Face to face with…
Indeed face to face with what?
The answer to this question makes all the difference in the world.
It can be good but most of the time it is bad.
Foreigners are faced with all kinds of difficult situations, with doubts, misunderstandings, and this list can go on for a very long time.
"In the face of death": for most of us, it is just an expression, which, thankfully we just about always misuse.
In this column, I describe my encounter with one of the victims of a recent terrorist attack that occurred in France. This person came to my office and I was face to face with a reality that shook me to the bone.
Life is rarely a bed of roses; being an immigrant too often feels like being comfortable will never happen again. Reminding people that it is back-to-school time on September 1st for French students in Paris, and that taxes are due in two weeks looks very small in comparison.
SOMETIMES AMERICANS ARE NOW HELD OR FINED FOR OVERSTAYING IN FRANCE
For as long as I can remember, I have assured American citizens that the French police, including those working in airports, will not give them trouble when they leave France or reenter it even if they are not staying legally in France. But that now seems to be changing, though I have not received enough accounts from people to be able to map exactly what is happening or what the pattern is. Of course, this is not really something one can go to the authorities and ask about.
Since early this year, I have been aware of increased scrutiny. It is now common for people to be asked to show their French ID card when they leave or enter France; in such cases, presenting only an American passport is not enough. More and more frequently, in the case of a foreigner who is unable to prove full compliance, the police check the prefecture database, see the person's actual status and give a little lecture about keeping one's status legal at all times. The most common case so far is that of traveling on an expired card, which usually involves having secured an appointment for renewal but not carrying the récépissé, the temporary ID card that covers the time up to the appointment. To my knowledge, here has been no real punishment to date, just a stern lecture on what the law is.
The reason I mention all this is that one of my clients actually got fined leaving France on an expired carte de résident. It had expired over six months before, and the person had nothing in the making, no appointment upcoming, no file submitted. I was told that the person had to pay a fine of about 100 euros, which is not much compared to what the other EU countries inflict in the same situation.
The conclusion I have reached is that the fight against terrorism has changed a lot of things, including the leniency that used to benefit North Americans. The case of the fine is the worst story I have heard so far, but I expect to get more and more feedback, as there is a staggering number of North Americans who have lived in France for years or even decades without legal immigration status. I expect these people to have an increasingly difficult time at French airports.
Also, I have seen the Paris Prefecture getting a tad stricter on the requirements to obtain or renew a carte de séjour. My concern is that a passport stamp from the airport showing that the holder has left France without holding either a récépissé or a convocation, which I define as having no valid documentation, could tick off the prefecture. I would remind everybody that traveling outside France without a récépissé, which means that one is traveling on an expired French ID card, should be legally interpreted as having moved definitively out of France. Therefore the traveler is considered to be a tourist entering France under the 90-day visa waiver program. I wrote about such a case in the March 2016 issue, in which the person had never had a French ID and requested one a few days after their most recent arrival in France..
My advice is very simple: this situation is here to stay and likely to worsen. As much as possible, everybody should have legal status in France and keep it that way all the time. Traveling under dubious immigration status, in my view, means a risk at the airport and then another one at the prefecture. How much of a risk, I do not yet know.
PARIS - CITY OF LIGHT AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY
The Ritz palace hotel has just finished a complete renovation, which lasted nearly four years. It is the latest Parisian palace to undergo extreme renovation. In the last 15 years or so, pretty much one palace has reopened every year after having been closed for several years. This trend basically started in 2000, when the Royal Monceau and the Meurice closed for several years.
Most articles mention that the competition has increased with a new generation of fine hotels. Not all the new hotels get the "palace" classification, but the quality of comfort provided by those newcomers is challenging the Parisian palaces, who are being forced to undergo renovation.
There was a time not too long ago when the clients of palaces were looking for the traditional premium service; WiFi in the suite or state-of-the-art plumbing and so on was not on their agenda. As did the British aristocracy portrayed in Downtown Abbey, clients expected quality service of a different kind. It is almost as if they were looking for a kind of idealized old-world luxury in their accommodation. While this is more an image than reality, the longing for a certain style of living, staying away from modernity, was what certain clients used to look for.
