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Tax warning for second-home owners with French carte de séjour

British second-home owners in France who have acquired a post-Brexit carte de séjour are being warned of potential tax problems.

Tax warning for second-home owners with French carte de séjour
Photo: Sebastian Bozon/AFP

The post-Brexit carte de séjour was intended for Brits already living in France before the end of 2020 as a relatively easy way to regularise their status. However in the case of some second-home owners, this could lead to trouble with the French tax man.

Who’s affected?

We’re mainly talking second-home owners here, but it covers anyone who spends a significant amount of time in France without actually living here.

Brits who are not full-time residents in France but who visit regularly must now either get a visa or limit their visits to 90 days in every 180. 

EXPLAINED How does the 90-day rule in France work?

The post-Brexit carte de séjour is intended for people who have France as their full-time address. However it seems that some second-home owners – perhaps after receiving misleading advice or through a misunderstanding of the system or even the belief that they have found a loophole – have acquired a post-Brexit residency card.

Those who live full-time in France are perfectly entitled to get a carte de séjour – indeed it is now a legal requirement to have one.

Slightly confusingly, there is also a different card known as a carte de séjour visiteur which is open to second-home owners – find out more about this here.

But the post-Brexit card, sometimes referred to as a WARP (withdrawal agreement residency permit) or referred to by the French authorities as an Article 50 TUE (referring to article 50 of the Traité sur l’Union européen or EU treaty) is only for people who have had their full-time residence in France since at least December 31st 2020.

There’s no official data on this, but various Brexit-focused Facebook groups have reported that some second-home owners have been able to get a post-Brexit card and The Local has also been contacted by people who have either done this or know someone who has.

How has this happened?

When the time came to regularise the situation of the roughly 200,000 Brits living in France before Brexit, France opted for a fast-track system that made the process as straightforward as possible.

Many long-term residents were surprised at how simple the process was and how few supporting documents were needed – but this was a deliberate choice by French authorities, intended both to make the process simple for their own administrators but also to ensure that vulnerable residents – such as pensioners on low incomes – were not incorrectly denied the right to stay in a country that had become home.

Very few residency applications were turned down. Those that were denied were almost all on the grounds of serious criminality.

But while the system came as a great relief to many who had been desperately worried about being able to remain, it did also mean that people who owned property in France – and therefore had documentation like French utility bills and bank accounts – were also able to register for residency.

Is this a problem?

It could eventually become a problem. The post-Brexit carte de séjour, is a residency card so by requesting it the person in question is telling French authorities that they are resident in France – which is why they are no longer constrained by the 90-day rule.

But if that person is in fact a second-home owner, then they are in reality a resident of the UK.

So what could happen?

Ultimately, Brits who own second homes in France and own a carte de séjour are telling different governments different things. They are telling the French that they live in France and the British that they live in the UK. This is likely to cause some problems in the future.

It’s not a question of French authorities breaking down doors and snatching back the carte de séjour, but interactions with officialdom will likely eventually become a problem if you’re telling different stories.

And the first issue could be with the French taxman.

Taxes

All residents in France are legally required to file an annual tax declaration – even if you do not earn any money in France. 

READ ALSO Who has to make a tax declaration in France?

By acquiring the carte de séjour, you have told France that you live here, so by not filing the annual return you are breaking the law.

People who realise they have made a genuine mistake and go to the tax authorities are generally treated pretty leniently, but if you continue to not do the declaration despite declaring yourself as a resident you could be facing fines and a lengthy investigation by the tax office.

When making the tax declaration you also make a sworn declaration that your main address is in France (non-residents who have income in France use a different form). Making a false declaration is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a €15,000 fine. This penalty can increase up to three years in jail if the false declaration is made to a public official.

It’s perfectly legal to file tax declarations in both France and the UK – indeed it’s required for many people who have economic activity in both countries – but remember that providing false information on a tax return is a criminal offence in both France and the UK.

Find full details on the French tax declaration HERE.

It’s important to note that being ‘tax resident’ of a country is not the same as having residency for immigration purposes.

Other issues

Car registration – plenty of Brits who move here from the UK bring a car with them, but once you are resident in France you need to change your registration for a French one. If you are presenting a carte de séjour at the border and yet driving a UK-registered car, you can be fined for not registering your car properly. This type of check doesn’t happen often but there are already some reports of fines being issued

Time out of France – you can lose your residency status if you spend too much time out of France. This is not generally an issue for full-time residents, but if you don’t really live here then your time in the UK could end up disqualifying you. Different cards have different limits – full details here.

Healthcare –  If you are, according to French authorities, living in France then you should apply for a carte vitale in order to register in the French health system. This requires another sworn declaration that you live in France in a “stable and regular manner” or work in France. 

All in all, if you own property in France and want to spend time here, it’s better to either stick to the 90-day limit, get a visa for longer visits or make the move to France so that you are genuinely resident here.

People concerned about their situation would be advised to seek independent advice.

