Then came the last days of may

May 2017

Blue Öyster Cult was the first studio album by the American hard rock band of the same name, released in January 1972. The album included the songs “Cities on Flame with Rock ’n’ Roll,” “Stairway to the Stars” and “Then Came the Last Days of May.”.

I have been listening to this band since I began high school over 40 years ago and I still enjoy their music just as much today.

The French presidential election has two rounds of votes, two weeks apart. The first round was held on April 23rd and the second will be held on May 7th. When I started drafting this column before the first round, I was looking at the polls, which were so close it was impossible to know who would make the second round (only the top two winners advance). It was even more impossible to tell who will be elected. Rarely has a French election been so unpredictable. News agencies said that the four major candidates are neck and neck, all within a margin of error of just 2% or less. The leader of the far right party and the leader of a new centrist grouping were expected to advance to the second round, which is what happened.

Even though I avoid expressing political views and try very hard not to allow them into my writing, I must say that electing Marine Le Pen, the far right leader, would be a severe blow to France and its people. So, for me, the title of that Blue Öyster Cult song, which I consider to be one of their best, illustrates the worst-case scenario in which she is elected on May 7th and chaos follows, with hordes sweeping through the cities. Of course, this bleak image probably does not accurately depict what would happen, but it does a great job of expressing my vision of how devastating her election would be to France, the country I serve and cherish despite my descriptions for the past 22 years of its flaws and shortcomings.

Surprisingly, though, this issue has some good news for many people in most of its sections. Life continues in France. There are only three holidays in May this year - May 1st, May 8th and May 25th, as one holiday that usually occurs in May will be on June 5th this year.

 

DRINKING TURKISH COFFEE IN PARIS 30 YEARS AGO
During my last year of law school I bought a studio in Paris with the help of my parents. Hidden in a courtyard, it was large enough that it became a popular place for my friends to gather. For most of that year, 1984, I hung out with many Lebanese people. It felt like I was making Turkish coffee from dawn to dusk for a lively and sometimes boisterous crowd. Each newcomer showing up was a good reason to make a fresh pot.

From 1975 to 1978 the civil war in Lebanon had raged. The capital, Beirut, was split in two, and there was heavy fighting. The UN sent a peace force in 1978, but this did not solve anything. American and French forces left the country after suffering severe losses in massive terrorist attacks in 1983.

Day after day, for months, I was immersed in talk of the convoluted Middle East and its indescribable intricacies. One day, two young men joking around found out that they had been on opposing sides on the front line in Beirut, probably facing each other in combat. That day I realized I had learned enough to know I could not fully comprehend what was happening in that part of the world, which is the cradle of Western civilization. Thirty-some years later this conviction has grown stronger.

 

THE PARIS TAXE D’HABITATION SURTAX IS NOT FOR TENANTS
A reader wonders whether the taxe d'habitation surtax will apply to tenants who declare their Paris apartment as a secondary residence.

All the research I have done, while waiting for the final decision from the Paris City Hall, indicates that tenants of secondary residences will not see their taxes raised.

The main thing to remember is that this policy was designed to force owners to either rent out unoccupied apartments or actually live in them. Renting a secondary residence puts people in the category of tenants, so they are the good guys, as it were, since French law favors tenants over landlords. Thus, for now, renting out a place long term is the right thing for a landlord to do. Maybe down the road, the officials will realize that the tenant is renting a secondary residence and, by their logic, preventing a family from living in Paris. If this happens, City Hall might change its views. But, knowing how deep-rooted the concept of the tenant as the good person is, I am sure it will be months, if not years, before that happens.

 

MORE MULTIYEAR CARTES DE SEJOUR ARE BECOMING AVAILABLE
The prefecture is continuing to extend the multiyear carte de séjour concept to other types of status. As I explain below in the Q&A on the difference between RSI and CIPAV, being self-employed carries a strong stigma. Therefore, I have been waiting to see if two- to four-year cartes de séjour would be issued for foreigners running a business in France.

I admit that I was skeptical, as I assumed that French culture and tradition would win – that the idea that a business’s results could plunge from one year to the next would be considered a good reason to deny renewal of the card. I was wrong, however, and I have discussed this issue more than once with civil servants at the Paris Prefecture near Notre Dame. One of my clients got a four-year renewal as a self-employed person in the profession libérale category. I am not sure yet of all the requirements to obtain it, nor if the same thing would happen for people in the categories of merchant (commerçant) or craftsperson (artisan). I will continue to keep you posted about this.

