Back in Black

December 2017

Back in Black was the seventh album by the Australian band AC/DC, released on July 25th, 1980. Malcolm Young, its co-founder, rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist and songwriter, died in November, although that did not motivate my choice of title. AC/DC fans are well acquainted with the brutal and unflattering lyrics this band is known for, associated with a heavy metal sound. The title song from this album is about disillusionment and having to come back to an unfriendly environment. How many Americans will feel this way traveling back to the USA for the holiday season? And how many Americans living in France will feel this way on their way back to France after the holidays?

HOW CAN A FRENCH BLACK FRIDAY EXIST?
The title of this column actually came to me when I was feeling completely exasperated at seeing “Black Friday” advertised everywhere in France (in English!). I wondered how many of people would even know what it referred to. How can you have a “Black Friday” if you do not celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday? The adoption of this term is totally insane and I believe it illustrates 100% bad taste consumerism. In the USA, many consider “Black Friday” offensive for various reasons, a tendency that has grown with every passing year. Some believe this is insanity in consumerism, citing the craziness when crowds – I would call them hordes sometimes – enter the shops. Others focus more on the idea that family life should take precedence over consumerism, as the day after Thanksgiving is usually a de facto national holiday. There are other criticisms, but I see particular merit in those two.

France does not celebrate Thanksgiving, and this holiday, unlike some others, cannot be easily exported, as it is part and parcel of the iconic history of the birth of the USA and the infancy of an early settlement in the New World.

So my choice of title can be understood in many ways. The very point of calling the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” is that it is the starting point of the Christmas shopping season, when many stores truly break even and get into “the black,” which means having money in the bank instead of being in the red! One can hope that small businesses will also go “Back in Black” and that they too will benefit from the seasonal improvement of the economy, at least in France.

I would like to wish you all
A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
I am looking forward to the year to come, 2018.
Like many, I feel that 2017 was a very hard year in which to stay focused on the issues that matter.

AARO HAS INVITED ME TO DO A PRESENTATION ON DECEMBER 18th
The Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO) has asked me to speak about “Coping with French Administration” on Monday, December 18th, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

The event is open to the public. It will be held at Reid Hall, 4 rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris. For more information and to reserve a seat (€10 – seating limited, registration required), see.

https://aaro.org/events/upcoming-events/event/102-coping-with-french-administration

This is their text presenting the event:
“Join us to hear Jean Taquet, a legal consultant, talk about the ins and outs of French Administration regarding living in France temporarily or indefinitely. Topics will include how to get, retain, change or upgrade your residency status; become covered by French health insurance; open a bank account; be an employee, an entrepreneur, a retiree; and how to surmount the paperwork and the bureaucracy.”

HOW EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE CHANGED THE WAY I WORK
I started my business in July 1997 when telephone and fax were the backbones of communication with clients, as they were in those days, for me and many others, the only immediate means of communication. I remember how we had a phone message notebook to make sure we called people back, and were judged by how quickly we managed to return calls. We needed a dedicated line for the fax machine; documents were sent this way.

Then there was the postal mail. Even today in France, a lot of things are still done by postal mail. Twenty years ago it was the normal way to send anything the least bit official. How often did we hear “The check is in the mail!”? It was the common way to send a payment, as wire transfers were complicated and expensive.

Today, corresponding by fax is an oddity, but it is still the only thing some divisions of the French administration accept, making them a laughing stock, and not just to Americans living in France. Postal mail is still important even though, as in all western countries, the volume of mail has considerably decreased. Even traditional Christmas letters are now rarely sent by mail, but go by email as an attachment and often with a lot more pictures! I still make sure I check the mailbox at the office every day, though the home one is more often forgotten.

I remember an American and a good friend of mine who used to live in Paris complaining about ten years ago that people dared to call her cell phone before trying the landline. The latter was the important one, and some of us can remember when many American homes where a teenager was living had two phone lines. Today I am rarely called on my landline; and the cell phone has replaced it. We have reached the point where calling is no longer our first reflex. Actual voice calls are now a lot less common than text messages and social media messages.

