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The 'crimes' foreigners are bound to commit in France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
The 'crimes' foreigners are bound to commit in France
Photos: AFP

Whether it’s because you’re abroad and misbehaving or you just haven’t had time to go over the French Penal Code, here are some offenses foreigners in France are prone to committing on a regular basis. What else could we add?


Drink riding and other cycling offenses

Many expat cyclists in France, especially those who have been drinking, mistakenly believe that they can circumvent road regulations under the pretext that they’re not as dangerous as a car driver.

But France’s Highway Code doesn’t spare any guilty parties on two wheels, as one British reader of The Local found out when he got arrested in Paris for pedalling one of the city’s Velib bikes while under the influence. He was also cycling the wrong direction down a one-way street and spent a night in a cell for his troubles.

Drunken cyclists are quite common (in Paris at least) but it's a dangerous habit. 

Foreigners get carried away with France’s laissez-faire attitude and forget that they can’t ride their bikes on the pavement either. Those caught will be handed a €135 fine reduced to €90 if paid in the first 15 days, and up to €375 if paid beyond the 45-day mark.

And while we are here, don't use your mobile phone either, even if it is to check your map. You'll be liable to the same fine a motorist is given when caught with a mobile phone (between 90 and 135 euros). Or at least that's according to the telling off a policeman gave The Local's editor recently.

Not declaring foreign bank accounts

If you’re a resident in France but have financial ties to another country, the French government needs to know about. It may be an easy one to forget but it’s actually your legal obligation.

You must declare your overseas bank accounts when completing your tax declaration in France. But if you speak to many foreigners in France then most ( or least the folk we speak to) say they don't bother declaring them.

This includes your accounts or those of family members that are part of your tax household, if the foreign accounts have been opened, used or closed during the financial year.

You don’t have to declare accounts intended to make online purchases or to receive payment for the sales of goods if the total amount is under € 10,000 per year for all accounts as a sum total, provided also that these accounts are backed by an account opened in France.

Foreigners and French citizens who fail to register their accounts or include inaccurate information face being slapped with a €1,500 fine per undeclared account

This includes account holders who have given power of attorney to another person.

The fine can skyrocket to € 10,000 if the account was opened in a country that hasn’t reached a disclosure agreement with France aimed at stamping out tax fraud and evasion (tax havens mainly).

Tax on this kind of income or assets is subject to an 80 percent tax rate, according to France’s Directorate of Legal and Administrative Information.

Using a hands free kit in the car

There are an awful lot of fake claims online about French road laws (see link below) but this is one that has been confirmed as true and that unwitting foreigners in France may fall victim to. 

It is illegal for drivers in France to wear earphones or bluetooth earpieces at the wheel. In July 2015 France banned motorists, bikers and even cyclists from using headphones whilst driving/riding.

The interior ministry pointed out at the time that drivers needed to improve their attention while at the wheel, noting that one in ten deaths was linked to mobile phone use.

"The aim is to stop drivers from getting isolated from their exterior environments, and from losing their concentration due to the use of headphones," the Interior Ministry noted.

Those caught with earphones or bluetooth ear pieces risk fines of €135 and the loss of three license points.

This means drivers are not allowed to use hands-free kits and also means that the only way to use a phone while driving in France is to have the caller on loudspeaker via the car's own system or one drivers have installed.

READ ALSO: Fake laws: The real rules for driving in France that you need to know

In short if you are caught using a mobile phone whether it's in your hand or via earphones or hands free kit you will automatically be subject to a €135 fine and three penalty points on your license, because the law in France specifically bans using the telephone whilst the car is in circulation.

If you want to use your phone you will either have to take the car out of circulation, so park it (note that just stopping and putting the hazard lights on is not enough), or use it through the car's own inbuilt loudspeaker system or a separate loudspeaker system you have installed yourself.

Note that from 2019 police will be able to take away a license from drivers caught using a mobile phone whilst committing another driving offense, such as not indicating when turning a corner.

You can use your phone as a GPS as long as it is placed in a support so you don't have to hold it.

Breaking French speed limits

If France isn’t the country where you’ve done most of your driving, falling into speed traps is quite likely, unless you have your wits about you.

The French government is constantly increasing its speed camera fleet, recently handing over some of the policing work to private firms with mobile cameras focused on catching out drivers that know where the usual fixed traps are.

France’s highest motorway speed limit is 130km/hr (or 110km/hr in wet weather) so make sure you stick to that speed on open roads and especially on slip roads leading off motorways, where there’s often a sudden drop.

"Be conscious you can be timed between the tolls and if you've been excessively speeding they'll know this and you could be reported and or fined," France resident Tony Wileman told The Local.

On July 1 2018, the maximum speed limit on 400,000 km of secondary roads in France was dropped from 90 to 80 km / h, as this is where road fatalities is highest in France.

