Living in France For Members

Do foreigners in France need to carry proof of ID?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Do foreigners in France need to carry proof of ID?
ID checks can take place at any time of day. (Photo by SEBASTIEN SALOM GOMIS / AFP)

You may have heard that you need to carry your ID card with you at all times in France - but is this actually true and what can happen if you don't have any? 


Question: Is it true that if you're a foreigner in France you need to carry ID at all times? And what can you use? I don't like to carry my passport with me all the time in case it gets stolen.

The short answer is yes, and yes. In theory. If you don’t have any ID with you, things can get … time-consuming. And, maybe, expensive.

French citizens are all issued with (free) ID cards, which most people routinely carry with them.

Visitors and non-French citizens, meanwhile, are encouraged to have some form of ID with them at all times. No law actually requires you to have a form of ID with you at all times - but if you are subject to an identity check, the procedure will take longer if you cannot present an appropriate document.

One reason for police to stop an ordinary civilian is for a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity. 

This can only happen under certain conditions: 

  • the officer suspects you have committed or will commit a crime; 
  • you are in an area where crime is known to occur; 
  • the public prosecutor has ordered a certain area to be subject to police checks, or; 
  • you are in control of a motorised vehicle (a contrôle routière).

If you're driving, officers have the power to pull you over for an ID check - even if you were driving safely and within the speed limit - and a search of the vehicle may be carried out.

French police deny it - and the French state's 'colourblind' policy means there is no official data - but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that ID checks are much more common for people of colour. 


Acceptable forms of identification are;

  • a passport
  • a French ID card
  • a photo driving licence;
  • a carte de séjour residency permit 

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

A carte vitale health card, voter card or a French birth certificate may also be acceptable.

If you are not carrying any document that could prove your identity - a good quality photocopy is usually acceptable, if you don’t want to carry the original around with you, or maybe a photo on your mobile - the officer can take you to a police station to check your identity there. 

This verification must take no longer than four hours from the first request for ID (eight hours in Mayotte, just for the record). Even so, it’s plenty long enough to put a kink in your day.


If police cannot establish your identity, or if you refuse to cooperate with police, the public prosecutor or investigating judge may authorise the taking of fingerprints and photos. Refusing to submit to fingerprinting or having a photograph taken is punishable by a fine of up to €3,750 and three months in prison.

Non-French citizens who are resident in France may also have to prove their right to residency - a passport or residence permit is acceptable, as is the confirmation of anyone with you who is either a French citizen or legally resident in France.

Equally, you may be required to prove your identity for any number of administrative reasons - which makes it easier to have some form of ID with you.

These include, for example, the following situations:

  • Examination or competition;
  • Registration at Pôle Emploi;
  • Registering on electoral rolls and voting in elections;
  • Certain banking operations (opening an account; making a payment by cheque; or making a withdrawal at the counter of your bank);
  • Picking up a parcel from the post office;
  • Rail travel in certain situations, such as if you have bought your ticket using an age-restricted rail card;
  • Air travel.

Be aware that companies such as SNCF and administrative bodies can decide for themselves which forms of ID they deem acceptable - and whether they will accept photographs or photocopies. 

If you're travelling within the Schengen zone, you should always carry either a passport or a French ID card - although checks at Schengen borders are not common, they do happen and technically you still need a passport or ID card to travel. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also