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my question is 2-fold:

  1. can an online broker let a US citizen buy stocks on the paris exchange?
  2. are there any pitfalls to buying foreign stocks in the us? (e.g. tax consequences here or in france, dividend currency exchange issues, etc.)

background/details: i would like to buy some shares of michelin (ML.PA). unfortunately, i am in the US, and it is only traded on the paris exchange. i tried buying it with my tradeking account, but it says "The symbol you have entered is not a recognized stock symbol.". i also have accounts with several other brokers, and i am probably going to hold this stock for 1-10 years.

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    I'm able to buy MGDDF (Compagnie Generale des Etablissements Michelin SCA) on the PINK Sheets via Schwab. There is also an ADR on the pink sheets, ticker MGDDY – quid May 10 '16 at 21:59
  • Your first question is a service recommendation question, which is off topic. I recommend you edit it out. – a CVn May 11 '16 at 15:41
  • @MichaelKjörling i have updated the question to be more vague. i hope that put's it within topic by moving it into the realm of "what's possible" questions rather than "which vendor is best" questions. – james turner May 11 '16 at 18:08
  • @quid thanks for the datapoint! i was investigating that route myself. looks like some brokers charge large "foreign settlement" fees to trade OTC foreign stocks, but not ADR's (e.g. tradeking=75$). also, it looks like there is a 0.2% fee charged on buying french stocks, but i'm not sure if that applies to ADR's. if you don't make an answer out of your comment, i probably will. – james turner May 11 '16 at 18:41
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it looks like using an ADR is the way to go here. michelin has an ADR listed OTC as MGDDY. since it is an ADR it is technically a US company that just happens to be a shell company holding only shares of michelin. as such, there should not be any odd tax or currency implications. while it is an OTC stock, it should settle in the US just like any other US OTC. obviously, you are exposing yourself to exchange rate fluctuations, but since michelin derives much of it's income from the US, it should perform similarly to other multinational companies.

notes on brokers: most US brokers should be able to sell you OTC stocks using their regular rates (e.g. etrade, tradeking). however, it looks like robinhood.com does not offer this option (yet). in particular, i confirmed directly from tradeking that the 75$ foreign settlement fee does not apply to MGDDY because it is an ADR, and not a (non-ADR) foreign security.

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For question #1, at least some US-based online brokers do permit direct purchases of stocks on foreign exchanges. Depending on your circumstances, this might be more cost effective than purchasing US-listed ADRs.

One such broker is Interactive Brokers, which allows US citizens to directly purchase shares on many different foreign exchanges using their online platform (including in France). For France, I believe their costs are currently 0.1% of the total trade value with a 4€ minimum.

I should warn you that the IB platform is not particularly user-friendly, since they market themselves to traders and the learning curve is steep (although accounts are available to individual investors). IB also won't automatically convert currencies for you, so you also need to use their foreign exchange trading interface to acquire the foreign currency used to purchase a foreign stock, which has plusses and minuses. On the plus side, their F/X spread is very competitive, but the interface is, shall we say, not very intuitive.

I can't answer question #2 with specific regards to US/France. At least in the case of IB, though, I believe any dividends from a EUR-denominated stock would continue to accumulate in your account in Euros until you decide to convert them to dollars (or you could reinvest in EUR if you so choose).

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