How to run a gîte in France and stay legal

It’s everybody’s dream. Move to France, buy a house with an annexe or a cottage nearby, give it a coat of paint, choose some pretty garden furniture et voilà! Pop it onto one of the many rental sites available and wait for the bookings to come pouring in.

But of course, there’s a little bit more to running a gite than that if you want everything to be above board.

So here’s how to make it happen.

Before you do anything else, head for your local Mairie. Apart from being polite and taking the opportunity to introduce yourself, the Maire has the right to refuse your gîte if the level of tourism in the area can’t support another one. This is particularly important if the income from your gîte forms a significant percentage of your annual revenue.

Assuming the Mairie says yes, there’s also a declaration to be filled in. This has nothing to do with tax and is just an administrative document that asks for details of your gîte, including how many it can accommodate, what periods of the year it will be available and your contact details. It will also ask whether the gîte has been officially classified. (This is not obligatory but can have tax advantages if you set up as a business.)

Once you have the go-ahead from your Mairie, you’ll need to determine your tax responsibilities and officially register your gîte. There are two types of registration, professional and non-professional. The most important thing to understand is that any rental income that your gîte generates is taxable here in France, whether or not you are a permanent resident.

Let’s take a closer look at the professional and non-professional options.

If the gîte is not your primary income source and you work elsewhere or have your own separate business, it counts as non-professional.  To qualify, it must bring in an annual revenue of less than 23,000 euros. To register as a ‘Loueur Meublé Non-Professionnel’ you will need to provide a copy of your passport as well as proof of ownership such as the deeds to the property (called the ‘titre de propriété’) which the Notaire who handled the sale will give to you. No proof of French residency is required for non-professional registration, but you will need to declare the annual revenue on your French income tax return. 

If you are running the gîte as a full-time business, all year round, it counts as your professional and principal activity. Normally this would imply an income of more than 23,000 euros. You will need to hold either a titre de séjour or business visa to be eligible to register with the Chambre de Commerce et de l’Industrie. According to government regulations, your activity must be officially registered within two weeks of opening. 

The simplest business option is to become a micro-entrepreneur or start an ‘entreprise individuelle au réel simplifié’. But although people always think of these two options as the easiest and cheapest ways of setting up your gîte business, it’s worth taking a closer look at the figures.  Neither of those options entitle you to any tax relief on the money you have outlaid, such as building work, decoration, furnishings and advertising. The harsh reality is that you will pay 22% social security charges to the French government on all rental income, plus up to 20% service fee if you list your gîte with popular operators like booking.com. If you think your gîte is likely to become successful, it’s worth considering setting up the French equivalent of a limited company, which enables you to claim tax benefits on setting up and ongoing running costs.

Don’t think you have to know everything right from the start. For example, if you start off by registering your gîte as a ‘meublé non-professionnel’ and then find that business is booming and it’s bringing in more than 23,000 euros a year, you can easily change your status to ‘loueur meublé professionel’. All it takes is an accountant.

Another tip that you probably won’t find online concerns the type of visa you initially apply for. Here at French Connections HCB, we work closely with our avocat partner Louis Varaut who tells us that many clients go through the pain and hassle of applying for a costly work visa and making a business plan, when in fact the majority of people don’t actually have their gîte business up and running during the first year. That’s because they are too busy renovating, equipping their own home or their gîte and generally settling into their new life in France.          

 If you know you have renovation and decorating work to do and want to take some of the pressure and expense out of the visa process, think about applying for a simple one year (long stay) visa instead.  At the end of that year, you can apply for residency (titre de séjour) which automatically allows you to work – and you can do it all from here in France.

If this is starting to sound complicated, don’t be put off. Our friendly team here at French Connections HCB is always on hand to help. 

So far, we’ve just been looking at the admin side of running a gite. But there’s also an emotional side to consider.

If your gîte is close to your own home, you are always on call to answer questions, have a chat, share your experiences or lend a hand to your guests. If the gîte is not your primary income and you also have a job to do, you’ll need to juggle your time quite carefully.  You also need to factor in the time it takes to thoroughly clean the residence between guests, including laundry, replenishing supplies, replacing broken crockery, trimming any outdoor spaces and generally making sure every guest arrives to an impeccable lodging. True, you can employ a local housekeeper or cleaner, or send the laundry out to be done, but those expenses can chip away quite considerably at the income your gîte generates. And as we pointed out, none of those outgoings are tax deductible if you are registered as a non-professional. 

The amount of time you spend in France is also a factor. As a non-European citizen without a visa, you are restricted to visits of 90 days in any 180 days, which means you also need to think about how to run your gîte in your absence. While the peak holiday season is between 10-12 weeks, the extended rental season in France can stretch from Easter until the October school holidays, which is closer to six months than three.

You also need to consider your target audience. If you can find a way to set yourself apart from the mainstream, you are likely to attract more bookings. For example, there are limited holiday rentals available for people with pets. Wheelchair access or one-level living without stairs is another useful attribute for keen travellers who are not as mobile. Keeping a travel cot and highchair on hand means you can say yes to families with young children. Gîtes that are planet-friendly are also in big demand, which is good to remember while you are renovating.

Once you are all set up to welcome guests, what happens next?

The most important thing is to set your rates and make yourself easy to find. A quick comparison with the local competition will give you a good starting point, but it all depends on where you are and what sort of client you are hoping to attract. Will you register with Gîtes de France and be more visible to French visitors, or join a global platform like Airbnb or Booking.com? The volume of visitors going through those global sites is vast and they also automatically collect the ‘taxe de séjour’ that you must charge per person per night of residence in your gîte and pass on to the local commune. The downside of those global platforms is the additional fees that your client has to pay, and the smaller but not unsubstantial fee you also pay as the gîte owner. In short, it is much more expensive for the guest to book your place through Airbnb or Booking.com but guarantees the exposure you need, especially when you are just starting out.  Over time, with top reviews, clever use of social media and your own website, you can potentially grow your direct bookings and avoid those hefty fees.

Here at French Connections HCB, we can help with every aspect of setting up your gîte, from applying for the right visa to choosing the right business structure and finding out if you are entitled to any government subsidy to help with renovations. Insurance is mandatory for gîte owners, so we can also put you in touch with our bilingual insurance partner, Fab French Insurance, for a competitive quote. 

For a comprehensive question and answer session, we invite you to book a 30 minute personal consultation with our business and property specialist, Richard Hammond, at a time to suit you. Simply click here. The consultation costs 90 euros, which is fully refundable if you use any of our services moving forward.

We look forward to helping you become a happy, successful and popular gîte owner in France!

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