When buying a property abroad whether you will be living there or simply spending holidays or the odd weekend there and renting it out for the rest of time it is important to know what your tax situation is so that you don’t get hit with any unexpected tax bills. France is no exception. This article will run through the main taxes in France and help explain how they work and if they might affect you.
Tax: If you are domiciled in France you will be taxed on your entire income whether it be from French or foreign sources. It does not matter what nationality you are if you spend more than 183 days per year in France you are considered as French domiciled and still taxed on your world wide income. For those not domiciled in France you are still liable for any income from French sources; this includes rent from letting out your property and any income derived from working in the country. The authorities in both the country in which you normally reside and France will be interested in your earnings and if it is above a certain threshold you could be liable in both countries unless there is a double tax treaty between the countries as exists between all EU members and many other countries. However it is very important to notify the authorities if you are making a permanent move to France before the event in order to take advantage of this treaty. It should also be noted that in France taxes are not deducted using the PAYE system as in England but each individual must fill in their own self assessment form whereby taxes are paid the year after which the income is earnt which runs from January the 1st to December the 31st. To do this you must first register at the “Centre des Impots” which is the local tax centre.
Income tax: This ranges from tax levied on “earned income” which is a progressive tax to tax on “unearned income” such as investment income based on interest from bank accounts and property yields. A separate tax is levied solely on gross rental income if you let out your property in France. France still strongly favours the family unit and there are distinct advantages in terms of reduced tax liability if you are a large family as tax is assessed on a household basis. If you are married and/or have children in the family you pay less tax as there are more dependants; this is called the “quotient familial”. There are also other allowances such as those for childcare and domestic help all of which go towards making large families in France pay less tax than anywhere else in Europe. If you are unmarried or united only by the PACS agreement then you are likely to pay more tax than married couples not just with regard to income tax but also inheritance tax.
Property tax: There exits two property taxes in France: taxe fonciere and taxe d’habitation. Taxe fonciere is paid by the property owner regardless of whether you live there or abroad, but there is an exemption for two years for newly built properties. Taxe d’habitation on the other hand is paid by whoever occupies the building at the time, hence if it is rented out it is paid by the tenants. Both taxes are similar to council tax and are paid the year following the rental period with special allowances for retired residents, derelict properties.
Capital Gains Tax: This tax is paid on the profits of any property which has been sold to include jewellery, securities, shares and real estate. However, fortunately there are no taxes to be paid on the sale of your principle residence but only on sales of additional property. People who rent their main home are exempt if they sell their second home as well as those who have owned the house for 15 years or more. If a property is sold within two years then it is subject to 33.3% capital gains and this falls by 5% a year and multiplied by an index linked multiplier of the eventual sale price of the property until the 15 years are up. If there has been some renovation to the property, however, the cost can be offset against the profits as can legal and agency fees.
Inheritance tax: The system in France is very different to that which you might find in England or anywhere else and it is advisable to talk to a tax advisor BEFORE you buy your property in France to prevent future burdens on your family or partner. Whether you are a resident or not in France you will still have to conform to french succession law and your family will still be liable to pay inheritance duty in France upon your death. It is also important to note that French succession law will not allow for you to leave out any of your children in favour of your spouse and will ensure that they get their share. There are however, a number of different ways to minimise their burden depending on your situation. Below we outline a number of different contracts that can be made. A very popular and useful way of lessening your relatives’ inheritance tax if the tax in France is greater than it would be in your home country is to form an SCI which is a property holding company. The property in question can be divided into shares and these shares can be distributed as you wish with the result that any future inheritance tax on the property will be subject to the laws in the country in which you are a resident. It is also a good solution for those in a complex family situation living with people who are not members of their family. Shares can be freely given to a partner or children whereby inheritance tax will be avoided if done at least 10 years prior to death of the owner of the shares. For married couples who wish their half of the property to go to the surviving spouse then the “clause tontine” is a good option. It is like a joint tenancy agreement and essentially suspends the ownership of the property until either spouse dies so that the entire property is owned by the surviving spouse. They will, however, still have to pay inheritance tax on half of the property. Another way to ensure that your half of the property in question goes to your spouse is to make a change of the matrimonial regime so that your properties are no longer separated. You must have been married for at least two years and prepared to pay some legal charges but it will mean that the surviving spouse will only pay 1% tax on the property as “registration duty”. This system can get complicated if there are children involved from current or past marriages as they still retain certain rights to the property and legal advice should be taken. In 1999 a new contract called PACS was also brought in under French law giving certain benefits to same and different sex couples which were not previously available. These inheritance and fiscal rights are not as beneficial as those available to married couples but are certainly an improvement on the previous situation.
Wealth tax: This is a tax levied on assets that exceed 720,000 Euros and covers a wide range of assets to include your property and bank balances amongst other things. If you are resident in France but not domiciled there then you will only be taxed on what you have in France. If domiciled there as well then the tax applies to your entire fortune all over the world.
About the Author
Nick Dowlatshahi is Managing Director of Leapfrog Properties and is an Expert on the French Property Market. Leapfrog Properties is a French Property agency that specialises in Property for sale in France. http://www.leapfrog-properties.com