Warn me about the downside of moving to France

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Corinna
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Warn me about the downside of moving to France

Post by Corinna » Mon 23 Oct 2017 14:59

We plan to move France in the near/medium future. Money won't be a problem as we have an internet business and a pension to live of (which will be greatly increased by the difference in house prices).

One of us has an European passport so we can still escape the sinking ship of the impending post-brexit catastrophy.

We talked to many ex-patriats asking them if there are any downsides to living in France compared to the UK. Nobody came up with a single thing :o

Tell me, are there any downsides? What should we be warned about before making a move that we probably cannot reserve.

Once you told us the downside, please also tell us the upside :D
best,
Corinnna

martyn94
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Post by martyn94 » Mon 23 Oct 2017 17:11

Marmite is harder to get, though not very difficult. Against that, I’m still wearing a t-shirt and shorts (just) on 23 October.

It’s essentially a silly question, apart from technical questions like tax and healthcare, which you have to research for yourself (we don’t know your precise position, nor much want to). France is very diverse, just like the UK or wherever you come from. Your experience could change within a few kms, but you’ve certainly chosen a very pleasant area to start looking.

If you have lots of close family outside France you might be reluctant to leave them, but if you have lots of casual friends they might be glad of a free holiday: there are lots of flights here, to various airports from various places, which can be very cheap depending on the season.

If you want to live somewhere remote, as you’ve said you do, what France is like is pretty much immaterial, apart from the climate which you can find on the internet. You could get the same house, more or less, 40kms away from me in Spain, but maybe a bit warmer. Except that you may need some French, quite briefly, if you have people working on your house here. And you may need to find some Catalan if you buy in Spain. Then you are on your own.

This is not meant to sound negative: you could probably throw a dart in the map and make yourself happy wherever it happened to land. But I lived in France a lot (almost 900 kms away from here) before deciding I wanted to end up in France, and spent quite a lot of time round here, over decades, before deciding to settle here. I find your approach a bit too abstract to get my head round.

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Post by Florence » Mon 23 Oct 2017 18:43

Rent somewhere for a few weeks/months out of season. you will be the best person to decide which are the up/downsides for your needs and life style.

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Post by martyn94 » Mon 23 Oct 2017 21:10

Florence wrote:Rent somewhere for a few weeks/months out of season. you will be the best person to decide which are the up/downsides for your needs and life style.
That’s entirely good advice. Can I ask whether you’ve settled on the P-O as a destination (which would be very well judged ) or whether you are asking the same question on a dozen other expat websites for different parts of France? Whichever the answer is, you do really need to spend some time here, or anywhere else you’re interested in (if you haven’t done so already) before parachuting in.

Particularly perhaps round here: you can wander around in a t-shirt in some places, and need snow chains to get home safely in other places.

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Post by Corinna » Mon 23 Oct 2017 21:52

I spent numerous holidays in France all my life including being part of a sort of commune in the Dordogne in the 80s.

However, I know that holidays never equate to actually living in the country.

What I was looking for are some information about the society. For example, I could go on for hours about the pros and cons of the British society compared to my own home country - the deeper 'psyche' of a country that you only really get to feel once you live there.

For example, I find the British jollier but also annoyingly noisier than the French. They also have a society more divided by social classes than the French with all sorts of annoyances that go with that (e.g. some places are too posh and too expensive to go into, the private school system etc.)

If you have observations of that sort I would be interested to hear them.

