I am a freelance medical writer/editor and would like to live and work in France. I would plan to keep working for my Australian clients. In that situation would I need a visa to live in France? I can provide evidence of good income and ongoing commitments from Australian clients. If I am allowed to live there under these circumstances, would I be expected to pay tax in France on my Australian income? I assume I would have to have private health insurance.
If you live in France (and either staying there for most of the year or having your main abode there would mean that you are considered a resident for tax purpose) then you most likely have to declare and pay taxes there (that's the general rule but you would also need to check whether there is a tax treaty between Australia and France).
You do in any case need a long-stay visa (visa de long séjour) or residence permit (carte de séjour) to live in France (or stay there for more than 3 months). That much is certain.
Where things become complicated is that I am not sure what visa/permit would be available to you. A regular work permit require a work contract with a local company. A simple visitor visa requires you to certify you will not work in France and working for Australian clients is still working. So you need something else.
Here are the best fits I could find:
Residence permit as “travailleur indépendant”. The main requirement seems to be a monthly before-tax income of EUR 1 457,52. I am not entirely sure but I think that you would not only owe income tax on your income but also that you would be expected to deal with whole French corporate tax structure and register yourself as an auto-entrepreneur or create a French company. You would also have to pay the mandatory contributions to the “social security” (in France this covers healhcare insurance, old age pensions, insurance against work accidents and disability, and family benefits). On the flip side, you would obviously be insured.
A variant of the previous one is the Long Stay Visa for creating and running a business or a company in France if you chose to create a French corporation for your business (that's what many freelancers do in France). The annoying thing is that they want you to complete a whole lot of formalities, have some documents from a French bank, a business plan in French, etc. before entering France on the long-stay visa.
The “compétence et talent” card. It's a long shot because they only issue a few hundreds of them a year. Writers specifically qualify but that's mostly for well-known authors of fiction. Apparently, you can also simply apply as a self-employed professional but you will in any case have to argue that you have exceptional qualifications in your field (and provide documentation to that effect, including a resume and “a portfolio”). And that permit can only be used for six years, in link with some specific project and with the intent to leave France afterwards (in practice, I think you get 3 years at first and can renew it once).
Work holiday visa. It depends on your age and is only valid for a year but it could be an easy way to come to France with less hassle. I am not sure whether this really applies to your situation and whether it's possible to transition to another status after the first year but that's something to investigate as well.
Freelancing is available to Australian Professionals in select fields, such as IT, Engineering, Medicine (etc). Freelancers do not need to join the Social Security system, however Freelancing is not well understood by the French locals, so you need to know your stuff because you're going to have to explain it to them. And in France you dont have presumption of innocence, you have to prove your entitlement.
The EXACT legal term (in your contract) for Freelancing in Europe is "INdependent Contractor", and is much the same thing as "INdependent Contractor" means in Australia. You must use only this EXACT term when discussing and negotiating your situation for legal purposes.
HOWEVER, AND THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST MISTAKE THAT TURNS PEOPLE AWAY FROM FREELANCING IN EUROPE: What Australian law calls an "employee" is known all over Europe as "DEpendent Contractor", or just "Contractor". You must not sign a contract describing you as a "Contractor" or "DEpendent Contractor". These are employment positions and you pay 25% more tax.
There is only one legal term for "employee" in Europe and that is "Contractor". They are all known as "Contractor"s, not "employees". Locals who trade as a locally registered business are just about the only other kind of Contractors there are, and called "INdependent Contractor". But "Contractor" by itself means "employee" in any discussions. If you talk to anyone in Eurpoe about "contracting" they will think you want a permanent employee position. I kid you not.
(The jargon "Freelance" is used widely in job ads to make the distinction clear. But you should not use "Freelance" in negotiations because that word cannot appear in your contract, and you may sign up to a "Contract" without the word "INdependent" by mistake. Omitting "INdependent" means you will be required to pay an extra 25% tax. I cannot stress too much how important it is to use the word INdependent" in your negotiations. You should always use the term "INdependent" when talking about the type of contract you are seeking as a Freelancer in Europe). "INdependent" "INdependent" "INdependent" "INdependent" !!!
Being an INdependent Contractor is what exempts you from the additional 25% taxes joining the Social Security system will cost you. As an "INdependent Contractor" you only pay tax at about 22%, and you need your prove you have your own health and medical insurance (add 4%). As a "Contractor" (aka "DEpendent Contractor") you will pay total taxes close to 50% for a health system that takes 2 years to qualify for and you cant take advantage of from your home country (Australia).
Finally, the Laws change all the time. Dont take any notice of what I've just written above. It could all change overnight. In Jan 2016 I seem to recall that Australian Professionals did not require a Blue Card (check this) but a new law came into effect in March 2016 affecting foreigners working in France. The best people to speak to are probably the Blue Card help line but make sure they understand you are talking about Freelancing, not Contracting !!! I have found that not even the recruitment agencies understand this area, nor do they really care - they expect you to know your stuff and have all the necessary documents in place. Because making a mistake wont affect them. It will affect you. Big Time.
Once you have established your eligibility to Freelance and have your work visa and/or BlueCard and/or apostilled documents (if necessary) in place before you leave, you can start working when you arrive and can have up to 3 months (depends on the country) to provide copies your documents if required. When you sign the contract, you will only be asked to check a box or agree to the effect that you are able to work freelance, but dont take this checkbox/paragraph lightly. Make sure you can. Not knowing is the same as not eligible, even if you are but dont have the right documents. Documentary proof is everything in Europe and unlike Australia, they are REALLY officious about it. That said, you may never need to provide those documents. Frustrating isnt it!
You claim to be the professional so demonstrate it by doing your homework and taking the lead. YOU must be the expert in Freelancing law.
I hope this helps.