 

FRENCH INCOME TAX: TIME TO DECLARE AND PAY
Regarding the more mundane topic of income tax, I would like to remind everybody that the paper version of the 2016 income declaration must be filed in France by Wednesday, May 18th and the second partial income tax payment (deuxième tiers) is to be paid by May 17th (midnight, in both cases). The forms are available at www.impots.gouv.fr. It is possible to file your declaration on this website, provided it is not your first time. To do so, you need your tax ID number and some access codes.

Note that if you file online, the deadline is later. The schedule depends on your postal code:
1. départements 01 to 19 must file by midnight on May 23rd
2. départements 20 to 49 by May 30st
3. départements 50 or higher by June 6th

 

An important reminder: if you are a French fiscal resident (i.e. if you hold a carte de séjour or an immigration visa validated with an OFII stamp, and comply with the requirements), you must declare your worldwide income to the French authorities even if you have no income in France and do not have the right to work in France. There is no penalty for neglecting to file, but not meeting this obligation is illegal and can have consequences.

I just receive a critical piece of information: URSSAF will not invoice the former CMU (now called PUMA) until the end of 2017. In many ways this is really bad news since it means that people insured under PUMA will have gone two years without paying into the system while being covered. I am afraid the French administration will issue some large bills once they get around to it. Indeed, given back charging for the two previous years plus the current year, I hope people have been saving money for this or they will have a rude awakening!

You are a French fiscal resident if you:
1. Staying in France for 183 days in a calendar year, whether you have legal immigration status or not.
2. Having immediate family members who reside in France (a spouse and/or children).
3. Having a French employer.
4. Running a French business, even something like tutoring schoolchildren in English.

 

Current government-sponsored advertising campaigns call the paper form a thing of the past and say filing on paper is obsolete. For now, declaring electronically gives you an extension of a few weeks. I believe the next step will be additional fees for using the paper form, creating a financial incentive to go paperless.

 

OFFICE CLOSED JUST BEFORE SUMMER
The office will be closed for less than two weeks starting Thursday, June 8th, reopening on Wednesday, June 21st. 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. This time I am leaving France and email will be the only way to reach me in my absence.

Best regards,

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RSI AND CIPAV FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED IN FRANCE

QUESTION

I have stumbled across some articles online that state that as a profession libérale, you either pay into RSI or CIPAV, but I have been paying both. Is this correct? It was my understanding that they are two separate entities: one for health and one for pension. Or is RAM covering me for health?

In any case, I paid something like 600€ to CIPAV last year and I just got a new bill from them demanding 2,400€ for 2017, four times as much as last year. Is this normal? How would they determine what I owe if I haven't even declared my revenue yet? It just seems like quite a big jump and I have no idea what it is based on.

 


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ANSWER

I am afraid the French system is almost as complicated as it is expensive! The complication stems from a long-held notion that people with different types of legal and fiscal status should be treated differently to better address their specific needs. This seems like a good idea, but it quickly creates a dense maze that confuses everybody, French nationals and foreigners alike. Attempts to simplify the system have often been too insignificant to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Remember that being self-employed in France means choosing between being:
1. a merchant = commerçant..
2. a craftsperson = artisan.
3. a professional = profession libérale.

This is one of the oldest systems of labor division in France. The guilds regulating the various crafts in France date back to before the year 1000. Colbert, chief minister under Louis XIV in the mid-17th century, created the above-mentioned division into three categories.

The answer to your question derives from a perceived fundamental difference between self-employed professionals and merchants or artisans. Self-employed professionals were traditionally held in esteem (and still are today) since they did and do not manufacture objects but rather earned their livings from the services they rendered and the knowledge they had. Artisans, who made and sold physical products, held a lower position in society. Even so, the fact that they had expertise and training to produce things meant they were better regarded than merchants, who were seen as having no expertise in the things they sold. Close to four centuries later, the original classification not only continues to exist, but so do some of the associated stigmas.

So it should be no surprise that profession libérale is set apart from the other two for just about everything when it comes to registering with the French authorities.

Registering as profession libérale means:
1. Calculating the profit earned as BNC – for bénéfices non commeciaux, non-commercial profit, which underlines how different from the others it is considered.
2. Registering the business with URSSAF, which today can be done online.
3. Starting a retirement plan with CIPAV.
4. Acquiring health coverage with either RAM or Harmonie Mutuelle, for Parisian organizations.