As to your question which part of France we want to move to: it is the p.o., Ariege or Pyrenee midi.
best,
Corinnna

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Post by jethro » Mon 23 Oct 2017 21:56

It's an interesting intellectual exercise to play devil's advocate for a place I love, but here goes. French bureaucracy is tedious, all-embracing and quite inevitable. It took me five different visits to the mairie to get my Belgian car registered here, and I had all the necessary paperwork. It took months to get a Carte Vitale, which was contingent on my having a British S1 form. Because many French doctors are now women (and a good thing too) they are reluctant to take up posts in country districts where their significant others can find no work. Second-hand cars are expensive and high-mileage; see the post on this site about the process of buying a car. Broadband, in the form of ADSL2, is widely available, but the connections are all copper outside of the main conurbations and make streaming live football a disaster, because of the endless buffering. I speak reasonable French, which results in my being taken for Quebecois ( to my great disgust ) but everyone feels obliged to comment on my accent, swiftly followed by a compliment on my fluency. It's like Doctor Johnson and the woman preaching.
The Tramontane wind will often blow without respite for three or four days on end and as I live in a ravine, the effects are felt even more strongly. Many restaurants are closed outside of the tourist season, but those that remain open are usually good, because it means they have local patronage. Cronyism and corruption are rife in local politics, so much so that the last two mayors of St. Cyprien have done time for it. This is an agricultural and tourist-based economy and the locals have little incentive to develop cosmopolitan levels of sophistication. Catalan is much more widely spoken in the Albères villages than one would have suspected, but most people are perfectly happy to speak French to strangers. I wish I had done some Catalan, just to surprise them, but I'm too old for that now. This site is an excellent institution, but the Facebook page seems to have taken over many of its functions. Posting there might elicit a greater variety of useful information than this site, but I doubt it. Because of inter-village rivalries, village X will build an expensive new sports-centre just because village Y has done so. In the case of Sorède and Laroque, two kilometres separate the villages and their spanking new sports centres. Fusion of the two appears to be out of the question. What a waste of money that could have been spent repairing the awful roads in the Vallée Heureuse and elsewhere. Frankly, now that I've stepped back from the keyboard, my gripes appear trivial. If I felt they weren't, I'd be out of here. I was standing in the inevitable queue at Orange behind an irate Parisian, who was complaining that in Paris he could be online within three days, and in Perpignan, it had taken three weeks, to which the salesman, beaming widely, said, " Ah, but monsieur, here we have the quality of life." He was not wrong.
an' the wun' cried Mary.

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Post by Webdoc » Mon 23 Oct 2017 22:30

Corinna wrote:As to your question which part of France we want to move to: it is the p.o., Ariege or Pyrenee midi.
Being close to the Mediterranean means we have much milder winters than the midi Pyrenees with many hot days until the sun goes down. Much more pleasant to live in, and cheaper heating bills too. The proximity to Spain adds a whole extra dimension to life here also.

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Post by martyn94 » Mon 23 Oct 2017 23:50

Corinna wrote:I spent numerous holidays in France all my life including being part of a sort of commune in the Dordogne in the 80s.

However, I know that holidays never equate to actually living in the country.

What I was looking for are some information about the society. For example, I could go on for hours about the pros and cons of the British society compared to my own home country - the deeper 'psyche' of a country that you only really get to feel once you live there.

For example, I find the British jollier but also annoyingly noisier than the French. They also have a society more divided by social classes than the French with all sorts of annoyances that go with that (e.g. some places are too posh and too expensive to go into, the private school system etc.)

If you have observations of that sort I would be interested to hear them.

As to your question which part of France we want to move to: it is the p.o., Ariege or Pyrenee midi.
I would recommend that you read lemonde.fr (or even figaro.fr, if you must) every day instead of your usual news media for a while.

I think that the idea that the French are less divided by social class is a mistake. Everyone observes the courtesies (“Bon jourâ€￾) but everyone knows where they stand. Don’t be misled by the fact that privileged children don’t go to “public schoolâ€￾: they just go to the smartest lycées, and then to the smartest “grandes ecolesâ€￾: just look at where Macron went to. It’s a feature of French higher education that the most esteemed “parcoursâ€￾ take a remarkably long time. If you don’t start a proper job until you are about 27, you need to have wealthy parents. It’s an advantage as an outsider that people don’t know quite how to place you.

