes for benefits (health insurance, retirement, etc.). Besides, when working as a freelance, you must bill your clients, that requires to have a 'SIRET' number (an identifying number for your business) and deal with VAT issues.

It looks like given your situation as you described it, the 'auto-entrepreneur' status should be appropriate without too much hassle.

EDIT

I couldn't find a definitive answer about the right for someone with your status (spouse of EU citizen) to use the auto-entrepreneur status although it looks like it should be OK.

  • Thanks for the answer. Do you have any sources to back this up? My primary and stable income is from my part time job. Freelancing would be occasional and would provide less income, not nearly sufficient to earn a living. What does "auto-entrepreneur status" mean exactly? Does it not conflict with being employed by someone else as a primary job? – Karol Sep 14 '16 at 22:05
  • I'm also not clear about how all this is affected by the fact that all clients would likely be foreign (non-French). That is because work would be found through freelancing marketplace websites. – Karol Sep 14 '16 at 22:20
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    @Karol Auto-entrepreneur is precisely intended for a situation like that (incidental income, besides a regular job). – Gala Sep 15 '16 at 6:10

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