US citizens: What to know before buying property in France

Few countries can compete with the diversity of stunning properties found in France. From chic Parisian apartments to ski chalets with dramatic Alpine backdrops, and from villas with views of the Côte d'Azur to historic houses set in magnificent countryside – you’ll find all this (and more) in La Belle France! 

US citizens: What to know before buying property in France
An interior from a château near Bordeaux currently for sale with Leggett International Real Estate

It’s no wonder the French property market attracts great attention from US citizens – especially with the current strength of the dollar against the euro. But when buying abroad, there’s lots to consider. 

Here are six things to ask yourself as you search for your dream French home.

1. Where will you buy and why?

If you’ve been recruited by a company in France or you’re retiring to an area you’ve fallen in love with, you’ll already have a clear idea of where you’ll live. Anyone looking to work independently, buy a second home, or discover their dream retirement location, however, is spoilt for choice and needs some clear purchasing criteria.

Are you craving fresh air and picturesque views or is your ardent desire to experience French culture and fashion every day? Do you want the adventure of renovating an older property or something with all mod cons or even an off-plan option?

Even if the best access to the best ski slopes is all you care about, you still have many locations in the French Alps to consider! Looking for luxury with a château, a vineyard or an exclusive Paris apartment? Feast your eyes on Leggett Prestige, which showcases more than 500 distinguished properties for sale across France, all hand-picked by experts at leading French real estate agency Leggett International Real Estate. 

If you’re looking for a new career, you may also want to know that Leggett International Real Estate is currently recruiting independent sales agents across France.

Thinking of buying your very own French home? Find the right property for your needs and budget with Leggett International Real Estate

An exceptional modern villa for sale in Tourrettes, near Nice. Photo: Leggett International Real Estate

2. What type of visa do you need?

France offers a wide range of visas for non-EU citizens. You may feel confused by the options, so let’s take a closer look at them. For anyone being taken on as an employee, your employer will sponsor your work visa (although you may still have to do the paperwork yourself). If you’re self-employed or starting your own company in France, you can also apply for a work visa with a detailed business plan and proof you can support yourself at first.

What if you’re buying a second-home and want to stay for more than the 90 days out of every 180 allowed with a Schengen short-stay visa? If you’re ready to make France your main residence, you can apply for a long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit (VLS-TS) lasting up to 12 months – and spend as many days as you like at your French property.

Not ready to take that step? You’ll want a six-month visitor visa (VLS-T), giving you fewer rights but also fewer responsibilities. You can also apply for a spousal visa if you marry a French citizen.

3. Will you be entitled to French healthcare?

To get most types of French visa, you’ll first need to prove you can cover the cost of your own healthcare. You’ll probably need private insurance to cover medical costs (including repatriation) up to a minimum amount, typically around €30,000.

But if you’re moving to France, you’ll be entitled to register for the French public healthcare system after living in the country for just three months.

Once the registration is complete, you’ll get a carte vitale (health insurance card) and the French state will reimburse most of your expenses for prescriptions, treatments and medical appointments. You may then choose to cancel the private insurance you needed to get a visa.

However, most people in France buy top-up health insurance, known as a mutuelle, which generally ensures 100 percent reimbursement of your costs.

Start searching for your French home with Leggett International Real Estate, a family business with over 8,000 properties on the market across France 

4. What will your tax obligations be?

There are two property taxes: the taxe foncière (paid by the owner) and the taxe d’habitation (traditionally paid by the occupier). If you own and live in a French property, you would usually pay both.

However, the taxe d’habitation is now being scrapped for people who are neither high-earners nor second-home owners. Some municipalities are authorised to levy a surcharge for second-home owners. But most chose not to in 2022, so it may be worth investigating this further before settling on your favoured areas.

In terms of tax declarations, you’ll have to complete the new Déclaration d’occupation indicating whether the property is your main residence or second home (this is extra paperwork but not a tax bill!)

This Paris apartment, currently for sale, overlooks a stunning garden courtyard featured in the Netflix series Emily in Paris. Photo: Leggett International Real Estate

If you plan to rent out your home, the rental income you receive is taxable and you’ll need to learn how to correctly declare it. Last but not least, even if you are resident in France and pay French income tax, as a US citizen you must continue filing annual American tax returns.

5. What will it mean for your pension plans?

Whatever your age, it makes sense to research the implications of moving abroad for your retirement plans. If you’re going to be an employee in France, you’ll be obliged to join a state pension scheme and your employer may well offer you a private pension. But as an American, you may want to consult a cross-border financial expert to properly understand the implications of the latter. 

Some French pension products, such as a PEA (Plan Épargne Action), allow you to take cash out within five years of opening. But the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn’t consider this a true pension. Americans living in France who open a PEA therefore face being taxed yearly, warn experts.

