Mailbag: No, You Can’t Do That

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since our last mailbag, a series in which I answer questions that don’t necessarily make sense as an article, but provide useful information. Funnily enough, the last mailbag also had a two-year interval. Sometimes you have to wait for the mail to pile up, I guess.

“I’d like to travel around France for a year to decide where to live”

This was brought up in our Facebook group and I had to chuckle at the hopeful naiveté of the poster. This task would be something difficult to pull off even in the United States. Where are you going to get your mail? Where will you file taxes? Where will you bank? How will you get around if you don’t own a car? If you don’t have a French driver’s license, how will you insure your car? Those questions are valid in your home country should you decide to nomad around. Why would they not be relevant in France?

So, let’s be clear, while you might be able to find some crazy way to pull this off, it’s not something I would recommend. For those who are new to France, a prolonged stay at a single location, with plenty of vacations peppered in, is going to help you assimilate to France that much faster. Your language skills will have a chance to bloom in familiar surroundings with potential friends and neighbors and you’ll start to understand the rhythms of daily life in France. I’ve shared before that I was living in Paris for two years before I heard one day in the boulangerie someone ordering their baguette to a certain temperature and finish.

Even if I was dashing around France in a camper van or something similar, changing residence every month, how could I go through the administrative challenges of an OFII visit, which is tied to your address of record? Speaking of which, what address are you going to give the French if you keep changing it every month or quarter? Or to the French bank that you need to have statements from for your renewal? Or how about the renewal itself, which all of us on one-year cards dread until we qualify for a longer-term card and don’t have to go to the annual torture of renewal any more?

What might make more sense is, once a quarter, to spend a month in a different region of France you are considering living in. That allows you to maintain a single residence while getting to know France in an easy and unhurried way.

“I want to come to France as a visitor or Profession Liberale and then get a job”

While I fully understand the logic of this from someone who has never lived in Europe, it’s a thought process that is detached from the realities of the labor market in the European Union.

In short, the EU is a highly protectionist market. When I got a work permit two summers in a row in Switzerland (almost a decade ago now, wow), the process the Swiss followed then has similarities to what is followed in France now:

  • a detailed job listing has to be created and publicly posted
  • no one from Switzerland applies for the job, or if they do, it must be demonstrated that they are not sufficiently qualified
  • even after you are interviewed and found qualified, more time must be allowed to pass, in case anyone Swiss missed the listing
  • the work permit is issued weeks, not months, before the foreigner’s arrival
  • the employer must pay a bounty for hiring a foreigner, usually at least five figures for a full-timer, or four figures for a seasonal or part-timer
  • the employer must pay an additional tax every pay check for hiring a foreigner, as long as you are employed there, usually at least 10% of a paycheck

People used to being able to “find a job” in their industry in their home countries don’t realize just what kind of disadvantage they are at in the EU. The only reason I got the job in Switzerland two summers in a row was because I possessed a skill that no one in Switzerland (at the time) had: expertise in teaching American university entrance exams, specifically the ACT and the SAT.

So, if you are one of the few people trained in a particular field, or type of software, or have a particular security clearance (that would be relevant in the EU), or have NGO-specific experience, or have a particular set of skills a la Liam Neeson, you are not going to get a job here. That doesn’t make you any less of a person, it just means that the protectionist policies of the EU are working effectively, alas to your disadvantage.

Even should you land a job somehow, you won’t be able to keep your visitor or Prof Lib statuses. But thankfully, someone from the legal team of the company hiring you will, in all likelihood, help you apply for a change of status and wind up the previous statues you have.

As a final note, I must stress that a PL visa is not an employment visa. It is a freelancer visa, which allows you to work as an independent contractor, with an established annual income cap. An employment visa allows you to have a job, with no income cap.

“I’d like to count my URSSAF contributions as foreign taxes paid”

For those who don’t know, URSSAF charges are paid by business owners, large and small, to contribute to health care and other expenditures of the French state. They are social charges, not income taxes. Just as Americans don’t get any deductions for paying FICA or unemployment insurance, the French don’t get any credit for paying URSSAF charges, much less credit to a foreign government.

As always, consult your accountant on your business taxes in particular.

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