Thus a profession libérale professional like you pays into three social programs through these organizations: URSSAF, RAM and CIPAV. RSI manages neither the payment of the social charges, nor the reimbursments of your medical bills. You might have seen the RSI logo on some of the documents simply because RSI stands for “Régime Social des Indépendants” and is an umbrella authority for your health coverage.

Registering as commerçant means:
1. Calculating the profit earned as BIC or bénéfices industriels et commerciaux, industrial and commercial profit.
2. Registering the business with the court system, les greffes du Tribunal de Commerce, which requires a rather complicated procedure compared to profession libérale.
3. Starting a retirement plan with RSI.
4. Getting health coverage through first RSI,which is then managed by either RAM or Harmonie Mutuelle, for Parisian organizations.

 

The main difference for artisans is that their registration is done at the Maison de l’Artisanat and usually requires a diploma to prove that one has the expertise needed for a given trade.

This explains why we distinguish between self-employed people affiliated with CIPAV and those linked with RSI. There are visible differences in retirement payments for these two groups.

As for the second part of your question, concerning the wide variation in social charges, again this is because of a good idea that went really wrong, mainly because no one explained it properly at the outset.

The traditional social charges are billed by the organizations mentioned above. Since the French authorities do not trust people to pay what they owe voluntarily, and since the calculation is always complex, for a period of up to 18 months the payments are decided by the authorities and applied to everyone alike.

The calculations are based on an annual profit of 7,453€ the first year and the charge comes to about 2,200€. The estimated profit for the second year is 10,592€ and the charge is about 3,100€.

Let’s say, however, that you actually made 14,906€ in profit the first year and 21,184 € the second year, so that for the first year you really owed 4,400€ instead of 2,200€ (4,400€ -2,200€.) Suppose that for the second year you actually owed 6.200€ and the calculation was made on 3.100€.

The real problem is that the adjustments are made in the second half of the year, after the administration has received your income declaration and can calculate how much you owe. This means, without detailing all the calculations, that in the above scenario you end up paying approximately:
1st year = 2,200€
2nd year = 5,950€ (3,100/2=1,550+4,400)
3rd year = 8,400€ (4,400/2=2,200+6,200)

 

In other words, the low level of the payment in the first 18 months is more than made up for over the following two years. This method takes so many people by surprise that most businesses in France disappear within five years because they get used to the low charges and do not set aside enough, or have sufficient cash flow, to pay the social charges in the third and fourth years.

I cannot tell exactly what your situation is, but if you started your business in the middle of the year, your first year charges would have been very low, half the normal amount, and those of the second year would be greater as the business would have to pay for a full year. This could account for the situation you have described.

To be on the safe side, I advise everybody with this status to put aside one-third of their revenue into a savings account and run the business on an after-charges basis so that when the third and fourth years arrive, the money is there and there is no cash flow problem.

As it happens, this also explains why auto-entrepreneur status is popular, since it addresses both situations. There is only one payment made to one organization, at the end of each month or quarter, based on the money that was just earned.

STUDENT IMMIGRATION STATUS – WHAT AM I ENTITLED TO?

QUESTION

I am planning on applying for a long-term student visa within the next month. As I understand, if I am granted the visa it will act as my residency permit and last for the three years of my bachelor’s degree.

My main concern has to do with my accommodation and opening a bank account. I have found a place close to the school, but they only rent it out for a maximum of one year. Do I have to find a new place to live every year? I am thinking of staying in a hotel for a while and then finding a place.

I have the funds to support myself, but I'm not sure how I would go about opening the bank account. Won't they require some proof of residency on my part? How much cash am I allowed to bring with me? I suppose I could use online banking to pay for my hotel stay, but I still need cash to get around Paris. Also I was wondering if you had a list of things to avoid during the interview.

 


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ANSWER

It does appear at first glance that you will be in a catch-22, and I fully understand why you are concerned. The good news is that the reality is quite different. Before I explain how to get out of what seems to be a no-win situation, I would like to explain in detail what is needed to obtain a long-stay visa for student immigration status.

There are four key things needed to obtain the visa:

1 – The means:

At a minimum you must prove that you will receive, or have in an account, the equivalent of 615€ a month for 12 months, or 7,380.00€ for one year.

