Wherever you live, death and taxes are inevitable (except in Greece it appears, where it’s only death). We have just gone through the mental gymnastics required to complete our annual French tax return. This is one of those tasks that must be done by a certain date but strikes horror into my heart. I am always happy to let my feminist principles slip here and get the SF do the bulk of it.
If you live in France for more than six months per year, you are normally liable for taxation in France. This means that every year you have to complete a tax return (déclaration des revenus) in arrears. In your first year you have to ask for it or get one off the Internet. Once you’re in the system the tax office (Impôts) should automatically send you one every year. A warning: the website does not appear to be navigable in English.
Normally the form has to be returned by 31st May by post (hence our burst of activity last week). Sometimes they’re on strike so the forms are sent out late, in which case you get a stay of execution. If you complete it on the Internet you are allowed some extra time depending on the number of your département (7th June for nos. 1-19, 14th June for nos. 20-49, 21st June for nos. 50 and upwards). We have never been able to trust doing it that way and so send it off by post. We also send it registered post, since we don’t trust the snail mail, either.
The French taxation regime covers your worldwide assets. So, in addition to the blue form, on which you have to enter your income regardless of source, you also have to complete a pink form, which covers income arising only from abroad. To complete the pink form you need a doctorate in astrophysics. In fact, for many years we ignored it completely and simply sent in a separate sheet helpfully itemising all our income and its various sources. Then it turned out that the Impôts ignored our separate sheet completely so we realised our tax assessment was consistently wrong.
We tootled down to the Hôtel des Impôts in Montauban, were given a number and told to queue. It was a bit like at the supermarket fish counter where you wait until your ticket number appears on a screen. Knowing the reputation of the UK equivalents, we entered the taxman’s office with some trepidation. In fact, he couldn’t have been nicer. He explained carefully how to fill in the pink form and then translate the numbers onto the blue form. Voilà. We just had to remember how to do it the following year.
Since tax evasion is something of a national sport in France we concluded that the Impôts welcomes with open arms anyone who voluntarily admits that there has been a mistake. We did, however, on one occasion meet a woman tax inspector who made Rosa Klebb look like Mother Theresa. Luck of the draw, I suppose. In fact, even she was quite helpful in the end.
The tax system differs in a number of important respects from the UK one. First, of course, the rate of taxation is different and there is more of a sliding scale in France. It’s too complicated to go into here. Second, the tax year runs from 1st January to 31st December – not, as in the UK, to the 5th April. This can cause continuing headaches if you receive UK bank or other interest, since the annual statement doesn’t coincide with the French tax year. Third, you are taxed as a household and not as individuals.
Happily, though, the Impôts do allow you to complete the tax declaration in your maiden name. Since I have never taken my husband’s name this pleases me no end.
By the way, I should add a disclaimer here. I am no expert in financial affairs so you should always take advice from those qualified to give it and check the rules governing your own circumstances.
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