As things have evolved, probably due to globalization and a change of culture, clients have begun to expect palace hotels to offer exquisite and modern service, and the industry had to quickly adapt.
Even though it is not at all the same quality of service, I can compare this to the success of very short-term rentals against the hotel industry in Paris. Clearly more and more people prefer this type of service, having the feeling of staying in a home but also generally having the latest technology available, especially in very old buildings (there are still 17th century buildings in some parts of Paris). These guests want to experience WiFi and cable TV while enjoying the idea that these walls have seen centuries of history.
There was a time when traveling in Europe meant learning to enjoy living history with a different type of comfort and service. Today access to the latest technology has become the most important factor, even for palace hotels. Yes, there is more to it than that, but this trend cannot be denied.
WHEN THE REALITY OF TERRORISM KNOCKS ON MY DOOR
Since the early days of 2015, terrorism has been in the news, and continues to hit targets all over the world. It hit once again in France this past July. We all read about it. The news coverage depends on where the attacks happen, how many people died or were injured, and so on. It is very sad to say, but in France it is starting to become a fact of life; it is clear that the Bastille Day attack is unlikely to be the last one. Getting information, or maybe an excess of information, through the media for such events still does not make these attacks real or personal unless you know someone who is a victim. Then you are faced with the evidence of what a mauled life is.
No one in my close circle of friends or my family has been a direct victim of one of these attacks. But this summer, one of the victims, a survivor who was badly hurt, came to my office and sat in front of me. Then I was faced with what terrorism does. Adding insult to injury, the couple has been sent back to the prefecture again and again for close to a year. Yes, they are also victims of the too-familiar runaround: being told that a document is always missing, that "this is insufficient information." To add to the problem, the French spouse is dealing with a severe medical condition, does not have perfect documentation and never mentions that the physical handicap came from being the victim of terrorism.
A beautiful soul in a broken body, this is my visualization of what terrorism does to people. In many ways, I feel honored that they came to me on the immigration issue. It made me feel humble, at a time when I was impatient over everything that was needed to make a move and change in my professional life possible. When I compare our situations, my struggles become minuscule and should be put in perspective.
I never know who will walk through my door when a first-time client arrives. Sometimes my work takes on a different dimension. Fixing the lives of these victims is impossible; most of the time, they are left with a permanent handicap. But I can do my utmost to make sure that this couple's administrative situation is swiftly fixed. In many ways, I feel like I owe this to them, and not just because I am paid. It feels like too little, too late.
The victims of terrorism now have a face.
MY FEES WILL GO UP ON OCTOBER 1st 2016
It has been about six years since my fees last increased. On October 1st, I will raise my initial retainer from 250 € to 270 € and the hourly rate from 100 € to 110 €.
MY OFFICE WILL NOT CLOSE IN SEPTEMBER BUT I WILL NOT BE VERY AVAILABLE
I need to get the new office ready and clear and clean the old office. On top of that there will be a transfer of the internet line and account. So I am hoping that I can have everything taken care of by Friday September 23rd. So more than ever, the best way to contact me is through my cell number cell :
(33) (0)220.127.116.11.07. and by E-Mail: email@example.com.
Thank you for your understanding.
THE NEW OFFICE
Since early June, I had been worried about finding the right place for my new office. To sum up the challenge: really professional office spaces start at 50 square meters, or about 540 square feet. I need about half of that, and I found exactly that, 29 square meters. In early July, I found a place that met nearly all my requirements: ground floor, courtyard, quiet, with excellent public transportation. So we all hope the deal can go through now that France is waking up from its August nap!
It is located in the 11th arrondissement between the following stations:
1. Rue des Boulets (line 9)
2. Nation (RER A and lines 1, 2, 6 and 9)
3. Faidherbe-Chaligny (line 8)
4. Reuilly-Diderot (lines 1 and 8)
I am a little bit superstitious about all this and so will not give any more details until I have the keys in my hands. I have already written down directions on how to get there from each of these stations.
