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In-Depth Overview of Establishing a Foreign Company Branch in France: Legal and Tax Implications


Branching into French territory can offer several opportunities for foreign companies. However, to ensure seamless operations, the foreign company must meet the requirements set by French regulations, including obtaining the necessary certifications or authorisations for regulated activities. This article provides a comprehensive review of the legal and tax obligations that a foreign company must navigate when establishing a branch in France.

1. Navigating the Regulatory Landscape for Foreign Branch Activities

A foreign company looking to establish a branch in France must first acquaint itself with the regulatory framework governing its intended activities. French law is intricate, especially when a company’s operations extend into regulated sectors.

Regulatory Compliance in Sectors

Certain sectors, such as banking, insurance, and some professional activities, are regulated by specific laws and are subject to the oversight of designated authorities. In these sectors, before beginning operations, a foreign company must secure the necessary professional qualifications or obtain approval from the relevant regulatory authority.

For instance, in the banking sector, a foreign company is required to obtain a banking license from the French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority (Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de résolution – ACPR). Similarly, insurance companies must get approval from the French Insurance Supervisory Authority (Autorité de Contrôle des Assurances et des Mutuelles – ACAM).

Determination of Tax Regime and VAT Obligations

After addressing the sector-specific regulations, a foreign company must also determine its applicable tax regime. It should be noted that the company is obliged to register for VAT if it carries out taxable activities in France.

In general, a foreign company that does not have a fixed establishment in France but makes taxable supplies there must appoint a tax representative, who will be responsible for fulfilling its VAT obligations. The tax representative will handle VAT declaration and payment, ensuring the company’s compliance with French tax laws.

By thoroughly understanding the regulatory requirements and tax obligations, a foreign company can ensure a smooth transition into the French market, avoid penalties for non-compliance, and establish a firm foundation for successful operations in the country.


2. Assessment of Foreign Investment Regulations in Detail

When establishing a branch in France, foreign companies must thoroughly assess the investment regulations applicable to their specific industries. While most foreign investments do not require prior approval, certain sectors may have additional requirements.

Prior Authorization: For certain activities involving public order, public security, public health, research, production, or trade of weapons, munitions, and explosive substances, a foreign company must seek authorization from the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. This authorization process requires the foreign company to submit detailed information about its proposed activities, management, and ownership structure. Failure to obtain the necessary approval may result in sanctions or restrictions on the branch’s operations.

Industry-Specific Regulations: The foreign company must be mindful of any sector-specific regulations that may apply to its branch operations in France. For instance, in the banking, insurance, or telecommunications industries, the branch may require additional licenses or consents to operate. The foreign company should thoroughly research the regulatory landscape in its industry to avoid any non-compliance issues.

Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Regulations: The foreign company must adhere to French regulations concerning anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing, which mandate that companies implement internal controls, risk assessments, and reporting procedures. The branch may be required to appoint a compliance officer or a lawyer to ensure adherence to these regulations.

Import and Export Regulations: If the foreign company’s branch in France is involved in the import or export of goods or services, it must comply with applicable customs and excise regulations. This includes obtaining necessary permits, submitting accurate customs declarations, and paying required duties and taxes.

Intellectual Property Rights: The foreign company must also consider the protection of its intellectual property rights in France. This may involve registering trademarks, patents, or designs with the French Intellectual Property Office to ensure adequate protection.

By being highly attentive to these foreign investment regulations, the foreign company can ensure that its branch in France is established and operated in full compliance with the applicable laws and industry-specific requirements.


3. Legal and Business Considerations for the Branch

A branch office of a foreign company operating in France does not possess separate legal personality distinct from its parent company. As such, the branch is legally deemed an extension of the foreign company, with all business activities and contractual agreements undertaken by the branch falling under the direct responsibility of the parent company.

This implies that all contracts are concluded in the name of the foreign company, and are usually executed by a branch representative who acts within the confines of the powers granted to them. The branch, therefore, does not carry out transactions independently; rather, its operations are directly tied to the foreign parent company. No minimum capital is required for the establishment of a branch in France, given that it is not a separate legal entity.

In terms of legal responsibility, the foreign company is wholly accountable for the activities of its French branch, adhering to French law in governing the business operations of the branch. Consequently, any liability incurred by the French branch is the responsibility of the foreign parent company, including debts and legal obligations arising from the branch’s operations. In extreme scenarios, if the foreign company becomes insolvent, judicial reorganisation proceedings pertaining to the foreign company may occur in France.

It’s also worth noting that the branch must register with the French Trade and Companies Register and provide regular accounting information, mirroring the parent company’s operations in France. This information includes annual accounts, which are required to be published in accordance with French accounting standards.

The parent company is also obligated to appoint a legal representative who resides in France. This representative is legally responsible for the branch’s operations and ensures compliance with French laws and regulations. The appointment of the legal representative and any subsequent changes must be reported to the French Trade and Companies Register.

