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What can UK expatriates in France do to secure residence benefits and avoid higher taxes on assets, investments and pensions in the run up to Brexit?

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes; at times like these, this has never seemed more true! As the UK enters unchartered waters by leaving the EU, there is still much we do not know about what the future will bring for UK nationals living in France. 

However, there are also many things we do know for sure. Even where questions remain about how things will work post-Brexit, there are steps you can take today to protect your position. 

Residence and associated benefits

If you do not yet have settled status in France, this is the very first action to take. Although the French government has allowed extra time for Britons to regularise their residence status post-Brexit, this should be done urgently. The process can take time, so do not risk leaving it too late to benefit.

For UK nationals who have already secured permanent residence status in France, your right to remain and enjoy the same benefits as today will be uninterrupted for as long as you continue to meet the conditions of residence. 

Taxation 

As the France-UK double tax treaty is independent of the EU, the existing tax treatment of French residents will not change with Brexit, nor with any other external influence (other than a rewrite of the treaty itself). 

However, the way you structure your assets and wealth can make a significant difference to the way you are taxed.

Tax on UK assets and investments

If you retain UK assets and investments – as many expatriates do – you could attract higher taxation as a French resident post-Brexit. 

The first case is where non-EU/EEA assets are treated differently in France. When the UK leaves the bloc and investments like UK bonds and life policies become non-EU/EEA assets, they may not qualify for the full beneficial tax treatment given to assurance-vie and EU capital redemption bonds, such as fixed rates and tax credits.

But this is not just about Brexit. 

As soon as you become non-UK resident, retaining UK-based savings and investment structures may no longer be the most tax-efficient option. All UK-source interest, income and dividends received – including from ISAs – also become liable to taxes in France for residents here. 

Meanwhile, if you have kept hold of UK property, you may have suffered a higher tax burden in recent years. This includes new capital gains tax liability for non-UK residents and a stamp duty surcharge on second homes. Remember: for French residents, UK and other overseas property is also considered when calculating the €1.3 million threshold for the French real estate wealth tax liability. 

In any case, it is inadvisable to be over-invested in the UK region or property assets or any other one area. To minimise risk, it is important to spread your interests across various geographical areas, sectors, markets and asset types in line with your risk profile. 

Take time to explore alternative investment options that may be more tax-efficient for French residents, and that may also provide further benefits such as wealth tax mitigation and estate planning advantages. 

Dowload our guide to taxes in France

Tax on UK pensions

Most types of UK pensions are taxable only in France for residents here, and can therefore currently be accessed without paying UK taxes. Brexit itself will not change this, but the UK government could gain more freedom to recoup taxes from expatriate pension withdrawals and transfers. 

The 25% ‘overseas transfer charge’ may indicate things to come. Currently, French residents are only penalised if transferring UK pension funds to Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS) outside the EU/EEA – otherwise transfers are tax-free – but the scope may widen post-Brexit. 

If you are considering transferring, review your options now under current rules. Taking UK-regulated, personalised pensions advice is vital to establish the most suitable approach for your personal circumstances and goals. 

See more about your pension options in France

Currency considerations

When you are spending euros daily in France, taking income in sterling can prove expensive, especially with Brexit volatility. So should your savings and income be in sterling or euros?

There is no simple answer, but generally it is sensible to have both. Look for investment structures that offer flexibility to hold investments in more than one currency and convert when it suits you. You could, for example, hold currencies to fit different purposes – euros for spending in France and sterling for UK expenses and your legacy for UK heirs – and adjust them as your circumstances change.

You can obtain currency flexibility for your pension funds through a suitable QROPS; or for investment capital, through an assurance-vie (a form of life assurance that allows French residents to hold a range of investments in a highly tax-efficient package). 

However, not all products offer currency flexibility and there are many different types of options based in various jurisdictions, not just France. These variations can make a huge difference to the advantages offered, so it is important to seek expert advice. 

An assurance-vie issued in Luxemburg, for example, would benefit from French tax advantages and protections afforded to EU countries. And if it includes a multi-currency feature, you are not tied to keeping all your investments in euros, even if the assurance-vie itself is from an EU country.

Taking control outside of Brexit

Anytime and anywhere, tax and residence rules are subject to change, especially as governments come and go. Could a change of UK government, for example, impose more taxation on Britons who have built up their wealth, or remove allowances for UK nationals abroad? Could France extend their wealth tax? 

While you cannot account for what’s unknown, if you have a robust wealth management plan in place with regular reviews, you will be in the best position to adapt accordingly, whatever happens. 

Talk to a specialist adviser who has in-depth knowledge of the complex French tax regime and its interaction with UK rules. They can help you take advantage of available tax, investments, pensions and estate planning opportunities to ensure you do what works best for your personal situation, today and for the future.  

Contact your nearest adviser in France

Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.