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MOVING TO FRANCE

Everything you need to know about your vital French ‘dossier’

It's a crucial part of life and an incomplete one can bring about a whole world of pain - here's what you need to know about your French dossier.

Everything you need to know about your vital French 'dossier'
Your 'dossier' is a crucial part of life in France. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The French word un dossier simply means a file – either in the physical sense of a plastic or cardboard item that holds documents together or the sense of a collection of documents. You might also hear civil servants use dossier to refer to the responsibilities they hold, as in English we might say their ‘brief’. 

But by far the most important use of dossier, particularly to foreigners in France, is its use to indicate the collection of documents that you must put together in order to complete vital administrative tasks, from registering in the health system to finding somewhere to live.

When you begin a new administrative process, you will need to put together a collection of documents in order to make your application. Exactly what you need varies depending on the process, but almost all dossiers will include;

  • Proof of ID – passport, birth certificate or residency card. If a birth certificate is required check carefully exactly what type of certificate is being asked for (and don’t freak out if they’re asking for a birth certificate no more than three months old, it doesn’t mean you have to be born again).

Birth certificate: Why you need it in France and how to request one

  • Proof of address – utility bills are usually the best, if you’re on paperless billing you can log into your online account with your power supplier and download an Attetstation de contrat which has your name and address on it and also acts as proof of address
  • Proof of financial means – depending on the process you might have to show proof of your income/financial means. This can include things like your last three months payslips or your most recent tax return. If you’re house-hunting you might be asked for your last three quittances de loyer – these are rent receipts and prove that you have been paying your rent on time. Landlords are legally obliged to provide these if you ask, but if you can’t find them or it’s a problem you can also ask your landlord to provide an attestatation de bon paiment – a certificate stating that you pay what you owe on time.

Paper v online

The traditional dossier is a bulging file full of papers, but increasingly administrative processes are moving online, so you may be able to simply upload the required documents instead of printing them all out. 

If you have to send physical copies of documents by mail, make sure you send them by lettre recommandée (registered mail), not only does it keep your precious documents safe, but some offices will only accept documents that arrive this way. 

If you’re able to send your dossier online, pay careful attention to the format specified for documents – usually documents like rental contracts or work contracts will be in Pdf format while for documents like a passport or residency card a jpeg (such as a photo taken on your phone) will suffice. If you’re sending photos of ID cards, residency cards or similar make sure you upload photos of both sides of the card.

If you need scanned documents there is no need to buy an expensive scanner – there are now numerous free phone apps that will do the job and allow you to photograph the documents with your phone’s camera and convert them to Pdf files.

Some French government sites are a little clunky and won’t accept large files – if you get an error message telling you that the file you are uploading is too big, you can resize it using a free online photo resizing tool. 

Payment

If the process requires payment (eg changing address on certain types of residency card or applying for citizenship) you may be asked for a timbre fiscale – find out how they work here

House-hunting

If you are looking for a property to rent you will need to compile a dossier and if you’re in one of the big cities – especially Paris – landlords or agencies usually won’t even grant you a viewing without seeing your dossier first, so it’s always best to compile this before you start scanning property adverts.

The government has put together a tool called Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Find a full explanation of how it works here.

Attestations

For foreigners, especially new arrivals, it’s often a problem getting together all the documents required. It’s worth knowing that if you don’t have everything you need, you can sometimes substitute documents for an attestation sur l’honneur, which is a sworn statement. 

How to write a French attestation sur l’honneur

This is a legally valid document, with penalties for submitting a false one, and needs to be in French and written in a certain format – the French government website provides a template for the attestation.

Vocab

Déposer un dossier – submit your file

Pièce d’identitie – proof of ID eg passport, residency card

Acte de naissance – birth certificate. 

Copie intégral – a copy of the document such as a photocopy or scan

Extrait – a new version of the document, reissued by the issuing authority

Sans/ avec filiation – for birth certificates it might be specified that you need one avec filiation, which means it includes your parents’ details. Some countries issue as standard short-form birth certificates that don’t include this, so you will need to request a longer version of the certificate

Justificatif de domicile – proof of address eg recent utility bills. If you don’t have any bills in your name you can ask the person who either owns the property or pays the rent to write an attestation de domicile stating that you live there

Justificatif de situation professionnelle – proof of your work status eg a work contract – either a CDI (permenant contract) or CDD (short-term contract)

Justificatif de ressources – proof of financial means, such as your last three months payslips (employers are legally obliged to provide these), other proof of income or proof of pension payments or evidence of savings.

Avis d’imposition – tax return. Some processes ask for this separately, for others it can be used as proof of resources – this is not a copy of the declaration that you make, but the receipt you get back from the tax office laying out your income and any payments that are required. If you declare your taxes online in France, you can download a copy of this document from the tax website. 

Quittance de loyer – rent receipts

Attestation de bon paiment – a document from your landlord stating that you pay your rent on time

Un garant – for some processes, particularly house-hunting, you might need a financial guarantor. This can be tricky for foreigners since it has to be someone you know reasonably well, but that person must also be living (and sometimes working) in France, and they will also need to provide all the above documents. If you’re struggling to find an acceptable guarantor, there are online services that will provide a guarantor (for a fee).

