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Protect yourself from the rising costs of living

You can’t have missed it – almost everything we use and consume is suddenly costing a lot more than it used to. It’s also having a marked impact on internationals abroad.

Protect yourself from the rising costs of living
Worried about rising costs? It's not just you -- prices are soaring across the globe. We find out why. Photo: Getty Images

Almost everyone has felt the effects of sudden cost of living increases, and for many it has had real consequences on where and how they live and work.

With soaring energy bills and increases in both food and petrol, consumer inflation in Europe hit 8.6 percent in June and could reach nine percent by the end of the summer. Those who moved abroad to work or study have felt the effects particularly keenly.

Together with the international health insurance provider, AXA – Global Healthcare, we investigate why costs have soared so quickly, and exactly how this impacts those who have made another country their home. 

What is driving the increase in living costs? 

While there’s no singular reason that living costs are increasing across the globe, there are several factors that we can point to as contributing to the problem. 

First and foremost, the coronavirus pandemic had a devastating effect on manufacturing industries and supply chains around the world. Worker illness, government shutdowns and disruptions to the supply of essential resources dealt a significant blow to global GDP in 2020, resulting in a fall of more than three percent. 

Restarting manufacturing and global logistics after months of effective shutdown subsequently led to a substantial rise in the costs of goods, as supply struggled to keep up with surging demand. Even with massive investment in logistics infrastructure, to date there are still lengthy delays supplying goods such as machine parts and electronics, leading to surging business costs.

Climate change has also played a role in the crisis. The increasing unpredictability of weather patterns over the past two years has meant that many regions around the world were impacted by severe weather events, including several in Europe. An increased incidence of heat waves and cold snaps have also placed a strain on gas reserves, leading to escalating power bills. 

Find out how taking out health insurance can help offset cost of living increases 

Of course, the war in Ukraine is having a serious impact on the cost of living, most noticeably in Europe. The World Bank has suggested it could be responsible for the biggest price shock in 50 years. As a major agricultural nation, wheat prices have begun to sharply increase following the invasion, as has the price of natural gas – Ukraine holds Europe’s second-largest reserve of the resource.

Another consequence of the Ukraine war is spiralling fuel prices. As Russia is one of the world’s top three oil exporters, its current frosty relationship with the West means that the cost of oil per barrel will remain elevated. Coupled with logistical delays in delivering gas and fuel, as an ongoing consequence of the pandemic, consumers and businesses are experiencing substantially increased transport costs. 

Boiling point: Climate change is one factor increasing the cost of living. Photo: Getty Images

How do rising costs impact internationals? 

The cost of living crisis is having a significant effect on the mental health of internationals. Research by AXA – Global Healthcare, in the form of its Mind Health Index 2022 supports this idea. 

Its research, conducted prior to the current crisis, indicated that 28 percent of non-native (international) participants rated their stress level between eight and 10 (out of 10), while 35 percent of non-natives said that financial stability was an issue causing stress. Thirty-nine percent of non-native participants believed that they faced an uncertain future when it comes to work and finances – a massive stressor, regardless of where you may be. 

The causes of this are also clearly identifiable. Primarily, many internationals simply do not have the assets to sustain repeated price shocks in terms of food or energy costs. A survey conducted by market research firm, Finaccord, found that approximately three-quarters of internationals worldwide are individual workers – ie. depending on a single income.

A further third are also students, meaning that they are paying tuition costs while trying to support themselves, whether with a local job or payments from home. Quite simply, many internationals cannot afford to pay much more for necessities, particularly at a time when wages have stagnated. 

Many internationals also lack the kind of support networks that would let them otherwise overcome economic turmoil. Earlier research by AXA revealed that 87 percent of participating internationals felt isolated and cut off from family and friends, who would otherwise be able to assist and share costs.

As a consequence, further research conducted in 2019 by AXA – Global Healthcare revealed that one in five participating internationals would return home should prices continue to rise – even though over 50 percent reported that they enjoyed a better salary and quality of life than they did at home.