In summary, while the branch lacks independent legal personality, it still operates under strict regulatory supervision. The parent company bears all legal responsibility for the actions of its branch, including potential legal, financial, and regulatory liabilities arising from the branch’s operations. Understanding these implications is crucial for foreign companies intending to establish a branch in France.


4. Employment Regulations for the Branch

The employment regulations that a foreign company’s branch in France must adhere to are manifold and intricate. Below, we break these regulations down into more precise details.

     A. Recruitment and Secondment of Staff

The French branch has the option to either employ staff directly or second staff from the foreign company. If the branch opts for the latter, it’s essential to note that the duration of the secondment is initially capped at 12 months. However, under specific conditions, it may be extended by another six months. In the event that the secondment surpasses this extended period, it will be deemed a French employment contract under French law.

      B. Obligations for Secondment

In cases of secondment, the foreign company is obligated to declare the secondment to the French labour inspectorate before the commencement of the assignment. Furthermore, it must designate a representative in France. The representative serves as the point of contact for French administration and police officers, ensuring clear communication and smooth operations.

      C. Social Security Affiliation

The foreign company has a duty to affiliate seconded employees to the French social security system. This affiliation is mandatory, irrespective of the duration of the secondment. It ensures that employees are covered by French social security benefits.

      D. Salary and Social Contributions

In terms of salary, the foreign company must comply with French regulations. This includes withholding French social contributions on the wages and salaries paid to the seconded employees. The contributions are then paid to the relevant French social security institutions.

      E. Compliance with French Labour Law

As part of its obligations, the foreign company must ensure that the branch complies with French labour laws. These laws cover various aspects, including working hours, paid leaves, health and safety regulations, and termination of employment contracts.

In essence, while setting up a branch in France may offer considerable advantages for a foreign company, it’s important to fully comprehend and abide by the employment regulations. This will help the branch maintain a productive working environment, avoid legal complications, and protect the rights of its employees.


5. Detailed Procedure for Alterations and Termination of a Branch

In the event of any significant modifications to the foreign company’s branch in France, several important steps and notifications are required under French law.

Changes to the Branch: Any substantial changes, such as a modification in the branch’s registered office address or a change in the branch representative, necessitate formal updates. The foreign company must make these changes known to the Commercial and Companies Registry (RCS – Registre du Commerce et des Sociétés). The process requires completion and submission of specific forms (Form M2 for modifying the branch’s details and Form M3 for changes concerning the branch representative).

Termination of the Branch: If the foreign company decides to close its branch in France, it must undertake a specific process. This involves filling out and submitting Form M4 to the Commercial and Companies Registry.

Notice of Closure: As part of the closure process, the foreign company may also need to announce the closure in a legal newspaper. This is especially necessary when the closure results in a business sale or the termination of a lease contract.

Liability Clearance: Upon branch closure, the foreign company remains liable for any outstanding obligations or liabilities the branch may have incurred during its operation. This includes any financial, contractual, or tax-related liabilities.


6. Detailed Taxation and Bookkeeping Requirements

The foreign company’s branch in France is subjected to several tax obligations.

Corporate income tax is a significant consideration, with the branch being liable for tax on profits generated in France. The standard rate is 31% (for fiscal years starting on or after January 1, 2023), although a reduced rate of 15% may apply for SMEs on the first €38,120 of profit. However, the branch’s profits must be determined as if it were a separate and independent entity from the foreign company.

The branch is also liable to Value Added Tax (VAT) on the provision of goods and services in France. The standard VAT rate is 20%, with reduced rates of 10%, 5.5% and 2.1% applicable to certain goods and services.

The branch tax (3%) applies to profits remitted to the foreign company, although exemptions exist, particularly under double tax treaties.

The branch may also be liable to pay local property taxes, including the territorial economic contribution (CET), which consists of the business property tax (CFE) and the value added contribution (CVAE).

Payroll tax applies if the branch does not pay VAT on at least 90% of its turnover. The rate varies between 4.25% and 13.60% depending on the annual gross salaries paid.

Regarding bookkeeping, the branch must maintain separate accounts from the foreign company. These accounts must include a profit and loss account, a balance sheet, and annexes. The accounts must be filed annually with the commercial and companies’ registry. The branch should also issue invoices compliant with French regulations and retain copies of these invoices for a minimum of six years.



Creating a branch in France for a foreign company is a decision that involves careful consideration of various factors, including regulatory compliance, legal and business considerations, employment regulations, and, significantly, understanding the detailed taxation and bookkeeping requirements. Given the intricacies involved, the guidance of a legal expert is paramount in ensuring that these responsibilities are met efficiently and accurately.

As experts in French and international law, our law firm is well-positioned to provide comprehensive legal assistance in the establishment of your branch in France. We are fully equipped to guide you through each step of the process, from understanding the regulatory requirements to setting up a sound taxation and bookkeeping system. We are at your disposal to help you navigate these complexities and make your business expansion into the French market a seamless and successful venture.

