“ ‘We Shall Overcome’ is a gospel song which became a protest song and a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song is most commonly attributed as being lyrically descended from “I'll Overcome Some Day”, a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1900.”
As I write this, there is beautiful weather outside, which I cannot take advantage of. The pandemic is sweeping the streets of Paris, as in so many cities in the world. France’s confinement (stay-at-home order) has already lasted nearly two weeks and there is no real end in sight.
I am extremely fortunate to be able to stay in my home, which is cozy and just big enough that I have a corner of a bedroom where I can work at a desk. Much of my work has been done remotely, and thus continues. All meetings in my office and at the prefectures have been canceled, but I have had a few via Skype or just over the phone.
Then there are those people we depend on to go to work in order to fight this illness in hospitals, to keep food stores open or to transport food to these stores. So many people are outside their homes, risking their lives for low paying jobs. I wrote this issue thinking of them, the ones I know personally and all the others. They have a work ethic and they know they need to do their job well, complying with the safety guidelines, when so many patients and clients disregard them.
All together, we shall overcome this pandemic. United, caring about each other’s life and well-being, all of us behaving the same way outside our home, we shall overcome – as the recent and not so recent past has shown, singing this gospel song, living it, believing its message. Right now and probably for weeks to come, if not months, selfishness kills people.
“The Plague (French: La Peste) is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947, that tells the story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. It asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace.”
This would have been the obvious choice as the title of this issue. Everyone is referring to it. The book has become a best seller in many countries. It is indeed the right book to read right now, or to read again. Many need a description they can read or watch, like the movie Contagion, which also has suddenly become extremely popular.
“Contagion is a 2011 American thriller film directed by Steven Soderbergh. … The plot concerns the spread of a virus transmitted by fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and finally the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.”
I far prefer an uplifting message of hope and unity, a message of caring and love to each other. So, we shall overcome.
THE PREFECTURES HAVE SHUT DOWN FOR THE DURATION OF THE CONFINEMENT
The Paris prefecture closed on March 17th and I assume that pretty much all the others in France closed at about the same time for immigration issues. The main consequence of this shutdown is that the validity ofcartes de séjour, récépissés, visas, APS and so on that expired starting on that date is being prolonged for at least three months. When the system reopens, all those expired documents will be considered valid and procedures will resume as usual.
The other consequence is bad news for foreigners who had appointments to submit an immigration request or pick up their carte de séjour: They all need to be rescheduled. At this point nothing is being said about how that will be handled. The worst solution for the applicants would be for the prefectures to require everyone to reschedule, primarily through the prefecture websites.
Before the crisis it was already common knowledge that some prefectures’ sites were dysfunctional; the few appointments available were issued at odd hours and gone minutes later. The Parisian prefecture website has only one flaw, that of scheduling appointments months later. I fear there will be an enormous rush when things reopen, which will submerge the system even more. Regardless of how many months the validity is extended, it will likely be insufficient to allow new appointments to be made on time. Little can be done to avoid this situation. If your appointment to submit your file has been canceled, be sure to keep the file up to date so it is always ready to be submitted literally overnight.
MEMORIES POSTED ON THE WALLS OF PRIVATE BUILDINGS IN PARIS
One morning several weeks ago as I walked up to the building where my office is, I saw a strange paper sign about Jewish children living there during the war who died in an extermination camp.
Bronze plaques on Parisian buildings are so common that I do not pay attention to them anymore. Throughout the centuries that the city has existed, many famous people have lived and died in Paris. But this very cheap A4 poster was saying something different. It was making a poignant reference to a time in French history that the country is ashamed of and that therefore is not as well-known as the Résistance or the days of the Libération when Parisians freed Paris almost completely by themselves.
Tales and historical truth mingle, as so often is the case. I was moved reading the names and ages of these very small children. That was the intent of the Union des Etudiants Juifs de France (UEJF), the French Jewish Student Union. The poster campaign in late January created a fair amount of controversy, with people wondering why someone was stirring up emotions about a historical event that is pretty well known thanks to books and movies like Sarah’s Key
The posters were put up to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Noémie Madar, president of the UEJF, said of the campaign: “It is about being able to transmit the memory of the Shoah.” One French press account gave this description:
“ ‘Passing by, remember their names’ could be read this Monday morning on the walls of certain districts of the capital. During the night, activists from the French Jewish Student Union stuck about 1,500 posters on building doors in memory of Parisian Jewish children deported during the Holocaust. The UEJF said it based its work on the census taken by the Klarsfeld spouses [Serge and Beate], who listed the names and addresses of the children; these were transposed onto an interactive map by a historian in 2012. Between 1942 and 1944, just over 6,000 children were arrested within the Paris city limits.”
