It’s May! Which means warmer days, greener trees, almost everyone in my phonebook’s birthday, and, if you live in France, annual tax declarations. Hurray! French forms!
It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been worrying about filing my tax declaration since I got here, 7 months ago. Actually, it’s a slight understatement, as I did my research into these matters a few weeks ahead of my arrival, and promptly started worrying at that premature point. I couldn’t believe it when the 1st May rolled around and it was no longer the distant (if still concerning) problem it had been since October. It was suddenly very present and I was no closer to deciphering the baffling forms than I had been when I first looked over them. It wasn’t the language barrier; I could translate most of the actual words myself, and good old Google did the rest. No, the issue was, even when I knew exactly what the form was saying, I still couldn’t tell what on God’s green earth it was actually asking for. Does that make sense? The bloody form certainly didn’t.
It wasn’t just the form, either. The French tax year runs in line with the calendar year (January 1st – December 31st) and in 2017, in addition to working in France, I had also been an employee in the UK – AND I’d been self-employed in the UK. And everything I had read on the French government website, in advice blogs, and on financial websites, had suggested that, although I wouldn’t actually be taxed on my UK income, I did have to declare it.
I was advised by several people (and The Internet) to just go into the tax office and chat with someone in there, who could point me in the right direction. This seemed like a sensible option – until I discovered that my local tax office (and probably all of the others here too) is only open Monday – Friday between the hours of 9:00 – 16:00. In short, opening hours of no use whatsoever to someone who leaves for work at 8:40 and returns around 19:00, with no scope to work from home.
I actually got to the point where I was genuinely considering hiring an accountant to sort it for me. It would have been expensive, and sadly ironic, given my not-at-all-difficult-to-account-for income and notable lack of any financial assets whatsoever. But I did not want to chance a fine for an improperly completed declaration, and if it dissipated the burning anxiety I was experiencing every time I thought about May 17th – Submission Day – then it would be worth a fair sum.
But then I came up with another solution, and one which wouldn’t set me back about 200€. I hadn’t wanted to take a day of precious holiday especially for the purposes of sorting out my tax (who would?) BUT I was planning on taking a few days anyway the week before the declaration deadline: since the 8th (Tuesday) and the 10th (Thursday) were bank holidays and the 6th was my birthday, it would have been an awful shame not to have taken the three remaining days for a whole birthday week. So I took them, of course. And apart from an overnight stay in Brussels (intending to write about that at another point) I wasn’t going away anywhere. Voilà, the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to the tax office!
Or it would have been. If the entire employee base of the tax office hadn’t had the same idea as I (perhaps without the birthday justification). I turned up, bright and early on Friday morning, only to find a large group of people clustered around the entrance. “Maybe they’re late opening” I thought, naïvely – until I checked the time and saw it was gone 9:15. I edged around the crowd, clamouring with the rest of them for a glimpse of the A4 sheet of paper stuck to the door, already knowing what it would say. I wasn’t wrong: it was closed. And not only that day, but in fact, it had been closed every day of that week.
I’M SORRY, WHAT?
Did they not realise how disastrously, ludicrously, RIDICULOUS that was? The WEEK before ALL paper declarations were due to be filed, the bloody tax office decided to let ALL of its employees just… take the week off. It’s insane! Surely this is their busiest fortnight of the year?? Or it would be if they were bloody open. But no. Let’s just close our doors and let everyone skip off into the Parisian sunset to enjoy a few days of downtime. Bye, tax employees! Have a nice week! See you three days before declaration deadline! Don’t forget the suncream!
Needless to say, I was not exactly a little ray of sunshine for the remainder of that morning. I don’t know which was winding me up more, the worry of my impending and apparently-incompletable tax declaration, or the sheer outrage at the extent to which all sense appeared to have deserted The Powers That Be at my local financial service hub. Either way, I wasn’t a happy bunny. I continued to not be a happy bunny for the rest of the weekend too, and came into work on Monday, panicky and preoccupied. Thankfully, a very short conversation with my manager later and I had arranged to work at home the following day (which is not usually allowed, as I mentioned above), enabling me to go back to the flipping tax office before work or during my lunch break, hopefully without eating into any of the working day.
Alas, those hopes were misguided. I arrived at 8:55 to a queue of around 30-40 people snaking backwards up the street and away from the front door. Mercifully, I had grabbed my book last minute as I left my apartment, so the wait wasn’t half as bad as it could have been. After about half an hour, I finally made it to the entrance, where a harried-looking woman gave me a ticket and a blank form and directed me to the end of a corridor. This was a bit confusing, because it wasn’t really a corridor at all, so much as a large, fairly open waiting area interspersed with columns and lined with fold-up seats, and in my confusion, I wandered around a bit, looking rather lost (I imagine), until an elderly lady took pity on me and tried to help. All she did, though, was advise that my number hadn’t been called yet, which was just somewhat embarrassing, because that hadn’t been my problem and I understood that (it was pretty obvious from the large screens everywhere, showing glowing red numbers which were much lower than the one on my ticket) but my ability to explain myself adequately in French completely deserts me when I’m embarrassed or flustered, so I just muttered a red-faced merci and scurried away to a chair further along the not-corridor.
Over an hour-and-a-half later, the buzzer sounded for what felt like the 59,371st time since my arrival and finally, finally it was my number that was being buzzed. I book-marked my page, gathered up my belongings, and hurried to the indicated room, painfully aware that every passing minute was another minute of work I’d have to make up somewhere.
I needn’t have worried from that point. I left the room approximately three minutes and twenty seconds later. A minute and twenty seconds of that was probably spent expressing apologies (for not knowing what I was doing) and gratitude (for showing me what to do), because I’m British and that’s what we do. I’d already filled in the first page of the form whilst waiting – personal details etc. where something I could manage fine by myself. And of the following two pages, full of convoluted phrasings and complicated boxes, it transpired that, for all my worry and panic and stress, I had to fill out a grand total of ONE box.
A simple figure, from the bottom of my December payslip, indicated how much I had earned in 2017 after Social Security deductions etc – and that figure was the sole piece of information I had to give with regards to declaring my tax. No mention of my UK income whatsoever. The employee helping me considered it really quite funny that I had thought otherwise. I was a UK tax resident when I earned it, so they’d sort in the UK. Obviously. I was not amused, personally.
The form was now complete, but of course, I still couldn’t submit the damned thing. I needed proof of address and a copy of my ID to accompany it, and it didn’t mention this anywhere on the website or in any of the other numerous pieces of online advice I had consulted, naturally, I hadn’t brought either document. Fortunately, for various other French bureaucratic purposes, I had both ready and waiting at home – and home was a mere five minute walk away. Very handy, except, stupidly, I decided to come back in my lunch break. Should have predicted that any office which closes for a week ahead of such an important date in their professional calendar would without doubt close daily for their lunch hour-and-a-half.
But you know what they say: fourth time lucky! Or they should, anyway, because when I trudged back later that afternoon (leaving a good hour clear of closing time), mentally battered and emotionally bruised by the whole farcical process, I was FINALLY able to file my first French tax declaration.
Congratulations to me. Another expat hurdle passed! I need a glass of wine just thinking about it again.