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.
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.
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.