Taxing Times

This post, Taxing Times, by Catherine Higginson caught my attention today. On this site dedicated to helping foreigners in France (like me) adjust to life here, she compare the benefits of high taxation in France to her home country.

She’s British, I’m American, so our comparisons are different, but she makes some excellent points regarding the benefits France offers with regard to healthcare and education in relation to higher taxation.

I don’t agree with all aspects of France’s social system, but my brief reply was to agree with Catherine: France may tax its citizens higher than some countries, including my own native home, but France’s citizens also have the comfort of knowing they will be taken care of health-wise and their children will receive free education (or a less expensive private education). This, I champion.

As an US resident, I was opposed to a social system; and while I don’t say I’m completely in favor of it now, living in France has opened my eyes to some of the issues, and some real benefits.

As of yet, I have not had opportunity to take advantage of free healthcare or education. I pay full price for my healthcare here in France and my son is in private school. But I can tell you that even at full price, I pay 1/4 for both healthcare and private education here in France compared to what I paid in the US. My point, even as a person who is not completely benefitting from the social system and yet paying higher taxes, I still feel I’m getting a benefit. If I were still living in the States, I would be paying taxes, plus insurance premiums, plus private education expenses. In France, I’m paying higher taxes, but paying much, much less for healthcare and private education. And I’m not paying medical insurance premiums.

So, maybe it’s a wash, at least for me.

Here are a few examples:

In the States it may cost (generally) $120 a month for health insurance (my portion, employer paying half or more). With insurance, it would cost me $20-$30 dollars to see a doctor and $60/month for some regular medications I take. In France, I have no insurance premium to pay, and I pay €23 (about $30 US) to see a doctor, and €16/month (about $20 US) for medication. Wow. That’s a big savings.

In the States, my son’s private school cost almost $10,000/year. In France, he’s attending an excellent private school for €1,100/year (about $1,400 US). And if he were in public school, it would be free.

Ok, taxes are significantly higher in France. Without doing all the math, at best I’m coming out ahead. At worst, it’s a wash.

What about quality? My experience so far has been that France’s healthcare providers are very knowledgable. In fact, I’ve been impressed. I’ve learned some things about my own conditions that were never told to me by a US doctor. I’ve taken some over-the-counter meds that worked far better than anything I had tried in the US. And I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to see a doctor or get an x-ray (and the results of the x-ray were ready next day). I should also mention that going to a pharmacy here is almost like going to a doctor. Pharmacies here (unlike grocery stores) are well-staffed and the personnel are very knowledgable and helpful. Tell them your symptoms and they’ll offer you relief, as long as it doesn’t require a prescription, of course.

As far as the private school my son is attending, well, I can’t say enough about the high quality and the progressive and proactive philosophy of the school. Every student is required to have an iPad. Teachers send them notes to their iPad to reference in class and some of the textbooks are on iPad rather than hardcopy. I love it, and so does he. The students take notes on their iPads and then can share their class notes easily. Teachers encourage this. It helps them all have a better understanding of the material.

My purpose is not to say that one country offers better than another. They’re different. Our choices are different. Our experiences are different.

And our differences are what make us interesting.

Thanks to Catherine for that great post. See Catherine’s blog.

 

 

Documents for France

Sometimes I feel like I’ve gathered my life into this 3-inch folder. And it keeps getting thicker.

The process of entering a new country seems never-ending. Once I’ve crossed a hurdle, there looms another. This week it was my cart de sejour. What a relief! But now I need to start thinking about changing my driving permit.

Sometimes I haven’t had the papers I’ve needed, and it’s more difficult to get them once you leave the States, or more expensive to have them delivered, so I had the idea to create a list of documents I’ve needed or thought I might need. I’ll add to it as needed. And if anyone has other suggestions, feel free to comment and I’ll add them to the list.

Oh, and sometimes you need these translated into French.

Documents from Country of Origin:

  • passport (and many photocopies)
  • birth certificate (many photocopies)
  • social security card
  • driver’s license
  • medical records
  • vaccination records
  • proof of address in country of origin (phone bills, electric bills)
  • financial statements: retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance, tax documents, pay stubbs for 3 to 6 months, proof of income
  • health insurance records
  • marriage certificate, divorce papers
  • diplomas, transcripts, French language certificates or other proof of language study
  • resume or CV
  • work contracts
  • important phone numbers
  • contracts, agreements, records for any outstanding properties or other incidentals in country of origin (for example, I needed to have my contract for my storage unit with me so I could renew over the phone; car title; house or mortgage records).
  • Demande De VISA Pour Un Long Sejour (application for long-stay VISA)
  • Demande D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
  • Prepaid Flat Rate Mailing Envelope (for return of your passport and long-stay VISA)
  • head and shoulders photo (size differs in France, so read all instructions carefully for requirements)
  • Power of Attorney (I left these in case I needed someone to deal with business in the States in my absence. It turned out to be necessary. If you have real estate, you need a separate POA that states very specifically the liberties of the person in your stead, and must be notarized and filed in the precinct where the real estate presides; at least this was the case in Virginia.)

Documents in France:

  • proof of address (It’s a good idea to put a cell phone or some other bill in your name at your French address. Everything was in my husband’s name, so it was often complicated.)
  • proof of income (work contracts, pay stubbs, bank statements)
  • French bank card (open a bank account in France as soon as you can)
  • Livret de Famille (if you married in France)
  • Acte de Mariage (equivalent of a marriage certificate; certified by the local Marie)
  • Titre de sejour (record to show you paid taxes upon entering France; required for carte de sejour and auto insurance)
  • Certified D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
  • long-stay VISA
  • national identity card of spouse (if you are married to French national)
  • passport of spouse (if you are married to French national)

More helpful information: French Moving Planner

Marriage Visa

Marry a Frenchman and you can get a Visa in 5 days.

At least that was my good fortune (marrying the Frenchman and getting the Visa quickly). After worrying for a year, and really anxious in the last two months after getting married via a French civil ceremony, I showed up at the French Consulate in Washington, D.C., handed over my documents, and received my Visa via the mail in 5 days.

Waiting to approach the Frenchman at the window in the Consulate, I was very nervous. Everyone seemed to have some complications–waited too long to apply for an upcoming trip; forgot documents; didn’t meet financial requirements; had over-stayed passport, etc. But I had everything in order, and as the spouse of a French national, the man took one look at my documents, had another lady review them, and told me he would get my back to France and my husband in short order.

Sigh. It’s over. And they stamped my application to get my carte de séjour. I’ll soon be a permanent resident with healthcare and the privilege to work!

Generic Works Sometimes

If your are not concerned with politics, you will be if you ever decide to move to a foreign country.

Republic, democracy, social medicine, border control–it matters when you think about crossing the border for any length of time. My mother called this morning to say a U.S. government shutdown could affect getting a VISA (but I think that is for incoming visitors to the U.S.). I won’t comment on Republic vs. democracy, but I will say there is plenty of bureaucracy when trying to get into another country.

Healthcare is the issue that most concerns me; not from a political perspective, but from a practical one: I need it.

France, of course, has socialized medicine. And whether Americans agree or not is irrelevant to me at this juncture. It may work in my favor. I opted not to get international insurance because the deductibles are so high it doesn’t make sense. Especially after I read that healthcare, even without insurance, is less expensive in France than in the States.

So how do you get your prescriptions filled when you are spending 3 months in another country? You thank God for generic drugs and ask for a 90-day supply before you go. And I always ask for an emergency antibiotic to carry with me, just in case.

It’s just another one of those details.