Doing Business In France

Visa Information

EU nationals and citizens of Switzerland, Iceland and Norway need only a passport or national identity card in order to enter France and stay in the country. However, for nationals of the 10 new (in 2004) member countries, conditions for living and working in France vary from those for nationals of the original countries.
Citizens of Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Israel do not need visas to visit France as tourists for up to three months; the same goes for citizens of EU candidate countries (except Turkey).
As a practical matter, if you don’t need a visa to visit France, no-one is likely to kick you out after three months. The unspoken policy seems to be that you can stay and spend your money in France as long as you don’t try to work, apply for social services or commit a crime. Being in a situation irrégulière is nonetheless illegal, and without a carte de séjour you can face real problems renting an apartment, opening a bank account and so on.
Carte de séjour
Once issued with a long-stay visa, you can apply for a carte de séjour (residence permit), and are usually required to do so within eight days of arrival in France. Make sure you have all the necessary documents before you arrive. EU passport-holders and citizens of Switzerland, Iceland and Norway do not need a carte de séjour to reside or work in France. Other foreign nationals must contact the local préfecture (prefecture) or commissariat (police station) for their permits.
Students of all nationalities must apply for a carte de séjour at the Centre des Étudiants Étrangers (13 rue Miollis, 15e, Paris; Cambronne or Ségur) in Paris. For more information see the Paris Préfecture website ( in French).
Long-stay & student visas
This is the first step if you’d like to work or study in France, or stay for more than three months. Long-stay and student visas will allow you to enter France and apply for a carte de séjour (residency permit). Contact the French embassy or consulate nearest your residence, and begin your application well in advance as it can take months. Tourist visas cannot be changed into student visas after arrival. However, short-term visas are available for students sitting university-entrance exams in France.
Tourist (Schengen) visa
Those not exempt need a Schengen Visa, named after the agreement that abolished passport controls between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. It allows unlimited travel throughout the entire zone within a 90-day period.
Applications are made with the consulate of the country you are entering first, or that will be your main destination. Among other things, you will need medical insurance and proof of sufficient funds to support yourself. See for information.
If you enter France overland, it is unlikely that your visa will be checked at the border, but major problems can arise if you don’t have one later on.
Tourist visas cannot be extended except in emergencies (such as medical problems); you’ll need to leave and reapply from outside France when your visa expires.
Working holiday visa
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand aged between 18 and 29 years (inclusive) are eligible for a one-year, multiple-entry Working Holiday Visa, allowing combined tourism and employment in France. You have to apply to the embassy or consulate in your home country, and must prove you have a return ticket, insurance and sufficient funding to get through the start of your stay. Make sure you get in early with the application, as quotas apply.
Once you have arrived in France and have found a job, you must apply for a Temporary Work Permit (autorisation provisoire de travail), which will only be valid for the duration of the employment offered. The permit can be renewed under the same conditions up to the limit of the authorised length of stay.
The idea is to supplement your funds with unskilled work. You can also study or do training programmes, but the visa cannot be extended, nor turned into a student visa. After one year you must go home.

Business Etiquette

Meeting Etiquette

The handshake is a common form of greeting.

Friends may greet each other by lightly kissing on the cheeks, once on the left cheek and once on the right cheek.

First names are reserved for family and close friends. Wait until invited before using someone's first name.

You are expected to say 'bonjour' or 'bonsoir' (good morning and good evening) with the honorific title Monsieur or Madame when entering a shop and 'au revoir' (good-bye) when leaving.

If you live in an apartment building, it is polite to greet your neighbours with the same appellation.


Gift Giving Etiquette

Flowers should be given in odd numbers but not 13, which is considered unlucky.

Some older French retain old-style prohibitions against receiving certain flowers: White lilies or chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals; red carnations as they symbolize bad will; any white flowers as they are used at weddings.

Prohibitions about flowers are not generally followed by the young. When in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of conservatism.

If you give wine, make sure it is of the highest quality you can afford. The French appreciate their wines.

Gifts are usually opened when received.


Dining Etiquette

If you are invited to a French house for dinner:

Arrive on time. Under no circumstances should you arrive more than 10 minutes later than invited without telephoning to explain you have been detained.

The further south you go in the country, the more flexible time is.

If invited to a large dinner party, especially in Paris, send flowers the morning of the occasion so that they may be displayed that evening.

Dress well. The French are fashion conscious and their version of casual is not as relaxed as in many western countries.


Table manners

Table manners are Continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

If there is a seating plan, you may be directed to a particular seat.

Do not begin eating until the hostess says 'bon appetit'.

If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.

Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible and not in your lap.

Finish everything on your plate.

Do not cut salad with a knife and fork. Fold the lettuce on to your fork.

Peel and slice fruit before eating it.

Leave your wine glass nearly full if you do not want more.

General Business Hours

French business hours are regulated by the 35 hour-week work limit. Shop hours are usually 9am or 9.30am to 7pm or 8pm, often with a midday break from noon or 1pm to 2pm or 3pm. The midday break is uncommon in Paris. French law requires that most businesses close on Sunday; exceptions include grocery stores, boulangeries, cake shops, florists and businesses catering exclusively to the tourist trade. Many close one weekday too, often Monday.
Restaurants open for lunch between noon or 12.30pm and 2pm and for dinner from 7.30pm; they are often closed on one or two days of the week. Cafés open early morning until around midnight. Bars usually open early evening and close at 1am or 2am.
National museums are closed on Tuesday and local museums are closed on Monday. In summer some open daily. Local or less famous regional museums may close at lunchtime.
Banks usually open 8am or 9am to 11.30am or 1pm and then 1.30pm or 2pm to 4.30pm or 5pm, Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday. Exchange services may end half an hour before closing time.
Post offices generally open from 8.30am or 9am to 5pm or 6pm on weekdays (perhaps with a midday break) and Saturday morning from 8am to noon.
Supermarkets open Monday to Saturday usually from about 9am or 9.30am to 7pm or 8pm (plus a midday break in smaller towns); some open on Sunday morning. Small food shops may shut on Monday also, so Saturday morning may be your last chance to stock up on provisions until Tuesday. Open-air markets start at about 6am and finish at 1pm or 1.30pm. Many service stations have small groceries open 24 hours a day.