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‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Top tips for dealing with police in France

Interactions with law enforcement can be stressful wherever you are, but differences in both the legal system and the methods of policing mean that there are extra challenges for foreigners in France.

'Don't mess with French cops' - Top tips for dealing with police in France
A police officer and member of the member of the anti-criminality (BAC) police brigade holds a tear gas canister (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

While we’re sure that most readers of The Local are law-abiding folk, there are some scenarios that will involve contact with police in France, and in that case there are some things you should be aware of.

Police in France can stop you at any time for an ID check or traffic stop, for many minor offences they can issue a fine and under certain circumstances they can arrest you.

You can find the complete guide to what to do if you are arrested HERE.

Even if you are not arrested, random stops in France are more common than in many anglophone countries.

We asked Jay Epping, the American Citizen Services Chief, at the US Embassy in France, for advice.

“Don’t mess with French cops,” he told us.

For foreigners in France, it is important to understand that insulting French police or becoming aggressive towards them can lead to arrest and detention.

A common scenario for tourists is being stopped for an innocuous reason – such as a ticket check on the Paris Metro – and becoming confrontational towards officers, which can lead to being arrested.

You may have seen this on the news, but French officers also have a fairly robust policing style when it comes to public disorder or demonstrations, if you’re in one of the big cities and a demo is happening nearby it’s not particularly unusual to be tear-gassed.

It might sound obvious, but foreigners in France should also be aware that the legal and judicial system works quite differently than those of the United States and the United Kingdom. You can find our full guide to the French legal system HERE.

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

“The [American] constitution does not apply here,” added Mr Epping. “Foreigners in France should be aware of the fact that the laws of France might differ from the laws of your home country”. 

So what are the most common scenarios for foreigners interacting with French police?

Maître Matthieu Chirez, who specialises in French criminal law at the J.P. Karsenty & Associates law firm, said that driving stops where one of the most common scenarios, known as contrôle routières.

“Foreigners often interact with French police in situations of drunkenness and traffic stops,” said Maître Chirez. 

If you’re driving you can be stopped for a specific offence such as speeding or dangerous driving, or police can pull you over just to check your documents or ask you to take a breathalyser test.

Stops and ID checks in the vicinity of the French Channel ports – especially for people driving a van or large estate car – are also common as police are working to stop illegal migration to the UK.

One driving rule that often catches out foreigners is stopping at ‘Stop’ signs – if you see a sign you must come to a complete halt – even if you’re in the middle of the French countryside and there is no other vehicle for miles around.

Going through on a rolling stop is an offence and if police see you do this they will stop and fine you.

Cyclists can also be stopped by police for traffic offences such as going through a red light or wearing headphones while cycling, which is illegal in France. There are also speed limits and traffic rules for people riding electric scooters.

READ ALSO How to avoid being hit with a fine when cycling in French cities

Other common scenarios include public drunkenness or violent behaviour.

According to Mr. Epping, the common situations where foreigners might be arrested or detained tend to be violent or highly disruptive drunkenness or domestic violence, while more serious offences such as rape, assault or murder are rare.

In certain specific cases you can be arrested in relation to a serious crime committed outside of France, for which you are wanted in your country of origin. This depends whether your country of origin has specific treaties in place with France. 

If you are arrested, you have the right to legal advice and to call your Embassy – but be aware that the help Embassies can offer is much more limited than many people think.

Member comments

  1. I don’t quite understand the heading of this article and what the fuss is about. Thinking about a foreign country where you have to be very wary of “messing with the police” or having a strange legal system, my first thoughts would be the USA. And I am not alone in this. Based on previous experiences, when officials from the Netherlands government travel to the States, they are given diplomatic visas and not the usual ETA. Not that this is advertised ofcourse.

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How to adopt a pet from a French animal shelter

Around 300,000 pets are abandoned every year in France, many of them during the summer months. So if you're looking for a pet there are many lovely cats and dogs in shelters looking for a good home - here's how to go about it.

How to adopt a pet from a French animal shelter

Where to look

French animal welfare charity the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) is an excellent place to start – it currently lists nearly 4,500 animals available for adoption. 

But there are lots of other smaller, local organisations – it may be worthwhile dropping in to see a local vet as they will generally know of local groups seeking homes for abandoned pets.

There will be paperwork

First-time buyers of cats or dogs have to sign a ‘certificate of commitment and understanding’ before they will be allowed to buy an animal, and the same applies to those looking to adopt. 

After the signed document is delivered to the authorities, future owners have seven days to change their mind – the idea is to prevent people from ‘impulsively’ buying or adopting pets only to abandon them later. 

The SPA, certainly, demands that would-be adopters are of legal age and are willing to take part in a “responsible adoption process”.

These things take time – as you should expect for a commitment that can last more than a decade. As the SPA website says, it seeks to ensure “that each decision is carefully considered and that the adopted animal matches its new family and way of life”.

The process may include home visits, interviews and discussions to help adopters find the animal to which they are best suited – older people may not cope well with an energetic puppy, for example.

READ ALSO What you need to know about owning a dog in France

Shelter animals

Some welfare organisations ensure their animals spend some time with ‘foster families’ until they are adopted. This means that the organisation has a pretty good idea how that animal is likely to behave when it gets to its new adopted home.

It is more difficult to judge an animal’s character if it has been kept in a pen in a shelter.

It will cost money

A financial contribution will most likely be requested by the organisation from which you are adopting. The sum will depend on the age and type of animal being adopted. 

The SPA, for example, asks for a donation to cover vets’ fees of between €250 and €300 for a dog, depending on its age, and €150 for a cat or a kitten.

Another well-known animal welfare organisation in France, Les Amis des Animaux, has a slightly different scale of fees covering the cost of chipping, vaccinations – including rabies/passport in mature animals, sterilisation, worming, et cetera. 

READ ALSO What you need to know about microchipping your pet in France

What else you need to know

Under French law, pet dogs – and cats and ferrets – over a certain age must be identified and registered on a national database. 

The animal must be identifiable by a tattoo or microchip – the latter is the most common method these days – that is registered on the Identification des carnivores domestiques (I-CAD) database

The procedure to insert the microchip, or ink the tattoo, must be carried out by an approved professional. The procedure should be done by a vet and costs between €40 and €70, the shelter will tell you whether your new pet already has a microchip or not.

You might not believe it if you have walked along certain streets in Paris, but you can be fined if you fail to pick up after your pet. 

The standard fine is €68, but the mayors of some towns have imposed stricter rules in the street, in parks, gardens and other public spaces. 

The French government’s Service Public website lists other rules regarding the health and wellbeing of pets. Read it here.