Tuesday, 2 March 2010

VAT actually

After several months of wavering between one side of the Channel and the other, I finally bit the bullet and joined the dark side. I am taking the plunge and becoming a Resident here. This means I have to pay VAT, even though my turnover is laughably low.

To pay VAT, you first need a VAT number (stay with me, this gets better, I promise). And indeed you have to pay to receive this magic number (why? Do they calculate it by rolling some kind of solid gold dice?), at a place called the Carrefour d'Entreprises. In practice this means your mutualité. Probably.

I went to the counter and took a ticket. It read 520. The number on the display was 739.

- Excuse me... excuse me!
The receptionist glared at me.
- I don't understand: this says 520 but the counter is already at 739.
- There are different series. Yours starts with 5.
explained the receptionist, as if this were obvious.

My turn came, about half a Tok FM podcast later.

The guy behind the counter was a smiley sort of Belgian. He smiled hello, did a double take and smiled again.
I explained my situation and he started tapping away at the computer.

- You seem tracassée
He observed, oozing charm, smiling some more.

- uhhh non, non, pas tellement...
To be honest, I was pretty damn tracassée. I was about - voluntarily - to sign up for significantly higher social security payments (largely due to a state pension that I will never receive, plus child benefits that everyone in Belgium pays, for everyone else's snot-nosed offspring), with no hope of a rebate for the first three years, not to mention all the administrative burden of a quarterly VAT return. And - thanks to major delays from the last French translation company I worked for* - I didn't even have the 75€ in my Belgian account to pay for the bloody VAT number.
I was coming out of the woodwork, while all my instincts were telling me just to lie low and hope no-one at the Comune came round to check. Here I was, volunteering to pay major extra tax, willingly moving from a small-business friendly economy to a bloody-unfriendly-let's-be-frank-here one. Just the thought of it brought me out in a cold sweat.

The guy was very smiley indeed. He took my passport, copied it, clocked that it was British and came back talking in English. I think they may be trained to do this. I certainly don't mind, and if I then rattle off at  lightening pace in my native tongue, dropping in some juicy idioms on the way, is it my fault if they don't understand me? You want to speak English? Bring it on**.

Suddenly, to my great alarm, I realised that Smiley Belgian Guy was actually flirting with me.

He started to go through the social security form. Name, Surname, Place of Birth... oh no.
I could see what was coming.

- Are you married?
- Oh gosh no.
- Ah ha! slightly too-loud laugh, coquettishly raised eyebrow 'So you are all alone?'

No! No, I have a really, really tall boyfriend who works out a lot.

- Well, yes, I mean, I have a dog.
more laughter
- not here, obviously, at my parents' house. I can't bring her here, she doesn't have a passport. Can you go over this social security thing for me again please?

And - get this - now the guy calls to his colleague: 'Hey, how's your English? Can you come over here a minute?' Even though we had been speaking in French up until the moment I handed over my passport.

- Mais il n'y a aucun soucije parle français!
- Vous parlez français?! (why does he seem so surprised?!)
- Je suis interprète quand même ...

This is a phrase I find myself using relatively often; I'm never quite sure how rude it sounds to a francophone... but it normally sorts out the English-speaking problem. He did look a bit affronted though.

- Sign here.

All this above-board business was starting to get to me. A twitch had developed in my left eyelid and the pen felt slippery in my hand.

- Anything else I have to do?
- Just e-mail me your diploma*** and pay for the VAT number.
- And where exactly should I email the diploma to?
- Oh yes... another smile - here's my card.

Very smooth.

* I came this close to adding a hyperlink to their website, but now is not the time nor the place.
** Although I realise I should be practising my French while I'm here. I find a foolproof method for being spoken to in French is very blatantly to read a very large book with a very obviously Polish title.
*** In Belgium you're not allowed to be a self-employed professional unless you can prove you're qualified for it.


Laura said...

But was he an attractive smiley Belgian man?

The diploma rule is insane! What is the point? Ben doesn't have a diploma to hand over, but apparently his maths GCSE certificate will be ok.

pinolona said...

no, unfortunately.

Maths GCSE?! That's hilarious.
The silly thing is that your degree has so little impact on what you actually end up doing. In the UK the equivalent would be to ask for professional references (they don't ask for anything actually - anyone can be self employed. And you don't have to PAY just to register. Money-grabbing Belgian nanny state again).
Gah, what am I doing?! It all makes so much more sense back home!!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Come back to good old KRK. No VAT below PLN 40K a year or so. Even Polish halflings er... enjoy the system.

pinolona said...

In the UK you don't have to register for VAT until your turnover is >68,000 GBP.
And it's a little bit nearer than Krakow :)

Michael Dembinski said...

Come April, UK VAT turnover threshold LEAPS to 100,000 GBP.

Brainy Britain realises that the cost to the economy of rozleeching (got a better English word for it?) VAT from the tiddlers outweighs the extra revenues it produces.

40,000 PLN is not even ten grand UK. What is the VAT threshold in Belgium?

pinolona said...

Michael: VAT threshold here is a princely 5,000 EUR. Put in perspective, this is just under 10 days of interpreting on the private market. This seems expensive but half of it will go on tax and social security.
Or around 60 lots of 1000 words of translation (1k words being about an afternoon's work).
Not sure if I'm allowed to write stuff like this on the internet, come to think of it, so this comment may be deleted by tomorrow morning :)

Oh and bear in mind we have to do a VAT return four times a year, or risk a 1k EUR fine.

I always wonder at the logic of chasing up the little people, when Belgium is - like Britain - in all likelihood losing millions in tax to big fish with their companies based in Switzerland or Luxembourg...

Laura said...

If you live within 50km of Luxembourg, you're allowed to pay their tax instead! I'm guessing it's a less horrific rate, it couldn't be worse than Belgium, could it?

pinolona said...

I heard Belgian tax was actually not all that bad... compared to say, France. Or Hungary...