2 – School pre-registration and payment of tuition:

This seems very simple, since it involves receiving a letter from the university or other school stating that you have been admitted. In some cases, mainly for private schools, the applicant must have paid the full tuition, which in France almost never reaches 10,000€ per year but averages about 4,500€. For public universities, where tuition ranges from 150€ to 650€, the French consulate usually does not even ask for proof of payment. Thus, the scrutiny is mainly on the pertinence of the choice of studies and the project submitted by the applicant.

3 – Health coverage valid in France:

This is not needed if the applicant is under 28 and is registered with a school in the private sector. Students aged 28 or older, however, need to prove they have health coverage.

4 – French address:

As with all immigration visa requests, you need proof of the address where you will live in France. Especially for students, it can be a hotel reservation or vacation apartment rental; the consulate is lenient about this.

By the way, I am not sure you will get a three-year carte de séjour right away. The stamp from the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) validating the student immigration visa is valid for one year. However, it is clear, as I mention in an earlier section, that the current policy is to issue cartes de séjour that last multiple years. When you renew your OFII stamp, you may get a three-year card,.

Concerning proof of address, it is important to understand that what the French administration means by domicile-résidence principale is not as narrow as you might think. Are you explaining the difference between a domicile and a résidence principale?

The initial address you give to the consulate, and then the prefecture and possibly OFII, does not need to be your permanent residence. For purposes of the visa, a hotel or vacation rental reservation for a reasonable period, long enough for you to find another place, will suffice as long as it is properly documented.

Once in France, as the holder of a student immigration visa, you will go through the OFII procedure. They will ask for proof of address but are not rigid about it. Then, about a year after arriving in France, you will have a prefecture appointment to obtain the student carte de séjour. This should be the first time you will face real scrutiny concerning your address.

The options acceptable to the prefecture are as follows:

a) You have your own place because you have a residential lease or own a place

b) You are hosted by someone, either for free or for pay, and documentation is provided by this person

c) You are still staying in a hotel or vacation rental.

OFII will most likely accept, more or less graciously, any documentation you submit as long as it is complete. But for the prefecture, option C does not meet their expectation of stability, unless you have a monthly contract that is renewed automatically.

You may have a misconception about French leases. All normal leases for primary residence status must provide for tacite reconduction, i.e. they are renewed automatically unless explicit action is taken to the contrary. That wording means you have a lease for life, essentially, since the landlord cannot terminate it unless:

The landlord him/herself or his/her children will be living there.

He/she wants to sell the apartment untenanted, in which case you have the right of first refusal.

The apartment is in such bad shape that it is illegal to rent and it requires a severe makeover.

Therefore, be careful before signing any one-year lease that either requires you to stay the entire year (i.e. with no possibility of giving notice earlier) or is not renewable. It would be acceptable only if it gave you time to find another place and you like it enough that you will stay in it for a year.

French people tend not to move frequently, and French leases are tailored for that.

Now, it is true that securing an address is not just about obtaining your immigration visa. You are correct in thinking you will also be asked for proof of address in order to open a bank account, and maybe in several other situations.

French banks currently have very restrictive procedures for foreigners, especially Americans, wishing to open a new account. This is nothing personal; it’s just that the regulations on both the French and American sides create a high risk of liability. Many people have told me that opening a bank account in France is now a lot worse than going through the prefecture procedure, with banks investigating like the police.

The last time I checked, the maximum amount of cash allowed to travel with outside of the USA was $10,000.

Once you settle in France, there are many student benefits, though you should be aware that some are restricted to people under 26, which is considered the age limit for being a full-time student. These include:

1. The Caisse d’Allocations Familiales pays a lodging subsidy, allocation logement.

2. The Centre Régional des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires (CROUS) manages dorms and tiny studios for poor foreign and French students. They also run cafeterias where a meal costs as little as 3.25€.

3. Also, Paris City Hall offers highly subsidized public transportation for students without means. The Solidarité Transport pass is for everybody who is legally residing in France with an income of less than 8,000€ a year. Most people at that income level also get free health coverage if they register with the CMU-C program.

4. For students under 26 the Imagin R pass, which costs 333.90€ a year, gives access to unlimited public transportation use throughout the Paris region, aka the Ile de France

 

DISCLAIMER

Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended as exclusively general information. Therefore, 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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