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On the rare occasion when I've seen people in France challenged by the police about their identity, they've always seemed to show their Carte nationale d’identité sécurisée (CNIS).

However, since I'm not a French national, I don't have one of those, and nor (I think?) would I be entitled to get one. I'm also from an EU country which doesn't have ID cards, so I don't have a national ID card either.

What are the rules in France on proving your identity if challenged by the police, specifically for non French nationals? (I'd rather not carry my passport with me at all times if possible!)

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Out of curiosity, which EU country doesn't deliver IDs? –  m4573r Mar 31 at 16:28
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See the Wikipedia article on EU National ID cards, there's a handful of countries which don't –  Gagravarr Mar 31 at 16:47
    
@m4573r I don't know about the EU, but the situation for Americans is horrific: most of us have ID cards, but there are no fewer than 120 completely different designs with different security features (the passport is the primary form of ID standardized on a national level, and they're given only upon request and most people don't have one). It really upsets foreign officials. –  Tortoise Apr 1 at 1:44
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2 Answers 2

In France, the law does not specify what counts as a valid ID, which is why official guidelines, like the one cited by @drat, remain deliberately vague (“Elle peut”) and mention things like “witness testimony”. In fact, article 78-2 of the code de procédure pénale provides that

Les officiers de police judiciaire et, sur l'ordre et sous la responsabilité de ceux-ci, les agents de police judiciaire et agents de police judiciaire adjoints mentionnés aux articles 20 et 21-1° peuvent inviter à justifier, par tout moyen, de son identité […]

“Par tout moyen” can be translated as “by any means”. Unlike some other European countries, it is not mandatory for French citizens to carry or even hold a national ID card (but it's free and convenient, which is why many simply presented that during the controls you witnessed). In principle, an official-looking gym membership card or rail card with a photo could be enough. What the police can do if you are uncooperative or they are not satisfied with the information you provided, is keep you up to 4 hours to verify your identity (article 78-3) and, with authorization from the public prosecutor, take a photo and fingerprints (refusing that carries a fine and short jail sentence).

As a foreign national, you might also be asked to show you are in France legally. If you are a EU citizen and you don't have a residence permit, this basically means presenting a passport or national ID card because other documents (including, e.g., a driver's license) would not establish your citizenship (and, consequently the fact that you really do have the right to be in France without residence permit).

But it isn't a punishable offense in itself to not carry ID as a French citizen or a passport as a foreigner. The police might theoretically make your life miserable for a few hours if they choose but if you have a credible means to prove your name and let them know you are a EU citizen, you should be OK.

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You may want to consider an edit to make this sentence a bit easier to parse: "But neither not having any ID as a French citizen nor not having your passport on you as a foreigner is, as such, a punishable offense." I think you're saying, "It isn't a punishable offense to not carry ID as a French citizen, or a passport as a foreigner." –  jmac Apr 2 at 7:10
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@jmac Yes, thanks! –  Gala Apr 2 at 7:33
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I can't help but notice that both of you quoted these laws/informations in french. For your information, official translations of the french legislations exist: here are most of the Codes for instance. –  plannapus Apr 2 at 8:39
    
@plannapus I prefer to read and quote things in the original/local language and for other people to do the same when they answer my questions. –  Gala Apr 2 at 8:51
    
@GaëlLaurans fair enough, it was just so that you don't have to rely on your own translation. Some texts are more obscure than this. –  plannapus Apr 2 at 8:53
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This website by the French government states the following on the subject:

La personne contrôlée doit justifier de son identité.

Elle peut présenter un titre d'identité (carte nationale d'identité, passeport ou permis de conduire), une autre pièce (document d'état civil avec filiation, livret militaire, carte d'électeur ou carte vitale), voire un témoignage.

Which means you have to be able to justify your identity. The documents stated are:

  • ID document (national ID, passport or driving license)
  • Other document (document of civil status, military ID, voting card, insurance card)
  • A testimony (as far as I could find, this means somebody being with you confirming your identiy)

They don't state if a foreign document is valid, but since they seem to accept a lot of documents, I don't see why not.

However, note that the text goes on:

L'étranger doit prouver qu'il est en séjour légal en France.

Which means that as a foreigner you need to prove that your legally in France, so unless you're from a Schengen state or another country where you don't need a visa, you probably have to bring your passport or carte de séjour.

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In practice, you might also need a passport or ID card if you are a national from a EU or Schengen country… to prove you are a national from a EU or Schengen country. –  Gala Mar 31 at 19:23
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