Protective Measures and Monetary Penalties: Balancing National Interests and Investor Accountability

Protective Measures: Safeguarding National Interests

In addition to the administrative consequences, the MINEFI can implement temporary protective measures to secure national interests:

Suspension of the voting rights linked to the securities obtained by the investor without prior authorisation.

Limitation or prohibition on the distribution of dividends associated with the securities acquired without necessary authorisation.

Temporary restrictions or prohibitions on the disposal of assets related to activities requiring authorisation.

Appointment of a company representative who can counter any corporate decisions potentially undermining national interests.

In case the MINEFI decides to execute any of these protective measures, the investor must be granted a 15-day period to present counter-arguments. Exceptions to this period are made in instances of emergencies, exceptional circumstances, or imminent threats to public order, public security or national defense.

Monetary Sanctions: Ensuring Investor Compliance

The MINEFI also wields the power to impose financial penalties under the following circumstances:

Finalisation of the investment without prior authorisation.

Acquisition of the prior authorisation fraudulently.

Violation of the terms and conditions stipulated under the MINEFI authorisation.

Partial or complete non-compliance with the injunctions or remedial actions set forth by the MINEFI.

The offending investor may be subjected to a fine equivalent to the highest of the following sums:

Twice the value of the investment in question.

10% of the annual turnover of the target company (excluding taxes).

EUR 1 million for individuals or EUR 5 million for legal entities.

Section Three: Financial and Criminal Consequences of Regulatory Violations

Implications of Financial Penalties

The MINEFI possesses the authority to enforce financial penalties in cases of:

Execution of an investment without preceding authorisation.

Fraudulently obtaining prior authorisation.

Violation of the terms and conditions specified under the MINEFI authorisation.

Partial or total failure to adhere to the directions or corrective measures imposed by the MINEFI.

In accordance with Article L.151-3-2 of the Monetary and Financial Code, the offending investor may be subjected to a fine which could extend to the greater of the following:

Double the value of the implicated investment.

10% of the annual turnover of the target company (excluding taxes).

A sum of EUR 1 million for individuals or EUR 5 million for legal entities.

Criminal Repercussions

In addition to the financial penalties, criminal sanctions may also be applied if foreign investment laws are violated, which include:

  • A maximum imprisonment term of up to five years.
  • Confiscation of the investment.
  • A fine of at least the amount of the investment, and potentially up to double its value (which may be multiplied by five for legal entities).

For legal entities, exclusion from public procurement contracts is possible.

Conclusion: Navigating the Maze of Foreign Investment Compliance

Understanding the regulatory landscape of foreign investments in France is critical to ensuring smooth business operations and avoiding severe legal, financial, and even criminal consequences. This article has highlighted the central pillars of the legal framework, focusing on the role of MINEFI, the conditions for foreign investment, and the penalties for non-compliance.

Key takeaways include the understanding that MINEFI serves as the gatekeeper for foreign investment, mandating that any changes in control, sector, or activities must receive prior authorisation. It’s also paramount to note that investors bear the burden of ensuring continuity and conformity with stipulated conditions even post-acquisition.

Failure to comply with the legal prerequisites can trigger administrative sanctions, which might compel an investor to modify an investment or even restore a previous situation. Severe breaches can result in the withdrawal of authorisation or imposition of new conditions, potentially disrupting business continuity and causing financial loss.

On top of administrative penalties, MINEFI can impose interim protective measures, such as suspending voting rights, restricting dividends, or limiting the disposal of assets. In extreme cases, the entity might even appoint a company representative to prevent decisions that could compromise national interests.

The financial penalties for regulatory violations are hefty, with fines that could reach twice the value of the investment, 10% of the target company’s annual turnover, or up to EUR 5 million for legal entities. Moreover, criminal sanctions could include imprisonment or seizure of the investment, creating serious personal and financial implications for the investor.

Beyond these penalties, it’s vital to note the stringent information obligations and declaration requirements that must be fulfilled to maintain transparency and ensure ongoing regulatory compliance. Investments exceeding 15 million euros carry additional reporting duties, necessitating notification to the Banque de France.

Finally, investors should be acutely aware of the list of strategic sectors that are subject to stricter scrutiny and control. This includes sectors related to national defence, dual-use items, data security, gambling, public health, and critical technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnologies.


In conclusion, navigating the complex terrain of foreign investment in France requires a thorough understanding of the regulatory environment and a commitment to ensuring ongoing compliance. The potential penalties for non-compliance are severe, making it critical for foreign investors to seek competent legal advice and take proactive steps to ensure they meet all regulatory requirements. The goal should always be to foster a cooperative and compliant relationship with MINEFI and other regulatory bodies, ensuring a smoother investment journey and a successful business operation in France.

About the Author :

Business lawyers, bilingual, specialized in acquisition law; Benoit Lafourcade is co-founder of Delcade lawyers & solicitors and founder of FRELA; registered as agents in personal and professional real estate transactions. Member of AAMTI (main association of French lawyers and agents).

FRELA : French Real Estate Lawyer Agency, specializing in acquisition law to secure real estate and business transactions in France.

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