Before I began my journey as an expat living in France, I had no idea how many obstacles there would be in terms of French visas, taxes and healthcare costs. 6
Much to my surprise, France is an incredibly hierarchical country. While the French used to heavily depend on the monarch, today they rely almost unhealthily on the state and all the government’s rules. There is red-tape everywhere. While I believe firmly in medicare and education for all, the taxes are incredibly high living in France. Alex and I make very little money living as ex-pats in Strasbourg France, and the majority of it ends up going to random taxes and visa costs. But there are benefits – like free healthcare and education! Yay Socialism.
Your Guide to French Visas, Taxes and Healthcare as an Expat in France
In this post, I’m sharing our complete guide to applying and obtaining French visas, how to apply for health insurance here, extra costs, and some awful taxes you probably didn’t know you needed to pay as an expat living abroad in France. Here we go!
Applying and Finalizing Your French Visa
If you want to stay in France for longer than a year, you’ll need a “long-stay visa.”
A Long Stay Visa is a sticker for the first full year living in France. You’ll need to apply for it in the United States at the French embassy, and it costs 120 euros.
Once you arrive in France, you’ll then need to finalize your visa by visiting a doctor (chest x-ray requirement) and confirming your official address in France. If you’re an employee working in France, the visa is free. But if you’re a spouse like me, the visa will cost an additional 260 euros for the first year.
For longer than one year, you’ll need to apply for the carte de sejour.
This carte de sejour visa is a 269 euros flat fee. You will first have to book an appointment online (for Strasbourg and Alsace expats apply here) when the new appointments are made available online to the public. This is typically midnight Sunday night or Monday morning at 10 am.
Lastly, go to your scheduled appointment with your work contract, a photo (which you can get at a photo booth kiosk for 5 euros) and passport, and then they’ll give you a paper until your real card is ready for pickup. You pay the 269 euro bill at pickup. Keep in mind the 269 has to be paid as a fiscal stamp, which you can purchase at any local tabac shop.
Essential Necessities for Living as an Expat in France
Pick Your General Doctor – “Medecin Traitant”
Get a “general practitioner” before going to see any specialist in France. You are able to see any specialist (dentist, optometrist, gyno, etc) without a referral but if you don’t have a GP picked out, you will get far less money back with your Carte Vitale. You can look up any doctor in France at this website.
Alex and I just wanted into a doctor’s office and asked them to be our GP – simple as that!
Carte Vitale Insurance Card
Make sure to get your Carte Vitale as soon as you move to France. After getting your long stay visa stamp in your passport and arriving in France, and only after you’ve received your permanent stamp, then you can get your insurance card. You can request it online here once you have your picture printed and ready to go!
You can also use your French social security number – which comes with your permeant stamp – to get refunds for your health visits, but if you don’t have your carte vitale present with you at your healthcare visit, it takes much longer to get a refund.
French Taxes You’ll Need to Pay as an Expat in France
Taxes are paid automatically from your paycheck each month in something called the “prelevement a la source.” This is new since 2019. Essentially, you will declare your taxes in May and then either pay more to the French government or get a refund.
French Habitation Tax
Wherever you live in France at the time of January 1st, regardless of moving, you will be charged with an annoying “Habitation” tax. For Alex and me, we were forced to pay 1,000 euros for the year, but for many other people we know, this tax is much higher. Luckily, if you give the French tax department a formal request, they may allow you to pay it back in monthly installments.
French Audio/Visual Tax
This habitation tax, along with the television tax – which is a tax charged simply because you have a TV and a television box! – is just one of the many tax annoyances that accompany those who live in France. We didn’t know anything about these extra taxes until after our first full year living here, so it came as a bit of a shock for us. We wish we had found this information online or even been told about these random tax charges by a fellow expat sooner!
Word has it that the French Government is working to faze out the Habitation tax by 2022 (huzzah! let this be TRUE!), but as of 2020 this is just a rumor.
Utilities and Rent in France
Do you have to pay for home electricity in France?
When you rent an apartment in France, even if it says “electricity included” in additional charges, this is referring to the electricity in common areas like hallways, stairwells, and garages. It doesn’t mean you’ll have included electricity for your own apartment. Alex and I had our electricity turned off for several days after our first year living as expats in Strasbourg because of this miscommunication!
To get the electricity turned on in your apartment, you need to go online and make an electricity account so they can bill you for the electricity you use in your apartment. If you don’t, they will turn it off. This makes obvious sense, but our electricity was still turned on from the previous tenant, and it wasn’t until a full year later that we discovered we had to set up our own electricity bill and set it to auto-pay.
To give you an idea of what the electricity costs in France are…our apartment is 40 square feet (tiny! you can take a tour of it here) and it costs 34 euros per month.
Apartment Heating in France
Just like in the United States, rent increases every year. In addition to your apartment’s rent and electricity charges, there is also a heating charge. However, the heating bill is calculated once a year, and if the amount the landlord calculated beforehand is less than the actual bill, he will charge you the difference.
Be careful with how often you turn up the heat in your apartment. A big difference in the temperature use could result not only in the landlord asking you to pay back the difference all at once, but it could also result in a monthly rent increase to take into account the new estimated heating cost. Frustrating, right? This was Alex and my life after our first official year living in Alsace, France. Whoops!
I wish Alex and I had these expat tips and French resources before we moved to France. Navigating visas and taxes is tricky business as an expat in France! I hope this little guide to understanding French visas, taxes and healthcare makes your journey as an expat living abroad a little bit easier! Feel free to connect with me on Instagram if you have any questions at all! I’d love to help!
“It’s a bitter-sweet thing -knowing two cultures. It’s a curse to love two countries. For an expatriate, the whole matter of “home” is an emotional conundrum riddled with ambiguities and caprice.”
Read More About My Journey Living as an Expat in France!
...Helena, here! An expert at creating magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture, I love documenting moments of human connection behind my lens. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with chasing natural light, cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of daily life.
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Helena Woods is a newborn and family photographer in Alsace France, New England and travels worldwide for her clients. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.