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Freelance journalist living in France paid (mostly) in the UK


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I'm British. I recently moved to France. I work as a freelance journalist. Most of my work is for UK publications. I earn some money from US and Hong Kong magazines and newspapers. Dollar payments arrive in cheque form and are put into my French bank account. All sterling payments arrive in my UK bank account.

I am married to a French national and have a young son with a French passport. I spent the last ten years living and working in Vietnam which meant I did not have to register for tax in the UK.

Is it possible to register for tax in the UK and register in France for the health insurance? Or should I register everything in France as a Micro-Enterprise?

Any help gratefully appreciated. I'm in the Toulouse area and would welcome any suggestions for a helpful (English speaking) accountant who might be able to help me throught this mess.

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These people specialise in English ex-pats and are great.  Bruno Herbert et Associes, Le Trifide, 18, rue Claude Bloch, 14050, Caen, Cedex 4.  and 45 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009, Paris.  They are not close to you but they aren't close to me either and we conduct business by phone, fax and e-mail without problems.  Angela Francoise or Adele Hebert 02 31 53 15 13
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Judging by the advice given to others in similar circumstances on here previously, I think you have to opt for your second scenario as a full-time French resident - ie register everything in France, but I'm sure you'll get confirmation either way from one of the forum's tax experts soon....
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I am not a tax expert, but up to quite recently was working as a freelance journalist and magazine editor, based in France but working for UK-based clients and paid in sterling.

It is a complicated situation, and I would advise you to get yourself a good accountant as soon as possible. I can let you know the one we use. One of the sticking points is that the French system does not recognise freelance journalism as known in Britain, and the rest of the world, so they have difficulty knowing in which box to put you. I remember spending a morning with Mrs Will, who speaks French much better than me, and having worked for the Inland Revenue back home understands the bureaucratic mindset very well, talking to a couple of very helpful tax officials armed with their manuals and reference books trying, with only limited success, to find the most appropriate code number to cover what I did. For their purposes I ended up as something like 'services associated with magazine production'.

Fortunately URSSAF listed me as a 'local press correspondent' which carries the benefit of being one of those categories that if your earnings are less than a certain percentage of the social security threshold (a figure that represents generous pin money, but not a living wage) you can avoid the hassle of registering as a business.

Health registration was no problem - just select a 'caisse primaire' from a list that you receive. The compulsory retirement contribution was another story altogether - the caisse we applied to at first would not accept my job, and the next, despite prodding by the accountant, took nearly two years to respond. Although I was unlikely to get anything in return for the probably hefty viellese cotisations, just ignoring it, as recommended by certain French people, was not an option according to the accountant. That would result, he said, in a bill for unpaid cotisations based on receiving the maximum level of earnings, plus interest. Events proved him completely right, though after a struggle, because it was not our fault, he got the bill reduced to what he said was a 'correct', though still high, level.

The above assumes you carry out the work in France - i.e. you do not commute to Britain in order to work. For tax purposes the rule that is normally applied is that it is the country in which your bum is on the seat while working where you pay tax. Social security and health authorities apply a different criterion, being that you pay in the country in which you spend the most time. There are of course exceptions but to all intents and purposes where you pay is governed by the authorities, not chosen by you.

Sorry that is rather long, but I hope that it is of some help.

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  • 2 months later...
What I meant by that is that the tax people and the social security people apply different criteria, so you can, under some circumstances, find yourself paying tax in one country and social security in another. The SS equivalent of the 'bums on seats' tax rule seems to be that you pay SS in the country in which you spend the most time. But these are both rules of thumb rather than laid down in law, so it is a good idea to take professional advice.
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Let me preface this by stating that while I have a background in legal/financial matters, my comments do not purport to be legal or tax advice and besides, there are several grey areas that largely depend on how things are represented and honest experts may disagree on the best way of handling things on a case by case basis and depending on how much is at stake. Devil, details, etc. In fact I'll welcome fact checking, additions and corrections.

You all presumably know that you are considered a French resident for legal, tax, etc. purposes only if you spend more than 183 days (not necessarily in continuity) in France. If you spend less than that here, you may not have to be in the French system at all.

In you are in the French system, I'm going to be simplifying a bit, but you can either be (a) employed by a company, (b) self-employed (commerçant, artisan, artist, etc.) or (c) rentier (ie: making money from dividends, royalties, etc. but not "working" - the devil here is in the definitation of "working"). There isn't really any other choice.

If (a), you are either (a.i) working for a French company or the properly registered French-based subsidiary/branch, etc. of a foreign company, or (a.ii) working for a foreign company without any establishment in France while you yourself are living (and in effect working) in France.

(a.i) is very simple, the entire French system is geared towards employees. The company is the one with all the headaches. Just watch the deductions on your payslip. Ouch!

(a.ii) can be tricky and will lead to all kinds of arguments, possibly prosecutions, with the various French entities who will try to force you into (b) because they can't get at your employer but they can get you. Right now there is an interesting lawsuit pending where the French are trying to force French lawyers living in Paris but working for British lawfirms not registered in France to, in effect, become self-employed (ie: (b)) in order to pay all the social contributions etc. which currently no one is paying. I don't recommend a starring role in a David v. Goliath fight. So.....

