It’s a question that crops up again and again – can Americans buy property in France, and what are the main issues? A short guide to buying property in France for Americans…
Well, the simple answer is yes, buying property in France – whether as a second home, or for a permanent move – if you’re an American is simple. The hard bit is choosing where to buy as there’s so much choice. To save you time and money flying back and forth to do house viewings, many real estate agents offer virtual viewings. Leggett Immobillier for instance, who have helped hundreds of Americans successfully buy properties in France and whose agents (including a number of American agents spread across France) all speak English, will take you through a house viewing by live Zoom, WhatsApp, or Facetime, and take video for you of the property and surrounding area. It’s a great way to narrow down the possibilities so that when you do visit you know you’re seeing the wish list you dreamed of.
When you buy a property in France, as an American citizen (which for tax purposes you always will be, regardless of where you live), it’s a good idea to know a few key facts that help make for a smooth purchase and transition.
The process of buying in France if you’re American
The actual technicalities are simple. You find your dream property, and you make an offer via the realtor. This may include negotiation until your offer is accepted. An initial document of offer/acceptance is drawn up and you have 10 days to accept it. During this time the seller cannot sell to anyone else. You’ll get a dossier which details reports about the house, termites, energy rating etc. At the end of 10 days, you pay a deposit to the notaire (legal agent/public official appointed by the Ministry of Justice) who holds it until you’re ready to complete the purchase. The notaire conducts the process of buying and around 3 months later (usual time for the administration to complete), the notaire will accept the full payment and pay it onto the seller and take care of any fees/taxes).
Check out the really helpful video from Leggett Immobiliers for U.S. buyers:
French bank accounts
You don’t have to have a French bank account in France if you buy/own a property and you’re living in America. Due to IRS regulations for American citizens requiring vigorous reporting, some French banks don’t offer services to US citizens, though once you have a registered address in France, you may find it easier to open an account and it’s easier for paying bills. Before that happens, you can use a currency exchange specialist like Currencies Direct to effect transfers for you.
The US requires its citizens to file a tax return in the US – no matter where they live or how long they haven’t lived in the U.S. Filing returns, knowing what to report on and where (in the US, as well as in France) can be complicated. We recommend that you use a specialist tax advisor to help you at least get started.
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) is part of the US tax code, introduced in 2014 to counter tax evasion. The cost to French banks of complying with the administrative burdens is high, so it means that very few credit institutions will agree to process loans from American clients. It is strongly recommend that before beginning your property search you have all your finances in place.
Finance regulations are updated regularly so get up to date advice from a qualified advisor when it comes to borrowing money to finance a property in France.
If you’re buying the property as a holiday home, American passport holders are not required to obtain a visa prior to visiting France as a tourist and can stay for up to 90 days out of 180 days. The 180 day period is a “rolling period”, the following link can be useful for calculating how many days one can spend: ec.europ.eu. If you wish to stay in France for more than 90 days our of 180, then you will be required to obtain a Long Stay visa. There are different types of visas (for instance a VLS-T covers you for six months, and a VLS-TS for 12 months), and it’s rarely possible to change your status while you’re in France, so you would have to return to the USA to re-apply.
A good starting point is to visit the website of the French consulate that covers the area in which you are resident in the US. They will have a fairly extensive section on visas that will give you the basics on what is required. Be aware that the visa authorities can, and often do, request additional documents or information that may seem irrelevant. Just comply and eventually, hopefully all will become clear.
If you want to move to France, you’ll need to apply for a long-term visa (VLS-TS) and then apply for residency two months before the expiry date of the visa.
Generally speaking, once you arrive in France intending to live there permanently, you become a French tax resident the following day. But it is not always so straightforward, for example, you could also become a tax resident if your principal activity is in France. “If you are classed as resident in France, then you will pay taxes under their regime. Your whole household will be considered, and you will be taxed on your worldwide income. The US-France tax treaty means most Americans in France are exempt from double taxation” says Joanna Leggett of Leggett Immobilier.
You can find a detailed report on buying property in France on the Leggett Immobilier website (as well as details of thousands of properties).