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Explained: How are foreign pensions taxed in France?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Explained: How are foreign pensions taxed in France?
An older couple walks on the beach in Narbonne-Plage, near Narbonne, in the south-west of France, on September 10, 2018. (Photo by PASCAL PAVANI / AFP)

Deciphering whether or not you will owe French tax on your foreign-based pension can be very confusing. The Local has spoken with experts and consulted tax treaties for the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia to give an overview of how you might be affected.

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France is a popular destination for people to retire to, and in most cases the retirees' main or only income will be a pension paid from their home country.

So is this pension income taxed in France?

First steps

To determine whether you need to declare and pay tax on your foreign pension in France, the first question is whether or not you are a tax resident here (you can look through our guide).

If you are a tax resident of France, then you are required to declare all worldwide income - including foreign pensions - when you make your annual income tax declaration. Declarations are now open - find full details on how to fill it in HERE.

The next step is figuring out whether you will owe tax in France, and this will depend on several things;

  • the type of pension you receive (state pension, government employees' pension, private pension)
  • where your pension is paid
  • how you draw your pension (lump sum or monthly payments)
  • the tax treaty between France and the country your pension is paid in. 

This article is intended to give an overview of the situation for English-speaking foreigners living in France. It is highly recommended to get help from an expert financial advisor. You may also want to start by consulting our guide on pensions, if you have pensions from both France and either a non-EU country or an EU one.

Pension country

When it comes to taxation on foreign pensions, it all depends on the tax treaty between France and the country that is paying your pension, which is why the situation is significantly different depending on where that pension is paid.

In this scenario, your nationality usually isn't important - the key thing is where the pension is being paid and the fact that you are now a tax resident in France. For most people, their nationality and the country that pays their pension will be the same (eg Brits receiving a UK pension) but not always, as some people may have worked in multiple countries before retiring to France.

This article is aimed at people who have worked in another country and then retired to France - the situation can be different for people who have worked in France and then retired.

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US pensions

American retirees living in France benefit from a generous US-France tax treaty to avoid double taxation on all pension income, including private pensions. 

To better explain the situation, The Local spoke with tax expert, Jonathan Hadida from HadTax.

"The reason we call France the bees' knees for American retirees is because US-sourced pension income is only taxed in America. That means when you take money out of your 401(K) or IRA, those are taxable at your tax bracket in the United States. 

"You have to report it on the US-side and pay US taxes at your marginal rate" Hadida explained.

"On the French side, US-sourced pension income is reportable in France for rate-purposes but benefits from a deemed credit.

"This means you put it on your French tax form, and you calculate the tax and you get a deemed credit equal to that. Ultimately, you wind up paying no French taxes on your US-sourced pension thanks to Article 18 of the US-France tax treaty".

READ MORE: Ask the expert: What Americans in France need to know about 401(k) and other pensions

How do I report US-sourced pension income to French authorities?

Although you won't end up paying French taxes on your US pension, you do need to tell the French taxman about it. The annual French income tax declaration requires you to declare all global income, including pensions.

International Financial Advisor, Bryan Dunhill with Dunhill Financial explained: "You fill it in within box 1AL or 1BL on form 20-42 on the French tax return, then you claim it in on the 8TK of the 20-47 to say it is US-based pension income, and then you will get a tax credit from the French.

"It goes in and it goes out on the French side. Being a US retiree in France is fantastic", Dunhill said.

For both 401(K)s and IRAs, Americans in France should still keep in mind that early withdrawal (prior to the age of 59 and a half) can still lead to a 10 percent early distribution penalty. There are certain exemptions, such as first time homebuyers and higher education, but you should meet with a tax adviser to determine if you qualify.

READ MORE: Is my US pension taxed in France?

What about social charges?

In addition to taxes (impôts), France also requires people to pay social charges (prélèvements sociaux) on income. However, only specific types of income can be considered for social charges, such as the CSM charge (PUMa) for healthcare. 

The general rule is that pensioners and their spouses do not have to pay the CSM charge, but France specifically exempts people who have a pension from France, the EU, the EEA and the UK (people with S1 forms).

There is some debate over whether common types of American private pensions such as a 401(K) or IRA are treated as a pension (and therefore exempt from CSM) or as investment income (which can attract CSM charges). 

Hadida told The Local: “Under the principle of equality amongst taxpayers, URSAAF has treated most US pensions/IRA distributions/401(k) distributions akin to a French/Swiss/European pension and have therefore exempted Americans with pension income.”

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"I have called URSSAF, and I was told by the representative that they should be paying for PUMa. But in practice, I have not seen many American pensioners charged for it.

READ MORE: Cotisations: Why you might get an unexpected French health bill

Canadian pensions

In Canada, the pensions system includes multiple tiers of public and private schemes, but luckily the double tax treaty between Canada and France is explicit about where pensions are taxed.

The Local spoke with Isaac Barchichat, a registered CPA in France, Canada and the USA to understand the situation for Canadians in France. He is a managing partner at Monceau CPA, an international accounting firm based in Paris with offices in the US and Canada.

