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Ask the experts: What's the deal with remote working and France's visitor visa?

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Ask the experts: What's the deal with remote working and France's visitor visa?
Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP

It's a legal grey area - on the one hand we have a visa system that was last revised well before remote working became an option for most people, on the other hand we have the exponential rise in the number of people working remotely. The Local asked some experts for their views on remote working while on a visitor visa.

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France's visitor visa is a common choice for non-EU citizens - the short-stay visitor visa is popular with second-home owners wanting to spend a little more time here, while the long-stay visitor visa is the usual choice for people retiring to France.

EXPLAINED How to get a visitor visa for France

The visa's rules were last revised in 2005, and part of applying for the visa is making a declaration that you will not "exercise a professional activity in France".

Back in 2005, that was pretty clear - you couldn't work in France, but you could do some work overseas, perhaps on a visit back to your home country for a special project or maybe doing some short-term work in another country.

Since then, remote working has exploded in popularity and now it's not particularly unusual for a person to be physically in one country, while working online for a company that is based in another country.

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But it's far from clear whether declaring that you won't exercise a professional activity "in" France refers to you being in France, or the work that you are doing being in France. 

And this creates a confusing legal grey area. 

We asked the experts for their take.

Type of work

The first thing to be clear about is the type of work we are talking about - this does not refer to any kind of work that is physically performed in France. So if you are here on a visitor visa you cannot work as a waitress, take on plumbing jobs or hold in-person English classes - to give just a few examples. 

This would also extend to running a gîte or B&B in France, or even renting out property on Airbnb - all of which would be counted as running a business. 

We are talking about remote working, where you're online working for a company or client based elsewhere.

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But even within remote working there is a distinction - if you're working with French clients (perhaps giving online English lessons to people in France) or you're working for a company that has any professional activity in France then this counts as working in France.

The grey area exists if you're working remotely for a company based in another country that has no connection to France - for example you're a copy-editor working for a UK-based company that operates only within the UK. 

Visa requirements

We asked Daniel Tostado, a lawyer who specialises in French immigration, for his view.

He said: "My interpretation is that remote working would be allowed on a visitor visa, provided that the work has no connection to France - you're not working with French clients and your company has no presence in France.

"There isn’t national legislation on the matter of remote working internationally, so I freely admit it is a bit of a grey area legally and we're looking at interpretations of the existing rules.

"But we've asked multiple French consulates and French préfectures this question and they have indicated in writing that they do accept remote working so long as the work is not done with French clients or a French employer.

"We've also searched the legal archives to find if anyone has ever been sued for working in France while on a visitor visa - or if anyone has counter-sued the French government over denial of a visa due to remote work while on a visitor visa status - and have come up blank."

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Specialist immigration lawyer Maître Haywood Wise, of Haywood Martin Wise, agreed, saying: "The answer is yes: in theory it can be done and remote work is not a problem. The problems are often more practical than that, and there are a number of issues.

"When we work with clients going for a long-stay visitor visa, very often we include a letter from the US employer in the visa application - that way nothing is being hidden, it’s being presented to the consulate in a transparent fashion."

Complications

Unfortunately, however, the visa is only part of the equation - if you're thinking of working remotely from France you also need to consider tax, social security contributions and insurance.

Tostado explained: "If you're living in France on a visitor visa but working remotely for a company in the US, UK or similar then you're in a sort of 'one foot in, one foot out' of France.

"For example when it comes to taxes if you pass the threshold for tax residency you would make the annual tax declaration in France and you would pay taxes (impôts) in France, and tell the tax authority in the country where you are working (eg the IRS if you're American) that you have already paid in France.

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"But the general principle is that social charges are paid where you do the work - so if you're working remotely in the US, you would be paying US social charges, not French ones."

This has an impact on access to things like medical care, unemployment benefits and pensions in France.

Tostado said: "After three months of residency you can apply to be registered within the French health system via PUMa, but you might end up paying an annual cotisation (charge) for healthcare, because you're not paying the social charges relating to health.

"Likewise if you lost your job, you wouldn't be entitled to unemployment benefits in France, because you haven't been paying in to the system, and you won't be making any contributions to a pension in France."

Long-term goals

Whether you're happy with the "half in, half out" status ultimately depends on your long-term goals - if you just want to spend a year or two in France and don't see your future here, it's probably less important.

Equally, if you're a second-home owner with no intention of ever making France your long-term home, then doing some remote work while on visits to France is probably not going to create too many problems for you. 

However if you intend to settle in France long term, you may find that your unusual status becomes more of a problem, especially if you intend to eventually apply for long-term residency or even citizenship. 

Fiona Mougenot, an immigration specialist and founder of Expat Partners, said: "If you are a 'Digital Nomad' and you're just in France for a few months that is one thing, but if you want to live in France, then you need to consider your longer-term access to French residency, maybe citizenship one day and in the shorter term healthcare and benefits."

She added: "It's complicated, this is a real grey area as most of the rules were put in place before remote working became widespread. Everyone's circumstances are different, but when we have clients making this decision once we have pointed out to them all of the knock-on effects people almost always decide that it's better to be officially working in France.

"Many people have a desire to avoid the French admin, which is understandable, but if you see yourself staying in France for any kind of long or medium term future it's inevitable and if you want to do things like registering children in school or retiring in France and having access to healthcare then you will need to engage with the system.

"And if you want to apply for a 10-year residency card or citizenship one day then you need to show that your main economic base is France, if you have been declaring that your work was done elsewhere then you may find that these years don't 'count' towards the five-year mandatory residence period for citizenship, for example."

Legal advice

Ultimately it's complicated, and anyone who is thinking of doing this would be well advised to take legal advice - and also speak to a tax expert about the tax implications of their choice. 

It's often the case that something that works from a legal point of view creates tax problems, or vice versa, so you need to ensure that any solution you opt for does not create further problems for you down the line. 

This article is intended as an overview of the issue and should not be taken as a substitute for independent legal advice

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