Financial(disclaimer: these are things I have been told over the years, but this is not legal advice — please double check that this info is correct, and up to date with country and state regulations.)
You can feasibly be very comfortable financially from an operatic career, but there are astronomical expenses. You must prepare in advance to be methodical about keeping account of your money and keeping track of receipts, etc… for taxes and social security in the U.S. I say all this, because I HAVE NOT been methodical, and have paid the price in wasted money and sooo much time!
Nothing is set up for your type of job: forms, programs, everybody, it seems, are set up for someone who lives in one place, and works for a nice big company in one place. Get used to being frustrated, and «playing the system.» Find a good CPA who’s worked for some other singers, and get together with him/her as you start your careers, to get the low-down on how you should prepare your tax stuff, what you can write off and can’t, etc..
MAKE AN EFFORT to put aside a certain percentage of your earnings. You are a free-lance artist. You never know if those next three gigs will get cancelled, you might get sick or damage your voice, and there’s no health plan that comes with the job.
Start paying on a good health plan that will cater to your needs — — make sure it covers things on the road, because THAT’S where you’ll get sick. Nobody but you is in charge of your pension plan! Don’t trust AGMA (the US opera singers’ union) to do anything for you…
I have had problems with the whole tax system, for it is not set up for itinerant singers. This is not the official legal advice of an expert — this is a smattering of information that I have gathered over the years, and the way I understand them. So if you have clarifications or corrections, please email me!! I am always pleased to get the real skinny on things.
I have worked mainly in France, England, Italy, Switzerland, a little in Germany, Austria, Spain, Norway, Sweden and Portugal. Other than these, I have no idea. I probably am pretty clueless about these countries, in any case! This information is geared towards the American singer, but some things are true for European Union singers, too.
In General for Americans
Most of our tax system is not set up for a free-lance singer. Even establishing «residency» someplace is difficult, because most of us are not ever home. See the IRS page on Tax home. Sometimes it will be in your better interests to claim taxes in one place rather than another — some states have a lower (or none!) state tax, and some cities, like New York City, have very high city taxes. Since you are not at home much, why pay all those taxes THERE? Check out the applicable laws, and see what you need to do to fulfill the requirements. The tax system is set up for people living in one place, getting income from one source. So be prepared to be creative with your taxes, and get a CPA who has worked for other singers with international careers.For example, to avoid having to keep each and every receipt of food, etc. there is a book of allowable per diem deductions for living expenses for the military and US workers abroad (and in the USA, at that) for every year. You get your CPA to look up the per diem for the city where you have travelled, multiply this by how many days you were there on work, and voila’ you have your expenses for that period. Ask your CPA or read the IRS website’s very helpful publication about expenses. The per diem does not cover housing costs, however, so you must keep all those receipts. I still keep lots of food receipts, and sundry other work-specific expenses, in any case. But I keep everything.
All European Union and most European countries (and most industrialized countries where they will have opera or classical concerts) have double-taxation treaties with the USA and with other European countries. This means that if you are a US citizen, you will not have to pay double taxes.But how does this work for US citizens? You need to get a form from the Social Security Service that says that you pay Social Security (and thus, taxes) in the United States and give it to EACH job you do. This way, they do NOT take out the extra 15% or so for THEIR social security program. Make sure you get this form to the financial department of a concert venue or opera company as soon as you get there, because once you have been paid, their social security will already have been taken out, and you can not get that refunded once it has been deducted. Tough beanies for you if you’ve forgotten the form, because you’ll have to pay social security AGAIN in the USA when you file taxes. You can not deduct it from your US taxes, because you were supposed to have gotten that form in on time! Don’t leave this up to your agent — check every time at the beginning of a gig, because agents can forget things or make mistakes, and you may need the time to get that form sent from the USA. Usually they will not accept a copy of the form; they need an original, so faxing does not work
There is a foreign earned income allowance allowance, as I understand it, of around US$76,000 for 2000 for work done outside the U.S. Yo have to qualify for it, so check out the IRS Website at the link above. As I understand it (I reiterate — I am not an expert) this means you do not have to pay taxes on that first $76,000 you made outside the USA. You will have paid already what they take out at the source in the country in which you made the money. BUT you have to pay Social Security on that money. (Since you claimed you pay it in the US and they didn’t take that out of your paycheck, it’s only right!) $76,000 sounds like a lot of money, until you realize what kind of taxes and expenses you’re paying!
The big weenie is that you will have to pay taxes in the USA on the money you earn out of the US over that 76,000$ — again. So much for not being double-taxed. The main scope, though, is to have your expenses abroad bring down your income to lower than that amount. Not always possible, but at least something to keep in mind when you’re planning your bookings. If you do not claim this foreign earned income exclusion, you will be able to deduct the taxes you pay abroad off of your US taxes. Remember in places like France where you will file taxes also (and maybe be levied even more taxes a little later — read below) that the extra taxes you will pay there will need to be deducted from the NEXT year’s US declaration, because of the timing of their declarations.
This is information given to me from the Paris Bastille Opera
You are an artist. You are paid for performances in France. You are subject to taxation on these earnings in France. You can avoid double taxation on your French earnings.