He told The Local: "Tax treaties usually follow the OECD model, which means that Article 18 is usually focused on pensions.

"Article 18 for the Canada-France treaty is very similar to the USA-France treaty. This means that pensions are taxed in the country that they are issued in," he said.

As a result, any Canada-based pension - whether that is the Old Age Security plan, the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) or QPP (Quebec Pension Plan), or a private personal or employer plan (such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans, or RRSPs) - would be taxed in Canada, not France.  

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Barchichat explained that Canadians in France should still declare their pension income in France. Like Americans, they will receive a tax credit from France attesting that they have already paid tax in Canada on their pension.

"People should still maintain proof that the pension was already subject to tax, in case of an audit," he added.

Barchichat also recommended that Canadians resident in France can make use of the 'mention expresse' section in their French tax declaration.

"Sometimes French local tax authorities fail to assess foreign income properly. Using the 'mention expresse' allows you to specify to French tax authorities Article 18 from the tax treaty to ensure that they process your documents properly," he advised.

READ MORE: Are Canadian pensions taxed in France?

What about social charges?

Similar to the situation for Americans (described above), the exemption for social charges specifies French, EU, EEA and UK pensions, not Canadian ones.

That being said, as Hadida mentioned above, French tax authorities often apply the same exemption normally intended for EU pensions to non-EU ones.

Barchichat, who is licenced in both the US and Canada, said that in his opinion neither American nor Canadian pensioners should be charged for prélèvements sociaux

"If this happens, it is a mistake by tax authorities", he added. You can learn more about contesting a CSM charge here.

UK pensions

Brits - or anyone else receiving a UK pension - have a very different situation to Americans and Canadians. 

As per the UK-France dual tax agreement (PDF), whether you will be taxed in France or the UK depends on the type of pension - government/civil service pension or a private pension.

If you have a UK government or civil service pension (eg a state school teachers' pension), then this will remain taxable only in the UK. Some old NHS pensions were considered 'government pensions', but modern ones might not be. You can check if your pension is classified as 'government' here.

You still have to declare this income to the French tax authorities, but you will not be subject to tax in France on it, although it does count towards your household income which can push you into a higher tax bracket.

The same is not true of private pensions: these are generally taxed in France, not the UK, as soon as you become a tax resident here. Confusingly, the UK state pension is also considered a private pension, even though it is paid by the government.

Normally private pensions are taxed upon distribution in the UK. Once you move to France, in order to avoid paying tax twice on the same income, most people fill out an NT form and sending it to HMRC (who will communicate to your pension company) to receive your British private pension in gross.

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You can find a more in-detail look at the situation for UK pensioners HERE.

How do French taxes work?

If you have a private pension you will need to work out how it will be taxed in France, but this too is complicated as it depends on the exact pension type and whether you take the money as a lump sum or as regular payments.

If your pension is paid as a regular income, then when doing your yearly French tax declaration, you will add up your pension income for that year and you will be taxed at the normal marginal rates for income (the barème). These rates go up to 45 percent (for the highest earners only) plus social charges if they apply (more on this below).

Pension income can also benefit from a 10 percent tax deduction, as long as it does not exceed €4,123 or fall below €422 per household.

Lump sums are more complicated and depend on several factors including the pension type and how you take them - when deciding on this it's highly recommended to get individual financial advice.

The Local spoke with financial adviser Maeve Hoffman, from Spectrum IFA Group, who said: "Figuring out what to do with your pension should be part of your wider financial plans for your life. This may be your most important asset, besides your home, and the best answer for what to do with your pension is highly individual. There are no sweeping generalisations when it comes to advice on private pensions. Everyone's situation is different.

"You will want to start by considering whether you plan on being in France in the long-term. Some options could have serious consequences if you return to the UK shortly after."

READ MORE: Ask the Expert: How Brexit has changed the rules on pensions, investments and bank accounts for Brits in France

What about social charges?

People who have never worked in France and who retire to France once they reach the UK state pension age are entitled to as S1 - this status ensures that the UK continues to pay your healthcare costs are not charged prélèvements sociaux. Non-working spouses of an S1 holder can also benefit.

Those who take early retirement and move to France before they reach the UK state pension age may have to pay social charges until they are able to apply for the S1. However, there are several exemptions to social charges, so even if you expect a bill, you may not end up being charged. More information in our guide.

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Australian pensions

The situation for Australians can be particularly confusing, largely due to the fact that Australia and France do not have a bilateral social security agreement (though there is an income tax treaty).

Let's start off with the simple answer - if you receive a civil service pension from the government of Australia - meaning you were a federal or state public worker, then that pension is only taxed in Australia and it will not be taxable in France, though you will have to declare it along with all global income.

As for all other pensions - these are considered taxable in France. 

There is another catch for Australians - the lack of a social security agreement means that Australians living in France may not be able to claim their Age Pension (assuming they qualify based on income constraints).

While you can be an Australian living in Austria, Belgium, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Spain or Estonia, among others, and still claim your Age Pension, this is not the case in France. 