The research also discovered that housing and tuition costs comprised the hardest financial pressures for internationals – with 51 percent identifying rent and housing costs, and 40 percent identifying education as more costly than expected. 

It could be stated, therefore, that prior to the global spike in the cost of living, internationals already found themselves in a tight spot, with the threat of having to return home looming over them. Now, with skyrocketing prices, excessive and prolonged stress is an even greater contributor to a range of illnesses. 

Internationals are more prone to sudden increases in costs of living. Discover how AXA’s health insurance options can ensure some certainty

Securing an international future

Moving abroad to start a new life is a costly endeavour and one that many work for years to achieve. It’s worth it, however: the experience of working or studying abroad is suggested to have a number of economic and lifestyle benefits.

That said, navigating the financial stresses of rising costs can be challenging. 

Many internationals opt to offset the challenges of rising costs with comprehensive health insurance coverage. AXA – Global Healthcare’s research shows that a quarter of internationals worry about the cost of healthcare in their new home, and would even travel abroad to seek treatment. 

Depending on where you are, unforeseen medical costs can run into the tens of thousands, meaning the difference between getting by, and having to return to your home country.

If you’re seeking a health insurance provider that offers comprehensive coverage and a range of useful benefits, you may want to consider AXA – Global Healthcare. Operating globally, the company has over 55 years of experience in covering those living and working abroad¹.

AXA – Global Healthcare policyholders get 24-7 care from personal advisors, connecting them with excellent private healthcare from a worldwide network of doctors, surgeons and specialists.

Outside of emergency care, AXA – Global Healthcare provides a number of additional benefits. Policyholders are able to access a number of annual check ups. Special care is available to those diagnosed with cancer, and mental health issues aren’t ignored – the AXA – Global Healthcare Mind Health Service¹ means that you have professionals for support wherever you may be. 

As an international, dealing with the rising costs of living can be difficult. However, you can ensure that should something happen to you, you can avoid unexpected financial burdens.

Furthermore, with AXA – Global Healthcare’s range of additional services, you can make sure health problems are identified before they become a problem, allowing you to focus on living, working and enjoying life abroad. 

Find out more about AXA’s Virtual Doctor service, mental health support and other services offered so you can enjoy life abroad with the knowledge that you’re fully covered

¹AXA has been providing International Private Medical Insurance for over 55 years

²The Mind Health Service is provided by Teladoc Health,

AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited. Registered in Ireland number 630468. Registered Office: Wolfe Tone House, Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin 1. AXA Global Healthcare (EU) Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited. Registered in England (No. 03039521). Registered Office: 20 Gracechurch Street, London, EC3V 0BG, United Kingdom. AXA Global Healthcare (UK) Limited is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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TAXES

Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

Living in France involves paying plenty of taxes, but if you receive a bill that is unusually large, here's how to go about checking it and challenging it if necessary.

Reader question: How can I challenge my French tax bill?

Question: I just received my French tax bill and it’s roughly four times bigger than in previous years, even though my circumstances haven’t changed. Help!

Tax rates in France are generally quite high – overall French residents have the highest tax burden in the EU – but if your bill has suddenly massively increased while your circumstances haven’t changed, it could be a mistake.

Income taxes v property taxes

You get two tax bills per years in France – income tax and property tax.

If you are a resident in France you must fill in the annual tax declaration, even if all your income comes from outside France. The deadline for the declaration is May/June (depending on where you live) and bills are sent out in July and August, with payment due from September.

These bills cover tax and social charges on your income.

Bills for property taxes are sent out in the autumn and cover taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière. Taxe foncière is paid by the property owner and taxe d’habitation is paid by the householder. Taxe d’habitation is gradually being phased out and now applies only to second-home owners and high earners.

Property taxes are set at a local level and taxe foncière has been increasing sharply in recent years – your bill may also increase if you have done significant home improvements such as installing a swimming pool

Income tax

Your annual tax declaration covers all your income (eg pensions, salary, rental income) plus any tax credits that you are entitled to such as family tax credits.

