Trading with France as an SME

Thinking of trading with France? Here’s what UK firms need to know first.

France has the world’s sixth largest economy according to the World Bank. Industrially established, France is in close proximity to the UK making it a natural trading partner. The country presents many export opportunities for UK businesses supplying high quality products and services.

Diverse sector opportunities

France is the UK’s fourth largest export market (ONS, 2019) and offers opportunities for UK companies in diverse sectors. The most prominent sectors are; automotive, aerospace, agriculture, energy, food and transport.

Sophisticated consumer market

The French consumer base is characterised by its variety and high spending power. Quality and competitive pricing are key for companies looking to export to France.
French consumers increasingly favour sustainable, responsible and pro-health products, presenting opportunities for British firms.

E-commerce expansion

Behind the UK and Germany, France has the third largest e-commerce market in Europe. More than 40 million French shoppers were active online during the pandemic last year (Mediametrie, 2020).
The French online retail market is valued at approximately 11.5 billion euros, and projections indicate that it will continue to grow (FEVAD, 2019).

SME Sector

Of France’s circa 4 million SMEs, the media, communication and information sector is the largest, followed by retail and personal and professional services.

Exporting to France


The standard VAT rate in France is 20%, based on the EU regulations. VAT is known as Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée (TVA).

Provided that certain conditions are met, you may be able to zero-rate goods exported to France if you are registered for VAT in the UK.

Payment terms

If there is a dispute, you will need to go through the French legal system, so it is essential that your contract specifies the terms of payment.

Conditions for payment should be factored into prices. Payment terms can range from immediate payment to a 60 day term.

Routes to market

There are various routes to market that could work for you. Options include;

  • Agents and distributors with native ability in French can be an effective means of developing a presence in this market. Due to the country’s scale, you may require multiple regional representatives.
  • Direct sales are possible due to the proximity of the market, but French language skills are an important consideration.
  • E-commerce may be a relatively inexpensive option, since it is both easy and cheap to deliver to France.

Fast Facts

Ease of doing business

32nd / 190 countries (World Bank, 2019)



Business language


Economic growth

1.5% (2019, IMF)

GDP per capita

£30,902 (IMF, 2019)

Time zone

GMT +1

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