I freely admit that I have followed this trend, as I like writing. Professionally I favor emails by far, at least for now. I consider text messages and social media, in my case Facebook, as personal tools – non-billable ways of communicating. I have replaced phone calls with Skype or FaceTime. So do not be surprised if I do not return calls as quickly as I answer emails!

THE PUMA BILLING SYSTEM IS STILL NOT READY
On January 1st, 2016, a form of insurance called protection universelle maladie (PUMA) replaced thecouverture maladie universelle (CMU), which had worked very well for foreigners who chose to sign on to the public healthcare program.

Since then, for many people, it has been a situation of URSSAF saying, “Your account has been closed; please refer to CPAM if your account is still open”; then their caisse primaire d'assurance maladie (CPAM) would reply, “Your account works well, you are covered, and we know nothing about billing – we are not involved with that.”

In other words, the answers people have been getting from CPAM and URSSAF have been murky at best, and “We do not know anything” when they were being honest!

As I have already noted, many of my American clients freaked out more than once upon hearing such statements. For them, their coverage was at great risk, since it had been months (now almost two years) since they made their last payment into the system. I fully respect their concerns, knowing how easily insurers drop those who do not pay their premiums.

In early October 2017, the people concerned received a letter from CPAM stating that finally things were falling into place and that billing would resume later that month. It went on to explain the calculation of the premium: 8% would be based on the 2016 income declared to the French tax office. Then in late November, many received another letter but from URSSAF stating that bills would be issued by the end of the month. As usual, they are not capable of meeting their own deadline, even though the French administration is moving, slowly but surely. URSSAF’s latest answer is that the first invoice (appel de cotisation) should be sent in mid-December. So I anticipate that at the latest they will be issued in January. The payments are expected to be made within one month. Always keep in mind that you can ask for a schedule of payments, even though these premiums are paid quarterly.

There is also the issue of foreigners holding a carte de séjour mention visiteur who do not declare income in France since they do not stay more than six months a year. I intend to investigate this situation, which covers several of my clients. If people are in France less than six months a year, they are not considered residents of France, even if they have a French address and a French bank account, and have held a carte de séjour for several years. For a while, the CPAM guidelines stated that even carte de séjour visiteur holders who declared income in France were not allowed to register. That nonsense has since stopped, but clearly they are still worried about proving French residence in terms of physical presence. Current applicants must send updated utility bills, internet bills and so on, three or sometimes four times, just to convince CPAM that they are indeed resident in France.

So this creates serious concern for people who are to renew their carte de séjour visiteur in the near future –in December and, most likely, in January. All they can show is a letter stating that they will receive a bill shortly, plus their claim that they have received nothing. As any junior lawyer knows, it is basically impossible to prove that something has not happened. So I hope we find a way out of this situation, knowing that both URSSAF and CPAM have been unwilling to help in any way. I think it will be hard to get a statement out of either of them explaining the situation.

I will keep my readers informed as things unfold, since finally, after almost two years, they are in fact unfolding!

DOES FRENCH GRAMMAR HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SEX EQUALITY?
As far back as I can remember, since I was a very young boy, this issue has always come up one way or another. I was in elementary school when my mother stopped going to her gym class. There had been only women and so the teacher addressed them as “Mesdames,” but then one man joined and from then on the teacher called them all “Messieurs” even though the ratio was probably 30 to 1. My mother could not stand it and quit the class. Right now there is a very serious debate in France on whether French grammar should be changed so that it enhances equality between the sexes, mainly so as to address situations like the one I have described.

I want to stay away from this debate, as I feel totally incompetent as a grammarian, whether in French or in English. I would just point out that English as it is spoken all over the world stigmatizes gender differences a lot less. And yet Anglophone countries are facing sexual harassment issues as much as France, and many other countries, for that matter.

Women in many countries, including France, the USA and the UK, have been revealing sexual harassment and even criminal offences, by prominent men. Have Western societies at last reached such a turning point that there will be no going back? Perhaps, but it is too soon to be sure.

In the 1970s I saw the Scandinavian countries address gender equality in a definitive way. From education to the surrounding culture and the media, it felt like everything needed to change, pretty much overnight. These countries now face their own issues, mostly related to immigration and integrating the refugees who have arrived in recent decades. Nevertheless they remain steadfast on gender equality, in a way that is somewhat mindboggling for the rest of the world. I saw what it took for these countries to turn things around on this issue.

