EXPLAINED: How to officially prove your ID and address in France

Proving your ID and address when you are a foreigner living in France can be a complicated affair. Here is an (hopefully) helpful guide to the documents accepted by French authorities.

EXPLAINED: How to officially prove your ID and address in France
French people have ID cards, but for foreigners it's a little more complicated. Photo: AFP

Being a foreigner in France is lovely until you have to deal bureaucracy and proving things such as your identity or your address to the authorities (especially when you come from a country that does not do ID cards).  

In France, the majority of people carry around a carte nationale d’identité (CNI) that they pull out frequently, either to pick up a parcel from the post office or when they're involved in any kind of administrative procedure.

But if you don't have one you will need other means to prove who you are, and only some types of ID are accepted.

Random ID check

On-street ID checks do happen in France, although more in some areas than others, but French police are entitled to stop you at any time and ask for proof of your identity and right to be in France.

On the official French administration website, it is indicated that during a contrôle d’identité (random identity check) a foreigner can prove his identity with a passport, a driver’s licence or a residence permit.

It's only since 2019 that drivers' licences have been accepted for this purpose, and it must be a photo card.

It is also worth noting that “testimony can be accepted”, meaning that if a person accompanies you, they can in some cirumstances verbally confirm that you are who you say you are.

Photo: AFP

Not everyone will have a residency card, if you are a citizen of an EU country your passport 'acts' as your residency card, since it confirms that you have the right to be in France under freedom of movement. For British people this will remain the case until July 2021, which is the deadline for applying for residency.

If you are from a non-EU country you will need a visa or residency card if you are in France for longer than three months.

In certain areas, especially the Paris suburbs, police carry out random checks of residency permits, which activists and locals say are heavily slanted towards non-whites (although police deny this). 

Proving your identity to institutions

You will also be asked to provide ID for many official functions, especially when you first arrive in France, including registering in the French health system, submitting your first tax return and buying or renting property. For these purposes, your passport is always the best option but other documents that may be accepted are; 

  • A national identity card (if your country has one)
  • A passport
  • A driver’s license delivered in an EU country
  • A long-term EU resident card
  • A temporary EU residence permit

All of these need to be valid.

If you are from a non-EU country, a passport, a resident card, a temporary residence permit, a multi-annual residence permit, a long-term visa, an Algerian residence certificate or an asylum seeker certificate can also be used.

But know that depending on what you want to do and where you are in France, not all of the above will officially prove your identity to the eyes of a particular institution.

Your passport remains the surest option of all even if it seems a little over-the-top to take it with you every time you go to the post office.


Documents that proves your address

For pretty much anything in France, whether it’s for applying to get a driver’s licence or to open a bank account you will also need to have a justificatif de domicile, in other words, a document proving your address in France.

Photo: AFP

Several papers can work in that case. Generally, bills are a good option (electricity, water or landline telephone) as well as your rental agreement, or if you are a home owner, your property deeds.

Your rental insurance contract can also be a justificatif de domicile.

If you are currently living in another person’s accommodation, then the person who rents or owns the place will have to write you an attestation d’hébergement (accommodation certificate stating that you live there) and provide their own justificatif de domicile.

If you have opted for paperless billing so don't have a recent bill, you can download an attestation from your energy company's website.

Member comments

  1. When we were in the early stages of confinement, my supermarket allowed people over a certain age to skip the entry queue. For once, I was grateful for my age. So I presented my carte de séjour to the attendant, the two of us finally found my (minute) date of birth, and I was allowed access. He had obviously never seen a carte de séjour before and asked if I didn’t have another pièce d’identité. I decided the long, French, queue waiting to be allowed in wouldn’t have appreciated my presenting a UK passport!

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What to do if you are arrested in France

Everything you need to know if you find yourself in handcuffs in France.

What to do if you are arrested in France

France’s legal system is born out of its Code Civil, and for criminal proceedings, the relevant legal infrastructure is the Code pénal.

The way the system works is very different to many anglophone countries, so if you are arrested do not expect events to follow the pattern you would expect in your home country.

Here are some of the scenarios you might find yourself in, and what to expect:

The police have stopped me:

There are a few scenarios here, they could give you an amende (fine), it could just be a contrôle d’identité (ID check) or contrôle routière (traffic stop) or you could be under arrest. 

READ ALSO Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

Fine – If they have stopped you to give you an amende, this is likely because you committed a minor infraction. 

This could be a traffic related offence – maybe you went through a red-light while riding your bicycle – or a minor crime such as littering.

The amount of the fine will depend on the severity of the infraction, which is at the discretion of the police officer. In most scenarios, the officer will ask for proof of identity, your address, and then the fine will be sent to your home. You’d be advised to pay it right away, because if you delay the fee can be increased.

Be aware that police officers will not ask you to hand over cash on the spot. It’s unfortunately true that scammers prey on tourists by pretending to be police and asking for cash ‘fines’ – a legitimate officer will not ask for this.

If you’re on public transport, transport police such as the Paris-based RATP Sûreté are also empowered to stop you and to issue fines if you have committed an offence such as travelling without a ticket. 

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Tips for dealing with police in France

ID check – The other scenario where you could be stopped by a police officer is during a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity, and it can only happen under certain conditions: they suspect you have committed or will commit a crime, you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur, the public prosecutor has ordered an area to be watched, or you are operating a motorised vehicle (contrôle routière).

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. If you do not have documents on your person to prove your identity, the officer can take you to the police station to check your identity there.

Many activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s unfortunately the case that these ‘random’ checks do seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

Arrests – Finally, an officer might arrest you.

The French criminal code allows police to arrest and detain (for a limited period of time) any person against whom there exists one or more plausible reasons to suspect that they have committed or attempted to commit a criminal offence – this is at the discretion of the officer so it can cover a pretty broad range of circumstances.


