Personal Financial Planning in France – if I knew then what I know now…
A British National, I came to France in 1996 for what was meant to be a 3-year local contract. But here I am, still living in France 20 years later. Sound familiar?
This year, at the age of 57, I stopped full-time employment, though I expect to stay in France for some years to come. Here are a just few of the useful things I’ve learned over the years, as an expat in France, focusing on tips for those of you who are still relatively new to France.
Tax efficient investment vehicles
The ISA doesn’t exist in France, but the Plan d’Epargne en Actions (PEA) and the Assurance Vie (AV) do. One can invest 150k euros in a PEA, and after 5 years the gains are free from Capital Gains Tax (CGT). There is no limit to the number or amount invested for AV’s, and after 8 years, any gains on withdrawal attract only 7.5% tax (over 9200 euros/yr). Both PEA’s and AV’s attract Social Charges on investment gains. With present interest rates low, an AV older than eight years is a much better option than a savings account (Compte Epargne). Your employer might also offer you a Plan d’Epargne d’Enterprise (PEE) where investment gains are free from CGT after 5 years.
My advice to anyone becoming tax resident in France is to open a PEA and an AV as soon as you arrive, with just a small initial investment, just to get the clock ticking. You can always close them if your short term contract turns out to be just that!
Pensions, QROPS & PERPs
Years worked in the UK can be transferred to the French system, and additional years purchased at little cost, which can greatly increase the value of your French Pension.
With the 15-year Gilt Rate presently so low, UK pension pot valuations are very high. If you are thinking of staying overseas, it is a good time to consider the Pro’s and Con’s of transferring your pot to a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (QROPS).
Each year you can invest up to 10% of your salary free of income tax (within the maximum of 8 times the Social Security ceiling) in a Plan d’Epargne de Retraite (PERP), and you can accumulate up to 3 years if you do not use this 10% annual allowance. If you have been made redundant, at the end of the 3-year period of unemployment benefit, you can withdraw all the funds from a PERP free of CGT, so avoiding taking an annuity. Investments in a PERP are not subject to Wealth Tax (ISF).
Getting good, in-depth financial advice
I have always worked with one of the big French Banks and whilst they offer a range of products, their understanding of the needs of Anglo-Saxons is not always high. They recommend mainly in-house products and could be a lot more pro-active.
My employers were kind enough to offer me big consultancy companies to help fill out my annual French tax forms. The introductory meetings with senior directors always went well, but it was clear the forms were filled out by very junior staff, and their aim was to fulfil a service to the employer as much as to me – they are not at all there to offer advice and optimise tax.
Whilst it’s taken me a while to realise, it’s best to seek the assistance of specialist independent financial advisers, people who really understand both the UK and French financial space. I like to have more than one, in addition to the bank, to ensure several points of view/proposals on which to base decisions.
From experience, I can certainly recommend Jon Cooper (The Spectrum IFA Group) and Thierry Mandengue (VIP Partner) – they have undoubtedly saved me tens of thousands of euros.
In my next article, I will share my knowledge of Stock Options, PEE’s and Inheritance planning. I’d be happy to discuss expat finance further if anyone is interested (firstname.lastname@example.org).
*This article has been written by Dr. Martin Powell, a retired, British, Senior Corporate Executive living in France and a client of Jonathan Cooper