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Is your French property a main residence or a second home (and why it matters)?

The Local France
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Is your French property a main residence or a second home (and why it matters)?
A person holds up a pair of keys in France (Photo by BORIS HORVAT / AFP)

The French term 'residence secondaire' can be misleading to English-speakers, but it is an important one to understand, especially when it comes to taxes and residency paperwork.

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In France, the distinction between a primary residence and a secondary residence (or holiday home) is very important and makes a big difference to important things like taxes and visas.

Résidence principale - France considers a 'primary residence' to be the location - either rented or owned - where the person and his/her family live.

The most common definition of this is based on whether you spend more than six months a year living there, but other variables can be taken into account too such as the location of your main financial and professional interests.

You might also hear habitation principale, which means the same thing.

Résidence secondaire - A 'secondary residence' is any dwelling that you own which is not your primary residence. The most common category is second homes, but it can also include property that you rent out.

The most common definition of this is one that you spend less than half the year at, but there are other factors. You can find the full legal definition of the difference between main and secondary residences here.

You will also hear maison secondaire or habitation secondaire, which mean the same thing.

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Common questions

There is often translation confusion about a résidence secondaire, which does not mean 'second home', but rather 'secondary residence' ie not a main residence.

It is important to note that even if your French property is the only one you own (so if you are a tenant in your main home), it can still be considered a secondary residence.

Similarly, if your French property is the third or fourth one that you own, it can still be considered to be a 'résidence secondaire' by French tax authorities. It is possible to have several secondary residences in France, but you would only have one 'primary residence'.

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Why is this important?

It might sound like linguistic nitpicking, but whether your French property is designated a main residence or a second home is important, and there are three main reasons for that; property taxes, tax declarations and visa/carte de séjour status.

Property taxes

For the first time this year, everyone who owns property in France (including those who live in another country) had to complete a property tax declaration and one of the questions answered was whether the property was a main residence.

This information was then used to calculate property tax bills. All property owners in France must pay the taxe foncière. This tax is paid on both primary and secondary residences.

However, only second-home owners pay the taxe d'habitation, which was previously only paid by the person who occupied the property. Not only do second-home owners still have to pay this tax, but there is also an increasing number of communes imposing a 'surcharge' on second homes which increases the bill by up to 60 percent.

READ MORE: Property tax surcharge: Where in France second-home owners are liable for extra taxes

Tax declaration 

If you are a resident in France, you must complete the annual income tax declaration, in which you list all of your worldwide income, plus other information including non-French bank accounts. 

Residency for tax purposes is different from residency for immigration purposes, and it's possible to become a tax resident of a country simply by staying there for more than 180 days per year. 

If you list your French property as a main residence you are also signalling that you live here and in most cases, that would also mean having to complete the annual tax declaration.

READ ALSO Who has to complete France's annual tax declaration? 

Visa

If you're not an EU citizen, then you will need a visa if you want to live in France or spend more than 90 days out of every 180 here. 

When it comes to a visa, you need to ensure that the definition of any property you own matches your visa application. So if you have a second home in France and want a visa to pay visits there, while keeping your residency in your home country, you will want a short-stay visitor visa.

However if your French property is designated as your main residence, then you will need a long-stay visa (such as a long-stay visitor visa, spouse visa or working visa) in order to legally live there.

Carte de séjour residency card

This one mostly affects Brits who have the special post-Brexit carte de séjour residency card known as the WARP or Article 50 TUE. This card was available via a fast-track process to Brits who were living in France prior to December 31st 2021 - but as it is a residency card it was available only to people who live here, not second-home owners.

Reports suggest that a limited number of second-home owners had applied for the cards - some through a genuine misunderstanding, others in the belief that they had found a loophole to the 90-day rule. Those people now find themselves, however, in a legal grey area.

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Declaring your French property a second home, but simultaneously having a carte de séjour that proclaims you as a resident creates an anomaly in your official records.

Capital Gains Tax

When it comes time to selling your French property, there are also some differences between primary and secondary residences.

If you are selling your main residence, then there is no capital-gains tax (CGT) to pay. If your property is a second home or holiday home, however, then you may have to pay CGT.

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Comments (1)

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Lulu Leonard 2023/10/25 20:25
Great info - thank you. Wonder how this would be viewed: VLS-TS visa (inactive), US citizen, living 10 mo year in France, but also have an apartment in the US. Any concern that selling our apartment in France under than circumstance would trigger capital gains tax in France (we own no other French real estate)? Hoping not given that we spend the vast majority of time in France, but wasn't sure if there were considerations related to real property owned in country of citizenship.

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