US citizens can bring any US-based pension to France but you need to tell US tax authorities that you’ll be paying French income tax on it. If you’re retiring in France, you’ll need to report your US pension on your French tax return. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean being taxed twice; after reporting your US pension, France will give you a credit equal to the French tax.

6. Do you need a property management service?

If you’re buying a second home, you face additional questions. Will you rent it out when you’re not there to make an income from your investment? If so, will you only accept short-term stays or could paying guests enjoy your prize property for lengthy periods? And if you prefer to leave it unoccupied when you’re in the US (or elsewhere), how will you ensure it’s looked after?

Whatever your answers, you’d be wise to consider a property management service. With Leggett Property Management, you can choose from a range of plans. Whether you just want regular check-ups and someone to cut the grass or you’re looking for full rental management and a bespoke concierge service, you can find a solution to make your life easier. 

Ready to start your search for your dream French property? Take a look at the homes currently for sale with Leggett International Real Estate 

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French property: What is buying ‘en tontine’?

If you're buying property in France, you might be thinking about buying 'en tontine' - this has advantages especially when it comes to France's strict inheritance laws, but can also have tax implications.

French property: What is buying 'en tontine'?

What is it?

The ‘clause de tontine’ sometimes also known as a ‘clause d’accroissement’ is a clause that is inserted into the property deeds when you are buying a house or apartment.

It can only be inserted during the purchase, and cannot be added later.

It’s basically a ‘group purchase’. It’s most commonly used by unmarried couples who are buying together but it can be used by larger groups too – for example a group of friends buying a holiday home together.

You will have to ask a notaire to draw up the tontine clause during the property purchase and it can only be used if 

  • the parties are equally involved in the financing of the purchase
  • the parties involved have a roughly equal life expectancy (for this reason tontine clauses may be rejected if there is a significant difference in age between the purchasers)

What’s the point of it?

The main reason that people use it is to sidestep France’s strict inheritance laws, which assign that a certain portion of every estate must go to children, at the expense of a partner. 

READ ALSO How France’s strict inheritance laws work

For this reason it is particularly used by couples who have children from previous relationships.

On a property with a tontine clause in effect, when one owner dies their share of the property passes in its entirely to the other member/members of the tontine.

This cuts out children from inheritance, but means that a surviving partner is not evicted from their home in favour of the children of the deceased. 

It also has the advantage of making the intentions of the deceased clear, to avoid arguments among heirs after their death.

It should be noted, however, that the tontine clause only takes in the property that it covers – other assets may be subject to French inheritance law so it’s therefore probably wise to arrange a will, to ensure your wishes for your estate are met.

The surviving party can ask a notaire to update the property deeds to show that they are the sole owner, if they want. Be aware there will be a fee, which could reach four figures for the privilege – and it doesn’t actually involve any change to the property title.


The advantages of the system are clear, especially for blended families, but there are some potential drawbacks too, which mean that anyone considering buying in this way would be well advised to take proper legal advice before they start.

Inheritance tax – while a tontine will help you to avoid restrictions on inheritance, it does not exempt you from inheritance tax. French inheritance tax is structured according to your relationship to the deceased, and people who are neither married nor related to the deceased pay an eye-watering inheritance tax rate of 60 percent.

The only exception to this top rate of inheritance tax is if the property is your main residence and it is valued at under €76,000 – in that case, tax is paid at a rate of 5.8 percent.

Married couples and family members pay a much lower rate or not tax, but if you’re not married to your tontine co-purchaser, be careful that you’re not lining yourself up for a massive tax bill in future years.

Wealth tax – depending on the value of the property, it could tip you over into the ‘wealth tax’ category when you inherit. France’s wealth tax is a real estate based tax and is levied on anyone who has real estate assets (property and land) worth €1.3 million or more.

The calculation includes property held en tontine.

Tax savings – you might hear tontines being advised as a way to limit your French tax liability.

While this used to be true, changes to tax laws means there are no no significant tax advantages to buying this way – the same is true for buying a property via an SCI, which used to represent a tax saving until the law was tightened up.

Disinheriting family membersOne side effect of the tontine clause on mixed families is to effectively disinherit any children of the first person to die.

Because the property passed to the survivor, under French law, only their direct descendants – rather than any family by marriage – are entitled to automatic inheritance.

That means that the children of the surviving partner will be entitled to the statutory share of the entire asset (between 25 and 30 percent depending on the number of children), but the children of the first person to die will be entitled to nothing. Obviously you can choose to leave them something in your will, but you can only leave them some or all of the estate which is not automatically given to the children on the survivor.

Divorce/dispute – if the members of the tontine split up or (in the case of friends) fall out, then they can either sell the whole property or agree to buy each other out.

However, if one party refuses to sell, then you have very limited legal options – unlike a standard property purchase a tontine is not regarded as joint ownership, so one partner cannot be forced to sell as part of a divorce procedings, for example.

Basically the tontine can only be ended or changed with the agreement of all parties – so if you can’t agree between yourselves then you may be stuck with it.