Government, Legal, Administration

See also government sites for business in the business section.

Unemployment, retirement, diploma recognition: see the job page.

Immigration: see the immigration page.

Tax: see the tax page.

Justice tax when filing a lawsuit: pay online.

Health care: see the health care page or the CMU/health care overview page.

Administrative regions: see the administrative regions page.

US Department of State: travel advice: France
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office: travel and living abroad advice: France
CIA World Factbook: France

ID Photos

Contrary to modern countries such as the US or Denmark, you are not allowed to print your own ID photos in France if it is for official use, even if you meticulously observe all the technical requirements. The reason for this is not technical but that France's professional photographers have successfully lobbied the government to achieve a monopoly on ID photos. Hence, there is no way around using a professional photographer for ID photos needed for French paperwork, except that you may get away with printing your own photos for purposes such as the carte vitale, but they won't be accepted for identity papers.

However, rather than paying a local photographer through the nose, you have the alternative of using an online ID photo service that will transform a photo you have taken yourself so it fulfils the official requirements, and post them to you. This is much cheaper than using a high street photographer.

Photos d'identité. Easy-to-use online ID photo service.

Solicitors/Lawyers - who can you trust?

In a foreign country where you may not even speak the language, certain locals may consider you an easy target for cheating and fraud. Landlords not refunding deposits or not refunding other dues are such a classic problem that I systematically advise to withhold the deposit in the last rent yourself even if you are not supposed to do it. This minor breach of contract is a lesser evil than two years of court proceedings that may end up costing you as much in solicitors' fees as the money recovered. But don't think such problems only concern expats. The French themselves are victims of cheating and fraud in large numbers.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Who will pay your solicitors' fees if you need to take court action? What if the judgement turns out in your favour but does not award you sufficient compensation to cover your solicitor's fees? First of all, take out a legal insurance with a comprehensive cover for all the sorts of disputes that you may face. Make sure that the level of fees covered is realistic. For a basic law suit, you need to consider that the fees will be €1500 to €2000 or more. The insurance should also cover accessory fees such as expert reports and bailiffs. The former can be very expensive.

One legal insurance I recommend is AXA Juridica. However, you need their 'double fees' option, as the standard cover is insufficient to the extent that no decent solicitor will work for that. This presently costs about €11 per month, which I consider a modest price for such a protection.

French law assures that you are entitled to choose your own solicitor, insurance or not. The insurance must not oblige you to use a solicitor of their choice. When a legal insurance is involved, the solicitor is obliged to elaborate a convention d'honoraires so you know what to expect in terms of fees.

Good solicitors are not easy to come by. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because they work with the law, they are white as snow. It is often the opposite, that because they know the law, they know how to get around it and cut corners and when they can usually get away with it unharmed. It may not be socially acceptable to discuss money in French conversations, but I can assure you that French solicitors love money just as much as their American colleagues. They have no moral mission to assist clients who cannot pay their fees. No money, no solicitor. If your income is not high, you may qualify for legal aid, but be warned that the fees paid to solicitors under the legal aid scheme are so low that no experienced solicitor will accept it and that young solicitors mainly accept it in order to gain some experience. Do not expect miracles with legal aid. You get what they are paid for.

French solicitors have a particularly annoying way of slowing down court proceedings, making them more expensive, thus wasting your time and money and the court's time and money. They file their pleadings, submissions, summing-up, or whatever you call it, just a few days before the scheduled court hearing so the other solicitor and his or her client simply don't have enough time to consider them and file their own pleadings etc. to reply. The only realistic option left is then to ask the judge to refer the hearing to a later date, in the best case typically two months later. When the solicitors have practised that over several months, the judge may take the case off the cause list and ask the solicitors to get their acts together so the case can be heard without wasting the court's time again. It can easily take six to nine months before the case gets back on the cause list. The client can do nothing else than sit back and watch this disgraceful waste and poor professional practice and conscience.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that because someone is a solicitor, then they will behave in an orderly way without forgetting things. It is sometimes up to you to keep reminding your solicitor of reports they should have requested or arguments they should have used. Some French solicitors are just as sloppy and unorganised as the average Frenchman is accused of being in the stereotypes.

In the worst cases, the solicitors start lying to the client and working against his or her interests. That may happen in otherwise well-reputed high-profile solicitors' practices, some of those seeming to consider that such a low-life person as you doesn't deserve anything better.

It is extremely difficult to identify decent solicitors. You need to search for recommendations, if possible through people you know or solicitors you already know to be good.

Two good solicitors I can recommend are

Guy Laick. French solicitor in Nimes. Former president of the bar (ancien bâtonnier).

Nicolas Chambet. French solicitor in Annecy.

A few formalities: French solicitors are always addressed "Maitre". If you write to them, the standard greeting is: "Je vous prie de croire, Maitre, à l'expression de ma considération distinguée." There is no standard translation in French for "Yours sincerely" and "Yours faithfully". The greeting is adapted to the status of the addressee. Just copy and paste the above phrase to avoid unnecessary hiccups in your communication with solicitors.

French Justice - An Oxymoron or Just Third World Justice?

