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Places to Seek Advice
When you first move to France it can be confusing knowing where you need to go to seek advice and knowing who deals with what. Even taking the language barrier out of the equation, who deals with what in France is different to the UK and knowing where to go and who to speak to is a great way of avoiding wasted journeys and frustrating conversations. In this article, we’ll outline some of the main points of assistance as well as what you can expect to find when you get there.
No matter where you live, you’re likely to have a Mairie, either in your own town or village or in your commune. The Mairie is always a great starting point, no matter what information you’re looking for. Generally speaking Mairies are well staffed and have a receptionist/secretary who pretty much knows everything about everything and everyone, so is well worth getting to know.
Commonly your Mairie will deal with everything that is associated with local events, local services and local taxes (albeit the Trésor Public may deal with this in bigger villages or towns). They also deal with planning permissions, schools, roads, refuse and so on. If you live in a small, rural community, the Mairie is also likely to have a timetable of visits from the likes of the Caisse Allocation Familiale (CAF), Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie ("CPAM") and even some of the business services such as URSSAF, RSI and so on.
The Tax Centre
The Centre des Impôts is normally found in the capital of any department, although there are quite often smaller regional offices as well as visits to local Mairies or Tresoreries, particularly where the departmental capital is a long distance away. If you’re used to dealing with tax centres in the UK, for example, the first thing that’s likely to strike you about the tax centres, particularly in rural France is that they’re very laid back and don’t seem to have hoards of people who visit.
Generally speaking you can visit your local tax office unannounced and they’ll help you. No matter whether your question relates to income tax, taxe d’habitation or taxe foncière, they will normally provide the support you need. You’ll even find that when you come to make your first tax return that they’ll help you fill it in and do the necessary calculations.
CPAM or the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie is your first port of call if you’re an individual living in France and needing health cover. It is the CPAM who will provide you with your Carte Vitale (the card that processes and tracks all your medical treatment and payments) as well as dealing with refunds and payments on your behalf. Again, your CPAM office is likely to be in the departmental capital, albeit there may be regular visits to rural Mairies by a CPAM representative. Unlike the Tax Centre, when you visit CPAM, you should be prepared to wait as they are normally very busy and have a frustrating tendency not to get things right first time.
The Notaire is the person you’ll go to if you need advice on either the purchase or sale of your property as well as on the likes of capital gains tax or making a will. Somewhat like a solicitor in the UK, the Notaire is a good place to start if you need legal advice. Although they are not responsible for the likes of disputes or divorce, they are the place to go if you have a legal query and don’t know where to go to get the right outcome.
Advice in English
When you first move to France, it may well be that you won’t feel confident visiting these places alone. If this is the case, then it’s always a good idea to befriend a bilingual neighbour or contact who is prepared to help you. However if you have private or sensitive matters to deal with, then it may well be worth paying for an interpreter to accompany you. Although the costs of this option might seem high at the start, it is well worth knowing that the translation that you receive is accurate and you can rely on what has been said.