french taxes

Normalizing Your Tax Contributions in France

I’ve written about taxes numerous times over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what happens after you file them here in France.  As 2020 winds to an end, it’s as good a time as any to explain.

Annee Blanche

One of the numerous campaign promises that President Macron made years ago was a simplification of the tax and pension systems, and one of those reforms meant moving to a “present year” form of taxation instead of the trailing year system we have in the US (we pay taxes on income we earned the previous year).  On January 1st, 2019, many people who were in salaried positions began being taxed for their income each time they received a paycheck.  The idea was that since you were paying each month, you wouldn’t need to “save up” to pay taxes the following year.  This meant that for many, 2018 would be considered as a “no tax” year, an “annee blanche,” since the government would theoretically only be looking at your 2019 earnings for your 2019 taxes.  In practice, it’s pretty much the same as before, but with monthly deductions instead of a lump sum annual payment.

But that still means that your tax charges for any given year are based on what you earned in the previous year.  If nothing changes for you financially, your taxation will always remain the same, unless legislation changes the tax code.

Avis d’Impot

Taxes in France are due at the end of May usually.  This gives the Ministry of Finance all summer to process your returns and by September you will receive an important document for those who are on a citizenship journey: your “Avis d’impot sur les revenus et prelevements sociaux.”  You’ll need at least five of these in which you are paying taxes (and making a sustainable income) as part of your citizenship dossier.  These used to be mailed but now they are available as downloadable PDFs, which makes the normally scary “document a conserver” label pointless.  No worry about having to keep a document on file that you can print on command.

This report verifies the return that you have made, though the Ministry of Finance is not bound to it.  They can come back for you up to 3 years after a tax year for any errors or omissions that they find.  So, if they have problems with your current return they will tell you.  Otherwise they’ll accept it and tell you what remains to be paid for the current year.

So, let’s say that based on your 2019 return, the government estimated that if nothing changed in 2020, you would need to pay 100€ per month, or 1200€ for the year.  However, 2020 was good to you (maybe you had stock in Zoom) and you made more money. As a result, when you get your Avis back in September, the government says that instead of the 1200€ that you were going to pay this year (which they smoothed into 100€/month), you now owe 1600€.  As such, your automatic deductions for September-December will double to 200€ to get you to 1600€ total by the end of the year, and your 2021 contributions will now probably be 133.33€ per month, unless you make more money in 2021, in which case you can expect those contributions to go up, or if you make less money, in which case the contributions go down.

Keep in mind that this is simply for your personal tax return.  File a personal tax return in May, get an end-of-year regularization of your personal tax contributions in September.

Declaration Sociales des Independents

So, when you file your French personal taxes the Ministry of Finance makes the calculations and auto-adjusts your contributions.  But it doesn’t work that way for filing your French business taxes.  Once you’ve filed your business return, you’ll need to enter in certain values from your return into a website, in this case, it’s a website called net-entreprises.fr.

Now, I’m not your accountant, and that’s who you should be speaking with regarding these various boxes, as your business may have certain revenues and contributions that I have not made and vice versa, but the two most important numbers are going to be XA, which is your total profit, and XD, which is your total revenues (turnover).  You’ll also need to report if you received certain benefits or have certain obligatory contributions, but at the end of all this you are going to push “submit.”  This has to be done no later than the end of June normally, so unlike your personal taxes, which give you your new amounts owed in September, your revised business contributions to URSSAF will immediately display.

To follow the previous example, if you were paying 200€ a month in contributions to URSSAF (if you don’t know, this is your social security and health care contribution as a business) based on your previous year’s revenues, and this year was better, they will increase your charges in September-December in order to make you current for the year, then create a new schedule of payments for you for the following year based on your new “normalized” revenues.

The corresponding document you will get from URSSAF will come much sooner than September, probably sometime in early August, and this year would look like: “Regularisation des Cotisations 2019 et Appel de Cotisations 2020.”  URSSAF hasn’t yet caught up technology-wise with the Ministry of Finance so they are still sending these by mail, but I expect them to go paperless pretty soon.  President Macron has been pushing the dematerialization agenda pretty hard across all government agencies and that’s a good thing: more digital documents + less paper = fewer things to lose.

In this same document they will give you an estimate for your monthly contributions for the following year but it’s only “provisional” as things can change.  For example, this year URSSAF stopped taking our contributions beginning in March which didn’t mean our charges were forgiven, but that September-December of this year took up all the burden of the contributions that were not deducted from March-August.  URSSAF did tell us that we could continue to manually make payments during this time, but they made it sufficiently complicated that the majority of us opted to take the “free rent” from the government and just wait until later in the year when the charges would catch up.