Clearly education – in the broad sense, not just in schools – has something to do with changing behaviors and expectations. The way language and grammar deal with gender affects people nearly as much as the way people speak and the words they use. But I am not sure that changing grammatical rules is the top priority in this matter. I might go so far as to say that significant improvement could be made without changing French grammar, which might be the right fight at the wrong time, when more urgent and effective measures should be taken.

On a totally different and much lighter note, I would point out that French is already quite complicated when it comes to mastering masculine and feminine. Adding another layer of complication will not make it any easier to learn.

For more info (in French), see http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/education/article/2017/11/08/apres-l-ecriture-la-grammaire-inclusive_5211949_1473685.html?xtmc=inclusive&xtcr=8

HOW TO FIND OUT WHERE A FRENCH WILL IS HELD
Someone recently asked me, “How do I know if my deceased French resident client has a French will?” The American answer would be, “Who is their lawyer? Where is their safety deposit box?”

It is quite common in the USA for an individual to have a private lawyer, and many more keep valuable stuff in a safe at home or safety deposit box at the bank. This is mainly because most wills in the USA are drafted by lawyers and are witnessed, and thus in many ways are more public than French wills.

By contrast, the typical French will is handwritten on a completely blank sheet of paper by a person who is totally alone in the room. A French will is generally one page long, rarely more than two. So it is hardly an excruciating physical exercise, even now when few people write by hand anymore. One reason French wills are so short is that it is impossible to disinherit your children or, more recently, your spouse or to favor one child over another. In fact, there used to be so many limits that many thought it was not worth writing a will. The most common will, in my experience, pretty much just states, in this order:
1 – I bequeath everything to my surviving spouse.
2 – I bequeath the rest of my estate in equal shares to my children.

A notaire then takes this document and registers it, for a cost of about 30€, at the central database in Aix-en-Provence.

At the time of a loved one’s death, sometimes even before contacting a notaire, it is possible for a member of the family who is considered to be “the public” by the notaire profession, to check whether the deceased left a French will. However, it is only possible to see if the will exists and which notaire registered it. So it helps to know whom to contact to handle the estate.

Here is the site to check. One needs to know the details of the deceased and the closeness of the relationship to the deceased in order to get access to this information. A third party cannot get it.
http://www.adsn.notaires.fr/fcddvPublic/profileChoice.htm

THE FRENCH ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO REVIEW HLM LEASES EVERY SIX YEARS
HLM stands for habitation à loyer modéré, or low-income housing project. Most American or British people think of public housing as rundown, poorly maintained and dangerous. That is true in some cases in France, but the vast majority of HLMs are in much better standing. I know a few in Paris that look like quite desirable places to live, and there are HLMs in some of the most expensive districts of Paris. So people should look at French housing projects very differently from American or British ones.

However, it is true that there are problems with the HLM program. To start with, obtaining an apartment takes ages. There was a time when it took ten years except in a dire emergency. Another problem, linked to waves of immigration, is the lowest income families had top priority, which reduced social mixing and resulted in ethic enclaves about twenty years ago, which still exist today. At the other extreme, some Parisian HLMs lost tenants when the family income rose to the point that they were no longer eligible to live there.

In early 2011, an experiment started modeling the amount of rent paid compared to the income earned by the family so as to allow a much wider range of people to live in the same building. One positive financial effect of this experiment is that higher rent is being paid. It also helps keep the buildings in good condition, as people with higher means often have higher expectations.

Meanwhile, the solidarity and urban renewal law (SRU), passed on December 13, 2000, specifically article 55, obliged all major French cities to have a minimum of 20% social housing or be fined. The fines have risen with the passing years so that now only a handful of cities are not compliant. The most notorious one is Neuilly-sur-Seine, whose mayor has full support from the voters to pay the ever increasing fines, no matter how high. But this is a true oddity compared to the rest of France.

