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Import and Export in/from France

Updated on Monday 02nd August 2021

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France is one of the most important economies of the world, especially after 1995, when it became a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Currently, France is one of the main importers and exporters in the EU, next to Germany. The latest Economic Complexity Index places France on the 6th position in the world when it comes to exports and the 13th when it comes to economic complexity. 
 
Also, thanks to its geographical position which grants easy access to Europe and Africa, France has become a preferred destination for foreign investors setting up businesses in the import/export industry. You can rely on our team of specialists in company formation in France if you need advice on how to start an import-export business in this country. If you need more information on France import and export, you can rely on us for information on the procedures.
 

Imports and exports in the French economy

 
Considering that France is one of the main importers and exporters at a European level, the financial contributions of this sector is very important for the local economy. The French economy relies on the export of various commodities, pharmaceutical products and auto vehicles, and the country is currently the second largest trader in the European Union being surpassed by Germany. 
 
At a global level, France is one of the most important traders when it comes services and various food products and beverages, among which cheese and wine are the most renowned. France has its main trading partners other EU states, such as Italy, Germany and Spain. Prior to Brexit, the United Kingdom (UK) used to be another important EU trading partner, but, since the UK has exited the EU, it is now considered to be the most important trading partner outside the EU. 
 
Agriculture is one of the main industries when it comes to France import and export, as nearly 25% of EU’s products are grown here. Moreover, agriculture contributes with approximately 2.5% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If you need information on how to import in France, our local agents can offer more information on the procedures. You can also rely on us if you want to open a trading business in France. Our company formation agents in France are at your service with various services related to setting up a business here.
 

Top imports and exports in France

 
Investors interested in this industry should know that France is a leading exporter of spacecraft at a global level. The value of exports related to planes and helicopters accounted for $ 43,8 billion, and this is due to the fact that the innovation sector in France is rapidly expanding. One should know that the country is a leading economy on the export of auto vehicles and machine equipment.
 
During the last several years, the pharmaceutical industry has become quite visible in the economy, generating an annual income of nearly $25,7 billion. Today, France exports are mainly made of: spacecraft, machinery and equipment, automobiles and pharmaceuticals. The top imported products are vehicles and crude petroleum. 
 
French companies usually import IT products, such as computers and computer spare parts and packaged medicines. France’s main import and export partners are European countries, such as Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Benelux (Belgium and Luxembourg) and the United Kingdom, while outside Europe, the United States and China are major trading partners.
 

Importing and exporting goods in France

 
With regards to the import procedures that have to be followed in France, the customs authorities have the main responsibility.  Foreign companies exporting products to France are required to file several documents with the Customs Authority, among which two declarations are needed - the maritime manifest and the SAD (single administrative document) file. In order to develop import-export operations, French companies will also need to have an EORI number, which is based on the VAT number. 
 

Import procedures in France

 
Companies dealing with import activities are required to follow specific procedures regardless of the products that they import on the French market. One of the main requirement is to register the legal entity with the local institutions and with the tax authorities and receive a French VAT number.  
 
Based on this VAT number, the company will be able to have an EORI number, that is used solely for the purpose of trading goods across the borders of the EU; it is also used to simplify the trading procedures that are applicable at the EU borders. 
 
One must know that traders have to apply specific rules based on the goods they will import or export, in accordance with the Integrated Tariff of the European Communities (TARIC code). Regarding the import of goods from outside the EU, more complex procedures will have to be followed. 
 
In order to import in France, a company must obtain an import license. The permit must be obtained once and then can be used for every operation with the Customs. However, the documents accompanying the merchandise entering the country must be completed every time. The following documents must be submitted upon the import of goods in France:
 
  • 1. the Customs Entry file which can be prepared by the importer or by a broker;
  • 2. the Customs declarations where clearance for some goods is required;
  • 3. the import license and the insurance certificate of the company;
  • 4. the Inspection Certificate which is required in certain cases (most of the times when the goods are brought from non-EU countries);
  • 5. the purchase order, letter of credit or commercial invoice, and the weight certificate which must attest to the quantity/number of goods;
  • 6. the certificate of origin and analysis, if applicable.
 