Member comments

  1. I question if it’s necessary to be “full-time” resident, as stated above, to qualify for a CDS. For the “50-50” people, making the French home the primary residence, getting the CDS and spending 183+ days a year in France seems a valid way to go. But yes, logically it would also mean paying taxes in France instead of the UK.

  2. The article above is helpful but when you write 10 months max time outside France in the link I presume that doesn’t mean 10 months total in 5 years?! It is consecutive? The 183+ rule was what I was aware of but I have not seen this anywhere in black and white and in French relating to withdrawal agreement residency. Can anyone point me in the right direction? Thank you.

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For members

MOVING TO FRANCE

The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Is it harder since Brexit? Yes. Is it impossible? Certainly not. Here's everything you need to know about navigating the French immigration system and moving to France as a UK national.

The post-Brexit guide for Brits who want to move to France (and stay here)

Moving to France as the citizen of an EU country is a considerably more straightforward experience – and that’s still the case for those Brits lucky enough to have dual nationality with an EU country such as Ireland.

For the rest, since Brexit they enter an unfamiliar world of immigration offices, visas and cartes de séjour – but this is only the same system that non-EU nationals like Americans, Canadians and Australians have always faced and plenty of them manage to move to France each year.

It’s just a question of knowing how to navigate the system:

NB – this article is for people making the move permanently to France from 2021 onwards, for second-home owners who want to spend time in France but keep their main residence in the UK – click HERE

Visas 

Brits are covered by the 90-day rule so if you want to make short visits to France you can do so without any extra paperwork (until 2023, that is), but if you want to come here to live, you will need a visa.

The only groups exempt from visa requirements are people who have dual nationality with an EU country (eg Ireland) or people who are coming as a spouse or family member of a UK national who is already living here and is covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement – click here for full details.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the UK, so there’s no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France.

Almost all visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a big bundle of supporting documents, but the first thing to do is work out the type of visa that you need.

Here’s an overview of the most common types:

Spouse Visa

Contrary to popular belief, being married to a French person doesn’t exempt you from the visa process, but does make things a little easier if you decide to go for a spouse visa – you’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).

The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage, proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.

Employee visa – The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 

Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to apply for a work permit and justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.

If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee.  

Entrepreneur – this applies for people who want to set up their own business (eg run a gîte or B&B) or work in an self-employed capacity including as a freelancer or contractor. 

The entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea or freelance career never takes off.

Here 2021 arrival Joseph Keen takes us through the entrepreneur visa: ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – what it’s like getting a French work visa

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to live in France but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?

You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, an undertaking not to work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the UK or setting up a gîte or B&B business in France), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of financial means, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

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Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at €50, and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.

You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees and proof of enrolment at a French establishment of higher education. More info here

Au Pair visa

If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.

You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here

Talent Passport

If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it. 

It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Next steps

Once you have decided which visa you need, you apply online, submitting all the required documents and a fee (usually around €80-€100). You will then need to make an in-person visit to the French consulate in London.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French visa 

Processing times for visas vary, but you should allow at least six weeks.

What else?

Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.

Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance and depending on the type of visa the GHIC or EHIC card is not always accepted.

If this is the case you will need to buy a private health insurance (not travel insurance) policy that covers the entire duration of your visa. Depending on your age and state of health these policies can be expensive, so you should factor this in to your financial calculations.

If you are a UK pensioner or student you might be entitled to an S1 form from the NHS – S1 is accepted as proof of health insurance for visa purposes.

Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy, so it’s a good idea to have health cover for these early months even if it’s not a requirement of your visa.

Bear in mind the GHIC/EHIC doesn’t cover all types of medical expenses.

Driving licence – if you intend to drive in France then you can use your UK/NI licence with no requirement for an international driver’s permit.

The good news here is that the post-Brexit deal on driving licences also covers new arrivals, and means that after a certain period you can swap your UK licence for a French one without having to take the French driving test – full details here.

If you are bringing your UK-registered car with you, you will have to change its registration to French – here’s how.

Bank account – for everyday life in France you will likely need a French bank account, but many French banks require proof of an address, while landlords often won’t rent to you without a French bank account, creating something of a Catch 22. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

If you still have financial activity in the UK such as a rental property or a UK pension you will likely need a UK bank account too, but keeping UK accounts while resident in France is becoming more difficult. We spoke to a financial expert to get some tips

Taxes – this hasn’t changed since Brexit, but it’s something that often catches people out – if you live in France you need to file an annual tax declaration, even if you have no income in France (eg you are living on a pension from the UK). More details here.

If you still have financial activity in the UK – such as a property rental – you will usually also need to file a tax return in the UK, but while you have all the fun of doing two tax declarations every year, a dual-taxation agreement between France and the UK means you won’t have to pay tax twice on the same income. 

And how to stay in France

But once you’re in France, you might want to stay here. Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!

Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register and you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.

Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.

These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to take the next steps.

Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.

The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.

We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.

French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.

Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.

And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

You can also find lots more information tailored to UK nationals in our Brits in France section.

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