En cours de traitement – this means that your dossier has been received and is in the process of being evaluated. Depending on the process this stage can take anywhere between hours, months or even years (in the case of citizenship applications).

RDV – the shortened version of rendez-vous, this is an appointment. Certain processes require you to first submit your dossier and then attend an in-person appointment.

Votre dossier est incomplet – bad news, you are missing one or more crucial documents and your application will not proceed any further until you have remedied this.

Votre dossier est validé – your dossier has been approved. Time to pop the Champagne!

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MOVING TO FRANCE

6 reasons to retire to France

From paperwork and healthcare, to living costs and quality of life, there are plenty of good reasons to retire to France.

6 reasons to retire to France

We’re not suggesting that anyone do this on a whim – moving to another country is a big step and one that requires some advance planning. But if you’re considering it, here are 5 good reasons to retire to France.

Visas/residency permits

Some countries make it very hard to move there unless you have a job or existing family connections, making it very difficult for non-EU retirees to get the relevant visas or residency permits.

This is not the case in France, and it is perfectly feasible for people to move here as retirees without having any family or financial activity in France. 

For most retirees the best visa option is the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur or VLS-TS, commonly known as the ‘visitor’ visa.

READ ALSO France’s visitor visas explained

In order to get this visa, you will need to provide a dossier of documents and also prove that you have the financial means to support yourself and will not become a burden to the French state. This can be either in the form of guaranteed income such as a pension or in the form of savings.

The amounts required are not overly burdensome. They are based on the French Smic (minimum wage), which is updated regularly in line with inflation but at the time of writing requires people to have either a monthly income of €1,398.69 or savings of €16,776.  

Once settled in France you apply for the resident permit known as the carte de séjour visiteur.

Healthcare

French healthcare is generally agreed to be pretty good, and one of the best things about it is that it’s also open to foreigners.

Once you have lived in France for three months, you are entitled to register in the French healthcare system. The registration itself can take some months but eventually you will receive your carte vitale – the magic card that entitles you to state-funded healthcare.

In France, you pay upfront for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, prescriptions and hospital stays and then the money or fully or partially reimbursed, depending on the type of procedure.

READ ALSO How the French health system works

Exactly who reimburses your healthcare costs depends on your nationality and your situation.

If you are British or a citizen of an EU country and you have reached retirement age, then you apply for the S1 form in your home country, as well as the carte vitale. The money is then reimbursed by your home country.

If you worked in France before retiring, then you are covered by the French system.

If you have not yet reached retirement age, or you come from a country such as the US which does not have a state-funded healthcare system, then you can register in the French system via PUMa – full details here.

In most cases you will not be required to pay any annual fees towards the cost of healthcare, although in a small number of cases (usually concerning early retirees who are living off income from property or investments) an annual charge known as the CSM might be applied – full details here.

Cost of living

The cost of living in France varies quite dramatically depending on where you are. No-one in their right mind would describe Paris as a cheap city but in small-town or rural France is it possible to live quite cheaply.

One of the more reasonably-priced areas is south-west France, which is one of the reasons why it has proved popular with retirees over the years.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to live in south-west France?

If you’re going to live in the countryside you will probably need a car, but on the plus side property in rural France is usually significantly cheaper than in the UK or US – so if you have a house in your home country with a fully paid-off mortgage, you’re likely to be able to buy a French property outright and end up with some money leftover. 

While some aspects of life in France can quite expensive, French residents also benefit from things like the government price cap on electricity bills, which help to keep the cost of living manageable.

The cost of living in France in 2024

Benefits and perks for pensioners 

Talking of the government, they might also help you out financially.

France is a country that values its older people and there are quite a few perks and benefits available, some of which (although not all) are available to non-French citizens who live here on a permanent basis.

There are several benefits available to make daily life a little cheaper, from the senior railcard to the reduced entry rate for museums and leisure centres and the grants available for holidays (depending on income). 

READ ALSO Bikes, gig tickets and holidays: 7 things the French government might pay for

At Christmas time, your local mairie will likely either give you a food hamper or invite you along to a free lunch.

Home help 

If you get to the stage where you need a little more help around the house, France has an impressive social security net with many services aimed at allowing older and/or ill people to stay in their own homes for as long as they want to.

This includes home visits from healthcare staff and the aides domiciles who can help with things like washing and getting dressed. There are also government grants available to older people to cover things like the cost of fitting a stair-lift or accessible bath.

You can find more information on help available here, while your local mairie is also a good source on the help available in your area.

Explained: The help available for older people in France

Community 

Due at least in part to the factors mentioned above, France is a popular destination to retire to.

This means that it probably won’t be hard to find people in a similar situation to you and make some friends. There are many Facebook groups and online forums dedicated to foreign retirees in France, which are great places to find potential friends and ask for advice.

There are also plenty of opportunities for older people to learn French – which is both a practical skill that you will need and a way to make friends. Nothing bonds people faster than battling it out in the trenches of the passé composé versus the passé simple.

READ ALSO Tips for learning French as an older person in France

If you’re considering a move to France (at any age) you can find more information in our Moving to France section HERE – you can also sign up for our monthly Moving to France newsletter, offering practical help with all aspects of the move. Sign up HERE.

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