TAX LAW AND INTERNATIONAL TREATIES
France has signed tax agreements with more than 80 countries. Each agreement contains specific clauses. In most cases, your country of residence will have decided that you will pay taxes in France on your French fees and that tax paid in France will be deducted from taxes to be paid in our own country, either wholly or the major part.
15% DEDUCTION AT SOURCE (immediat payment)
France deducts from all artists’ earnings 15% of gross income, i.e. before any deductions of social security contributions or expenses. N.B- — It is only a first installment. You may have to pay an additional amount later.
ANNUAL TAX DECLARATION (compulsory)
-Compulsory for any person receiving income in France.
-Ascertained for a household
-It indicates the family situaton (dependents) which can modify the amount of tax to be paid.
-It concerns only income from French sources.
-Your net earnings will be calculated using this declaration.
CALCULATION OF NET INCOME
From gross income (total of the amounts you have received) are deducted compulsory social security contributions unless a secondment form is provided.
CALCULATION OF THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF TAXES TO BE PAID
-the lowest overall rate is 25% of net income
-Income tax is progressive with bands from 0% to approximately 58%.
-Income already withheld at source is deducted from the final bill.
-Income outside France is not taken into consideration.
HOW TO OBTAIN YOUR DECLARATION
-From the Consulate or French Embassy in our country of origin.
-from any Tax Office (Centre des Impots) in France.
-From the Tax Office (Centre des Impots) of the 12e arrondissement at 27 bis, rue Meuniers, 75012 Paris.
WHEN TO MAKE YOUR DECLARATION
-For European residents before 30 April and for Americans before 15 May.
-The French tax year finishes on 31 december.
-Any payment must be made within 45 days of notification by the tax authorities.
WHERE TO SEND YOUR DECLARATION
-To Centre des Impots des Non-Residents, 9 rue d’Uzes, 75094 Paris, cedex 02
-To Centre des Imports de Menton for Monaco residents.
IF YOU FORGET TO MAKE YOUR DECLARATION OR IF YOU ARE LATE
-You will lose certain advantages reserved for unsolicited declarations made within the time limits and your tax bill will be higher (10% to 40% and sometimes more) and the interest fine will not be deductible in your country of origin.
ADVICE AND ASSISTENCE
This form says » your agent should be able to advise you about administrative procedures. He/she will be able to direct you to a tax consultant if you should require one. » This is the biggest piece of bullcrap I have read in a long time. No agent I know has the time, patience, or the know-how to help you with your taxes in France. I recommend asking someone IN France while you are there for the name of a capable tax consultant that they know, who speaks English. If I find any names or numbers, I will put their contact information on to these pages. THE MAIN PROBLEM FOR US AS U.S. CITIZENS IS THAT THE FORMS WHICH WE SHOULD USE TO FILE ARE NOT AVAILABLE TO US WHILE WE ARE IN FRANCE — YOU WILL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THE NEXT FISCAL YEAR TO ASK FOR THE APPROPRIATE FORM. Good luck!
Ask your employer about this, so you can get your French pension number. Because you are working in France, you will be entitled to a Frence pension when you’re 65 or so. (I don’t know their retirement age offhand.) If it still exists by then! Anyhoot, it’s good to know that you are entitled to it. I believe this is one of the taxes that you and your employer are paying into each engagement. There are some taxes that are just paid by you, some just paid by your employer, and some paid half and half. I think the pension is the latter. Don’t quote me on it, though.
This is lovely little gem of an organization that plans for your vacation money! Your employer pays into this fund that you can then tap into for your vacation money each year. Nice idea. It requires a bit of paperwork, but the dividends are superb.The first time you work in France, your employer and you will fill out a form for the Conges Spectacles. Make sure everything’s correct on it, otherwise you’ll keep getting the wrong name on it, etc and it’s a big pain to change — they are not friendly and do NOT speak English. Your employer will give you the signup form at the end of your job, which you will send immediately to the Conges Spectacles so you can get your Conges Spectacles number.
Your employer will also give you a blue form, which proves that you have worked there and has the hours, etc… Hold onto this until the next April rolls around. You’ll need to wait for the Conges Spectacles (the first time you work in France) to send you your number, then fill out your blue form with this, and send it in after the 1st of April. If they receive it before April, they’ll refuse it. So don’t jump the gun! Also included in your confirmation with your new number will be a sheet asking you how you’d like to be paid. Fill out this form with your bank details, and send it in April 1 with your blue form, and from then on, your Conges Spectacles will be directly deposited in your bank account.
Pretty nifty! I think you’re still supposed to send in the blue forms for every year in April, but I don’t think I have in a while, and I still have gotten payments from them. Hmmm. In any case, they get a copy of the blue form from your employer(s) but I guess it’s better to follow the rules than miss out on your money. Even if you have not known to file in a few years, and get all your information in, sometimes they will pay you, if you include a note telling them that you didn’t know you were entitled to the money! I did that the first time after having worked in France for some years, and they paid me the back amount, even though they are not required to.
If you make over a certain amount of money in England, you will need to file taxes there. You may not end up paying any more money, but you need to file.As an American, you will need to have a work permit BEFORE stepping foot into the country. They are very strict about this, so don’t arrive at the airport or at the train station without it. Either that, or you’d better claim to be there for tourism!
The only exception to this is working for BBC Proms, a veritable tradition in England in August and September, but you will have a letter from the Proms that you will take with you to passport control instead.