Digital Has Its Benefits

So I hope that you now have a better understanding of how taxes work in France and the fact that what you file in the Spring has consequences in the Autumn, for better or worse.  An increasingly interconnected digital system across all the government agencies is reducing error and making managing your accounts easier, though of course this risks leaving behind the elderly, who are less comfortable with technology, or the poor, who don’t have ready access to the internet or computers.  Thankfully there are agencies and associations trying to help these and other groups keep up with change in France.

euros

“Free Money” for French Classes via FIFPL

Nine hundred euros?”  I was stunned.  The admin person for a French school in Paris had just called me back and told me that was the budget I had to spend on French classes.  I had spent a couple weeks sending some paperwork, stopping by their office to do an assessment, and just waiting.  It turns out that part of my social contributions as a small business owner in France goes into a fund which is then augmented by the government should I choose to use them.  I hadn’t made anywhere near to 900 euros of contributions into this particular fund, but the government said I was entitled to that much.  Great!

As an aside, this sort of program and goofy math necessarily anticipates most people not taking advantage of this benefit.  For all the talk about the benefits the French have, many of them, like this one, go unused.  Oh well, that’s not my problem.  I’m not usually going to pass up “free money” if the conditions attached are not onerous.

I had spent years seeing the humorous ads for Wall Street English in the Metro.  This is a well-established international company that teaches English and has an enormous office at Republique.  In the fine print at the bottom of the ads it always notes in French that these classes are eligible for reimbursement via CPF.

What is CPF?

This is a social program which stands for Compte Personnel de Formation.  Its overarching goal is to provide people with opportunities to train and study throughout their working life in France.  You earn credits for your CPF via your job.  It’s tied to you personally, not to your employer.  It’s available to private sector employees, the unemployed, and young people who are just entering the workforce.  You can use it to train for another career: for example, you could take coding classes, hoping to leave your current career for a new one as a programmer.  Or maybe you’re happy in your current job and you use the funds to take Japanese classes because you want to.  The amount of money available to you depends on the type of courses you are taking and whether those courses are considered “priority” or “non-priority.”

I had stupidly assumed that CPF was only for salarie types, never thinking that of course entrepreneurs would have their own corresponding scheme.  Such a scheme has existed since 1993, and it’s called FIFPL.

FIFPL

This stands for Fonds Interprofessionel de Formation des Professionnels Liberaux.  It’s essentially CPF but for us Prof Lib types.  I suppose I could use the funds for other classes, but I have no interest in coding (or Japanese, or anything else at the moment).  I decided to use the money for more French classes to progress to B1 and beyond.  The company I used in 2019 charged only 35€ per hour for private lessons in my home.  I wasn’t entirely happy with them so I am looking to spend my 2020 funds elsewhere, but the point is, these are “use or lose” funds so make sure you use them this calendar year.  I’m chagrined that I never used the 2016, 2017, or 2018 funds that I was entitled to (and had made a small contribution towards).

How to get your “free money”

  • go to URSSAF’s website to get your attestation
    • after you log in at Urssaf, go to the “attestations” menu and download the “Attestation de Contribution à la formation professionnelle.”  This form and its numbers won’t really mean anything to you, but the school you select will use this information to find out how much of a budget you are entitled to.
  • pick a school that accepts FIFPL money and email them this attestation along with the courses you are interested in
    • register on the FIFPL site: https://www.fifpl.fr or ask the school to help you establish an account
    • agree on a course of studies with the school
    • pay for the course upfront (for example, if the course costs 559€ and 500€ is what has been allocated for you then you are only out of pocket 59€)
    • complete the course, receive a certificate of completion from the school, and send it to FIFPL
  • get reimbursed a couple weeks later

Some years ago I wrote about the unbelievable work benefits that salaried workers in France have access to.  Turns out we small business owners have a few of our own. 🙂

Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

take A2 DELF test in French

How to Take a French A2 DELF Test

One of the misconceptions many have before moving to France is that living here will make us “fluent” in the language in a short time: 2-3 years at the very longest.  Not only have I come to appreciate that fluency in any language, including your native tongue, comes after 15-20 years, but that fluency in French will take at least that long for me, if not longer.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t get around or have conversations with strangers on a variety of topics.  It just means I won’t be able to speak at great speed, have cultural landmarks and references readily at my command, and will sometimes lack the ability to speak about a complex idea.  But that’s okay: those are not necessary parts of daily life in France.

There Will Be a Test

What I didn’t know before moving here is the high number of English speakers who do not speak French at even a basic level.  This takes effort: you have to not take any classes to improve and you have to not speak French on a daily or even weekly basis.  Naturally, the French expect you to speak French in their country and so they have two bars set in place to make life more inconvenient for those who choose not to develop basic competency in this language:

  • A2 competency required for a 10 year carte de resident
  • B1 competency required for citizenship

For those who aren’t familiar, these number and letter combinations refer to a classification system called DELF (Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française).  The lowest level is A1 and the highest level is B2.  From there it is taken up by DALF (Diplôme approfondi en Langue Française) which has levels C1 and C2.  While B1 and B2 are often acceptable not just for citizenship but for many jobs in multilingual (but French-dominant) workplaces, C1 and C2 are part of the path to studying at the Masters level without having to take additional language classes or for more technical jobs that require greater French proficiency.  This isn’t the only type of test that is acceptable, but it is the most popular.