I do not remember the names posted on my building, but I will remember that there were four of them and that Paris, like the rest of France, lived through WWII. Yes, today, when I think of the pandemic going through the streets of Paris, I remember the long lines of children and adults in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup on July 16-17, 1942, arrested not by German soldiers but by French police to be sent to concentration camps.
MY SUMMERS WORKING IN A WAREHOUSE
IN STAMFORD, CT
I got a lot of my early work experience as a young adult in the USA. In 1980 and 1981, while going to law school in France, I spent three months each summer in the USA, earning enough money during the first part of my stay to travel on Greyhound buses all over the country during the second half. It was hard labor, loading and unloading trailers full of rolls of material. Then I met people on those long bus rides, spending days traveling from New York City to Denver or from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Birmingham, Alabama. Those two summers and my military academy training are the life experiences, which have molded me the most.
I had two types of coworkers in the warehouse: older men who worked there all year for their living, and younger men, about my age, going to college and earning some or all of their tuition for the year. The work was physically hard and several young men quit.
I see a link between what I experienced then and what is being said now about the student loan situation. Working two months or so in the summer at minimum wage today does not come close to paying a year’s tuition at just about any college in the USA. To cover that cost, a loan is needed to supplement the meager wage earned in the summer. That is one side of the issue that has received a lot of press coverage, and rightly so.
But there is another side I have never read nor heard anything about: the early labor experience of corporate executives. I have admired America for its ability to mingle socially. In those days, even the children of rather wealthy parents would take this kind of job, for many reasons – experiencing independence from their parents, lightening their parents’ financial load, learning what hard labor means, seeing how operations on the ground really work, and so on. Some of these graduates ended up in senior executive positions. I believe that then, much more so than now, in the American business world, business decisions, policy implementation and strategic goals were often informed by personal knowledge of what they would mean to all employees, even those at the lowest level.
“Working hard” are probably the words I heard most often while I was living and working in the USA as an immigrant. I did work as hard as an immigrant is expected to. I believe that resilience and determination to get the job done are often learned from never quitting no matter how much your body aches at the end of the day. That work ethic, the respect earned for the job well done, was recognized by the leadership of the company.
Today, many people are crippled by student loans. Either they can barely meet the monthly payments or they have to declare bankruptcy, thus destroying their credit rating for years and making them something of an outcast in normal society. Meanwhile, those whose parents paid for their studies or who managed to finance their tuition by taking a small loan do not suffer the same consequences. Furthermore – and this is where I see the link – they often do not need or want to work summer jobs. I believe that part of the reason corporations’ monetary value has shifted from their capacity to produce goods and services to shareholder value is their executives’ lack of experience working as young adults at the bottom of the pyramid.
NEW REQUIREMENT FOR FRENCH NATIONALITY:
A WRITTEN TEST
Applicants for French citizenship must take a test to determine if they have the required mastering of the French language. In recent years the requirement was a level of at least B1 on the Test de Connaissance du Français (TCF). Now this requirement is being upgraded to include a written test. Therefore the “old” certificates, called TCF-ANF (Accès à la Nationalité Française), issued as late as January 2020, are no longer valid starting on April 1st, 2020.
On March 21st 2019, the French Prime Minister stated his wish to make this test significantly more difficult, during a naturalization ceremony he attended at the Pantheon. The new TCF-ANF consists of oral comprehension, written comprehension, written expression and oral expression. As soon as I know exactly what is on the writing tests, I will provide details. Most people find that writing a foreign language is the hardest task, where all errors are the most evident. That is why a section on written French is now included in the test.
FRENCH INCOME TAX: THE TIME TO DECLARE IS ALMOST NOW!
Regarding the more mundane topic of income tax, I would like to remind everybody that paper versions of the 2019 income declaration must be filed in France by May 14th 2020 midnight. The declaration forms are available at www.impots.gouv.fr. The very first income declaration to the French tax office must be prepared using the paper form, and the “first time” box on the form called CERFA #2042, “Vous déposez une déclaration pour la première fois Cochez” must be checked. If this is not your first time filing, you can file your declaration on this website starting on April 8th. To do so, you need your tax ID number “numéro fiscal” and some access codes.