It’s on the whole a very conservative society - even, or especially, when they are demonstrating on the streets - it’s almost always (nowadays) about something they fear they will lose, rather than anything they hope to achieve.

But I like it, obviously. I went back to London a few weeks ago, for the first time in a few years, but very much as a tourist, even in a part of London I knew well.

I quite enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t go back there “for a gold clockâ€￾ as people say. Even if I could afford it. You’ve said it yourself: unless you’re very well off indeed, once you have come here, or to anywhere else in your target areas, you have pretty much burnt your boats.

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Post by martyn94 » Tue 24 Oct 2017 00:29

jethro wrote:I speak reasonable French, which results in my being taken for Quebecois ( to my great disgust ) but everyone feels obliged to comment on my accent, swiftly followed by a compliment on my fluency. It's like Doctor Johnson and the woman preaching.
Count yourself lucky. I discovered a few years ago that the woman I’ve been buying guinea-fowl from for the last 20 years (in Normandy) thought that I was Belgian. I’ve never felt so flattered in my life.

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Post by martyn94 » Tue 24 Oct 2017 11:41

[quote="jethro] I speak reasonable French, which results in my being taken for Quebecois ( to my great disgust ) [/quote]

If you ever go looking for English/French translations on the web, you eventually come across the official Québécois versions. They are so purist as to be funny. Their road signs say “Arrêtâ€￾: everywhere else in the francophone world, at least so far as I’ve been, says “Stopâ€￾. Chip on my shoulder, moi?

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Post by dsd » Tue 24 Oct 2017 12:59

Maybe not; I've had more than one pupil ask me "Comment dit-on 'stop' en anglais?"

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HALT ! At Major Road Ahead

Post by rhys » Thu 26 Oct 2017 10:15

dsd wrote:Maybe not; I've had more than one pupil ask me "Comment dit-on 'stop' en anglais?"
'HALT! used to be seen ~ what happened to that ?

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Post by Pighunter » Thu 26 Oct 2017 12:26

The irritations mentioned by others are of course all relevant here.

My pet hate is the lack of consumerism, the way big companies treat their customers as a nuisance and there seem to be two sets of standards. If you are a day late paying a bill you are charged interest and/or penalties by them, but trying to get a refund or for them to pay you something you are owed seems to take a minimum of 6 months - without any apology or recompense and an eternity of chasing.

Also the aggressive attitude of the tax regime who always try it on to get as much out of you as possible, you need a good accountant.

You need to learn to sit and wait patiently for as long as it takes, with the culture here still being to physically go somewhere to get things sorted out. I call this the trail of misery, which involves driving and parking and visiting somewhere only to be told 'that's not us you need to go to.....' Usually several times on the trot.

That said these are merely irritations and there is a price to pay for peace and quiet and a great lifestyle.

Personally I could not imagine going back to live in the UK after 5 1/2 years here, and am quite depressed by it on my few visits back.

When I finally turn up my toes they can plant me somewhere here, as I am not going anywhere!

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Post by Florence » Thu 26 Oct 2017 13:41

You need to learn to chill out down here, it's almost a Spanish culture of mañana. Most shops are closed lunch time and all are closed on Sunday, which my husband finds infuriating but it doesn't bother me.
My husband had a micro entreprise, I always did the tax forms and other paperwork. No problems there.

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Post by Gus Morris » Fri 27 Oct 2017 09:24

What are the pros and cons of living here? Difficult to answer. Maybe impossible. Much depends on your experiences and expectations.

What I would say is that the advice from Florence is sound. Try before you buy.

I would advise caution in the current political climate. If Catalonia becomes unstable it may impact us all.

Gus

martyn94
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Post by martyn94 » Fri 27 Oct 2017 11:02

Gus Morris wrote:
I would advise caution in the current political climate. If Catalonia becomes unstable it may impact us all.