First, Getting to A1

My journey of learning French has had many way stations.  I was 17 the first time I bought a “how to learn French” course on cassette.  It wasn’t very advanced but it got me going on some basics.  I also took a couple courses at community college and made three weekend trips to Montreal to give some of that French a trot.  In the last year before I moved here I was meeting with a private tutor at least twice a month.  When I arrived in 2013 I registered for a class at Alliance Francaise, down in the 12th, and they gave me an assessment that placed me somewhere in A1.  All of my previous studies led to my being classified as basically a beginner.  But you have to start somewhere, right?

I was attracted to the pricing of the larger classes at Alliance Francaise, but the commute to the 12th took its toll, as did the fact that you could only move as fast as the slowest person in the class.  But before too long our A1 class finished and we took a simulated DELF and I passed.  A1 competency is normally achieved by roughly 80-100 hours of study time.  I spent a few more classes at the A2 level but didn’t choose to continue on, as I was at a better level than when I had arrived, and that made me more comfortable interacting with the French in general.

How to Register for a DELF Test

Well even though I was in Paris, where we have a lot of DELF testing centers, I needed to find a date that worked for my schedule.  I found a pretty comprehensive list of DELF testing sites in France and after some checking with dates that I expected to be traveling I found the best fit was a testing center in Annecy, snug up against the Alps, and just half an hour from the Swiss border.  I had wanted to visit for some time, so why not for an exam?

The second reason I chose this testing center was because it was quite “advanced” in terms of registration for the test.  A number of exam sites allowed you to “register” online for the test, but then they required you mail them documents and payment.  No ability to pay online!  So, I didn’t want to fuss with this: I wanted to register for the test and be done.  I would still need to book a train and accommodations after that.  So, if you would like that one-step online registration and payment convenience as well, and don’t “mind” trucking out to the Alps, I can recommend CILFA for DELF testing.  Costs vary, but should not be much more than 100€ for A2 registration.

How to Study for the A2 DELF Test

I’m flabbergasted to say this, but the official government website has some absolutely fantastic resources.  Not only do they essentially provide you with a practice test that has answers you can check, but that practice test is almost exactly like the actual exam you will take.  You can get all the information you need right on their site.

The A2 level presumes another 100-120 hours of study, bringing your total hours to 180-200.  Some of the things you’ll be expected to know include:

  • demonstrative adjectives (this, that, these, etc.)
  • personal pronouns (I, you, we, etc.)
  • possessive adjectives (mine, yours, hers, etc.)
  • relative and interrogative pronouns (who, where, etc.)
  • the imperfect tense (I routinely did something in the past)
  • the passé compose tense (I did something in the past that has been completed)
  • the future simple tense (I will do something)
  • the conditional present (I “have to” or would “like to” do something)
  • the imperative
  • variations of asking questions

If you can competently deal with all these issues, and you have the vocabulary to match that knowledge, the A2 level will be an absolute breeze.

How to Take the A2 DELF Test

It’s fascinating to watch the crowd milling around outside of the exam site because you know that every single one of you have the same thing in common: you are not native speakers of French and for some reason, need to formally prove your competency.  Maybe it’s for a job, maybe, as it was for me, for a longer term residency, or maybe just as a milestone in your journey forward in the language.  I can genuinely say I saw every age group represented and overheard at least six different native languages.

You will be required to PRINT your convocation, in part because that’s the French being the French, but also because you will need it as part of identity certification at numerous stages of the exam.

After you’ve all made it into the waiting room you will be called into various classrooms (or, if your test site is big enough, one large classroom) for the first part of the exam.  As you enter the classroom you have to present your convocation and your form of ID.  You will then sign next to your name on a sheet of paper and be asked to sit at a desk which has your name and DELF ID on it.  Once everyone has checked in and the proctor has read the instructions, the first part of the exam will begin.

The Oral Comprehension Portion

You are given four scenarios.  The audio will play for you twice, with a thirty second gap between playings.  The example I will give was given in my practice materials and was also the one for my exam: Air France announces a delay for a certain flight number.  The reason for the delay is given.  A boarding gate is given.  Certain classes of people are allowed to board first.  People needing assistance will need to go to a certain location.  You have 5-6 questions in front of you.  Some of them are multiple choice with multiple correct answers (or a single correct answer) or have a space for you to write the answer.  One of the questions might be, “What was the reason given for the delay?” or “Who will be allowed to board first?”

Three of the scenarios are in this format, in which the audio plays for anywhere between 30-60 seconds in total.  The speakers are speaking at a natural pace, at the speed you are used to hearing at train stations and airports.

The final part of the oral comprehension involves four very short exchanges, of three sentences or phrases at the very most.  One example featured two roommates talking about who was going to clean the kitchen.  You then match these exchanges to four different possibilities, like “asking for information” or “making a decision,” etc.

The time is sufficient for you to answer everything, especially with the second playing of the audio.

The Written Comprehension Portion

Once this is done, the entire testing cohort continues on with the written portion, which has various documents and pieces of information in written French, with the same number of comprehension questions following.  Once again you have four different portions and the 30 minutes you are given here is only slightly longer than the 25 you are given for the oral section, but here you aren’t constrained by waiting for an audio recording.  You can go as quickly or slowly as you please.

Once again, the time is sufficient for you to answer everything.

