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LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: How can I find English-speaking lawyers and accountants in France?

If you have a complicated legal or financial situation you will probably want to take professional advice - but what's the best way to find an English-speaking lawyer, notaire or accountant in France?

Reader question: How can I find English-speaking lawyers and accountants in France?
The gold shield of the notaire. Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Even if your French is perfectly competent for daily life, when it comes to complicated and technical matters such as taxes, legal disputes or making a will, you might prefer to go to an English-speaking professional, just to be sure that you have understood everything correctly.

But how do you go about finding the help that you need?

The first thing is establishing exactly what type of expert you are looking for;

Notaire – if your question deals with either property or wills, then you probably want a notaire.

If you’re buying or selling property, this cannot be done without a notaire, as only the notaire can register a change of ownership on the French land registry. However, it’s worth knowing that your notaire will not give you legal advice and/or point out any potential problems with the sale unless you specifically engage them for that purpose, as this is not their traditional role in French property-buying. 

Peculiarities of the French inheritance system mean that it’s wise to have a notaire check over your will to see if it will be valid in France and avoid any future problems for your heirs. 

READ ALSO 8 times you’ll need a notaire in France

Avocat – if you are having any issues with the criminal justice system, or you want to sue someone, then you will likely want an avocat (and yes, avocat means both lawyer and avocado in French, lawyers are probably sick of this joke).

READ ALSO How to find a lawyer in France

Expert comptable – when it comes to accountants, there are also two types and the most common is the expert comptable. This is who you want if you need help in filling in your French tax declaration, or you have encountered a problem with the tax office and need some advice. 

If you have a business, only an expert comptable can advise you when it comes to completing your businesses tax declarations

Fiscaliste – a fiscaliste is a specialist tax adviser, they are more likely to be retained by larger businesses to give advice about tax structures of the company etc

Ask the expert: How can I get professional help with my French taxes?

Do you need professional help?

It’s really up to you, and if your affairs are unusual or complicated then it’s definitely better to seek professional help.

However bear in mind that systems like the tax declaration, visa application and citizenship applications are all designed to be accessed by individuals without professional help – and even if you do instruct a lawyer or accountant to help with these you will still have to assemble your dossier yourself.

There are plenty of places you can go for advice, including the Practical Tips section of The Local, and – for taxes – your local tax office.

5 tips for dealing with the French tax office 

How to find an English-speaker 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single directory of accredited, English-speaking lawyers and accountants in France, but here are some suggestions for getting started.

If you’re looking for an avocat, the BritishAmerican, and Australian embassies all have extensive lists of recommended English-speaking lawyers in France (by region and speciality). It’s worth checking the recommendations of all the anglophone embassies to find the widest choice of lawyers in your area.

If you’re looking for a notaire there is a directory of all the accredited notaires in France HERE which you can search by town or postcode to find one near you. Click on the ‘langues parlées‘ tab and select English to find English-speaking ones. The US Embassy also has a list of English-speaking notaires as well. You can find it HERE.

As with the English-speaking doctors listed on Doctolib, this is based on their own description of their language skills. If you decide after a meeting that their English is not up to the task, just politely make your excuses and find someone else.

Accredited experts comptables and fiscalistes are listed HERE, although unfortunately this doesn’t have a language filter, so it’s better for cross-checking that anyone recommended to you is correctly qualified and accredited.

Facebook groups can also be a good resource – especially Strictly Legal France for lawyers and Strictly Fiscal France for accountants – but remember that just because someone has been recommended, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check their qualifications first. 

And finally, be extremely wary of unsolicited financial advice – especially involving pensions, since sadly many scammers target foreigners who have retired to France with advice to ‘transfer’ their pensions.

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For members

SCHOOLS

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

School children in France are entitled to a lunchtime meal of three, or even four courses – but what if you prefer to provide meals yourself? 

Are packed lunches really banned in French schools?

French school meals are, famously, pretty good – children get a three or even four-course meal of properly prepared dishes and the menu (including cheese course) is usually published in the local town newsletter so everyone can see the types of meals being served.

The concept of a proper meal at lunchtime is an important one. “The diet of a school-age child is essential for their growth, mental development and learning abilities,” the French Education Ministry says in a preamble about school meals on its website. “It must be balanced, varied and distributed throughout the day: for example 20 percent of total energy in the morning, 40 percent at midday, 10 percent at four o’clock and 30 percent in the evening.”

And it’s not all about nutrition, the social aspect of sitting together and eating a meal is also important – the ministry continues: “Mealtime is an opportunity for students to relax and communicate. It should also be a time for discovery and enjoyment.”

