From hikes in the minimum wage and the price of stamps, to new environmental regulations and unfortunate side-effects of Brexit, here are some of the major new changes that came into effect in France on the first day of 2021.
There’s some good news and some bad news on this front…so it all equals out, right? In descending order of enthusiasm:
- The minimum wage (le SMIC) has also gone up 0.99% to €1554.58 per month (or €10.25/hour, before taxes/social charges).
- The Taxe d’Habitation is almost completely phased out. Only 20% of the population (in the highest tax brackets) had to pay it in 2020, and by 2023 it will be completely gone for everyone (except vacation home owners, sorry!)
- All publice service numbers — such as 3939 for Allô Service Public — will now be free to call. No more making taxpayers pay to be on hold with…the tax office!
- Students can now eat two meals per day for €1 each at the CROUS student cafeterias.
- Hearing aids can now be 100% reimbursed by Social Security (this only applies to the “basic” models that cost about €900).
- The price of gas (for heating homes) has gone up 0.2%
- Homeopathic treatments and prescriptions are no longer reimbursed by Social Security.
- And in a whopping jump of almost 5%, postage stamps have finally surpassed the symbolic €1 mark. The cheapest for four-day delivery within France, the Ecopli, is now €1.06; the two-day delivery Timbre Vert is €1.08; the red Timbre Rouge for priority next-day delivery in France is €1.28; and the violet stamps to send international letters (including the EU) are now €1.50. Note: if you purchased any of these stamps – which don’t have a price printed on them — before January 1st, they’re still valid since there is no expiration date. So, bonus for all of you who purchased a ton of stamps years ago when they were 10% cheaper. 😉
Now I know a lot of these new laws (which were passed in 2019) don’t make everyone happy, but they’re meant to transition France to a cleaner, climate-friendly country. Your great-grandchildren will thank you:
- Following the ban on single-use plastic shopping bags and plates, France has now banned the sale of plastic straws, cutlery, drink stirrers, sandwich boxes (including the polystyrene ones usually found at kebab stands), drink lids, balloon rods, and plastic confetti starting today. There is, however a six-month grace-period where distributors will be able to empty their stock. “Companies and public establishments will no longer be able to distribute plastic bottles,” is another new law, but I’m still a bit confused about what that actually means…like at marathons or trade shows? A suivre…
- One law expressly meant to help consumers as well as the environment is the new “l’indice de réparabilité” or repairability index. From now on, all new washing machines, TVs, smartphones, laptops, and lawnmowers must have a label showing their score based on five criteria: the quality of the documentation provided by the seller, how easy it is for the buyer to dismantle the item, the access and availability of spare parts and tools, their price, and finally the type of product itself. More products are meant to join the list in the future, but this is a good start to get us all thinking about repairing before sending our stuff to the dump.
- The financial incentives to get people out of cars and onto bikes, including subsidized repairs and ebike rebates, have been such a success that the French cities are starting to resemble Copenhagen and Amsterdam. But that also means a spike in bike thefts. So starting today, all new bikes sold by professionals will receive an identification number on the bike’s frame, registered to their owners, to make it easier to identify stolen bikes and return them to their rightful owners. Used bikes sold by professionals will also be required to have the registration starting in July.
- In an effort to convince everyone to buy fewer gas and diesel cars (without raising gas prices, which set off the whole Gilet Jaune movement), the government will be penalizing sales of new cars that fall below a certain emissions standard, and continue to reward sales of new electric and hybrid cars with a bonus up to €7000. Individuals who need to charge their cars at home can also get a tax credit for 75% (or €300 max) of the cost of installing a charging station where they live (whether owners or renters).
- Only time will tell if they made the right choice to leave the European Union or not, but the immediate implications of Brexit for international travel and cross-border relations aren’t looking great for either side:
- All merchandise purchased online from the UK for delivery in the rest of the EU will be subjected to customs fees (just like deliveries from the US, Canada, Australia, and anywhere else outside the EU).
- Meat and dairy products cannot be transported into the EU from the UK. That means you can’t enter France with the ham and cheese sandwich you bought at St-Pancras train station. Same for yogurt, sausage, clotted cream, or haggis. However, exceptions are made for powdered milk and infant foods, honey, snails (huh?), and special pet foods required for medical reasons, in limited quantities (up to two kilograms per person).
- Travel to the UK is still possible with a French ID card (no passport needed) until October 1, 2021. After that, everyone will need a passport to enter the UK (and, if staying longer than six months, a visa).
- For British people coming to France, you now have to stand in the long passport check line at the airport with the rest of the world instead of the fast-track “EU Resident” line. Before I had dual citizenship I had to stand in that line. I feel your pain.
- EU driving licenses are still accepted as of January 1st to drive in the UK (or for UK residents to drive in France), but an international driver’s license will eventually be required (it’s still unclear when that will be, so just get one now to be on the safe side).
- From October 1, 2021, British citizens must have a residence permit to live in France (just like Americans). Those who were already living here before December 31st have until July 1, 2021 to complete the formalities at their local prefecture for a special residence permit which recognizes an “agreement to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union”. All new requests for residence permits can be made at the prefecture of the department where you want to live. Without a residence permit or other visa, non-EU nationals can only stay in France for up to 90 days total (within a 180-day timespan) per year.
Check back on July 1st, 2021 for the next wave of price changes, tax reforms, and new laws.