The Composition Portion

You will now be given 45 minutes to produce two texts of at least 60 words for certain scenarios.  The first one I had involved sending an email to a friend to tell him all about a “culinary journey through France” day.  I felt very comfortable with this and ended up having to cut out a few regional cuisines I wanted to discuss just because of time and space constraints.  The second involved an invitation to a picnic and I had to respond with appropriate questions and the proper etiquette.

Again, if you don’t overthink these sections, they will be pretty straightforward.

Break

Once you’ve completed all these sections, the proctor will pick up your exams as well as a piece of scratch paper each of you has been given to use.  You’re then free to pick up your belongings which you will have stowed somewhere in the classroom.  They are quite strict about electronics, even including smartwatches and mobility trackers, so the less you bring that day, the better.

Oral Examination Portion

You will have been given a time slot for your oral exam in advance and mine was ten minutes after the written portion ended so I had almost no waiting period.  Others would have at least another hour before their slot.  Just after exiting the written portion my name was called and I was ushered into a prep room where I was briefed on what was going to happen.  There would be three portions:

  • A brief dialogue, in which I answered basic questions about myself and my life (1-2 mins)
  • A monologue, in which I spoke about a subject that I picked blindly from a pile of 12 choices and had 5 minutes to prepare (2-3 mins)
  • A role-play, again chosen blindly from a dozen possibilities and also had 5 minutes to prepare (4-5 mins)

My monologue was about a place I had visited recently and what I like to see when I travel, and my role-play was with a fictional French merchant (my examiner would play the part) about gifts I might buy for friends and family.  Again, things went well, and while there’s always some level of nervousness whenever you’re in a formalized test setting, if you know this material it will be a breeze.  My identity and convocation were again demanded, and I had to sign next to my name to certify that it was indeed me.

During this portion of the test you are being graded for pronunciation, vocabulary, and proper use of appropriate tenses: things you have done in the past, things you will do in the future, and things you do in the present.  One examiner is watching and writing observations down the entire time, the other examiner is interacting with you.

Results!

You will get your pass/fail notification within four weeks, but the formal diploma that you’ll want to have on hand for your prefecture appointment will take a little longer, usually another four weeks after that.  This is due in part to the fact that each exam is checked by two different examiners for the highest level of accuracy and fairness.  The tests are also graded anonymously: the reason you have a DELF ID number is so that they can’t see your name while grading: you’re just a number.

It is a wonderful feeling to pass the exam.  Yes, A2 isn’t a be-all end-all, but it’s enough of a bar to keep thousands of English speakers from getting a ten year card.  For whatever reason, these English-speaking French residents have given up on making progress in French and are content to do annual renewals of their CDS, perhaps forever.  I can only encourage you to put in the effort to get to at least this level.  You won’t get long-term residence without it, to say nothing of citizenship, which requires an even higher level: B1.

Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

This article also appeared on Medium and on Dispatches Europe (in two parts)

How to Move to France, Part 3

The Nomadic Network has had me on in the past months to talk about the ins and out of moving to France, particularly from non-EU countries.  Tomorrow will be the final webinar in a three episode run.  It’s free and you can ask whatever question you might have about coming to this beautiful country.  If you’d like to watch parts 1 and 2 you can find them on the Nomadic Matt Patreon.  I look forward to answering your questions as best I can!

The Covid Location Test

The arrival of Autumn last week was underlined by rain and punctuated by cold: summer is officially over in the City of Light.  It was, by all accounts, one of our quietest summers in recent history, as we were bereft of many of the non-European tourists that normally flock to our city.  But I had used that time to mull over an idea that had first occurred to me during lockdown: the Covid Location Test.

The test is simple.  Imagine that you were told that you could not leave your city (or if you’d like, country) for the next twelve months.  How would that make you feel?  Use those feelings to ponder the fundamental question: are you truly living the life you want to live?  If not, why not?

It certainly was a useful exercise for me.  While I was used to being location independent and sometimes having to work on an assignment for a client in the coffee shop du jour wherever I was in the world, I knew that remote work was a new and unwelcome experience for some of my friends, even the ones who had previously envied my ability to work from anywhere.  Hence, telling me that I could not leave Paris and would have to stay in my apartment didn’t qualify as punishment.  My home, after all, was designed as a refuge, a place for me to relax when I wasn’t working.  It fulfilled that purpose perfectly during March, April, and May of this year (even if it was also the place where I was working).

As for telling me that I couldn’t leave Paris, that wasn’t difficult to bear either.  I had perhaps traveled “too much” during my past seven years here, and some extended, unbroken time in Paris would be welcome.  Even if you told me I couldn’t leave for a year or more, it wouldn’t particularly trouble me: I was living in my dream city.

While I made a point to host a party at my house the very first week of deconfinement, I didn’t travel outside France until July.  I enjoyed my trips to the US, Croatia, Spain, and Andorra, despite the challenges of travel these days, but I took those trips not only opportunistically, because of work that presented itself, but because it was nice to travel around again and indicate by my actions that I refused to live my life in fear.