Gus
Would you care to expand on how? Apart, possibly, from slightly more difficult access to slightly cheaper booze and fags. Catalonia was involved in a full-scale Civil War within living memory, with real guns. But I doubt that it much affected the property market, or most people’s living standards, down here.

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Post by SteveB » Sat 28 Oct 2017 09:08

I don't know about the property market, but I gather that the Spanish Civil War led to a lot of people from Spanish Catalonia crossing the border into France, both during the war and after, as Catalonia was strongly Republican and was subsequently punished by Franco. Because of this there is a substantial Spanish minority in Perpignan and around.

martyn94
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Post by martyn94 » Sat 28 Oct 2017 10:08

SteveB wrote:I don't know about the property market, but I gather that the Spanish Civil War led to a lot of people from Spanish Catalonia crossing the border into France, both during the war and after, as Catalonia was strongly Republican and was subsequently punished by Franco. Because of this there is a substantial Spanish minority in Perpignan and around.
Yes indeed. How do you think Argèles exists in anything like its current form? It was originally a concentration camp for Spanish refugees, and then took in a wider clientèle under Vichy and later, and then turned into camp sites. The conditions are more comfortable, but the “business modelâ€￾ is not totally different.

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Post by Corinna » Fri 03 Nov 2017 13:04

We have done a bit more research now.

What we found is a dealbreaker for us are the extreme amount of taxes and contributions. They are massively higher then in the Uk and we would need to earn almost double as much as we do now to get to the same standard of livng as we have now (not a lavish standard by any description).

We asked so many people about the down-sides of France and feel quite surprised that nobody warned us about this. (We always knew that taxes are somewhat higher in France but not this extreme amount.)

For us, for now, the dream of living and working in France is over. :(

If we see this wrong, let us know - there is still sliver of hope.
best,
Corinnna

martyn94
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Post by martyn94 » Fri 03 Nov 2017 13:49

Corinna wrote:We have done a bit more research now.

What we found is a dealbreaker for us are the extreme amount of taxes and contributions. They are massively higher then in the Uk and we would need to earn almost double as much as we do now to get to the same standard of livng as we have now (not a lavish standard by any description).

We asked so many people about the down-sides of France and feel quite surprised that nobody warned us about this. (We always knew that taxes are somewhat higher in France but not this extreme amount.)

For us, for now, the dream of living and working in France is over. :(

If we see this wrong, let us know - there is still sliver of hope.
There’s always hope.

As I said on another thread, I used to try to do this sort of tax comparison for a living. It was very obvious that you couldn’t get accurate answers from book research (or nowadays internet research) as an amateur outside France though you could probably find tax estimating apps nowadays that would get you a bit closer. There are all sorts of quirks and tax breaks and deductions and “allocationsâ€￾ (payments from the state to you) which depend on your very detailed circumstances, which I don’t know and don’t wish to. As a random example, they automatically knock 10% off your earned income for work expenses, which means that a 40% tax rate becomes 36.

Look at it in a more holistic way: there are lots of people here (in fact almost everyone) who live on much less than your gross income. And they don’t have the capital “cushionâ€￾ that you are likely to have if you sell in S England and buy here. Some are more skint than others, but they mostly don’t starve, and mostly seem reasonably prosperous. If you want the lifestyle down here (and as Allan has said, the weather) you can afford it. If you want the lifestyle, and also to go on world cruises every year, it would be tighter.

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Post by martyn94 » Fri 03 Nov 2017 14:44

martyn94 wrote:
Corinna wrote:We have done a bit more research now.

What we found is a dealbreaker for us are the extreme amount of taxes and contributions. They are massively higher then in the Uk and we would need to earn almost double as much as we do now to get to the same standard of livng as we have now (not a lavish standard by any description).

We asked so many people about the down-sides of France and feel quite surprised that nobody warned us about this. (We always knew that taxes are somewhat higher in France but not this extreme amount.)

For us, for now, the dream of living and working in France is over. :(

If we see this wrong, let us know - there is still sliver of hope.
There’s always hope.

