Can you hire an English-language interpreter in France?

The Local France
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Can you hire an English-language interpreter in France?
A stand at the 24th edition of the Expolangues trade fair in 2006 (Photo by OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI / AFP)

Moving to France without a strong grasp of the language can be intimidating. For some, the answer might be to hire a service or individual to help with interpretation.


However - while such private options do exist, they are limited, as they may not be able to help in all settings, and they tend to be quite expensive. Interpretation services are often geared toward companies, usually for international conferences and meetings, rather than individuals needing help with everyday tasks.

But don't despair - we have put together a list of scenarios where you might need the translation help, as well as the language help that would be available to you.

Informal help

While you first instinct might be to search for a professional, don't discount personal contacts if you just need someone to make a phone call, translate a letter or document or perhaps check over letters or emails that you are sending in French.

Most foreigners who have lived in France for a few years speak decent French, but still remember the fear of their early  days so are happy to help out newcomers. Likewise if you have French neighbours or colleagues who speak good English they probably won't mind helping out with a few translation requests. You can pay them in wine.

Translating documents

When applying for certain official things in France - including some categories of the carte de séjour residency card or the carte vitale health insurance - you will often be asked for supporting documents such as birth or marriage certificates or pension details.


As these are likely in your native language, you may need to provide a French version and you will likely need it to be an 'official' translation. In this case you cannot use friends and family - or even a standard interpretation service - as the job would need to be done by a certified translator (traducteur certifié).

This is someone who is on the official roll of the Court of Appeals in France, which is updated yearly. In order to get on to the certified list, translators must prove their competence and have their identity checked.

They are then given a number and a stamp, which they provide together with your translated document, so you can prove to French officialdom that you have used an accredited translator who has provided a faithful and accurate copy of your documents.

READ MORE: Certified translations: What are the rules for translating documents into French?

Driving test

If you come from a country (or US State) where there is a reciprocity agreement, then you do not need to re-take a French driving test to swap your licence.


However, if there is no agreement in place, then you will need to take both the theory and the practical tests once more. These are done in French, but during the 'code' portion (the written theory test) non-French speakers are allowed to have the assistance of a certified translator (as explained above).

You would have to pay for this out of your own pocket.

Hospitals and healthcare

Having someone to help you translate at a doctor's appointment promises greater peace of mind, but you may not need an interpreter if you can find an English-speaking doctor. When making a simple doctor's appointment in France, you can use online services, such as the website and app Doctolib, or you can call and make the appointment yourself.


The benefit to using Doctolib is that you can filter based on the languages that the doctor speaks. Overall this is a good option for foreigners, though you could come across the occasional doctor who lists themselves as speaking English, but their fluency leaves a bit to be desired. 

READ MORE: How to use: French medical website Doctolib

For house-calls, you can also try the service SOS Médecins. When making your appointment, you can request an English speaking doctor, but it is not guaranteed you will get one. 

When signing up for French healthcare, a lot of the process will be in French. Luckily, The Local has a guide to help you.

However, if you need extra assistance, you can call the English line for CPAM (the local office of the public healthcare system) - the number is 09 74 75 36 46. 

If you need to visit a hospital, many offer interpreting services if deemed necessary. Unfortunately this is not standard across all hospitals in France, but areas with high tourism might provide extra translation services.


For example, the Paris public hospital system (L'Assistance publique – Hôpitaux de Paris, AP-HP) says on their 'non-resident' section of the website that "to facilitate exchanges with the referring physician, an interpreting service can be called on if necessary."

If you need emergency help, you can try calling 112 (or 114 for people with hearing and speaking difficulties) instead of local French emergency options. This is the EU-wide emergency phone number. You might be more likely to reach someone who speaks English on this line. 

Immigration and administration

Whether you are renewing your French residency card or you have other immigration-related queries, the préfecture can be a stressful place for those not confident in their language skills. 

Some préfectures will go so far as to specify that you cannot bring anyone else to your appointment - meaning no interpreter or French friend to help you understand.

The best advice for these types of situations is to make sure your dossier is in good order prior to the appointment, as well as to bring along any extra documents that could be relevant.


There are private expat-oriented services which offer assistance with dossier preparation. These may be worthwhile if you do not speak any French. However, you will find that these professionals do not have special access to French immigration authorities or institutions - they will be reading from the same government websites as you are.

There is one exception - if you are an asylum-seeker or refugee, then France's Cody of Entry (CESEDA) stipulates that applicants should be assisted "free of charge by a sworn interpreter". 

If you decide to use a service to help you get a visa or residency card, make sure you check that the person has the appropriate qualification - plenty of services advertise themselves as 'visa specialists' without having any appropriate qualifications. 


Property and renting

The process for buying and renting property in France can involve a lot of jargon where it would be helpful to have a native speaker along to help.

For Americans, the first few steps of even finding a property to buy can be confusing, as as France does not have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as exists in the United States. Similarly, the role of the real estate agent is very different in France than it is in the US.

READ MORE: Can I find an American-style real estate agent in France?

Expat-oriented real estate agencies exist, offering both English-language services and a guide through the process of buying or renting property - these tend to be centred in areas that have a lot of English-speakers eg Brittany, Dordogne and south-west France and the Riviera.

Similarly, you might use a relocation service - these essentially act as go-betweens for either purchasing or renting a property. They provide services in English and can also help you with things like preparing your dossier and understanding how the French system works, as well as advocating for you with vendors or landlords.

One benefit to using a relocation service is that many will also include help with setting up your accounts for internet, electric and gas (for a higher fee).

Banking and finances

When it comes to baking there are some options, such as Crédit Agricole's Britline, which offer services entirely in English.

Online banks, such as Revolut, N26 and Wise, are also available in English.

Meanwhile, the traditional French banks might offer some English-language assistance, but do not expect this to be the norm - it's more likely that there will be an English-speaker if you are using the 'international' services that some banks offer.


There are many English-speaking accountants who can help you with your French taxes.

Reader question: Where can I find professional help with the French tax declaration?

But if you have a simple question about your tax declaration, you can find information available in English on the 'International' page of the government tax website. You can also call an English-language language hotline (+ 33 1 72 95 20 42) to ask questions.

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Court and law enforcement

If you are the victim or suspect in a crime, and you cannot speak or understand French, then French law stipulates that you have  the right to be assisted free of charge by an interpreter "during your hearings and for communicating with your lawyer. " 

If you are seeking an English-speaking lawyer or notaire, many embassies, including the US and UK, keep running lists on their websites of recommended professionals.

When it comes to notaires - the legal experts appointed by the French government - the Notaires de France website also offers useful advice in English, while a list of English-speaking notaires in France is available here.


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