ALLIAGE SARL IS GONE, REPLACED BY A SURVIVAL KIT FOR PARIS SARL
Alliage and I shared our business and most of the time had offices together. Legally speaking, this partnership started in September 2000 and stopped at the end of July. So I was faced with not just finding a new place, which was already a serious challenge, but also had to re-create my business set-up with a family-owned limited liability corporation. Since I have used the name A Survival Kit for Paris for 20 years now, I decided to name the new company that. It has been up and running as a legal entity for a couple of months, and I put it into full use in July to take over my billing.
I admit that I have spent some time looking back on these 16 years of business partnership and what it made me achieve. I am not a nostalgic guy, as I always have ideas and projects for the future. At the same time, the partnership was good for me and my business, so I want to thank Isabelle Russo, the senior manager of the now defunct Alliage, for her significant contributions to my success.
TAX OWED ON 2015 INCOME IS DUE SEPTEMBER 15th
The income tax payment schedule in France has three notable dates each year: February 15th, May 15th and September 15th. The system is set up so that on each of these dates, people pay part of the total tax due, usually in three approximately equal installments. The first two payments are each equal to one-third of the taxes owed the previous year, since the tax collection agency, the Trésor Public, does not know the amount for the current payment year until it is notified by the Centre des Impôts, which receives the income declaration of the previous calendar year in the spring. There is a special office in the Parisian suburb of Créteil for residents of Paris. It used to be that these two divisions of the French fiscal administration had different locations. Today they share the same buildings, but still function as separate entities.
"RETENUE À LA SOURCE " INCOME TAX WITHHELD BY THE EMPLOYER
France is one of the last Western countries where income tax is paid by the individual directly and not withheld by the employer. There are many cultural and historical reasons why the French people are reluctant to change this set-up, but all of them combined are not enough to explain why it has not yet been done.
There is only one technical reason that withholding tax would be very difficult to arrange, and that is the concept of the quotient familial. I believe France is the only country that taxes the family as a group rather than individuals. This means the amount of tax you owe changes if:
- You get married,
- You get divorced,
- You have a child,
- The child leaves the home,
- A family member dies,
- A family member becomes disabled.
These occur frequently enough in the course of a lifetime that if France had withholding taxes, such events could significantly change the amount withheld. A withholding system works well only if there is just a small discrepancy at the end of the year. This is why the French system has taxes paid in three installments.
Now, however, the government is determined to have a withholding system go into effect on January 1st 2017. Employees will be required to inform employers right away of any of the abovementioned changes in their life. The employers will then have to inform the tax office so it can calculate the new amount owed. I do not have much further detail. I have no problem seeing how it will work for employees. For professionals I see only the possibility of continuing the old system of declaring and then catching up if there is a discrepancy.
A MISTAKE ON A FRENCH BIRTH CERTIFICATE
My wife and I recently were recently naturalized and received our French passports and national ID cards. During this procedure, I discovered that there is an error on my daughter's French birth certificate, acte de naissance from 2013. Her birth certificate indicates I was born in "West Chester" instead of "Chester." I possibly made this error when I registered her birth and the civil servant did not verify my birthplace on my carte de séjour. Because of this, the mairie in the arrondissement will not add my daughter to our livret de famille. The civil servant said I needed to go to a tribunal to get a rectification. I went there and the information was wrong. There they told me to contact the procureur as if it was a criminal case. Does this make me a criminal? As I just became French, this makes me feel awful and outraged.
As it often happens in France, there are many different procedures and the terms used can be misleading. So let's start with some definitions to reassure you. An error made on a birth certificate is not criminal; furthermore, there is no liability involved and therefore no need to find out who made the mistake. It is called une erreur matérielle; it does not even affect the identity of your daughter. It is a tiny error about who you are. The tribunal that they talked about is the Tribunal d'Instance, the equivalent of a small claims court. It deals with some aspects of French nationality issues. The fact that your daughter became French as a minor child of naturalized parents could have been the reason this tribunal was suggested.
The position of procureur is more complicated, as it involves two roles. The one you are thinking of is the official which receives criminal cases, mainly from the police but also from victims, and decides whether to a) drop the charges and archive the file (classer sans suite), b) send the case straight to court (comparution immédiate) or c) ask for further investigation (le juge d'instruction diligente l'enquête judiciaire).
