Living in France For Members

From dossier to notaire: French bureaucracy explained

The Local France
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From dossier to notaire: French bureaucracy explained
A person with a tablet declaring their taxes in France (Photo by DAMIEN MEYER / AFP)

It's a cliché that the French love their bureaucracy, but it's also true. Here we grapple with the main bits of the famously cumbersome French system and explain some of the key words and phrases.


A is for Attestation de travail - the document from your employer stating that you work there or that you have been offered a position. Used to prove that you are in work, it can be used instead of a job contract and is particularly useful when flat-hunting

B is for Bank accounts - to open a bank account (compte bancaire) as an expat working or studying in France, you need to be over 18 and have photo identification. If you're working, you may also need to provide proof or your occupation or employment status including employment contracts or pay slips. For students, this could be a student card.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

C is for Carte de sejour - residency card. This or a visa is compulsory for all non-EU nationals living in France.


C is also for Caisse d’allocations familiales - the government body that offers help to families including the various family benefits and allowances that are in offer in France.

D is for Déclaration des revenus - the dreaded annual French tax declaration. Everyone must make the declaration, even if your income is now taxed at source, and if you live with another person your declaration should be made as a household.

D is also for Dossier - a bundle of documents. Almost every bureaucratic process in France requires a dossier, from flat hunting to opening a bank account and gaining residency. The exact requirements will vary depending on the process, but a basic dossier will include proof of ID (passport, ID card, visa), proof of address (rental agreement, utility bills), birth certificate (this must be the full version and if it is in English you may need a certified translation), evidence of work status (contract, payslips) and bank account details (see R).

E is for Electricité - utility bills (facture d’electricité/gaz) are important because they can be used as proof of your address which you will need when making certain applications, for example for a bank account or a carte de séjour. Phone bills can be used for this but mobile phone bills cannot. If you opt for paperless billing, your online electricity account will offer you the option to download a new Attestation de contrat every time you need to provide proof of address.

F is for Fiche de paie - payslip. Make sure that you get one of these every month from your company and make sure that you keep it, you may need it to prove your continuous employment. For example, landlords frequently ask for your most recent payslips when you are house-hunting and they can be used to prove employed status for a carte de séjour application.

G is for Gagner du temps - a phrase you will see on signs liberally scattered over all official offices, asking people to help save time by having their correct documentation ready. If you turn up for any official appointment without your full dossier, you will likely be rejected.

H is for Hivernale - the treve hivernale is the ‘winter break’ over which tenants cannot be evicted from their homes, even if they have fallen behind with rent or bills. It runs from November 1st to March 31st.

I is for Immobilier - if you are buying a home in France you will almost certainly need the services of an agent d’immobilier - a real estate agent.


J is for Jeunesse - if you are a young person in France, there are plenty of discounts on offer. So make sure you take advantage of them, from the carte jeune railcard to free entry to museums for people with a student card.

K - we can’t think of one. Can you?

L is for Locataire - tenant. As a tenant in France, you have a lot of rights, including the right to a certain amount of space, the right for repairs to be done and a cap on how much your rent can be hiked by.

M is for Mutuelle - Top-up health insurance. The carte vitale (see V) provides a basic level of cover for health care costs, but often does not refund the full cost of medical appointments or prescriptions, so most French people have top-up cover, known as a mutuelle. It is considerably cheaper than health insurance in the UK and US, and, if you are employed, your employer is legally obliged to pay half the cost.

M is also for Mairie - a crucial branch of local government, particularly for people living in rural areas. The village mayor has a wide range of powers including granting planning permission. Definitely a person to make friends with.

N is for Notaire - a position unique to France, the notaire is a legal expert who can offer advice, but acts on behalf of the French state. Some functions in France, such as buying and selling property, cannot legally be done without a notaire.

O is for Offre d’achat - a formal offer to buy a house. Once you make this offer, either verbally or in writing, it becomes legally binding. However, it is illegal to hand over money at this stage, you need to wait until the seller makes a promesse de vente (promise to sell).


P is for Permis de conduire - driving licence. You might think that this photocard can be used as proof of identity, but you would be wrong. Technically in France the driving licence is only a certificate and not accepted as ID.

Q is for Queuing - OK it’s perhaps not an official bureaucracy term, but you will be doing a lot of this while you get your paperwork sorted (although increasingly things are moving online), so get used to it.

R is for RIB - releve d’identite bancaire. Details of your bank account - account number, IBAN etc, that you will need to set up direct debits etc. Your bank should give you a few copies of this to distribute.

S is for Sécurité sociale, numero de - social security number will be given to you once you gain a carte vitale and also appears on your payslip if you are an employee. Unlike in some other countries, the social security number is only used in relation to health and social care.

T is for Taxe d’habitation - local tax. This is actually in the process of being phased out and soon will only be charged on second homes. If you own the property, you will also pay taxe foncière, the property owners' tax.

U is for Urbanisme - this will be familiar to anyone going through the French planning permission process. A plan locale d’urbanisme is a local planning policy document that can dictate, for example, which areas of green land in and around villages can be built on. Not all areas have them, but it is vital to check that your plans comply with a local plan.

V is for Vitale - the all-important French health cover. Once your get your carte vitale, you will be able to claim back costs of healthcare including medical appointments and some prescriptions from the French state.

W is for Wifi - make sure your internet connection is up to speed as increasingly the apparatus of the French state is moving online.


X is for X-rated - if dealing with French bureaucracy has driven you over the edge, here is our handy guide to French swearing.

Z is for Zone tendue - An area where a tax on empty buildings is enforced. Targeted at second homes and holiday homes, the areas where this apply include (but are not limited to) Ajaccio, Annecy, Arles, Bastia, Bayonne, Beauvais, Bordeaux, Draguignan, Fréjus, Genève–Annemasse, Grenoble, La Rochelle, La Teste-de-Buch–Arcachon, Lille, Lyon, Marseille–Aix-en-Provence, Meaux, Menton–Monaco, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Saint-Nazaire, Sète, Strasbourg, Thonon-les-Bains, Toulon, and Toulouse.


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Anonymous 2019/08/15 20:44
How about K for K-Bis.<br />The K-Bis is the official document attesting to the legal existence of a business eg auto-entrepreneur

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