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Transporters in France – The Facts

Written for Artisan Central by Member Patrick Law of Patrick Transports based in Brittany.

We all know the warnings about using unregistered trades, after all, Artisan Central was set up to help find artisans who have gone through the procedures and taken the trouble to set themselves up correctly in France.

But, this being France, you won’t be surprised to find out that it’s not just the regular trades that are highly regulated; if you think that the building trades have to jump through some hoops to register here, spare a thought for anyone wanting to set up in the transport industry – even just as a man and a van. Simple enough in the UK: buy a van, tell the taxman that you’re now self-employed and away you go. In France, if you are taking money to transport goods, you’ll need to get a Transport Licence from the DREAL…

…And that’s not so simple.

First off, you’ll need to prove that you are based in France, and secondly that you have no criminal record, either here or in your home country. So far, so straightforward.

Then you need to prove that your business will be solvent, which entails producing a set of provisional accounts, signed off, naturally, by an expert comptable.

And you’ll need an Attestation de Capacité, and this is where the real fun starts. Assuming that you can’t prove that you have previously run a transport business for at least two years (within the last ten years) or that you have a baccalauréat professionnel  in “Exploitation des transports”  or  “Transport” , then you’ll need to go on a course.

The course is not of the format: turn up, sign in, get certificate. No. It’s 105 hours in a classroom, covering everything from accounting to employment law, health and safety to rules of the road. And there’s a three-hour written exam at the end of it, ratified by the DREAL, which you have to pass. Do I need to mention (being in France) that it’s all in French?

Once you have proof of your honourability, solvency, residency and your Attestation, you can apply to the DREAL for your Licence. And only then can you mention transport on your Kbis (company registration); my insurance company also wanted to see my licence before letting me have insurance for the carriage of goods à titre onéreux (for hire or reward).

It is quite an investment, but I am glad to have done it and am proud to have my licence; it has meant that on the occasions where I have been “contrôled” I have been sent on my way and not had my van impounded and had a huge fine.

So what should you look out for?

A properly registered transporter will provide paperwork for every job (Lettre de Voiture). He will also, more than likely, have to charge TVA (and will not be a microentrepreneur). He won’t ask for you to pay for fuel separately, or tolls or ferries. Ask to see his transport licence – it is a requirement to keep a copie conforme in the vehicle: if he shows you a driving licence, then you’ll know he doesn’t have one. And while many van-owners may have “goods in transit” insurance, this will be for carrying customers’ materials to the job, or for transporting their own items, not transporting goods for hire or reward.

Obviously, there are many other legitimate EU transporters operating in France, paying their taxes and social security contributions in their home countries, taking advantages of the rules of cabotage. If any of these countries were to leave the EU, their rights to cabotage may change.