The French police are allowed to detain you if the police suspect you have committed or could commit a crime that is punishable by jail time. This means they cannot detain you for something that is punishable simply by a fine, but no arrest warrant is required in order to detain you.

If police detain you, you need to be aware of your rights: 

  • Right to interpretation and translation if needed
  • Right to information (you have the right to know the exact legal definition of what you’ve been accused of)
  • Right to legal assistance (from the moment of arrest)
  • Right to have someone, such as a family member, be made aware of your arrest
  • Right to have an opportunity to communicate with your family
  • Right to be in contact with your country’s consulate and receive visits if you are arrested outside your home country
  • Right to the presumption of innocence
  • Right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination
  • Right to be present at your trial
  • Right to consult police documents related to the investigation such as: the transcript of police interviews, medical certificates and notice of the rights in custody

In most circumstances you can only be held a maximum of 24 hours.

This can be extended if the crime you’re accused of is punishable of more than a year in prison. If so, the initial period of custody can be increased by 24 hours (up to 48 hours in total). In order for it to be extended, a public prosecutor must deem it necessary.

If the crime you are accused of is punishable by more than 10 years in prison, or relates to organised crime, initial detention can be up to four days, while those suspected of terror offences can be detained for a maximum of 144 hours (six days).

Court hearing

If the offence you are accused of is too serious to be dealt with by way of a fine, you will need to appear before a court.

If you’ve found yourself in this unfortunate situation, you should know that your hearing could either take place immediately at the end of your time in police custody or it could be sometime in the distant future – maybe even years later if it’s a complex matter.

The location of your hearing will depend on the severity of your offence: petty offences (contraventions) are typically dealt with in police courts (tribunal de police) or ‘jurisdictions of proximity’ (juridiction de proximité).

For misdemeanour crimes such as theft, you would likely go to a correctional court (tribunal correctionnel), and for the most serious offences such as rape or violent crimes you would be tried in a criminal court called a cour d’assises or la cour criminelle

If you have a ‘fast-tracked proceeding’ (comparutions immediates), this is because the public prosecutor has chosen this avenue.

Typically, it only happens in very straightforward cases, and it would involve your case being heard immediately at the end of your time in police custody (garde à vue). You cannot request a fast-tracked proceeding yourself. You should be advised that in these situations, it means that there is very little time to prepare a defence. You can request more time, and of course, you can request a lawyer. A fast-tracked proceeding will happen in the tribunel correctionnel.

There is also the option of a “Comparution sur reconnaissance préalable de culpabilité” (CRPC), which is a pre-trial guilty plea procedure. In order to go through this procedure, you must have the assistance of a lawyer

Ongoing detention

If your offence is too serious for an immediate court hearing, you will need to wait for a court date.

In most cases you will be released from custody while you wait for the hearing under contrôle judiciaire, which is similar to bail and often involves certain conditions such as not attempting to contact the victim or witnesses in the case.

In certain circumstances the judge can institute a caution, which is a sum of money that must be paid to ensure that the person be present at the proceedings, but paying money for bail is much less common in France than it is in the USA.

If you are a foreigner you will likely have your passport taken and be forbidden from leaving the country. If you do not have a permanent residence in France, the court can assign you one and demand that you stay in France until your hearing date.

If you commit further offences, or try to contact witnesses or victims while waiting for your hearing, or breach any of the conditions, you are likely to be brought back into custody.

I want to contact my embassy

You have the right to contact your embassy at any point after an arrest, though you will need to expressly request this, they will not be automatically contacted when you are arrested.

The role of the Embassy is much more limited than many people think – the Embassy is there to ensure that you are not being mistreated because of your nationality. As long as you are being given the same rights as a French national in the same scenario, The Embassy will not intervene on your behalf.

The Embassy does not have the power to tell a court whether you’re guilty or innocent, to provide legal advice, to serve as an official interpreter or translator, or to pay any legal, medical, or other fees.

They can, however, help you to find the above services, and most embassies have a list of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you have been incarcerated, depending on the country you come from, the French government might be required to inform your country of your incarceration. For US citizens, this requirement exists with your permission, and for UK citizens the obligation to inform exists even without your permission.

I would like legal assistance

You can request a lawyer at any time when in police custody in France.

As mentioned above, your embassy is a great resource for finding an English-speaking lawyer. Most embassy websites will have extensive directories for lawyers.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

You can also check the local “tribunal d’instance” (your local courthouse), your département’s bar association (le batonnier/ Barreau), or consult websites, such as AngloInfo, which compile directories of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you cannot afford legal representation and need legal aid, you must be able to prove that you are low income. You can contact the Maison de Justice, which is the courthouse. Your département or region should have a website explaining the legal aids near you. This is Paris’ for example, HERE

Key Vocabulary

Appeal: appel

Bail: contrôle judiciaire

Bar Association: l’ordre des avocats/ barreau

Charge/Indictment: Accusations

Embassy: Ambassade

File: Dossier

Investigative Judge: Juge d’instruction

Judge: Juge or Magistrat

Lawyer: Avocat – keep in mind, when addressing a lawyer you should use the honorific Maître (the same title applies for male and female lawyers)

Judgment: Jugement

Legal Aid: Aide juridictionelle

Criminal offence: infractions

Felony: un crime

Misdemeanour: un délit

Petty crime: contravention

Police Custody: garde à vue

Public Prosecutor: Procureur de la République

Sentence: Peine

Warrant: Mandat

Witness: Témoin

Expert help for this article was provided by Maitre Matthieu Chirez, who is a practicing lawyer at J.P. Karsenty & Associates and is specialised in criminal law. You can access the firm’s website HERE.

Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice and if you find yourself in trouble with the French legal system you should always get professional help.