Note that if you file online, the deadline is later. The schedule depends on your postal code:
- départements 01 to 19 must file by midnight on May 19th
- départements 20 to 49 by May 26th
- départements 50 or higher by June 2nd
I remind everybody that if you are self-employed in France, (often incorrectly called being ‘auto-entrepreneur’) the quarterly declarations sent to URSSAF do not constitute income tax declarations that must be sent to the tax office. I have seen a great many foreigners absolutely convinced that these quarterly declarations were the only fiscal obligation they had. The amount of income tax owed is often low and sometimes zero. The problem comes from the fact that the prefecture demands the income tax bill issued by the tax office called “avis d’imposition sur le revenue” for issuing almost all the immigration statuses. The prefecture can be quite lenient with the “visiteur”, student and expat statuses. For all the others, this document is mandatory. Filing late because the prefecture demands such an “avis”, means that the tax office sometimes issues the “avis d’imposition sur le revenue” six or more months after receiving the declaration. At best it considerably delays the issuance of the new carte de séjour. On occasion, the prefecture is not patient and foreigners lose their immigration status.
The main reasons for the tax office’s slowness are:
1 - the page dedicated to the declaration on the website is not open all year long, so very late declarations must be filled on paper, thereby slowing down the process,
2 - once the tax season has ended, and if no tax is owed, there is no incentive to prepare this “avis” quickly.
MESSAGE FROM AARO REGARDING CARES
Congress has passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the president has signed it into law. Americans abroad will be interested in understanding the law's aid provisions and how they can be accessed. This is a summary of key aid provisions that are or may be relevant to Americans abroad –
- Americans abroad who meet the income eligibility criteria (income under $99,000) are entitled to the Recovery Rebate (up to $1,200 payment plus $500 per child).
- Taxpayers who have provided bank account details with their 2018 or 2019 tax filing will likely be receiving payments via direct debit in the next 2-3 weeks, with others likely to be sent checks or debit cards through the mail.
Under the Act, the US Treasury has been provided with flexibility in establishing the aid payment delivery mechanisms. We will be working with our friends on Capitol Hill to understand how the distribution of aid will progress. We will send information to members as soon as we have it.
Something similar was issued by the French government but the conditions are a lot more complicated to explain and therefore I have attached the flyer that explains it.
Here is the link for the self-employed people.
SUMMER VACATION: THE OFFICE WILL BE CLOSED JULY 17th to AUGUST 24th
The office will be closed for one month, starting Friday, July 19th, reopening on Monday, August 24th. As always, I will be reachable by e-mail for emergencies and important matters. My service of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed.
MY MINOR FEES WILL INCREASE ON SEPTEMBER 1st, 2020
Handling mail in my office: 40 euros per month
Handling mail received at my home: 50 euros per month
Surcharge for out-of-the-office meetings: 60 euros which corresponds to less than 30 minutes’ transportation
Surcharge for meetings and phone calls at the client's request after 7PM weekdays, all weekend and during national French holidays and vacations: 30%
WHICH LAW GOVERNS FRENCH ESTATES?
I am based in Nice and have been in multiple conversations where Americans shared contradictory advice received from different notaires, lawyers and experts. One French notaire wrote a French will so that the deceased’s assets and property in France would be governed by American law and the estate would be settled in the US at lower tax rates, thus “not touched” by France. A top-notch lawyer in Paris with legal qualifications in both the US and France told me that if you are a resident in France, when you pass, the French government allows a 100,000€ distribution to each biological child but after that, they tax worldwide assets, including funds and investments in the US and any real estate, at the French rate of 45%. With electronic transfer, they'll find out about the foreign holdings, you cannot “hide” them. Can you tell me who is right?
I could answer that both of them are wrong, but I doubt this is exactly what they said if they are the qualified professionals you say they are. I believe it is more likely that you misunderstood their answers.
Two totally different issues must be understood before any explanation will make sense. Both professionals have explained one side of what happens with an estate made up of both French and American assets. The scenario here is that the foreigner dies as a French resident. For now, and for most of this explanation, I will set aside the definition of “resident,” as it is not clear for many. Without too much generalization, Americans often put more emphasis on their American nationality than on their French residency and expect American law to govern French situations. The caricature is the person saying, “I have an American passport – I have rights” (i.e. “American rights”) while they are living in France.
