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French banks could be forced to close 40,000 accounts of ‘accidental Americans’

French banks have warned that they could be forced to close up to 40,000 accounts belonging to US citizens because of ongoing difficulties with American tax regulations.

French banks could be forced to close 40,000 accounts of 'accidental Americans'
Photo: AFP

The president of the French banking association the Federation Bancaire Francais Laurent Mignon has written to finance minister Bruno Le Maire laying out his concerns about international banking accord FATCA  – which obliges banks across the world to notify US tax authorities of all accounts owned by US citizens.

It was intended to combat tax avoidance, but has ended up snaring many US citizens of modest means who live in other countries, as well as 'accidental Americans' who have citizenship through family connections and may never have lived in the USA.

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An extract from the letter from France's bank federation president Laurent Mignon to finance minister Bruno Le Maire

The requirement has created an administrative headache for French banks, which can face fine up of to 30 percent of their US revenue if they do not comply. 

Among the information they must supply is the account holder's US tax number – but many 'accidental Americans' have been previously unaware of their need to file a tax return in the US and therefore do not have a tax number.

A short-term concession negotiated between France and the US means that French banks can – until December 31st 2019 – supply just the individual's date of birth if they do not have a US tax number.

But after this waiver expires, Laurent Mignon warns that French banks may face no choice but to close the accounts of all 'accidental Americans' – thought to be about 40,000 people.

He writes: “As from 1 January 2020, including for accounts opened before that date, if they are unable to provide such information, banks may be unable to fulfil their reporting obligations to the tax authorities. 

“French banks may therefore be required to close the accounts of the customers concerned (before December 31st 2019).
 
“To date, approximately 40,000 accounts have been impacted. Otherwise, banks would be likely to be subject to very significant financial and reputational sanctions.”
 
Laurent Mignon. Photo: AFP
 
Accidental Americans are in the main French citizens who also have US citizenship, often without knowing it. 
 
Some of them had left America in the days after being born in an American hospital. Some of them didn't even know they were technically American. Some of them don't even speak English. 
 
The reason that the number of people affected is so high is that the USA automatically makes almost all children born within its borders or to an American parent US citizens from birth. It also, unlike most other countries, bases taxation requirements on both citizenship and residency.
 
It is therefore perfectly possible for people to be US citizens – and therefore required to file a tax return in the country – even if they have never lived or worked in the US.
 
Many people living in France were completely unaware of their tax requirements in the US until the introduction of FATCA, when their details were suddenly passed on to US authorities.
 
Since its introduction, many Americans have reported increasing difficulty in opening bank accounts in France, to the extent that the Accidental Americans Association has launched legal action against French banks, after a 'sting' operation showed that several were refusing to accept American customers.
 
However these proposed measures would go further and close down accounts that people already own, creating huge problems for people left with no account.
 
It is thought that across Europe there are around 300,000 'accidental Americans' and the European Banking Authority has lobbied Washington on the issue.
 
France's president Emmanuel Macron has also said he is aware of the issue, telling one of his MPs who has raised the problem with him that “the dialogue continues”.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Member comments

  1. This is nonsense. Everyone in the expat community knows or should know that US citizens must report their income. If they don’t want to keep the blue passport they can expatriate (and of course pay the taxes due). These are mostly people who have been avoiding tax for years and now have to pay up. Not deserving of anyone’s sympathy

  2. The point here is that many of these ‘accidental’ Americans do not have US passports and have never made any claim against US citizenship.

    It is a particular problem here in Brittany where a lot of people did go to the US to find work and a fair number returned with children in tow. Those children were largely unaware that they had tax liabilities in the US as they grew up in France, are totally French and in many cases have never set foot in the US since their parents brought them back to France.

  3. If the US wanted to help the accidental Americans it would offer speedy expatriation as a gesture of goodwill. Only Eritrea shares the same antiquated taxation system with the US. Joe, let’s say you were born in France (assuming the French had the same taxation system as that of the US) and brought back to the US at the age of three months. How would you like to pay taxes to France? And BTW expatriation is anything but easy. I’m not an accidental American but I can tell you that I would expatriate myself if I could.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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