Special documents such as health, phytosanitary, dangerous goods and product specification certificates are also required in case of certain goods that are meant for imports in France. If you want to import goods into France and need assistance, our agents can advise you.
 

What are the France exports?

 
Just like in the case of import, when it comes to France exports, similar procedures are available. The company registration procedure must also be completed, as well as obtaining a VAT and EORI number in order to be able to send goods to foreign clients.
 
In terms of documents to prepare for export in France, invoices and various certificates must be provided to the client to present upon arrival in his/her country of origin. It is a common fact for French companies to enter import/export activities, therefore, import or export are not treated as singular operations.
 

France’s main import and export partners

 
When it comes to import and export in France, there are plenty of states in and outside the EU with which the country has partnerships with; you can find out more on this topic from our consultants in company registration in France. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), among these are:
 
  • Germany which represents France’s main trading partner in the EU with a percentage of 13.9%;
  • Italy and Benelux are the second most important trading partners in the EU with a percentage of 7.61% each;
  • Spain represents the 3rd top trading partner with a share of 7.58%;
  • China represents France’s main trading partner in Asia with a percentage 4.36%;
  • the USA is another important trading partner of France with a percentage of 7.96%;
  • the UK remains one of France’s greatest partner in Europe for both import and export with a percentage of 6.76%, even after the Brexit.
 

What is the law on France import and export?

 
Businessmen who want to start the procedure of company formation in France in the field of import-export operations are advised to first study the law regulating this field of activity. It is necessary to know that this activity is regulated at a EU level, which means that France will generally follow the same rules and procedures that are prescribed by the EU.
 
Still, given that all EU member states retain their autonomy with regards to national laws, some EU countries may have more complex import-export rules compared to other EU countries. With regards to France import and export, it is necessary to know that national rules do apply, besides the ones imposed by the EU. 
 
As a general rule, the French law is very open to import-export operations, but the French customs are generally very vigilant with regards to the goods that are introduced on the local market. Please mind that the France exports of goods included in the category of dual-use goods is highly regulated. This category refers to goods that can be used for both civil and military purposes. 
 
Here, the main legal framework with regards to French exports is given by the Community Export Control Regime, on which our team of consultants in company formation in France can provide more details. The import or export of specific goods, such as electrical products, must comply with a set of norms and standards, and they all have to contain the “EC” mark, which represents an European Certificate of conformity of the said goods. 
 

What are the restrictions regarding imports in France?

 
The right to France import and export is generally very liberal, but there are specific goods that can’t be exported or imported on the local market, or if they are, numerous rules have to be respected. This applies to both commercial imports in France and private imports, meaning the goods and products that are brought here by individuals returning from other states. 
 
It is absolutely mandatory to verify what the rules and restrictions are, regardless if you represent a natural persons or a legal entity, as if they are on the list of restricted goods, they will be seized by the customs authorities. For natural persons, this can be a small impediment, but for companies importing goods, it can have a crucial impact on their business operations. 
 
As to the goods that are on the prohibited list of imports in France, below, we will present few of the products that fall into this category, but it is necessary to know that the list is far more extensive and foreigners should be advised on this matter prior to dealing with the French customs authorities. The following fall into this special category:
 
  • if some of your imports in France are plants and other plant goods, they need to have a Common Health Entry Document for Plant Protection;
  • for plants and animals that are considered endangered species, importers will need special permits, as long as the respective species are on the list of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species;
  • imports in France of live animals (other than pets) must bear documents attesting their health inspection and having proper vaccination;
  • France exports of cultural goods are done following a specific procedure, stipulated by the Ministry of Culture;
  • the France import and export of ammunition and weapons fall under a highly regulated regime and various authorizations have to be obtained.  
 
EU states, France included, follow the Union Customs Code system, which represents an integrated customs policy for the trade of goods in the EU area. If you need assistance on the rules and regulations of this system, we invite you to address to our team of consultants; you can also receive legal representation in the process of opening a company in France that deals with the import or export of goods
 
We invite you to contact our team of specialists in company formation in France for more details regarding the rules applicable to import-export operations. Our team can help you obtain an EORI number and can assist foreign businessmen who want to trade goods in France and who are tax residents of non-EU states.  
 

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