As I said on another thread, I used to try to do this sort of tax comparison for a living. It was very obvious that you couldn’t get accurate answers from book research (or nowadays internet research) as an amateur outside France though you could probably find tax estimating apps nowadays that would get you a bit closer. There are all sorts of quirks and tax breaks and deductions and “allocationsâ€￾ (payments from the state to you) which depend on your very detailed circumstances, which I don’t know and don’t wish to. As a random example, they automatically knock 10% off your earned income for work expenses, which means that a 40% tax rate becomes 36.

Look at it in a more holistic way: there are lots of people here (in fact almost everyone) who live on much less than your gross income. And they don’t have the capital “cushionâ€￾ that you are likely to have if you sell in S England and buy here. Some are more skint than others, but they mostly don’t starve, and mostly seem reasonably prosperous. If you want the lifestyle down here (and as Allan has said, the weather) you can afford it. If you want the lifestyle, and also to go on world cruises every year, it would be tighter.
Another random example. I made a point of saying somewhere that it matters to your tax position whether you are married to your partner. I think you subsequently called him your husband (I can’t be bothered to check) so I guess you are. But have you discovered and understood the “quotient familialâ€￾ system when making your comparisons? It makes a useful difference.

Another random example. The social contributions here are famously steep. But they are deductible, in part, against your income tax. So you can’t just add all the rates together.

There’s also the point that you will both presumably get some UK “state pensionâ€￾ now or later, and also some French pension if you work here. Though maybe neither at the full rate, particularly for you. My UK state pension kicked in last year: it didn’t change my life, but it was very welcome. They also have their own tax rules, needless to say.

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Post by Corinna » Fri 03 Nov 2017 17:42

Hi Martyn
thank you so much for writing all this. It changes the picture a lot :lol:

No, we do not seem to understand the income tax as it is applied to couples. We had the impression that it punishes the lower earning partner by making both pay tax at the higher rate. If that is not the case. do you know how that works?

My husband has finished work and would only earn a minimum if any.

Also, I have virutallly no expenses in my line of work. Do you think they would also allow me to deduct 10 % ?
best,
Corinnna

martyn94
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Post by martyn94 » Fri 03 Nov 2017 19:52

Corinna wrote:Hi Martyn
thank you so much for writing all this. It changes the picture a lot :lol:

No, we do not seem to understand the income tax as it is applied to couples. We had the impression that it punishes the lower earning partner by making both pay tax at the higher rate. If that is not the case. do you know how that works?

My husband has finished work and would only earn a minimum if any.

Also, I have virutallly no expenses in my line of work. Do you think they would also allow me to deduct 10 % ?
The first thing to register is that tax in France is not “independentâ€￾ for married couples: it’s based on you and your husband together. The whole point of the quotient familial is to take account of the fact that there are two of you. They add your incomes together, and then divide that by two, and work out the tax on that, and then multiply that by two. Since France has a “progressiveâ€￾ tax schedule (the rates get higher on higher incomes), twice the tax on €40,000 (say) is usefully less than once times the tax on €80,000. If anything it’s couples with relatively unequal incomes who gain most. Though how you divide the tax between you is up to you.

As regards expenses. I honestly don’t know what the answer is for self-employed people: other people here should know if they can be bothered to pipe up. But I had forgotten that there are simplified regimes for self-employed people with relatively low incomes: the most generous is the so-called “micro-BICâ€￾. If you are just providing services, it applies up to a turnover of €33,200 in 2017. I know that it’s a bit less than the figures you’ve mentioned, but the advantage is that you only pay tax on 50% of your turnover (with no expenses deducted).

If you insist on earning more, I am sure that a competent accountant could find far more expenses than you think you have: your “home officeâ€￾ should be good for a decent share of the costs of your house.

Incidentally, so far as I can gather, your husband should be good for 10% off his pension for tax purposes, under a different provision, up to a maximum deduction of €3k-or-so a year. Again I have no direct experience of this: other people here must do.

