Thursday, 30 January 2014

Why is the French Tax office after me ?

The last few days I felt a lot of empathy for expats in France. I had to deal with the French tax office and it made me realise how difficult it must be for foreigners in France who have to adapt to a different fiscal system.
Long story short, I own a small house in my home town, that I rent. The rent barely covers the mortgage and the various insurances, but I see it as an investment for my retirement. I don't make money on it at all (at least for the next 20 years), and I basically acts as if didn't exist.
The only time I really think about it is when I have to file my tax returns for the rental income. Because I am an owner in France I have to pay rental income tax. In Ireland, the income tax is taken at source, on the salary and the only people who would have to file a tax return would be self-employed or property owners if they have a rental income. But the majority of Irish people don't have to worry about deadlines, long forms to fill out, calculations to make, deductions to apply etc. 
Thankfully my mother has always been very helpful in that sense. Every year she buys the " Tax guide book" -Yes, they sell a book in France to explain how to file your tax returns- and she helps me. By the way, the French government must think all expats are loaded because you are automatically taxed at 20% on your rental income. I've always been careful and managed not to pay any rental income tax by deducting everything that was legally possible (repairs, mortgage interest, insurances and so on). The new thing with our dear president is that now, all expats must also pay social contributions on their rental income. That's great isn't ? I don't benefit from any sort of social welfare in France, but still, I have to contribute... The worst thing is those social contributions don't give me any social security rights either, they are just another tax in disguise. 
Because of that new law, I had to pay social contributions this year. And last week, I received an e-mail from the French tax office to inform me I would have to pay a "first instalment"... Panicked, I tried to ring them to say it surely was a mistake, I already paid the bill 2 months before. Why oh why were they asking me for money again??? Of course there was no answer on the phone. The non-residents tax office is almost impossible to reach. They open from 9 to 4, but most of the time, you get the answering machine.
Still panicked, I rang my mum. I can count on her, even if she gets on my nerves, she knows everything... And she knew. So basically I had to pay the first instalment in advance of my tax bill for next year. Seriously??  I always thought that French people paid their taxes once they got the bill, not all year long! 
All this made me realise how clueless I am about the practicalities of French life. I don't live there anymore. I've never worked in France. I never had to pay income tax. And I'm pretty sure if I was going back to France, I would be lost. I would feel like an expat in my home country. That's a scary thought. I am undecided as to go back to France one day, but the more I wait, the more it will be difficult to re-adapt. Sure it's great to go on holidays, but how would I manage the work life, the mentality, the lifestyle, the dreaded tax returns ? 
I think at this stage it's safe to say I feel fine in Ireland even if I miss my family and friends a lot, and even if sometimes I'm fed up...  Does this mean it's too late to go back?