But something had changed.  In a world in which travel is a luxury, those who partake of it should feel quite privileged.  I very much felt fortunate to see places I had not previously been, and linger around some old haunts I knew well.  But for me the Covid Location Test was a reaffirmation of another privilege I feel fortunate to have in my life which I don’t take for granted: living where I want to live.

I encourage you to take the Covid Location Test yourself.  I suspect many of you have unwittingly taken it earlier in the year if you were locked down in any measure.  If you aren’t living the life you want to live now, why aren’t you?  What is holding you back?  We haven’t been promised that a similar situation won’t happen in the future and it’s folly to build a life assuming that history can’t repeat itself.  As I said in a previous article, at least as far as the EU is concerned, a residence permit = passport for freedom of movement, even in a pandemic, and that’s a powerful argument for those who felt trapped wherever they were.

Don’t be trapped.  Use the Covid Location Test to surface the feelings and sentiments you may have buried under the piles of routine and daily life.  Life the life you want to live now: you’re not promised tomorrow.

Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

passport pages

Traveling without my French Resident Card

So in an earlier post I shared that I had been pickpocketed late last year and hence no longer had my physical four year Carte de Sejour, which was perhaps the hardest-earned French document in my possession.  In that same article I noted that it really wasn’t such an important document in terms of daily life in France, and after this most recent theft, I had a number of trips in which an EU residence card had no relevance: visits to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, Italy, then Bulgaria.  However, then a little thing called lockdown happened and when we were finally deconfined, the EU residence card took on a new meaning.  I knew in the back of my mind that I should have some kind of replacement document, but knowing that I was putting in for my ten year card quite soon led me to rely on my confidence on how the system worked and my inherent knowledge of and patience with French immigration.

First flight back

The end of July saw me at the Aer Lingus counter in Chicago, following a whirlwind three-week trip to the US which I took because of a convergence of very low airfares and the possibility of doing some work with a client as well as on one of my business projects.  I’d also get some family time.  I was tired, but the accomplished-a-lot-and-feeling-good kind of tired.  The agent at the counter asked for my passport and then she asked if I had residence in France.  I said that I did and handed her a photocopy of my residence card.  She didn’t really know her way around it so I pointed to the expiration date, which is in September of next year.  She nodded, but slowly.  A colleague hovered nearby.  “No way a photocopy is good enough,” he said in a voice probably intended to be low enough that I couldn’t hear, but I did.  “Legit, I think he needs to have the actual card.”  She seemed swayed by this and asked me to wait while she “checked on something” (read: go ask my boss).  She came out after a few minutes during which time I continued to smile and look composed.  She didn’t seem to look too dire when she came back, but wanted a bit more context.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “but here’s the police report noting it was stolen, and obviously since lockdown I haven’t gotten an appointment for a replacement.”  I smiled and simply gave the attitude that this was not a problem at all.  I live in France, I lost my card, leave this to the French.  For their part, an airline that incorrectly transports someone without entry rights has to bear the cost of repatriation, so she was not being unreasonable in pushing back a bit on me, but the fact that she didn’t really put up a fight was an indication of something I would continue to see: a willingness of those to be “understanding” to travelers in this time period.

Landing in Dublin turned out to be no big deal, as this was an inbound EU flight so I was just able to do a simple transfer within the airport.  I wasn’t forced out through customs as I had been on the way into the US.  Next stop: the French border.  I handed over my dark blue passport.  The border policeman’s eyebrow immediately flicked up as he saw the emblem of the eagle which grasped olive branches and arrows in its claws.  He assumed English and asked: “Why are you visiting France?”  “J’habite ici,” I smiled and answered in French.  “Ah,” he said, and asked for my residence card.  “Malheuresement…” I explained that I had been pickpocketed and handed him copies of the police report and a copy of the residence card.  He frowned.  He continued in French, asking why I had not gone to get a new card (he noted that the police report was dated November of last year).  I told him I had been traveling, and then afterwards there had been lockdown.  He pointed out that there had been deconfinement and I countered, smiling and polite, that it was hard to get an appointment (I knew from friends; I hadn’t actually tried myself).  He looked at some colleagues who had been obviously listening in.  They shrugged.  He flipped to an already crowded page and stamped.  “Merci; bon journee,” I smiled.  No documents?  No problem.

Not asked for?  The contact tracing form that Aer Lingus insisted we fill out before arrival.

The Croatian Question

I had planned to do some work in Salzburg with a client in August when an opportunity came up for us to do the work in Croatia instead.  Salzburg is still on my list to visit, but summer on the Adriatic is hard to beat.  Croatia was one of the countries that was “open” to Americans with a valid negative Covid test within 48 hours of arrival and proof of accommodation.  But, would they treat me as an American citizen or as an EU resident?  Surely, I couldn’t use the photocopy again?  Should I get a Covid test just in case they decide to treat me like an American?  Life continued on in Paris and a few days before the flight I decided to wander down to the Paris Plages to get one of the free tests they were giving out (the blood test used a pinprick and a few drops, with results in 15 minutes, the PCR test had a minimum 5 day waiting period for results – I opted for the quick result blood test).  The philosophy I have with French administration (always be prepared for everything they might ask for) guided me and while the negative test result printout I was handed didn’t look as “official” as I would like, I felt it would satisfy the Croats.