What's crucial here is when you move - if you start receiving your old-age pension and then you move to France, then you may be able to continue claiming the pension. If, however, you move to France before you reach pension age, then you will not be able to claim it unless you move back.

A spokesperson for the Australian government told The Local in a previous interview: "To be eligible for Age Pension, a person must generally be an Australian resident and be in Australia at the time the claim is lodged, or in a country with which there is an International Social Security Agreement in place."

There is no such agreement with France. And, despite the efforts of some of the thousands of Australians living in France to get politicians in both countries to act, there appears to be little urgency to change the situation, which means it could be some time yet before we are able to give you any good news on the pension front. 

There are groups pushing for a social security agreement, such as the Facebook group 'Australian Pensions in France', which can also be a helpful place to connect with other Australians navigating tax complexities between the two countries.

READ MORE: Are Australian pensions taxed in France?

What about superannuation plans?

The next complex area is the 'superannuation'. While withdrawals from a 'super' can be accessed after becoming a resident in France, there are tax implications to be aware of.

The Local spoke with Martine Joly, chartered accountant and tax agent from Bilateral Solutions, who has experience working in both the Australian and French tax systems.

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Joly explained that the challenge is that "the two systems are totally opposite. In Australia, pensions are done by capitalisation, with your employer paying into the superannuation."

In Australia, the contributions were taxed when being deposited, so they are meant to be tax-free upon distribution.

However, France does not recognise this, so 'super' withdrawals are subject to tax here, even though in theory they have already been taxed in Australia.

To make matters more complicated, there are several different ways superannuation plans can be organised, but for the most part French fiscal authorities treat them as trusts.

This means that you may have additional reporting requirements each year, in addition to your annual French tax declaration, such as the "FORMULAIRE N°2181-TRUST2" which asks for the market value, as well as any accrued income, of the trust as of January 1st of that year.

If you are required to do this, then you will also have to name other people listed in the trust - whether they are 'moral' or 'physical' people. You will be required to give extensive information, including their dates of birth and addresses.

On top of that, you would also have to fill out an additional "event" declaration if a trust is created, modified or terminated. This must be done within one month of the event. This tax form is also available on the government tax site: FORMULAIRE N°2181-TRUST1.

How much can I expect to pay?

You will begin to be taxed when you start withdrawing from your super, and the way you are taxed will depend on whether you take payments in the form of an 'income stream' (periodic payments) or as a lump-sum.

If you take your super as an income stream, even though it is meant to be tax-free in Australia, you will still owe tax in France once it begins to be distributed. You would be charged at the progressive marginal (barème) rate for income tax, going all the way up to 45 percent (for the highest earners only).

If you try to avoid paying, be aware that "Australia will inform France", as Joly explained.

"They communicate well and it will not be lost. So the French will realise if you have not paid any tax, because it is fully taxable in France. You have to declare this pension income," she said.

As for lump-sum payments, whether or not you will owe tax in France depends on when you placed the super into your bank account.

"If you convert the super into a bank account prior to leaving Australia and becoming a tax resident in France, then this is not an income, it is a saving," Joly said.

As such, you would not owe income tax on it, but you would still need to declare the foreign bank account to French tax authorities.

If you take your lump-sum super after moving to France and becoming a tax resident, then you would owe tax here upon distribution. As with UK pensions, lump sums are complex and you should get financial advice before making this decision. 

Technically, French tax authorities may allow a return of once off pension capital to be taxed at a flat rate of 7.5 percent. 

But in reality, anyone seeking to do this would need the express, written confirmation from French tax authorities that this rate will be applied. Similarly, you should be aware that this likely will not be possible if you have already begun drawing from your 'super', as the flat rate is often only available if the full amount is taken at once. Again, individual professional advice is highly recommended.

You can also find more information at the French tax website Impots.Gouv.Fr. 

Joly pointed out a few other things Australians in France should be aware of - including the possibility you may owe the IFI (Impôt sur la fortune, or wealth tax) which considers whether you have property valued at €1.3 million or above.

READ MORE: What is France's 'wealth tax' and who pays it?

"Due to high real estate prices in Australia, people just owning a small apartment in Sydney may not realise they would owe tax on this in France later on," she said.

You should also keep in mind that Australia's tax year runs on a different calendar year. France considers the period from January 1st to December 31st, while Australia looks at July 1st to June 30th.

This may make a difference when considering your tax residency.

What about social charges?

Australians have reported receiving social charges, in addition to taxes, for their superannuation income. That being said, there are several exemptions to social charges.

For example, if you are not working and your spouse is a recipient of an EU/EEA/UK pension (with an S1 form), then both of you would be exempt from paying the CSM health charge.

As the situation for Australians can be more complicated than nationals of other countries, it is highly recommended to seek expert assistance, particularly from someone who has qualifications in both countries and understands the tax treaty.

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Comments (1)

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Mark Kernick 2024/04/29 15:44
What about pensions from EU countries such as Spain and Sweden?

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