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‘Brexit won’t happen’: Why not all Brits in France are panicking about the future

Critics will say they have their heads in the sand but many Brits in France are declining to follow official advice and apply for a residency permit. While some prefer to wait others are still holding out that Brexit won't happen.

'Brexit won't happen': Why not all Brits in France are panicking about the future
Photo: AFP

With Brexit Day fast approaching many Britons living in France are rushing to secure their futures.

While many are in the process of applying for French nationality, thousands are following the official advice from the French government and the British embassy to get a Carte de Séjour residency permit.

The current long waiting times to get an appointment at prefectures in certain departments is testament to the large numbers of Brits who taking steps to prepare for Brexit.

Online message boards also attest to the stress and anxiety felt by many as they go through the process and Britons who have obtained the residency permit also speak of the relief of having some kind of security.

But not everyone in France is following the official advice and for a variety of reasons.

Many simply don't feel the need while others, some critics would say, still have their heads in the sand.

'Brexit won’t happen'

Geoff Stroud, 74, who is retired and living in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region says he is “not bothered” about securing his future in France before Brexit.

He has chosen not to take any action as he believes “all will be well.” 

“Brexit will not go through due to the politicians,” he said.

Julie Evans, 45, lives in the Dordogne and is working as a freelancer. But she has not felt the need to act.

“I still live in hope that Brexit will not happen,” she said.

'Let’s wait and see'

But while wishful thinking might be deterring some from acting, the majority of those who are avoiding the paperwork seem prepared to sit and wait until they know what is required.

With even British Prime Minister Theresa May now admitting there are three options on the table: a no-deal, her deal or no Brexit altogether plus the fact no one knows what will happen after the parliament vote on December 11th, it's not surprising some people are sitting tight.

Kim Atkinson, a 65-year-old retiree living in Brittany, has refused to act on the basis that, “If the politicians can’t make up their mind why should I run around?”

“If Brexit goes ahead you are still allowed to stay. At the worst I will get a free trip back to the UK when I am deported,” she said.

Lynda Emes, a 66-year-old retiree in the department of Vienne has not felt the need to apply for a Carte de Séjour “because nothing has been completely decided yet.”

And Natasha who runs the Our Normandy Life blog said: “I haven't been kept up at night at all and will not be applying for CdS. I will apply for whatever I need at the time. Each to their own re applying but really have no concerns.”

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The reason people are being encouraged to get a Carte de Séjour now is that under the draft Withdrawal Agreement those who have obtained a Carte de Séjour will be able to simply swap it for any new kind of residency permit French authorities introduce for Britons after Brexit, albeit they may have to undergo a criminality check.

The motivation is that it's better to prove your legal status now than further down the line when the hurdles might be bigger and the queues longer.

But that is not enough incentive for some Britons who really want to avoid facing French bureaucracy as long as they can.

Julie Smith, 61, who runs a B&B in the Aude department said: “I have lived here for 13 years and I am still very in touch with UK so I want to wait and see what will happen.

“I feel relatively confident that they will not just throw me out and I prefer to not get caught up in the French administrative system unless I really have to get a Carte de Sejour.”

Others even suggested that if the red tape became too cumbersome they would give up their lives in France.

Sally Greenway, 65, who runs gites in Brittany said: I'm waiting to see what will actually be required. I will then decide if staying in France is worth the hassle but would not return to the UK.”

There are others who are not applying because they fear they will not meet the criteria.

To obtain a Carte de séjour, Britons must prove they are working or studying in France or are self-employed or self-sufficient with adequate health cover. If you have proved this over a five year period you earn the right to stay in France permanently. 

But the minimum income level for those who are self-employed appears to vary depending on what prefecture is considering the application. There are reports of many people declining to apply fearing they will be rejected and asked to leave France. This has already happened to one British woman.

Christopher Laudan, who lives in Viomenil in the Vosges department of eastern France said: “I do not feel confident that applying for a Carte de Séjour I will pass on financial grounds, being neither officially retired nor working. Also I suffer from anxiety and depression for which I receive medication so I would find the stress of applying for carte de séjour difficult. 

“I have heard the UK advice to apply for carte de séjour but also the French saying please don't apply as we are not ready.

“So I wait and hope for a People's Vote to reject Brexit.”

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Julie-Ann Gledhill, a 61-year-old early retiree living in south west France said she was waiting one more year to be able to prove she had five years under her belt.

“My experience of French bureaucracy is that it very much depends on who is handling one's dossier if you get any kind of sense or just 'box not ticked so it's a no'. And I can't face the hassle of arguing with them if it is,” she said.

Then there are others who have come up against a brick wall and are struggling to know what to do.

Gregory Page, 23, doing a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics in Paris said: “I have been trying to get my Carte de Séjour. At one point, I waited in a five hour queue to just be rejected. I have sent emails, with no response. I don't know what to do but wild horses couldn't drag me back to the UK.”