It was a fairly full flight to Zagreb (unlike domestic US flights, there seems to be zero insistence on the vacant middle seat) and I was one of the first off the plane and hence one of the first in line for passport checks.  When I handed over the American passport he asked where I had come from.  “Paris,” I answered.  “Transiting?”  “No, I live there.”  “Ah, where is your residence card?”  I handed him the photocopy of my residence card.  His face betrayed skepticism.  “It was stolen, here’s the police report.”  I handed it over to him.  I didn’t know if he could read French but his eye caught the filing date: “This was in November.”  “Yes, and we had lockdown so I didn’t get a replacement.”  He looked at everything again to satisfy himself, it seemed, then started flipping my passport pages to find a place to stamp me through.  He handed me a piece of paper with contact information for all the places I could get tested if I wanted.  No demand to self-isolate.

Not asked for?  Proof of accommodation, negative covid test, or contact tracing form.

Coming Home to France

Before March 2020, when I came home to France through passport control, the agents would scan my passport and lazily stamp it, usually while talking to their colleague.  They didn’t ask if I was a resident, because they didn’t care.  When I presented that passport, they assumed I was a tourist and just stamped me through.  I could have always bypassed this process by handing them a resident card along with my passport.  This would mean my passport would not be stamped.  But I never bothered with this.

When I handed my passport to the border agent his eyes flicked up at me as he perceived the dark blue US book.  He scanned it and after looking at his screen for a moment, handed it back to me.  I gave the usual, “Merci; bon journee,” and walked through.

The only way he would have handed my passport back to me without stamping it?  If the record he was looking at on my screen indicated that I had a legal carte de sejour, and hence was a resident of France.  No need to stamp the passport of someone returning home.  Had it always been this way and the border agents just assumed if I didn’t hand them my card I was just a tourist, and they didn’t look any further at my record?  Or is this a new level of digitization that’s been achieved by the French, something we’ve seen a lot of during Macron’s tenure?

Either way, I was home, and I it was my fastest way through yet.

Not asked for?  Carte de sejour.

I’m not saying that you should, as I have, push your luck.  Next week I’m going to stop putting it off and get a recipisse which will serve as a temporary ID until I get the appointment for my ten year card.  What I am saying is if you don’t feel like you’ve gotten everything just so during this period of travel, don’t let that deter you.  A ready smile, a good attitude, a fair number of documents, and a plausible explanation might just see you through.

The photo is one of my passport pages.  As you can see, the French don’t really care whether there’s “room” for a new stamp. 🙂

Getting Pickpocketed

So I’ve been pickpocketed three times in 7 years that I’ve been in Paris.  Once in 2015 and twice in the last quarter of 2019, when pickpocketing was at an all-time high in the city.  Nothing irreplaceable was taken; it was more a chance to learn weaknesses and correct behavior.

The Wallet

I was helping a friend get to Gare du Nord to catch a train.  We got onto line 4 at the Cité metro stop and just before the door closed we felt a crush of people get onto the carriage.  I felt a strong hand at my back as we felt people try to squeeze in, which was probably all that was necessary to distract me from a hand reaching into the inside left pocket of my overcoat, where my wallet was.  I didn’t notice until Gare du Nord, which of course was far too late to do anything about it.

My pulse quickened; chemicals swam into my bloodstream to “help” my body cope with panic.  I tried to clear my head and quickly used my phone to cancel credit cards that I remembered were inside (including one that wasn’t inside!).  I didn’t think there was anything that could really be done – so many wallets get lifted in any given day in a big city, not just in Paris – but there was one crucial card in that wallet whose loss I would have to document for the French authorities: my four year carte de sejour.

I had learned this some years back when I had left my wallet on an airplane, again, with a carte de sejour inside.  You have to file a police report to certify the “missing” status of the card.  Having that report allows you to get a new card.  You can’t start the process of replacing a missing carte de sejour unless you’ve filed a police report.  The sooner the better.

I was already in Gare du Nord, so I made my way down to the lower level branch police station that I knew was inside the station.  I briefly explained to the cop at the front desk what had happened.  He told me to take a seat and that it would probably be an hour (which in French bureaucratic speak means at least one hour).  The effects of the “panic chemicals,” cortisol and adrenaline, were ebbing away, and I smiled, nodded, sat down, and pulled a book out my bag (always have a book to read when you’re walking around in Paris).

I had started to feel a bit sorry for myself when a girl in her early 20s came into the station escorted by a couple officers.  One of them walked up to the front desk clerk and quietly said a few words.  The front desk clerk grimly nodded and the other officer walked the girl over towards me and put her into the seat next to me. He then said they would take her statement shortly.

The girl was shaken, and had either just been crying or was holding back tears.  I realized that however “poorly” my day was going, that others were having worse days, and I abruptly stopped feeling sorry for myself.

About an hour later, I was asked to come into the office and explain what had been lost.  The officer was very efficient and in about 15 minutes I was out of there with two crucial documents: the one page police report with an inventory of all that had been in my wallet, signed by me and sealed by the attending officer, and a recipisse that the declaration had been filed, again signed by me and sealed by the attending officer.