I’m sorry if I’ve just given you more homework but I didn’t invent these rules.

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Post by Allan » Fri 03 Nov 2017 20:08

Corinna,

Martyn gives really good advice but it is just barmy that you should base such an important decision on information gleaned in forums or retrieved from the internet.

You should speak to an Anglo-French accountant and get some proper advice based on actual numbers.

I don’t think it will cost you a fortune and could help you make your decision in an informed manner.

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Post by martyn94 » Fri 03 Nov 2017 20:34

Allan wrote:Corinna,

Martyn gives really good advice but it is just barmy that you should base such an important decision on information gleaned in forums or retrieved from the internet.

You should speak to an Anglo-French accountant and get some proper advice based on actual numbers.

I don’t think it will cost you a fortune and could help you make your decision in an informed manner.
I said that ages ago. But I don’t have a name of an accountant to recommend: my affairs are sufficiently simple that I have not quite needed one. And in any event, I was already committed here: there was no decision to make. No high street accountant in the UK is enough of a nerd (in this particular field) to be worth bothering with. So who does she use?

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Post by Allan » Fri 03 Nov 2017 20:39

Try http://transmanche-accountancyservices.eu/

I agree most UK accountants don’t have a clue.

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Post by Corinna » Fri 03 Nov 2017 20:49

Thanks again, Martyn, your help is much appreciated.

So this means that with an income of 50 000 both spouses pay tax on 25 000, for example? That would make such a big difference.

One more question about healthcare: I have read that you pay 8 % of your taxable income to PUMA. What would a spouse pay who has no income? Do you know?

Alan, no worries, we are not going to base our decision on the conversations here. We are using the forum just as a beginning point for further investigations.

But it is really hard to get reliable information and I certainly do not want a rude awakening once we bought a French house and burnt all bridges here in the UK.

Anglo-french accountant? I did not even know such a thing existed. Any idea where I would find someone like that?
best,
Corinnna

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Post by Corinna » Fri 03 Nov 2017 20:51

thanks, Allan, our post have crossed
best,
Corinnna

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Post by martyn94 » Fri 03 Nov 2017 23:17

Corinna wrote:Thanks again, Martyn, your help is much appreciated.

So this means that with an income of 50 000 both spouses pay tax on 25 000, for example? That would make such a big difference.

One more question about healthcare: I have read that you pay 8 % of your taxable income to PUMA. What would a spouse pay who has no income? Do you know?

Alan, no worries, we are not going to base our decision on the conversations here. We are using the forum just as a beginning point for further investigations.

But it is really hard to get reliable information and I certainly do not want a rude awakening once we bought a French house and burnt all bridges here in the UK.

Anglo-french accountant? I did not even know such a thing existed. Any idea where I would find someone like that?
Just to be pedantic, you get one tax bill for both of you, but it would be calculated on the basis that you are two people with €25,000 each.

As for healthcare it all depends on far more intimate details than we yet know, and in any event I don’t know (being a bachelor) how it works for married couples. If your husband has reached state pension age and is entitled to a UK state pension, he can get a form S1 which gets him into the French system for nothing. As for you, I’ve no idea. The outfit I’ve already pointed you to (connexionfrance.com) also has a “help guideâ€￾ on health cover issues: it really is worth the €10 or so it would cost, and would save me feeling guilty about possibly giving you dud gen.

I should add that I do entirely understand your desire not to get nasty shocks. Brexit, and the financial effects of it, were an awful shock to me (though I guess I’ll survive them). At least you are doing this now, when you should know something like the worst, rather than 18 months ago.

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Post by Gus Morris » Sat 04 Nov 2017 07:58

From what I can see, for a quick, anonymous and cost free estimate of how your tax liability would be under current conditions you might do worse than running the figures through

https://www.impots.gouv.fr/portail/simulateurs

Gus

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