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Can I use my French carte de séjour for travel?

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Can I use my French carte de séjour for travel?
Travel within the Schengen zone may still require a passport. Photo: AFP

The carte de séjour is an official document attesting to your right to live in France - but can it be used as a travel document?

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Travel within the EU's Schengen zone is usually a fairly slick business with reduced or no checks as you cross borders - but that doesn't mean that you can leave your passport at home.

So integrated is the Schengen Area that if you're travelling by car or train you may not even notice that you've crossed a border and entered another country until you start to see signs in a different language - and that's the intention of the zone of free movement, created in 1995.

But while EU/EEA citizens can move freely within the zone, it's a different story for non-EU/EEA citizens.

The rules

Borders between countries in the EU/Schengen area still exist and in order to cross an international border you will need a valid travel document - for EU citizens this can be a national ID card, but for non-EU citizens that means a passport.

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France's carte de séjour residency permit is neither of these - it is not a valid travel document and nor is it an ID card (although it can function as proof of ID in non-travel scenarios such as picking up a parcel from the post office). Technically the card is a 'titre' - title - which acts as proof of your status as a resident. 

If you try to cross a border without a valid passport you can be turned back.

The carte de séjour acts as proof of your right to live in France and your right to re-enter the country if you have left, so it's a good idea to have this with you. If you travel without it, you may have your passport stamped as a visitor when you re-enter France. 

If your passport is stamped in error this may cause delays and questions when you next cross a border, but you cannot be penalised or denied entry provided you can show a valid carte de séjour.

On the ground 

As is often the case, there's a difference between what the rule book says and what happens on the ground, and this is particularly apparent for travel within the Schengen area.

In practice, it's common to cross a border with no checks at all - although things tend to be stricter if you are travelling by plane.

Cars and trains often pass through with no checks, or with checks when guards will happily accept a carte de séjour.

However checks do happen - sometimes this is in response to a security alert, for example after a terror attack, but sometimes it's random or when the border police are training their new recruits. We regret to say that there is often an element of racial profiling, so travellers of colour are more likely to be asked to produce their travel documents.

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Cars can be pulled over at border checkpoints while if you're travelling by train, police will often board the train close to the border and check passengers.

If you are asked, you will need to show your passport - so don't forget to take it within you when travelling within the EU and Schengen zone. 

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