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Reader question: Can I spend the winter in France to avoid huge energy bills?

All around Europe energy bills are soaring, while customers in France are among the best protected from spiralling bills, thanks to the government price shield - but rules on immigration, tax and work mean that spending the winter in France to avoid big bills may not be feasible for many.

Reader question: Can I spend the winter in France to avoid huge energy bills?
In France gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels until at least the end of the year. Photo by BARBARA SAX / AFP

Obviously a lot depends on your personal circumstances – maybe you already own property in France, perhaps you have a friend or family member in France who is prepared to put you up for the winter, or perhaps you have a short term tenancy in your home country that you can cancel.

However, before you consider any of this, you need to look at France’s rules on immigration, tax and work.

Immigration

Here a lot depends on where you are from – if you have a passport from an EU country, then under freedom of movement you have the right to move to France with fairly minimal paperwork.

For non-EU citizens like Brits, however, it’s more complicated.

Since Brexit the 90-day rule applies – you can find a full explanation of the rule HERE, but in brief you either need to limit your visits to 90 days in every 180 or get a visa.

The 90-day limit obviously rules out spending the whole winter in France, although you could just come here for three months during the coldest months, provided you haven’t already used up some of your 90 days with trips earlier in the year – and it’s important to note that the 90-day rule applies to time spent anywhere in the EU/Schengen zone, not just France.

If you want to stay longer than that, you will need a visa and you will need to decide whether you apply as a worker, self-employed, retired etc – full details HERE.

Visas come with a fee – usually €99, plus extra costs for having documents translated and trips to your nearest French consulate.

Work

If you are retired then this won’t affect you, but if you are of working age then you need to consider how you will support yourself in France, and again this comes down to which passport you have.

EU citizens have the right to both live and work in France, but non-EU citizens will probably need a visa if they intend to work.

If you are here under the 90-day rule you cannot work in France, since you are classed as a visitor. Likewise certain visa types, like the visitor visa, require you to undertake not to work while you are in France.

The two main visas for people who intend to work in France are the employee visa – which you need a job offer from a French company in order to get – and the self-employed visa. This visa type requires, among other things, a full business plan and financial details. 

So what about remote working? This is a bit of a grey area and plenty of people might log on to their laptop and do a bit of work for their employer back home while they are on a short visit to France.

If, however, you intend to stay longer in France then factors like the nature of your work, the length of your stay and your tax situation all determine whether this is allowed or not – full details HERE.

Tax

Which brings us to tax. The French government’s position is that if you spend more than six months of the year in France then you are a resident, and all residents in France are required to file the annual tax declaration.

So while spending the winter in France might not affect that, if you also had a few weeks here during the summer you could find yourself slipping over the limit and being considered a tax resident.

Tax residency rules apply to everyone, including EU citizens.

Find out more about tax obligations HERE.

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PROPERTY

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.

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