(b) if you are in effect self-employed (artisan, commerçant, artist) or small business owner (micro-entreprise), you will in effect have to pay all the social contributions that the company employing you would otherwise pay.

Leaving aside income tax and VAT, there are really only three other types of payments that you incur when you run a business in France, and two of them would be roughly the same (although administered differently) in most western countries:

1) Retirement : the money that you pay will be accrued to you & your spouse (if registered as a conjoint collaborateur); yes, you would do better off if you invested it yourself on the stock market, and yes, you won't get as much as your French neighbor at age 65 because he/his employer contributed during his entire working life, BUT YOU WILL BE GETTING SOMETHING! It's not money being thrown away! Every country has a somewhat similar system. It is neither peculiarly French nor unfair.

2) National Health Insurance (what the French call Social Security): Ditto. The minimum payment for a year if you make no money is like 300 or 400 euro and it gives you access to a rather good system. The scale is proportional to your revenues and not unfair.

Honestly, if you're whining about either of these two payments, it's likely because you're comparing apples and oranges and haven't quite grasped the full picture.

3) URSSAF: That, on the other hand, is totally weird and entirely French. In effect you're paying to subsidize other people's kids, even rich families'. If you do have children, take advantage of it; if you don't, tough luck. However, if you do not make much money, URSSAF will be prepared to negotiate a lower payment; go and talk to them. But that payment is basically pissing away money.

The French system does grab a larger bite out of a business' revenues and they don't give you the choice to opt out, but for the two categories above, you get good value for your money, or at least comparable to what you would get elsewhere. Except for the URSSAF.

The category we have not yet discussed here is (c) rentier. To be a "rentier" is like being retired, you must not "work" at all in the common usage of the word, but you can receive dividends, royalties, etc. (subject to French income tax, of course -- it gets complicated when it involves different countries with different rules about the taxation of dividends, royalties, etc. and even different definitions according to bilateral tax treaties.)

If you own or have a stake in a foreign corporation, that corporation is not you; it can conduct its own business in the country where it's incorporated, and its profits will be taxed in that country. The French have nothing to do with this; this is perfectly legal and besides, they have no way of finding out.

The tricky part comes in getting some of the money out of the corporation and into your pocket.  If you're paid a salary or a freelance fee etc. for any kind of "work" that you appear to be doing for said corporation, then the French will look at you as a (b) above and will try very hard to force you to pay the social contributions mentioned above.

But if the corporation pays you dividends or royalties (this gets very complicated very quickly and that is where I must recommend a set of good tax advisors in both countries) then it becomes purely a matter of income tax.

Obviously this last category, (c), is not accessible to a large number of people; only those already owning or partners in an ongoing business in Country A, but choosing to reside in Country B, need look into it. It's like relocating to Luxembourg or Andorra, not everyone can do it.

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There is a lot in the above lengthy post that I could comment on, either in agreement or disagreement, but I will stick to one point.

"1) Retirement : the money that you pay will be accrued to you & your spouse (if registered as a conjoint collaborateur); yes, you would do better off if you invested it yourself on the stock market, and yes, you won't get as much as your French neighbor at age 65 because he/his employer contributed during his entire working life, BUT YOU WILL BE GETTING SOMETHING! It's not money being thrown away!"

To accrue sufficient points to get anything worthwhile you have to pay in a lot, over many years, and it is quite true that having an employer helps. I have paid in several thousand euros a year over several years. A letter arrived from the caisse yesterday to say that I will be entitled to something like 35€ a year as a result. Yes, I will be getting something, but for all the use that is, the money might as well have been thrown away.

The vieillesse is, to my mind, the biggest rip off of the lot. Other tax and social security systems take the equivalent of the URSSAF contributions so in Britain, for example, you are subsidising other people's kids through your income tax and council taxes. The difference is that the French system is somewhat more transparent. Whereas if you are paying into a pension fund you are building up something for yourself - even though it may not be well invested or subject to stock market fluctuations. But the money I pay into the French system goes to pay the pensions of the retired lawyers, accountants and other professions liberales who were affiliated to the same caisse. Or so the accountant says....


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I have to agree that the French pension system sucks in terms of return.  In particular comparing ANY state-run system versus a pension fund is going to be laughably in favor of the pension fund.

I lack the expertise to compare the "lousiness factor" of the French state-run system versus that of any other country, but I suspect -- I could be wrong -- that if we stick to comparing apples and apples (and not oranges), they're roughly the same. 

One point I was making -- or trying to make -- was in effect that it's not JUST France. En passant, one may also note that state-run systems are also worse for self-employed persons (as opposed to salaried employees).

Let us note that the French system will allow you to make a lump sum contributions to in effect "purchase" the "missing years" of your pension plan at a discounted rate and still pay you the expected pension later on.

A self-employed late entrant in the French system -- and possibly any other comparable countries' -- is indeed being grossly disadvanted, especially if he were to invest the same money privately.

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