To answer your question appropriately, I must separate the legal issue from the fiscal issue that such an estate raises. This means starting with the fact the deceased was an American citizen and a French resident.
1 – The legal issue
For a long time, any estate that was adjudicated in France because the deceased lived in France was governed by French law; the exception was real estate in other countries, which was governed by the country in which it was located. On July 4th 2012, a European Union law radically changed this. It allowed foreigners living in an EU country to choose to have their estate governed by the law of their nationality and not the law of the country of residence. One reason was so that the entire estate, including real estate in any European country, would be governed by the same law.
This legislation was also adopted by many other Western countries. Consequently, today an American citizen can have a “French will” stating, “I want my American will, held by lawyer XX registered in the state of WW, to govern my entire estate worldwide.” This means the French notaire identified by the “French will” must apply the legislation specific to WW state in accordance with the will held by XX lawyer. The American professional will most likely be instrumental in dealing with the estate and will probably tell the Frenchnotaire how to implement the American will.
French law has always severely limited the freedom to bequest, with provisions found in the original Civil Code of 1804 stating that, with no exceptions, it is illegal to disinherit one’s children. Because French law so heavily regulates what a will can do, an American citizen residing in France might want to leave a bequest with little or no limitation, depending on what regulations WW state has.
This explanation addresses the comment of the first professional, the notaire, which you paraphrased in the following way:
“the deceased’s assets and property in France would be governed by American law and the estate would be settled in the US.” That is not totally true, but one can easily see how such an understanding is possible.
2 – The fiscal issue
One must never forget that a French notaire is handling a French estate and it is taxed according to French fiscal law. After centuries of giving preferential fiscal treatment to the blood descendants and forebears of the deceased, today the surviving spouse or PACSed partner inherits tax free. The children pay taxes, but at the lowest rate. The farther from the direct bloodline an heir is, the higher the tax rate: siblings pay more than children, and nieces and nephews more still. Non-family members are taxed 60% on everything. Furthermore, the notaire often faces a serious legal problem when dealing with trusts, which do not exist in France.
You understood the second professional correctly as saying the French would “tax worldwide assets, including funds and investments in the US” – but misunderstood the part about the tax rate: The 45% rate only applies where a child inherits more than 1,805,677€ – not your average estate! Unlike in American law, the beneficiary of the estate is taxed in France.
I remind you as stating in your question that “the French government allows a 100,000€” exclusion. If there are three children, the amount of 300,000€ is not taxed. Furthermore, with three children, the 45% tax rate then only starts if the net worth of the estate reaches the amount of 3x1,805,677€, which equals to 5,417,031€.
This puts things back in perspective. It would be wise to check exactly what the tax bracket is for each portion so as to more accurately calculate the possible amount of taxes to be paid to France.
Below is a breakdown of the taxation of an estate going to a child or children of the deceased.
First, there is currently a 100,000€ exemption for each child. After that come the brackets for the portion of the estate exceeding 100,000€ per child:
- Under 8,072€, 5%.
- Between 8,072 and 12,109€, 10%.
- Between 12,109 and 15,932€, 15%.
- Between 15,932 and 552,324€, 20%.
- Between 552,324 and 902,838€, 30%.
- Between 902,838 and 1,805,677€, 40%.
- Over 1,805,677€, 45%.
There has always been a political and even philosophical debate about the existence of estate taxes, but the fact of the matter is that France has such taxes, even for what many consider a small estate of 100,000€ per child. The USA, meanwhile, has gone a long way toward eliminating estate taxes. France has a reputation for high taxation. One can hear in the expat community that everything is taxed in an obscene way. But I have shown here that when it comes to estate taxes, the tall tales are inaccurate. The French nuclear family gets very preferential treatment, at rates that could be seen as reasonable even by Americans living in France as immigrants.
THE USE OF THE FRENCH SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
My daughter, who is European, has worked in Paris in a restaurant for the last six months. She submitted a form asking for a Carte Vitale at the CPAM in the 19th district in October 2019 and has not heard anything back yet. Right now, she cannot work and she will need to fill out a form to apply for unemployment. Her pay slip does not mention a Social Security number. She needs this money really badly and she cannot get it without this number. Which office in Paris deals with Social Security number issuance?