A new housing bill, into which the strategy is to be incorporated, is expected to be discussed by the cabinet by the end of the year. It would allow the HLM program to check their tenants’ situations every six years. It is meant to address a particular dysfunction in the system. Say that a young family with two small children gets a three-bedroom apartment. Twenty years later, the parents move out but one of the children stays in the apartment as a newlywed and starts a new family. The old parents still pay the rent and are considered on paper to be the tenants. This shows how much people cling to such housing, knowing how difficult it is to come by. Such situations are not being addressed because they do not create any incidents that would force the management to review who was living there. The biggest problem for HLM authorities is fluidity: People moving out should leave the place for people who deserve to move in. The system would be a lot less clogged if this happened. The proposed housing bill, to be discussed soon in the cabinet, targets exactly that.

It will be a long time before France restores safety and order in all neighborhoods, including those with high concentrations of the worst HLM projects. But I believe these kinds of actions, taken one after another, go in the right direction, although it will be hard to change the true ethic enclaves.

For more info (in French), see
http://www.lemonde.fr/logement/article/2017/09/18/locataires-hlm-le-maintien-dans-les-lieux-sera-reexamine-tous-les-six-ans_5187202_1653445.html

OFFICE CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS
The office will close for three weeks for the Christmas holidays, starting on Friday December 15th, reopening on Monday January 8th. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. I did not take much of a summer vacation so I have decided to take some time off, close to the normal length of my vacation. Of course, I will honor the prefecture meetings already scheduled, as well as a couple of other engagements.

Best regards,

OWNING FRENCH REAL ESTATE THROUGH A CORPORATION

QUESTION

I am a partner in an American LLC, which purchased a village house in France in 2006 through the establishment of an SCI. For a while now, we have been receiving requests from the tax inspector for information about the value of the property, the identity and addresses of the partners in the SCI, and the financial conditions under which a transfer of shares would take place. We have provided this information but the requests keep coming. Also, we have no idea what the current market value is. Since the LLC is owner of the SCI, to what extent are the individual partners subject to taxation if/when they decide to sell a share?


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ANSWER

What feels like unwelcomed intrusion on your privacy is just the normal application of the law regarding money laundering. I believe it started because, purposefully or just through ignorance, you neglected to fill out the form asking who were the individuals who owned the shares in the SCI, whether it is directly or through one or more corporations, French or foreigner. Since this is the starting point of these requests for information, I see no reason to question the motives of the tax office. This is a very common reaction on their part. They start by asking in a very polite way, such as “At your convenience, we would appreciate obtaining this information should this be possible.” Such language does not convey that it is something serious, even mandatory. Many foreigners get misled by this language. The French reasoning is rooted in history. For centuries, the French administration felt it was all powerful, so it did not need to use strong, and commanding language, as French people knew they must comply with requests worded this way.

When they do proceed to stronger language, it means they are in audit mode: in their mind, your silence means these people are hiding something illegal. Clearly you are now in this situation and all you can do is to quickly answer all their requests with all the information they ask for. To say the least, you need to clear up the misunderstanding. At this point, the issue for you is to respond in such a way that your interests are protected, you comply with the law and you are able to finally reassure the French tax office regarding the situation.

To sum up, I am an author and a militant. Global warming is an issue for me because it creates millions of refugees through out the world. The saddest thing for me is that it takes hurricanes devastating the USA to stir up awareness in the West, of the true consequence of global warming, when the countries of the Pacific Ocean have long suffered so much more devastation and so many more deaths. Almost all those countries used to be called “third world” countries, and in the eyes of much of the West they do not really count.

The form called CERFA N° 11109 * 12 is easy to find. Filled out every year, it gives the basic information needed, particularly the market value of the property and who ultimately owns the shares. Since you are the manager, you should fill out and sign the form so the situation will be settled.

 

Here is what this form does and what the French tax office is looking for.

1. The norm is that the individuals who own the shares owe an annual tax of 3% of the market value of the property. The form addresses that point,
2. The tax is not owed if the shareholders are fiscal residents of a country that has a tax treaty with France, which is the case with the USA,
3. Thus, for Americans, the purpose is indeed to find out who owns French real estate; we know that there are legitimate reasons to set it up this way, but it could also hide dirty money,
4. The wealth tax can be triggered if one person lives in France, as happened once in a case I worked with.

CERFA N° 11109 * 12 – N° 50503 # 12
Formulaire obligatoire Code Géréral des Impôts, art. 121 K ter, An. IV

Now I would like to address the issue of selling the shares in the LLC, or even transferring ownership of the house by selling the LLC.

