For members


From dossier to Notaire: French bureaucracy explained

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.

From dossier to Notaire: French bureaucracy explained
Don't drown in French bureaucracy. Photo Nomadsoul1/Depositphotos

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.

C is for Carte de sejourresidency card. Compulsory for all non-EU nationals living in France (so will become compulsory for British people after Brexit)

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 will 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.

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 conduiredriving 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 RIBreleve 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. 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, but some households will still get a bill this November. It covers local services such as bin collection and street cleaning.

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. In fact some things, like the annual tax return, can now only be done 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 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.

Member comments

  1. How about K for K-Bis.
    The K-Bis is the official document attesting to the legal existence of a business eg auto-entrepreneur

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.