I need to explain the normal procedure on how to obtain a Social Security number, since clearly the employer never got it. For employees, the list of documents is a bit different from that for non-working foreigners asking for PUMA coverage, but in many ways the procedure is the same.
1. The employee goes to the nearest branch of the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM), which is part of the division of the French administration called Assurance Maladie, now covering the entire private sector. They submit a file containing their passport, carte de séjour if applicable, birth certificate (officially translated when needed), recent proof of address, a RIB (French bank ID), the work contract and at least one pay slip if it is a full-time position and four if it is part-time. This file starts the registration to obtain national public health coverage, for which the person must prove they are an employee and currently working. At that moment, two different processes start: a) the procedure to obtain the Carte Vitale once the definitive social security number is issued, and b) securing coverage with the creation of the file in the system.
2. In fact, the health coverage starts the day the request is submitted, even though the CPAM does not give you a receipt or any other document showing it has been done. This scares a lot of foreigners, as they feel they cannot prove they submitted their file. They feel that the coverage is not real, that they cannot trust the system unless they have proof in their hands. It can take two months or more for the employee to receive anything in the mail indicating that the process is going on. Even that letter only states that the file has been created and the procedure is in motion; it says nothing about the person being insured. This rarely reassures foreigners.
Two things happen at the same time:
a) A letter comes in the mail requesting several documents – including the birth certificate, since the French social security number is almost completely composed of information pertaining to the date and location of birth. Yes, almost always this document is asked for a second time and sometimes many more.
b) A letter comes in the mail giving a temporary social security number. Once it has been issued, the person can be reimbursed for medical bills paid out of pocket, and can use the number at a hospital. Several temporary numbers may be issued before the definitive one comes. The employer can use a temporary number to make sure social charges are paid and are going to the right person, although in my experience, it is better for the employer to use only the definitive one.
3. When it is a foreigner making the request, the definitive social security number often takes a year or more to issue. INSEE (the French national statistics office) checks with the city or state authorities in the place of birth to see if the birth certificate sent is accurate and matches the original in their files. That is why it is critical to properly manage this transition period, which can last a very long time. The foreign authority receiving this request may find it odd at first, and too many times it ends up in the trashcan.
4. During the transition, there are other divisions of the French administration that require a definitive Social Security number. It is easy to see right away whether a number is definitive or temporary. This is how it the number would be constructed for a woman born in the USA. Take, for example, 2 95 04 99 404 xxx xx:
- 2 is a woman (a man’s number starts with 1).
- 95 is 1995, the year of birth.
- 04 is the month of birth, i.e. April.
- 99 means the person was born outside France.
- 404 stands for the USA, the birthplace.
Then come three digits issued by the computer system, followed by two digits called the key, which are the result of a complex mathematical formula. For a woman born in a different country, see www.insee.fr/fr/information/2028273, which lists all the codes identifying where a foreigner was born. It displays also the code 99, linked to being born outside of France.
Since the file was submitted about five months ago, your daughter has almost certainly received a couple of letters on which a temporary number is mentioned. She must have received, at the very least, one letter acknowledging that the request is being processed. In the upper left corner of this document there should be a temporary number (numéro provisoire), which is what she should use at Pôle Emploi to apply for unemployment.
One definitive way to know how far along the request has gone is to go to a local branch of the CPAM (rather than the Assurance Maladie website, www.ameli.fr>, where creating an account requires the definitive number). In any case, going to CPAM will enable her to get her current temporary social security number.
Therefore, you two should look through the mail she has received and set aside everything with ASSURANCE MALADIE or CPAM (or both) on the envelope or letterhead. Those should enable you to evaluate how far along the process has gone.
Then, use the most recent temporary number you can find to register online with Pôle Emploi. Assuming it works, you do not need to do anything further.
If the temporary number does not work, print out the form on the Pôle Emploi website and fill it out. Put down the date and location of your birth near the slot for the social security number. Send it in the mail with a short letter explaining the situation.
If you cannot find a temporary number, you put down the date and location of your birth near the slot for the social security number on the Pôle Emploi form as mentioned above. She also needs go to the nearby CPAM branch as soon as possible while taking into consideration the current situation to check on this situation.
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.