And your number one concern shouldn’t be the speeding ticket, as this drop in just 10km/h has been calculated by road experts to have the capacity to save 400 lives on France’s road each year.

Give way to the right while driving

If you’re a driver from the UK, Ireland, Australia, India or any other country where they drive on the left, it may have taken some time to get used to cruising on the opposite side.

And here’s a French road law that makes it even harder for drivers that are new to France: having to give way to the right in a country where they drive on the right .

It’s a complicated one, made even more so by the fact that sometimes you don't actually have to give way to the right.

In short: If you're driving and there's a vehicle trying to join or cross the road to your right, then you're obliged to let them in.

Keep an eye out for the signpost on the right, this means you have to give priority to the right.

Even roundabouts, especially in smaller towns across France, can often have la priorité a droite. 

Now, many roundabouts are more like the rest of the world, where you give priority to anyone already in the roundabout (in other words, give priority to the left).

These roundabouts are marked like this (see left). 

Remember, there are a lot of accidents in France where people don't give priority to the right - and if you're to blame, you'll have committed a refus de priorité. You've been warned!

This site explains the law in more detail (and in English).

And remember to actually stop at stop signs. Not just go slow, otherwise the police WILL stop you.

Getting reeled into dodgy deals when buying a property

Foreigners unfamiliar with French property law are more prone to falling for the lies of bogus estate agents and incriminating themselves in the process. 

Don’t be tempted by either the seller or the agent to pay anything under the table for tax breaks or other financial perks as this could hurt you in the long run. 

Even if you don’t get caught by the French taxman at the time, you will pay higher capital gains taxes when you come to sell the property as the numbers won’t add up.

Choose a trustworthy agent with a carte professionnelle, showing they’re professionally qualified and belonging to one of France’s official real estate associations, including FNAIM (Fédération Nationale de l’Immobilier) and SNPI (Syndicat National des Professionnels Immobiliers).

Seeking professional advice will also mean you are covered from falling foul of other French property laws.

Not stamping your train ticket 

All SNCF train tickets bought at the station must be validated or ‘composted’ at the yellow machines on the platform before you board your train.

Foreigners who are still oblivious to this Modus Operandi may end up getting a €20 fine from the ticket inspector once they’ve sat down at their seats (if you have a valid e-ticket there’s no need validate it). 

It’s not exactly a crime or a reason for extradition but you may want the earth to swallow you up if it happens to you.

It would however be considered an offense if you accumulated five unpaid tickets on public transport (not validating a ticket is generally considered to be the same as not having one) over the course of 12 months. 

In this case according to France’s Transport Code you would by liable to six months in prison and a €7,500 fine.

Losing your Paris Metro ticket

We’re taking it as a given that our readers aren’t jumping the security barriers at Paris’s Metro stations and are just losing those tiny magnetic tickets with a habit of escapism.

If the ticket controller stops you and you can’t find your ticket, don't expect any sympathy as a member of The Local team found out recently. Be prepared to cough up the €35 fine. 

Fortunately it seems like Ile-de-France authorities have realized that these tiny ‘billets’ aren’t that practical anymore and are now looking to replace them with a far less losable (and environmentally friendly) transport card.

Being a noisy neighbour 

It’s not that foreigners in France like to party or cause a racket any more than locals do but they may be a bit more surprised to find out that there are anti-noise laws prohibiting “abnormal disturbances to the surroundings with repetitive, intense and long-lasting sounds".

And it’s not just loud music at night that’s cause enough for your French neighbours to call the cops. According to the aptly named (, anything from a dog barking incessantly to noisy DIY work or a boisterous family gathering can be reason enough for police to hand out €180 fines to offenders.

Not assisting a French person in need

Did you know you have a “duty to rescue” someone in danger in France? And did you know that if you deliberately fail to help someone in danger, you risk five years in prison and a fine of €75,000?

The law - non-assistance à personne en danger - made headlines in 1997 after Princess Diana's fatal car crash in Paris. There was an investigation into whether the nine photographers at the scene had a duty to help or not by calling an ambulance. 

The rules are quite complicated as to what constitutes danger and what constitutes aid, but essentially it boils down to the fact that you're obliged to help someone in imminent danger if you are able to, and if helping doesn't put you in danger.

For example, if you see a fire, you should call the fire brigade. Failure to do so would be considered failing in your duty to rescue. 

But if someone was drowning, you're not legally expected to jump in the water to save the person. 

Internet downloading

If you download a film or any other file illegally to your computer and the French authorities spot it, you may find yourself receiving a warning letter from the French government through the post.

Every year, French civil servants employed to enforce this HADOPI law for protecting intellectual property online, send out thousands of these letters. If you are then caught doing it two more times within a year, you could face a fine of up to €1,500.

The first warning will be sent out by email and the second by letter (if you are caught illegally downloading for a second time within six months). The third letter, which will be sent out if you are caught for a third time in 18 months will warn you that you face legal proceedings.







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