Living in France For Members

Rules of identity: What counts as an official form of ID in France?

The Local France
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Rules of identity: What counts as an official form of ID in France?
If you don't have a French national identity card, what can you use for ID in France? Photo: AFP

It's far from uncommon to be asked to present ID in France, even for some mundane tasks like going to the post office - but there are strict rules on what is accepted and what is not.


French police can ask you to present ID at any time, but you may also require it for any official function such as appointments at the préfecture and even if you need to pick up a parcel at the post office.

Be warned: you can quickly find yourself in a whole heap of trouble if you try to use the wrong ID.

A recent extreme example of this was of a septuagenarian woman who ended up being called a ‘terrorist’ after she tried to use a photocopy of her ID at her local post office.



Seventy-seven-year-old Raymonde was trying to withdraw cash from her own account using a laminated photocopy of her French carte national d'identité (CNI). The postal worker serving her obviously thought Raymonde was trying to use a forgery and promptly called the police, as well as calling Raymonde a potential terrorist.

So how can you avoid the Raymonde situation and what is permissible to use as ID? Not very much, is the depressing answer.

If you have gained French citizenship you will get the CNI which can be used, but as a foreigner, the choice is essentially between your passport and, well, your passport.

Here are the simple facts. Photo cards do not necessarily work as ID cards. 

You may have battled through a forest of paperwork to succeed in your application for a carte de séjour, however it is not considered official ID. You are also not able to use your carte vitale health card or any other photo cards you may have.

You can use your driving license - but only if it is a French one. Even one from a fellow EU member state will not work. 

In reality, if you show a driving licence that can be enough. But police do have the right to demand to see your passport and you will have 48 hours to show them.

Indeed, if they decide you are trouble and are acting suspiciously, they actually have the right to hold you for up to four hours whilst they go about proving your identity. With authorisation from the public prosecutor, they can take your photograph and fingerprints (refusing that carries a fine and short jail sentence).

The good news, though, is that it is not actually a punishable offence not to carry ID. The police can make your life tricky for a few hours but, if you have credible means to prove you are who you say you are and an EU citizen, you should be fine.




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