Moving to France post-Brexit: What belongings can you bring tax-free?

Moving van Beaucaire, France

You may need to provide an inventory for French customs - Credit: Getty Images/Image Source

How has Britain leaving the EU affected what you can bring with you when you move from the UK to France? What will you now need to pay tax on and what is exempt?

Before the UK left the European Union, the actual ‘moving’ part of relocating to France was, perhaps, one of the easiest elements in the entire process. Finding and buying a property, arranging currency transfers, opening a French bank account – these were all tricky to navigate but the actual move itself merely entailed either choosing a removal firm or loading up a truck, getting on a ferry et voilà

Unfortunately, nowadays there is a whole lot more to consider. The combination of the Covid pandemic and new regulations not always being understood, and thus not enforced, has meant that until now many people have reported little change, but this is unlikely to remain the case and so it is essential to understand exactly what is now required.  

RELOCATION TO FRANCE

Obviously if you are coming to France from another country within the EU there are no particular customs procedures to be observed. 

Similarly, if you are coming from a non-EU country such as the UK, you should be exempt from paying duties and taxes when you import your personal belongings as long as you fulfill certain criteria. 

The most important is probably the fact that you are transferring your principal residence. You will also have to have been living in that non-EU country for at least a year and have been using your personal belongings for at least six months prior to the transfer of residence. This applies regardless of how you acquired them initially, whether tax-free or otherwise. For all but a very small minority of people, these exemptions will cover their personal situations. Theoretically, you could be asked to prove the provenance and purchase date of items but unless your removal truck contained multiple washing machines which all looked brand new, questions are unlikely to be asked. 

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Most household removal loads contain a mixture of old and newer items; think books, DVDs, old furniture and rugs along with a shiny new toaster or two, and in this case it is highly unlikely that questions will be asked about the age of your toaster! 

Pack donkey grazing in a meadow, Vercors, France

Moving full-time? Certain items are not exempt from tax, including donkeys and ponies - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

PLANES, TRAINS AND ALCOHOL

Certain items do not qualify for this exemption, however, even though they are ‘personal’ belongings. This category includes horses, donkeys and ponies, motorbikes and bikes, cars and trailers, camper vans and pleasure craft. 

Private aeroplanes also fall into this group – although if you own a plane you could probably afford to pay someone to deal with all the paperwork for you and would thus be unlikely to be reading this article anyway!

These items all require customs duties and/or taxes to have been previously paid in the country of origin.  

Unsurprisingly, it also doesn’t apply to alcohol and tobacco, vehicles intended for mixed use or commercial transport, or professional or trade articles and equipment, other than portable items for the profession libérale (service) and the arts appliqués (design) sectors. This means that if you are a general builder, your cement mixer will not be considered a personal effect but if you are an architect, your computer will be.  

Where it gets more complicated is that the arts appliqués sector includes professions such as industrial designer, jeweller, ceramic artist and sculptor, who may well have equipment which could be considered as being ‘trade articles’. To qualify as a member of this group there needs to be an element of design involved as well as production, so ensure that you have proof that you carry out both tasks.  

The exemption also does not apply to stocks of raw materials and finished or semi-finished products. Again, this complicates things as it means that a private individual could bring his cement mixer as a personal belonging if he was not intending to use it as a professional builder, but not the bags of sand and cement to go with it!  

TIME LIMITS

There are also a few other restrictions that apply. You must transfer your property to France within 12 months from the official date of transfer of residence. Again, in the majority of cases this will not be an issue: people generally move their belongings to France as soon as possible after establishing residence there. However, if for any reason your plans get delayed, this is something to be aware of. 

You must also not sell, loan or lease any of your belongings during the 12 months following their entry into France.  

DIY MOVES TO FRANCE

For those of you who are moving yourselves (rather than using a professional removals company), you can import your belongings in several stages. 

If you do so, the inventory provided to French customs for the initial load must include all the items for which an exemption is being requested. This inventory needs to be a detailed, estimated list which is signed and dated and includes all the household items and belongings you wish to import. You will need two copies.  

You will need to complete Cerfa form 10070. This form covers the declaration of duty-free entry into France of personal property from non-EU countries, and the declaration of any items not covered by the exemption clause.  

You will also need to provide documentation proving that your primary residence was in a non-EU country as well as evidence that you are moving to France. This could be a residency card (titre de séjour), visa or proof of property sale/purchase.  

Once it’s approved, the French customs will give you a stamped copy of the inventory and if you are bringing in a (standard) vehicle, a copy of Certificate 846A, so that you can register your vehicle with a French registration number. 

FRENCH HOLIDAY HOMES 

The rules have also changed for second or holiday-home owners. Unfortunately, items destined for use furnishing or equipping second homes do not benefit from any exemption. This means that any items transported will now incur customs, TVA (VAT) and possible additional charges.  

You are required to provide a precise list of the items concerned along with bills or receipts. If these are unavailable you are required to provide an estimated value which needs to be agreed with the customs service. 

The total declared value will be used to calculate the tax liable to be paid along with removal and insurance costs. The rates applied will be determined according to the codes that are applied to each individual item along with the country of origin.  

If you are coming to visit your holiday home, don’t forget that each adult can bring goods (purchases or gifts) up to a value of €430 if arriving by plane or ferry and €300 if coming by car, train or other means of transport, without any need for a customs declaration to be made. Under 15s are given a flat rate allowance of €150 each; you can combine multiple items to reach the €430 or €300 limit but once exceeded you will be required to pay the (full purchase price) amount of TVA and customs duties that would usually apply. 

INHERITED ITEMS

If you are a French resident and wish to bring in items that you have inherited from a non-EU country, you are also able to do so. The conditions applicable and the items that are restricted are fairly similar to those that apply to a transfer of residence. 

You will require a sworn statement from a solicitor that you have indeed inherited the items in question; this should also include an inventory with their estimated value(s). 

You should provide proof that you are a French resident; you then have two years from taking possession of the items to their transfer onto French soil. Again, you are free to do this in more than one trip but the initial inventory needs to list all the items involved. 

MOVING TO FRANCE GUIDES

Keeping up to speed with requirements for pets, plants and foodstuffs can be tricky but the French government customs site has produced lots of handy short guides and infographics in English which explain exactly what you can and cannot bring into France.