Unlike in other countries (such as the US) where you’re only required to file an income tax return if you’ve had income over a certain threshold, you’re technically required to file a French income tax return if you reside in France.
The French tax office will consider you a French fiscal resident if you spend more than 183 days out of 365 on French territory, so even if you’re a student with limited income, you should file. If you *do* have income, even if it’s from a company or investments outside of France, you’ll also have to report that income and pay taxes on it in France first. For example, if you give English lessons over Skype to a company registered in Canada, you have to report whatever income that company pays you on your French taxes starting on the date you arrive in France, and the hours worked counts against your student quota of 964 hours per year. Consult Paris Unraveled or a French accountant for information on the tax treaty between your home country and France and your potential filing requirement.
If you work part time, your last payslip for the year (December) will show the ‘net fiscal’, which is the taxable salary you’ll report on your tax return.
If you have an internship, you’ll have to consult with your employer about whether that income is taxable or not. Most recently, income from internships less than 3 months long was nontaxable, even if you made more than the minimum amount, and income from internships longer than 3 months was taxed. So, if you did 2 internships of 3 months, you’d pay tax on nothing, and if you did one internship of 6 months, you’d report all of that income.
Even if you have zero income, it’s beneficial for you to file a tax return. Your ‘avis de non imposition’ (tax bill) will show no taxes owed, which could increase your CAF benefit and get you exempt from paying taxe d’habitation (renter’s tax), among other things. If you choose to stay in France or return to France after getting your degree, showing that you’ve filed taxes may also help if you apply for a resident card or naturalization as a French citizen.
If you earn less than about €5.000, you’re unlikely to owe tax at all. Thus, there’s no ‘penalty’ for not filing your return (or filing late), as the penalty is 10% of tax owed (and 10% of 0 is 0).
Here’s how to file your return:
1) Tax forms become available around mid-April, and are due in late May or early June. The due date depends on your department. If you owe taxes and file late, the penalty is 10% of the amount owed.
2) Your first time filing, you’ll have to get a paper form from the tax office. In subsequent years, you’ll have a code that will allow you to file your taxes online. You can locate your tax office by putting your address in here:
3) Complete the first page of the tax form with your name, address, the date you moved into your current address, and your previous address (in your home country). Make sure to include your landlord’s name or the name of your student residence.
4) If you did NOT have a television in your residence on January 1 of the current year, check the box on the front page indicating that you had no TV. This will exempt you from the TV tax of around €125, which goes to support French television and radio stations and gets added to your taxe d’habitation bill. Eventually, this tax may include other screens (tablets and computers), but for the moment, it applies ONLY to televisions.
5) Complete salary information on page 3.
6) If you have foreign bank accounts, check box UU on the bottom of the last page. You’ll have to attach a list including your foreign bank’s branch address and an account number, but you don’t need to provide more detail than that. If you have investment accounts with capital gains, dividends, and larger amounts of interest, you should consult a tax professional on how to report those amounts in France.
For more information, you can calculate your estimated taxes at impots.gouv.fr.