I could have used this to go in and get a recipisse, which would have given me “legal ID.”  But something had changed in the years since I had first started getting those coveted thick plastic ID cards: I had realized I didn’t really need them for daily life in France.  If I needed to rent a car, I would give the rental agency my US driver’s license.  If I needed to travel, I would use my US passport.  I might occasionally present the carte de sejour (CDS) if I needed to pick up a package, but I could just as easily bring my passport as well.  The cost of a replacement card is the exact same as the cost of the original card, and a part of my personality which has served me very well in past years, a character I call “frugal Stephen,” objected to the idea of paying for a new card with fewer than 24 months left.  “Why not just try to get by without one?”

Why not indeed?  I hadn’t foreseen that there might have been some sort of global crisis that would make the actual hard plastic card very important indeed.  More on that another time.

The iPhone

I am not the guy who gets the new flashy gadget.  I’ll gently use something until it gives up on me.  Case in point, Apple was offering double trade-in value on what was then my four year-old iPhone 6 Plus.  Because of software upgrades (which would lead to a class action lawsuit some years later, which would lead to me also getting a payout) the phone simply couldn’t perform anymore and crashed all the time.  I took the double trade-in value and got a shiny new iPhone XS.  The phone was dreamy in comparison to my faithful old 6 Plus.  Until it got stolen a couple months later.

I’ve mentally tracked down the 60 likeliest seconds in which it happened.  I have a habit of keeping my hand in my coat pockets during the winter season, and usually have my phone in one of those pockets.  The last time I remember using the phone was to show a friend of mine a funny meme.  We were on Line 2 and changed at Jaures for the line in my neighborhood, 7bis.  Somewhere between changing from those lines is when I got pickpocketed.

The thing is I offer ready advice all the time to friends and travelers about how to stand in the metro and on buses to be more protected against such a thing (have your back to at least one area/part so that no one can stand behind you, don’t leave zippers or pockets exposed, etc.).  Predictably, as I had in 2015, I got mad and turned on “find my iPhone” to once again turn into the angry vigilante to track down my phone.  I shut down all the Apple Pay rights and started quickly changing various passwords when I got a note that my Facebook password had been changed!  These guys were good.

I used a combination of the location features offered by my local carrier, SFR, and Apple itself to triangulate to where the phone was last seen, in the Barbes neighborhood, thirty minutes earlier.  Who did I think I was to go wander there?  Was I just going to approach anyone who I thought might have it and kindly ask that they return it to me?  Silly as it was, I went anyway, and found the street mostly deserted, with an empty kabob shop nearby.  At some point the foolishness of the endeavor caught up to me and I headed home.

The next day I bought a replacement at SFR and the kid helping me commiserated, telling me this happens pretty regularly and asked why I didn’t have insurance.  After explaining that after some time the insurance costs as much as a new phone he reasoned with me to carry it for two years and then dump the insurance.  I saw his point and agreed.  This particular insurance would allow for two full price replacements in any given year.  Later that afternoon I got a taunting text from a number telling me in French, “thanks for the phone.”  I blocked the number and all the subsequent spoofed emails that clearly showed this was a group of professionals who regularly grabbed phones on the Metro and looked to spin the grief/anger/desire of the victim to get the phone back into even more “profit.”

Adjustments

So, what happened as a result?  I bought an even thinner wallet than the minimalist one that I had stolen, one small enough that it could fit in my front pocket (good luck with that, thieves!).  I also created a new habit of always putting my phone in my back pocket when traveling on the metro, usually with my messenger bag additionally slid over that pocket (you’re going to have to work harder if you want it!).  I can’t say I became ever more alert, because like anything in life, your guard goes down after a while.  But I was reminded that yes, unfortunate things can happen at times, but never forget someone may be having a worse day than you, so keep everything in context, and keep smiling.

Photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash

Two Hour Ask Me Anything Session on Moving to France

The webinar I did a couple weeks ago had over 130 attendees and as such there were a number of questions I didn’t have time to answer.  I’m going to tackle those and some new ones this week on an AMA (ask me anything) session hosted by the Nomadic Network.  It’s free to attend and I look forward to answering your questions!

Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

Mailbag: the non-existent “American ban,” work possibilities with the PL visa, and snake oil

In the last eight weeks I have received an avalanche of questions from those hoping to immigrate to France.  In the past when I received a lot of questions I would collect them into a post like this and call it the “mailbag.”  But since creating my Facebook group and videos on Visitor and Prof Lib status, I haven’t had to.  The last mailbag post was in 2016!  But there have been so many questions I’ve answered recently that I thought to collect just a few of them here to share.  The questioners have been anonymized and their questions have been corrected for spelling and grammar and/or redacted for privacy when necessary.

I keep hearing that due to COVID-19 Americans are not welcome in Europe right now.  Hence If I file for a long stay visitor visa (greater than 1 year), am I wasting my time?