When an American citizen and resident sells or gives away shares in the American LLC, it changes absolutely nothing on the French side. Specifically, nothing in the SCI is changed. Nevertheless, the French administration finds out who the new shareholders are with this form. Ordinarily nothing happens because this is an American transaction and has nothing to do with France; 100% of the taxation, if any, occurs in the USA.

Say an American couple, residing in the USA, owns this LLC. Another American couple in the same situation buys the property through the purchase of the shares in the LLC. A lawyer drafts the sale of shares. The money is exchanged and the escrow closed. The ownership of the LLC has changed hands, as has that of the SCI and of the house. The following year, when it is time to fill out the fiscal form CERFA N° 11109 * 12, the French administration learns that the shares in the LLC have changed hands.

 

CHOOSING FRENCH HEALTH COVERAGE BY WORKING IN FRANCE
QUESTION

My wife and I are American retirees who permanently moved to France this past summer. Our primary income comes from our pensions and my Social Security. We would like to sign up for French national healthcare but are concerned about how much it will cost us. We have health insurance coverage from our retirement and, although it is annoyingly difficult to obtain pre-authorization for medications – we have to pay first and file a claim, and French doctors and pharmacies are baffled by it all – the amount we pay for the insurance is far less than 8% of our gross income. And that's factoring in the additional premium we have to pay for the “Schengen” insurance that is necessary for the visitor visa (even though our retirement health insurance covers up to 90% of our health insurance costs).

My wife has dual American and Hungarian citizenship and I am American only. Although I have no plans of becoming self-employed in France, my wife does. She has her master's degree in English and plans to start a business teaching English as a second language.

From the internet, it appears that she could become a micro-entrepreneur and, in that capacity, obtain French national healthcare. What is not entirely clear is, assuming she could do this, whether I could also be covered as a family member. Also, if she pursues this course, we are not sure if our US pension and Social Security income would be factored into the amount we would pay in social charges. Another issue is the effect on the healthcare coverage if she either does not earn enough money to sustain the business or terminates the business.


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ANSWER

You have found the best way to get into the French national healthcare system, i.e. the fastest and cheapest way. I would just note that once you are in the public system, it counts as what the prefecture wants as proof of coverage. You as a couple will be paying for it, and you will easily be able to prove it. So you can get rid of what you call the “Schengen” insurance once your wife has signed up to become self-employed.

Now I would like to address the possibility of an EU citizen registering as an independent consultant. As I often state, the EU is still the United States of Europe in progress. For many things the “federal” level of government does not exist, while for others it has been working for decades. The free and complete right to work and live in another member country is one of the first rights given to EU citizens. Each new member country went through a transition period before becoming a full member. So while Hungary can be considered one of the newer countries, today its citizens have the same right to live in France as the French people themselves. Since your wife holds two nationalities, she can exercise her rights in France as a Hungarian.

This brings me to the next topic, which is your immigration status with the prefecture. You have submitted a request for immigration status as Americans, both of you, holding a carte de séjour visiteur. To be consistent with your wife’s wish to be self-employed, the next time you go to the prefecture you need to make a radical change by putting forward the Hungarian passport and requesting the EU right to work and live in France for both of you, since a non-EU spouse has the same right to live and work in France. Thus this opens the door for you as much as or her. Furthermore, the immigration status you will then have is not linked to your French income and therefore the obligation to make a profit of 14,000€ does not apply. Keep in mind that the prefecture will then look at your overall worldwide income to review your immigration status, but based on what you wrote, you do not have any problem regarding this topic.

For your spouse to register as a self-employed person with the status of auto-entrepreneur, go to http://www.cfe.urssaf.fr/autoentrepreneur/CFE_Declaration. The form you will find there can be filled out online.

There are only a few questions that may seem somewhat more complicated to answer:

1. On the description of the activity, you can list several, but keep it down to three or four.

2. When choosing how often to pay income tax, opt for paying three times a year, the normal way in France, as you are a couple.

3. You can choose whether to keep your information confidential.

4. Have the registration start the day you fill out the form.

Good luck with all this.


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DISCLAIMER

Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice.


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