However, there is another type of procureur, and that is the one to whom you should send your request to fix this error: the procureur civil represents the state in civil matters in which the state is involved. You need to fill out and send a form asking for the needed change, along with some supporting documents. There is no court procedure, hearing or anything of that kind. Once the request is reviewed and complies with the guidelines, you will get a letter stating that your daughter's birth certificate can be changed to fix the problem. It should be as simple as that.
So, yes, the information given by the French administration can be inaccurate when it deals with another division. Most of the time, if one follows the advice obtained in this way, it might take more than one step but it is safe, provided that one acts without preconceived ideas.
THE JUNKMAIL RECEIVED AFTER REGISTERING A BUSINESS IN FRANCE
I am American and was a French university student for two years before I decided to be a consultant in my field. So I managed to get the self-employed status from the prefecture and I registered right away after that with URSSAF. Until then everything went fine. For two months now, I have been receiving mail I did not expect. It all looks very official, some are requests for money, some are forms for registering, some are both. I am very confused as I do not see the documents I was expecting. My reflex would be to answer all of them but the people at URSSAF warned me that there are crooks sending out requests for payment. I cannot see the difference between the good and the bad mail. Can you tell me how to find out who are the bad guys?
I am so glad that someone warned you about the crooks. At this stage of the process, anyone asking you to send money right away is a crook, and all such mail should be discarded right away. Indeed, keep in mind two cardinal rules about the French administration:
1. It warns you before you need to pay, and therefore there will always be at the very least a deadline written on the document. On top of this, except if you are an auto-entrepreneur, the French administration tells you ahead of time not only when to pay but also how much you owe. So being asked to pay right away is an indication that the request is not legitimate. It can happen that you get several pieces of official mail at the same time: the welcome letter, the schedule of payment and the first bill. But it should be easy to reconstruct the schedule following the abovementioned logic.
2. The less official the document looks, the more official it is. The French administration likes to be plain, so its mail is never fancy with beautiful colors on heavy paper. Some summonses sent by the tax office are printed on what feels like cigarette paper. This can be very misleading for Americans unaware of this fact.
Let's review what you are bound to receive:
1. Junk mail sent by crooks.
The only thing that can be sold this early in the game is advertising. Almost all of them offer to advertise your business in their database. This is why they ask you to fill out a form. When you see this kind of form with very fine print at the bottom, read the fine print first, as it tells what the form is about. Also if the company is registered outside France, it cannot be an official document.
2. Official documents that do not really concern you.
As you are now a business, regardless of how small you are, you have the legal right to hire employees. If you do so, you have an obligation to choose an organization to manage their complementary retirement fund. Several such organizations write to you so what you can choose between them. They are not asking for money at all but they want a registration. If you do nothing about it and never answer, one is chosen by default, and you should be fine with that.
3. The important documents you expect to receive.
I will just mention the names without going into lengthy explanations of what they do.
INSEE is the French vital statistics office and issues all kinds of ID numbers, including the SIRET number, your tax ID Number and your NAF-APE code, which states what type of primary activity you do.
URSSAF handles your initial registration and collects the CSG, CRDS and Allocations Familiales payments.
RAM-RSI handles health coverage, sick leave and associated things. It asks INSEE for your French social security number, which is mostly based on your date and location of birth. With the definitive ID number, RAM will eventually issue you a Carte Vitale, which is how you become part of the computerized system of payment and reimbursement. You pay premiums and your medical expenses are reimbursed.
CIPAV handles your retirement account. No need to say much more than that except that it is the only one that the prefecture does not ask for.
The tax office deals with several professional (i.e. business) taxes. The documents all have the Marianne logo and have SAID as the address of the office that sent them.
I cannot describe everything that someone in your situation receives. I just hope that I have explained enough so anyone can discriminate between what is important to keep and what needs to be thrown in the trash. Also, since many self-employed people prefer being helped by a professional, most often an accountant, it might be reassuring to show everything to this professional, just to be sure.
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.