It is fake news that Americans are not welcome in Europe.  Very rarely, if ever, is an entire nationality banned from some place, as that might also include expelling anyone of that nationality already in the country.  What the media isn’t saying, because it’s so intent on portraying an inept US response to Covid, is that US citizens, traveling for leisure, coming from the US, cannot currently enter France and some European countries.  Americans themselves are free to travel around Europe given that they have valid residence in a European country.  Those Americans who have never lived here but are confirmed on student status for this Autumn are also welcome to come to France in particular and Europe in general.

That said, your application process will depend on where you are applying from.  In some countries consulates and embassies are running again at normal capacity, with certain safeguards in place, and in other places those consulates and embassies remain closed or unable to assist applicants at the moment.  But you won’t be denied just for being an American.

I have a long term visitor visa but of course I’m stuck here in the US. So I will have to renew it before 4/15/21 and I haven’t even left yet! Can you help?

Here you can again see the power of fake news at work.  Since the questioner only had access to mainstream news, she was paralyzed.  I explained to her that the long term visitor visa, which for her became effective mid-April, gave her valid entry into France.  Even though she had never “lived” here, the visa gave her residence status, which was what she needed to travel.  After I assured her this would be fine she booked a ticket!  A late breaking addition as of just this afternoon – a negative covid-19 test 72 hours before travel will be required on the US side before departure.  This may change in the weeks and months ahead, but as of now it’s a new requirement.

How many times can you renew a long stay visitor visa? (Initial application would be for 1 year)

Indefinitely.  As I’ve said before, it’s one of the easiest visas to get, and even easier to renew and retain.  After five years and a language test, you can apply for a ten year card.

What kind of work contract can one be hired under while on a VLS/TS Profession Libérale? I’m attempting to apply for this status as a video editor/motion graphics designer and animator. I’m unsure if this can be considered as a liberal profession, and moreover, my understanding is that audiovisual production companies hire people under CDDU (CDD d’usage contracts), meaning that it’s salarié. My hope is that I can get hired for contracted work under a different work contract. What kind of work contracts exist for your visa?

The Profession Liberale visa is a work visa, meaning you are allowed to work, but it is not the same as a salarié visa – meaning the type of visa you get when sponsored by a company with which you have a CDI.  Should such a company wish to hire you, they would hire you as a contractor via your PL status.  As a contractor you don’t get any of the benefits of a regular employee, and rarely, if ever, sign “contracts” in the French work sense of the word (despite being a “contractor”).  You’re essentially acting as a consultant/freelancer.  That said, this could be an entree into a job, as perhaps the company will like you enough and recognize that you have a set of skills that’s difficult enough to find in the job market that they are willing to go through the time and expense of sponsoring your work visa, to make you an employee.  To be clear, PL status does not allow you to be employed as an employee.  Should you get a bona fide job offer you are going to have to change visa status to accept it, which also means shutting down your URSSAF account and figuring out what to do with your pension (transition it or keep it in place).

Stephen….I am still weighing the pros and cons of freelance visas from about five different countries.  Could you please clarify something regarding the Profession Liberale?  Does France limit the amount of time that a Profession Liberale holder can physically be outside of France and still maintain his or her immigration status and path to citizenship?  Must a physical address always be maintained during Profession Liberale status (as opposed to a mailbox at the UPS store)? 

Once you have a long term visa, be in Visitor or Prof Lib (or other classifications for that matter), there is not really any way that the French can track how long you are in the country.  For tax purposes you are essentially stating that you are in the country for 183 days+, but if you are there for less, the French wouldn’t know.  Now, I’m not encouraging you to do that, I’m just saying that for purposes of filing taxes and keeping your status, you have to assert that you are a fiscal resident of France.  There is no box on your French personal or business returns that asks you to indicate how many days you spent in France in the previous year.

To continue to renew your visa status as a long-term resident, regardless of your visa classification, you need to be a fiscal resident of France, and file returns here every single year.

You do need to maintain a physical address, as all correspondence (and trust me, there’s a lot) will be sent there until you get yourself set up virtually, and even then you’re going to receive a fair amount of physical correspondence from the agencies, like the Ministry of Finance, that still send paper notices for a number of things.  We don’t have a “UPS store” but there are various places that I know of that will allow you to maintain a physical address with them…for a fee.

Are you familiar with XXXXXXX XXXXXX, who also assists with visa applications and business formations, and if so, do you have an opinion about this person?   My wife and I were both getting a snake-oil-sales feeling about this person.

Yes, unfortunately I have heard many bad stories about this person, and XXXXXXX has a dreadful reputation in the Paris community.  This person is obsessed with Profession Liberale as the solution to every visa question, manages a Facebook group that is ruled like an absolute dictatorship (people get deleted for questioning/contradicting the narrative), and gives factually inaccurate advice by continuously asserting that a visitor visa does not allow you to have a remote job (it does, I’ve helped dozens of people to get visitor status who had a remote job as their proof of income), hence fueling the narrative that PL solves all.  Moreover, this person charges $4000 to help you obtain a PL visa, despite the fact that this person married into his/her immigration status, and hence never had to obtain one of these visas.  Your snake-oil feeling is confirmed.  I wouldn’t get within a country mile of this person, and it’s crazy to think that obtaining this visa should cost even 1/3 of what XXXXXXX charges.