If you have recently moved to France, friends may well have warned you about tax return season. The government makes an announcement around March or April, and the submission of income declarations is staggered over three different deadlines depending on which department you live in. It’s an admin job no one likes; however, the prospect of filing your tax return for the first time doesn’t have to throw you into a panic! Here’s what you need to know about filling in your first French tax return.
Do I Need to File a Tax Return in France?
Everyone who is tax resident in France has to do a tax return whether they are in salaried work, freelance or not in work at all. You are tax resident if you:
- live permanently in France
- spend most of your time in France (more than 183 days a year)
- your professional activity is in France
- the centre of your economic activity is in France
You have to declare all your income, from whatever source, in France or abroad. The French tax authority (commonly known as le fisc) then sends you a tax bill in the early autumn and you pay your income tax retrospectively. This is unfamiliar to many British people who are used to the PAYE system of deducting tax and National Insurance contributions from each month’s salary. The French only started PAYE in 2019 and the universal tax declaration is still in force.
But, you may be asking yourself, I have already paid tax on my foreign income. Will I have to pay it again? The answer is ‘No’ if you are a UK citizen. France and the UK have a double taxation treaty that prevents tax being paid twice. And in case you were wondering, this is absolutely not affected by Brexit. It is a bilateral treaty between the UK and France and predates Brexit.
For some other nationalities, including Americans, you may still be required to submit a tax return and potentially pay tax in your home country. Contact an international financial or tax advisor if you are unsure.
Filling in Your French Tax Return: Do You Need Extra Help?
If you live alone and your financial affairs are uncomplicated, the declaration is relatively straightforward. But it is sensible to seek professional advice, especially if you have complex affairs, run a business, or there are several people in the household. The Ordre des Experts-Comptables is the French professional body for chartered accountants, so check that any prospective accountant is a member. Obviously, all the forms are in French so if you are not confident about understanding them, seek advice.
Our international financial and tax advisors can help.
Your First Income Tax Declaration in France
Your first-ever declaration can be submitted in paper form, which was the only option until recently. This was because first-timers were not registered with the tax system and didn’t have a tax number. However, you can now apply online for a number, which will allow you to make your first declaration online as well.
How Do I Obtain My French Tax Number?
Obtaining your French tax number can be done online at the tax portal. In the search box type in ‘demande de numéro fiscal’ and in the sidebar on the results page you will find the application form. Fill it in and submit. If you don’t have a social security number yet, just write ‘ pas encore fourni‘ (not yet provided). You will receive a confirmation email and a week to a fortnight later another email with your tax number. With this you can create your personal tax account on the portal.
Once your account is set up you’re good to go with the declaration. The French tax year runs from January 1st to December 31st, so in 2021 you’re declaring for the calendar year 2020. If you arrived in France part-way through the year, you declare your income from the date you arrived.
Filling In Your French Tax Declaration
There is a standard form everyone has to fill in (No.2042) but foreigners have a couple of additional forms for income earned abroad (No.2047), and foreign bank accounts (No.3916). Each one has a guidance note. If you are doing it yourself, completing a paper version first is useful as a dry run and if you want someone else to check it for you.
The local Mairie may hold surgeries with a French tax lawyer or, if you are a member of local Facebook groups, you might see posts recommending local accountants or tax lawyers. It is sometimes possible to find a firm offering free consultations with an English lawyer. However, in all these situations, you may have limited time, so try to fill in the forms yourself first, and use the time you have to check they are correct and ask any questions you have
Gather the relevant information beforehand. You will need details of your French-earned income such as salary, French pensions, rental income, investments etc. You also need details of any sources of income that were earned abroad e.g. a pension from a UK provider. On top of that you also need the details of every bank account and life assurance policy that you still hold abroad, including any that you closed during the period you’re declaring. You’ll need the account numbers, precise dates of opening and closing, name and address of the financial institution. If you have very old or a large number of accounts this will almost certainly need some phone calls back home!
Submitting Your French Tax Declaration Online
After logging into your account on the French tax website, follow the link ‘Accédez à votre déclaration / je declare en ligne’, which will take you to the declaration form. It allows you to move backwards and forwards without losing any information you’ve already inputted, and you can log off and come back later to pick up where you left off.
You will be asked to enter personal details of yourself and anyone else living in the household. Then you enter your income. To declare foreign income and bank accounts, the ‘Déclaration Annexes‘ takes you to the additional forms 2047 and 3916. You are advised to fill these in first as, once done, the information is automatically inserted in the relevant boxes on the main form.
At the end, you will be told to enter an electronic signature and submit. And your tax return has gone to le fisc.
Obviously, it is sensible to double, even triple-check everything before the declaration is finally submitted. If you realise afterwards that a mistake has been made, all is not lost. You can correct errors up to the submission deadline by accessing your declaration online, or by sending an email to your local Centre des Finances Publiques if you submitted a paper copy. After the deadline, errors can still be rectified but they will take longer to take effect.
And that’s it! Tax returns give most people the jitters but they don’t have to induce blind panic. Give yourself adequate time, seek professional advice, and stay calm. Most people submit an accurate return and have no problems. There’s no reason why you can’t be one of them.
By Pat Hallam
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