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.

 

 

Who’s Right?

Aside

If you speak to a government official and they tell you it’s done a certain way, don’t count on it. The next official you speak to will tell you something quite different. And who’s right? Why, they both are.

Read French Red Tape.

French Red Tape

Translation for my non-french-speaking friends:
And us also, we are French?
But yes, everyone in the universe is French.

There’s a reasonable explanation as to why the French have a reputation for bureaucracy–they’ve earned it.

As I’ve learned after a year-and-a-half of trying to get anything official done here, there is no such thing as official. Just because the official government website says it’s so, doesn’t mean it’s so. If you speak to a government official and they tell you it’s done a certain way, don’t count on it. The next official you speak to will tell you something quite different. And who’s right? Why, they both are.

Take my recent experience trying to exchange my U.S. driving permit for a French permit. According to the official website, my state has an exchange agreement with France. I’ve learned not to count on the official website, so I went directly to the Marie annex to get the appropriate paperwork and the answers for my locale. The lady handed me a written list of everything I would need to submit. Great, I thought. I have it in writing.

So, I gathered everything on the list. One item asked for an official translation of my original permit OR an attestation of validity from the US. Notice I capitalized OR. In actuality, the instructions were in French, so it said OU. Ok, that means I need one or the other.

I traveled to Marseille, gave the US Embassy $50 and they gave me a paper that says it is an official translation and attestation of validity of my permit. I included it in the portfolio of other documents required. I was ready to get my permit, or so I thought.

The translation/attestation of validity, I was told, was not acceptable. I needed both, the lady said. I pointed to the “OU” and said, the paper says I need one or the other.

Are you ready for her answer? She put an X through the “OU” and said I need both.

And such is the arbitrary French system. As carefully as I have tried to plan for every scenario, when I show up with exactly what I think they want, they arbitrarily change their minds.

I didn’t stop there. I called the US Embassy to see if I could get another type of paper. I was told that is the paper the US gives out to meet France’s requirements. What else can we do, she asked? It’s a translation and we stamped it with our seal to say it’s valid.

And so I told this to the not-so-kind lady at the French bureau. Her response: It’s not acceptable. And so I just stared at her for a few minutes, and finally asked, in French, so give me a solution. She shrugged her shoulders and moved back to her desk.

Technically, I’m supposed to get a French permit after living here for a year. At least that’s what the official website says.

So, what am I going to do? I’ve decided to adapt to the culture and make my own rules. I’m going to keep my US permit.

 

French Visa in Jeopardy; Translation: No Visa

“Visa in jeopardy.” That was the subject line in the email today from my son’s father in the States. And a few minutes later a phone call confirmed: The French Consulate in Washington, D.C., turned down my 16-year-old son for a Visa. In other words, he doesn’t have the right, according to the Republic of France, to come live with his mother in France, despite the fact that she is a legal resident with a carte de sejour, married to a French citizen.

Today I didn’t cry. But last week I burst into tears after the nice lady at the Office of Justice in Arles told me it would take 6-10 months for the “regroupement famille” process. She then called the OFII, the French Immigration and Integration Office responsible for making decisions about who gets to stay in France and who doesn’t. They were the ones who told her to have me apply for a student Visa. Well, according the Consulate, my son can’t have a student Visa because I live in France. And for the minor who gets a student Visa? Well, that child gets to live with a stranger for a year.

And so goes the French system of immigration. My son can’t come live with me and go to school here for a year. It could take a year to get approval through family regroupment; but a minor child get get a Visa in a few weeks to live here with non-relatives to go to school in France. Something about this just doesn’t make sense.

When I spoke to the school agency a few months ago, they told me to take him to Marseille when he gets here and they will determine his level and help us select a school. But the Consulate says he needs a letter of invitation before he can get a Visa. And the school says they can’t give a letter of invitation until he gets accepted through placement. Hmm. Even if I had been able to figure that one out, the Consulate says letter or no letter, he can’t have a student Visa if I live in France.

So, now what? After months of trying to find answers, finding none that made any sense, I finally made him an appointment at the Consulate in D.C. and provided enough paperwork to satisfy even the IRS, thinking surely if I had enough paperwork they would give him a Visa of some sort. Wrong.

I’m not knocking the French government. From everything I’ve heard and read, the States is just as bad or worse. I had an Asian colleague at the university whose husband lived and worked in another State and whose child was still living in Asia. The U.S. would not allow the family to all come on one of the parents’ Visas, even though both were professors and the salary of one of them would have easily supported the family. And let’s not forget that they were both paying taxes to the U.S.

I’m also not proposing open borders. I don’t believe any country should have to support all the poor and jobless of the world by allowing them to free-load (which apparently happens frequently in France), but if you can support yourself, why not?

Hopefully, next week I’ll be able to post a happy ending to this saga.