According to an article in Le Figaro on 13 August 2013, an Ifop survey shows that 70% of the French think that French justice is working badly. In a similar survey in 2009, the figure was 59%.

Having used French justice more than I would have liked, I can only agree with the majority.

French justice is endlessly slow. Simple cases can drag out for years, either because solicitors keep adding last-minute conclusions or simply don't show up, or because courts are overloaded or incompetent, or for no particular reason at all. France has in the past been condemned at the European Court of Human Rights for violating the right to timely justice.

Employment cases are dealt with by elected judges who are not legal professionals. The result is that when cases become too complicated, the judges don't know what to do, and they keep postponing the judgements for months or years.

A major cause of the poor functioning of French justice is lack of funding. As it is explained in this article in l'Express on 7 February 2011, France uses only 0.19% of its gross national product on justice, a funding that places France as the 37th in Europe, behind Azerbaijan. The article mentions some examples of funding of justice in other European countries: 0.38% in Germany, 0.36% in Spain, 0.43% in the UK, and 0.52% in Poland.

Most other French courts are run by professionals, but that does not guarantee fair treatment. French judges too often apply their personal sentiments over and above the law, and as a foreigner, you may well find that judges favour your local counterpart because he or she is local, particularly in the south.

Corruption has also found its way into French justice, as it is discussed in the article "Solicitors in south east France have told me about how sleazy their region is" on the business page.

The conclusion is that you cannot presume that French courts will uphold the law just because your case is legally solid. The French know this very well, and they abuse it all the time, well knowing that what they are doing is wrong, but the risk of losing in court is small. What you need to do is to scrutinise everything before you enter into agreements to avoid getting in trouble.

As with everything else in France, Latin mentality dictates that what matters is not what is right or wrong but what you can get away with.

A problem with application of EU law?

SOLVIT is an on-line problem solving network in which EU Member States work together to solve without legal proceedings problems caused by the misapplication of Internal Market law by public authorities.

Moving to another address?

Inform several administrations in one go on Mon.Service-Public.

How Long to Keep Documents

You are obliged to keep different types of documents for various lengths of time as a minimum. The government site tells you how long:

Open government, Access to administrative documents and personal information

Access to Administrative Documents

You have a right to get access to any administrative document in France, unless overriding reasons make this impossible. You cannot get access to sensitive documents, for example concerning national defense. You cannot get access to documents containing personal information about others. The exclusions that exist are fairly obvious and necessary. You are entitled to request delivery by post or electronic means. The authority may charge you the actual cost of photocopies, although they rarely bother. For further information, including information about how to complain if an authority refuses or doesn't reply (no reply after one month is considered a refusal) to a document access request, go to CADA's website.

Personal information

You are entitled to get access to personal information held about you by public or private entities. The details appear in Article 39 of law number 78-17.

Various Links

Complaints about the administration (central or local; this is the role of the parliamentary ombudsman in certain other countries; in France, this role was formerly handled by the Médiateur de la République), discrimination in general, breach of children's rights:
Défenseur des Droits. Complaints can be entered online, including up to five electronic documents.

Dictionary of legal terms in French by the French Ministry of Justice.
Visiting France
: Immigration information from the government. In English. NOTE: This site appears to ignore the Schengen Agreement that provides for free movement of residents of the Schengen zone (see above), and as such I must conclude that visa information on this site is not entirely reliable.
France Diplomatie: Government site about Foreign Affairs.
EU Portal: Practical information and help for citizens. Provided free by the European Commission.
European laws database. Official site.
EU: e-Justice portal: Official site informing about the law and justice in all EU Member States.
Legifrance: French laws. Government site.
Circulaires: French circulars, in complement to Legifrance. Government site.
Journal Officiel: Official journal of France. Government site. French laws and Official Journal.
Service public. A government portal that explains a wealth of procedures for dealing with the public administration. Links to other government sites. Mainly in French.
Vivre-au-quotidien. A private site with a wealth of information. In French. Practical legal and administrative information. In French.
Direction Générale da la Concurrence, Consommation et Répression des Fraudes. Government site for competition, consumption and suppression of fraud. Online form to ask for help with consumer problems.
Médiateur du Ministère de l'Économie, des Finances et de l'Industrie. Mediator for individuals and business in case of problems with any area under this ministry.
Sécurité sociale. A government portal that explains procedures for dealing with social security. Links to other government sites. In French.
Assurance Maladie. Official site. The French public medical insurance system.
CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales): Social security family benefits. Official site.
RSA - revenu de solidarité active. Income support. Government site.
URSSAF. URSSAF collects social security contributions from employers, be it individuals, self-employed or companies. Official site.
CNAV. General pension fund.
Ministry of the Interiour.
GroupeRF. Legal portal for business & individuals.
French tax information. Government site. Calculate your tax. Ask questions.
Conseil Régional d'Ile-de-France. Council of the greater Paris area. Official site.
Ministry of Justice.
     Ministry of Justice: information about and directory of regional justice
     Ministry of Justice: general information to the public about justice
Barreau de Paris. The Paris Bar. English-speaking French lawyer with practice in the USA and France.
Huissiers. Corresponds partially to bailiffs.

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