French Residency – Dispelling the Myths
French residency is a popular topic of discussion for expatriates when they get together in a social setting. So many times I hear people saying that they “choose” not to be French resident and just to be sure, they make sure that they do not spend more than 183 days a year in France. Come April/May time, the chatter on this subject increases. So too do the differences of opinion, mostly about whether or not someone should complete a French income tax return.
Well to dispel the first myth – residency is not a choice per se. Based on the facts, you are either French resident or not.
The rules on French residency are really quite straightforward – although admittedly some cases are not! For example, take a couple who are lucky enough to have a property in each of France, the UK and Spain. None of the properties are rented to tenants and so all are available for their own personal use. Every year, they spend five months a year in France, four months in the UK and three months in Spain. They receive pensions from sources outside of France and most of their financial capital is in offshore bank deposits in the Channel Islands. They also have current bank accounts in each of the three countries.
Where are they resident – well the simple answer is “France”. Why – because this is where they spend most time in a year.
Hence, the second myth of the perceived ‘183 day rule’ is also dispelled.
When anyone has interests in various countries, it is often found that they satisfy the internal criteria for residence of more than one country. Understandably, this can be confusing. In France, you only have to satisfy one of the following four conditions and you will be resident in France:
(1) France is your ‘home’: If you have property in France and another country, but the latter is not available for your personal use (for example, because it is rented to tenants), then France is your home.
(2) France is your ‘centre of economic interest’: Generally, this means where your income is paid from. In addition to pension, salaries, etc., this can include bank interest and other investment income.
(3) France is your place of ‘habitual abode’: Notably, no reference is made in the law to the number of days that you actually spend in France and this is where many people are caught out, believing that if they do not spend at least 183 days in France, then they can decide that they are not resident. This is not the case and your place of ‘habitual abode’ is, quite simply, where you spend most time.
(4) Nationality: If your residency has not been established by any of the above points, then it will be your nationality that determines your residence, however, this is very rare.
As a French resident, you are obliged to complete an annual income tax return and must declare all your worldwide income and gains (even if the income is ultimately taxable in another country). In addition, depending upon the value of your assets, you may also need to complete a wealth tax return.
Thankfully, there are Double Taxation Treaties (DTTs) existing between France and all the EU States (and also with many other countries in the world). For anyone with interests in more than one country, the existence of a relevant DTT is very important. This is because a DTT sets out the rules that apply in determining which country has the right to tax your various sources of income and assets, with the aim of avoiding double taxation.
However, France does not have DTTs with the popular offshore jurisdictions of, for example, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Hence, for any French resident with bank deposits in these jurisdictions, where withholding tax is being charged on the interest, there is no mechanism to offset this against the French income tax that is also payable. Probably the best thing to do to avoid paying tax twice on the same source of income is to shelter the financial capital within an investment that is tax-efficient in France. Notwithstanding this, as everyone’s situation is different, it is also very important to seek independent financial advice before taking any action.
Inheritance taxes should also not be overlooked. As a French resident, you are considered domiciled in France for inheritance purposes and your worldwide estate becomes taxable in France, where the tax rates depend on your relationship to your beneficiaries. However, there are some DTTs on inheritance taxes between France and other countries (although nowhere near as extensive as the number of DTTs that exist for other taxes). Again, it is important to seek advice on your own personal situation because it is my experience that ‘one size does not fit all’.
In summary, French residency is a fact and not a choice. However, by seeking advice, action can be taken to mitigate your future personal French tax bills, as well as the potential French inheritance tax bills for your beneficiaries.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action to mitigate the effects of French tax legislation. Hence, if you would like to have a confidential discussion about your personal situation, please do not hesitate to contact Daphne Foulkes by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on + 33 (0)4 68 20 30 17.