All schools provide meals in a canteen and most pupils take up the opportunity – however it’s also possible for pupils to go home at lunchtime so that they can eat lunch with their parents.

The idea of taking in a packed lunch (panier-repas) is much less common in France – but is it actually banned?

The rules on lunch

At écoles (up to age 11), the local authority or établissement public de coopération intercommunale (EPCI) is responsible for providing quality school meals. This generally involves meals being provided via a central kitchen, and then delivered to the school’s kitchen, where it can be kept warm, or reheated as necessary.

The system is slightly different in collèges and lycées (attended by children aged 11 and up). In those establishments, catering falls into the purview of the wider département or region – and is routinely managed directly by individual establishments, which will have catering staff on site to prepare meals. Often, meal services are outsourced to private businesses, which operate the kitchens.

There are various rules and regulations in place regarding what food is offered, and how long a child has to eat – which is, in part, why the school lunch period is so long. Children must be allowed a 30-minute period to eat their meal, from the moment they sit down with it at the table. 

Then, they’re given time to play and relax before afternoon classes start.

READ ALSO What you need to know if your child is starting school in France

At a minimum lunch must include a main course with a side dish, a dairy-based product, as well as a starter and/or a dessert. Meals must also, the government says, be composed of 50 percent sustainable quality products (including 20 percent organic).

Some local authorities go further and serve only or mostly food that is organic, locally sourced or both.

Water and bread must be freely available, but salt and condiments can only be added in preparation – no sauce bottles or salt and pepper on the tables. 

Daily menus are generally available to view on school websites and many town newspapers or newsletters also publish them.

Parents pay a fee for the school lunch, which is calculated according to income and can be free in the case of low-income families.

Packed lunch

But what if your child doesn’t like the school lunches and you don’t have time to pick them up, cook a full lunch and take them back in the afternoon everyday? The obvious solution would seem to be to send them in with a packed lunch, as is common in the UK and USA.

In theory this is possible, but only in certain circumstances and with very strict rules and caveats. 

The Ministry, in a written response to a Senator’s question in 2019, said: “The use of packed lunches [home-supplied meals] by primary school students can provide an alternative to school meals. This method of catering is authorised in particular for children with a medically established food allergy or intolerance, requiring an adapted diet.”

READ ALSO How to enrol a non-French speaking child in school in France

It added: “the preparation and use of packed lunches in schools must follow certain rules. First of all, it is important to respect the cold chain”.

The cold chain is a term applied to food handling and distribution – it’s usually used by food-preparation businesses, but in the context of a packed lunch it means that food prepared at home must be kept in appropriately cool conditions until it is ready to eat. It would be the responsibility of parents to ensure that the food is delivered to school in containers appropriate for the job (ie an insulated cool bag).

Once at the school, it is up to whoever manages the kitchen to ensure that food is properly reheated. This becomes the sticking point at which many parents’ requests to send their children to school with a packed lunch, rather than go to the canteen, or eat back at home, are refused.

The reheating concern suggests that schools are also expecting parents to prepare a proper meal – rather than just throwing some sandwiches and a cereal bar into a bag.

Unless there’s a genuine and proven health reason for your child to eat a home-prepared meal, most parents will probably find the school won’t budge on this – even in cases of a strike by kitchen staff or lunch monitors.

READ ALSO Just how much do private schools in France cost?

The Ministry’s written response explains: “[A]s this is an optional public service, the municipality can justify its refusal to admit the children concerned by objective material and financial constraints, such as the need to equip itself with additional refrigerators, or for additional supervisory staff to supervise them during lunch.”

As well as the practicalities, for some schools this is an equality issue – because of the varied fee structure for school lunches what happens in effect is that richer parents are subsidising a good quality lunchtime meal for poorer students in the class; if everyone brought in a packed lunch and therefore stopped paying the fee, the lower-income kids would miss out. 

What about allergies or other health issues?

Children with allergies or other health issues that require a particular diet must be accommodated. An individual meal plan – known as a projet d’accueil individualisé (PAI) can be set up. More details (in French) are available here, on the government’s website.

It also becomes easier for parents to provide home-produced meals in such instances. As ever, it is up to the parents to ensure any meals are appropriately packaged and transported to school.

Not all schools

Some individual schools in France do permit pupils to bring in meals from home. They must be taken to school in an appropriate cold-storage container, and they will be stored in the kitchen area until they are needed, when meals will – if necessary – be reheated.

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