Ray Still, 77, who lives in Marseille and boats inland waterways, has not acted due to the language barrier: “I don’t speak or read French well enough to understand exactly what I might be giving up by applying for French residence or what problems the change may create.”

There is plenty of advice out there in English for those who need help.

For others, the reasons for not applying are more tragic.

Barbara Osborne, 79, who lives in La Manche, said she simply can't face all the paperwork after the recent death of her husband.

But she is confident that she will have no problem further down the line given that she has held a Carte de Séjour in the past and that she has 22 years of paying taxes into the French system under her belt.

Indeed it appears there are many Britons who, even though they don't have the residency permit in hand, appear confident that when it comes down to it, they will have enough to prove they can stay in France.

Although some appeared to be under the impression that having a French driving license and a Carte Vitale health card would be enough.

Bryan Woy, 67, who lives in Normandy, working as a translator, English teacher, musician said: “My last Carte de Séjour' expired in 2011. I have three French children, a French driving licence, a French SIRET number and I receive several French retirement pensions. I'm still considering becoming naturalised, but haven't done anything about it yet.”

Others were convinced that being married to a French national will be enough.

Stephanie Bisson-Smith, 70, who lives in Paris and the Loire Valley said: “I have lived and worked in France for 50 years. I'm married to a Frenchman, but I have never felt the need to obtain French citizenship.”

Only time will tell whether those who haven't yet acted will come to regret it. Given the fact the Brits in France have been in limbo for over two years now, and that even now at this late stage and even with a deal on the table, the future seems as uncertain as ever it's hard to blame anyone for not having acted.

Although it's worth repeating that the official advice is to apply for a Carte de Séjour.

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PROPERTY

The post-Brexit tax rules on selling second-homes in France

British second-home owners in France who want to sell their properties are being warned of an extra layer of administration - and expense - in place since Brexit.

The post-Brexit tax rules on selling second-homes in France

Brits wishing to sell property in France may now need to appoint a représentant fiscal (tax representative) in France in order to properly declare the sale to French tax authorities. 

Who?

This law applies to people who own property in France but do not live here – mostly that would be second-home owners but it could also apply to, for example, anyone who has inherited property.

This requirement has always been the case for non-Europeans such as Americans, Canadians and Australians and now also applies to Britons since the end of the Brexit transition period. People who live in another EU or EEA country are exempt.

The law is based on residency, not nationality. So if, for example, you have your main residence in the UK but have an Irish passport, you would still be covered by this requirement.

Exemptions

As well as EU residency, there are a couple of other exemptions;

  • If you sell your property for less than €150,000
  • If you have owned the property for more than 30 years (in which case the sale is exempt from capital gains tax and social security contributions).

What is a représentant fiscal?

This is simply a representative for tax purposes in France, and the person does not need specific qualifications in law or accountancy.

The following can be appointed:

  • A company or organisation already permanently accredited by the tax authorities;
  • A bank or credit institution operating in France;
  • The buyer of your property, if they are domiciled in France for tax purposes (they do not need to be a French citizen);
  • Any other individual who is domiciled in France for tax purposes (they do not need to be a French citizen) – in this case they will need to be accredited by the local authority;
  • If the property is in Paris, the individual will need to be accredited by the Île-de-France tax authorities – département de Paris-Pôle gestion fiscale Centre-Missions foncières, 6 rue Paganini, 75020 Paris. Tel: 01 53 27 46 45

If you decide to appoint an individual rather than a company as your représentant fiscale, bear in mind that the process can be quite complicated, so it would be better to check that they are confident in dealing with the tax authorities, to ensure that you don’t end up with unfinished business with the tax office.

If you chose a company, they will naturally charge for the service. 

Whichever representative you chose, you will need to provide a dossier of documents relating to the property sale and also confirming that you are a tax resident of a country outside France (tax returns, banking information, for example).

Will you have to pay tax on the proceeds of the sale?

If your main residence is not in France, you have no other income in France and you do not complete the annual French tax declaration you will not usually have to pay tax in France on the proceeds of the sale, provided your total estate is worth less than €1.3 million.

Properties worth more than €1.3million may be liable for the impôt sur la fortune immobilière (property wealth tax).

You will of course have to declare the income from the sale in the country where you are resident and, if applicable, pay capital gains tax.

What about French property taxes?

If you have owned property in France you will have been paying the taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation.

These will cease, but bear in mind that taxe foncière is charged based on who owned the property on January 1st of the relevant tax year. So if you sold your property in February 2022, you will still get a tax bill in autumn 2022 to cover that year. Only the following year will the new owner become liable, unless the sale contract for the property included an agreement to share or split outstanding taxes.

Find more information on the Internationals section of the French tax office website HERE or pay a visit to your local tax office in France. Find your local office by searching ‘Centre des Finances publiques’ plus the name of your commune – tax offices are open to the public on a walk-in basis and the staff are usually friendly and helpful. 

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