Your total bill is then calculated as the tax you owe on your income, minus any tax that you have already paid (for example for employees who have their taxes deducted at source) and minus any tax credits that you are entitled to.

For most people their bill is slightly different each year depending on exact income and tax credit level, but if your circumstances have stayed largely the same and the bill has suddenly quadrupled, there is likely to be an error somewhere.

Next steps

If you suspect an error, the next step is working out whether it was your mistake or the tax office’s, and whether it’s your new total that is correct or your previous total (as it’s possible that you have been under-paying in previous years).

If your tax affairs are complicated then it’s probably best to get a professional to do this, here are some of the things to check first:

READ ALSO: How can I find professional help with my French taxes?

Do you have income outside France? If you have income outside France – eg a pension or rental income in your home country – then you have to declare this to the French tax man but if your home country has a dual taxation agreement with France (and most countries do) then you won’t have to pay any tax on it in France.

If your bill has suddenly jumped then it’s possible that you’re being taxed on this income – either due to a mistake in the tax office or because you did not declare it as revenus de source étrangère (foreign income) on your tax declaration.

Is your bill for taxes or social charges? French tax bills are made up of two things – impots (tax) and charges sociales (social charges eg unemployment insurance and pension contributions).

Certain types of foreign income such as investment income are not taxed, but may have social charges paid. However, social charges are not applicable to a foreign pension, so if charges have been applied to your pension, then this is an error.

Correct declaration

If you realise that you made an error on your tax declaration, then you can correct it and ask for a new tax calculation to be made based on the new information.

If you file your declaration online, you can also correct it online by going to your impots.gouv account and clicking on Accéder à la déclaration en ligne then clicking on corriger.

If you declared on paper you can file a new declaration, stating on the first page that it is a ‘correct and replace’ declaration.

Tax office

If you can’t work out where the error is, or you’re pretty sure that it’s the tax office at fault, you can visit and ask for help – even quite small French towns have a tax office that is open to the public. 

The first step is to find your local tax office – Google ‘Centre des Finances Publique’ plus the name of your commune, and up should come the address of your local office.

It’s best to check in advance, because officials can only help those in the area covered by a particular office, so they will just have to send you elsewhere if you turn up at the wrong centre.

Most centres don’t require an appointment, so just go in and ask for help – it’s a good idea to take all relevant documentation with you, and certainly a printout of the tax you received and your most recent tax declaration.

To the surprise of foreigners who might be used to dealing with HMRC or the IRS, French tax office employees are not only accessible, they are also by and large friendly and helpful and will be happy to look over your declaration and explain the reasons for your bill. 

If it seems that your bill is an error, you can request a recalculation, and if you visit the tax office the official will help you fill in the form and lodge the request. 

Fines

If your tax affairs are not in order, it’s also possible that you could be fined by the tax office.

The most common reasons for fines levied on foreigners in France are;

Missing the declaration deadline – deadlines for the tax declaration are in May or June depending where you live, and if you miss the deadline you are liable for late fees, which increase as time goes on.

The French tax calendar for 2022

Not completing the declaration – if you are a resident in France you must complete the annual declaration – even if you are a salaried employee who has already had their tax deducted at source, or if you have no income in France (eg you live on a pension paid from your home country). In many circumstances you won’t have to pay any tax in France, but you still need to fill in the declaration.

If you are a British second-home owner who has obtained the post-Brexit carte de séjour (sometimes known as the WARP card or TUE Article 50) you are considered a resident by French authorities and must make the declaration – full details here.

If you fail to complete the declaration and ignore all reminders, French tax authorities do have the power to make an estimated tax bill and send that to you.

Not declaring foreign bank accounts – if you have accounts outside of France, which many foreigners do, you must declare these on your tax declaration, even if the accounts are dormant or only have tiny amounts in them.

This also applies to any foreign investment schemes you have, such as life insurance policies. 

The penalty for not listing accounts is between €1,500 and €10,000 and that applies for each account you fail to declare. 

Please note, this article constitutes general advice only – for individual tax questions it is best to seek professional help.

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