• French Admin - Andrew

Identity Cards

Often for expats from the UK, coming to a country like France, which is a country where identity cards have to be carried with you all the time, life might seem rather different. The French often look at the UK and wonder how on earth the Brits might actually manage to survive in a world where identity is very much a lax thing. In the UK, merely deciding at will to change your name can be a personal choice and you don't necessarily need to go through an official change in name by deed poll, for example. But, even that is rather simply and will cost you relatively little. It can even be done on line and only amounts to a charge of £42.44. Dont you love the 44 pence?



In France, all of that is just not possible. You are stuck with the name that is on your birth certificate for eat rest of your life and you can't go by any sort of nickname. Anything that requires your identity papers will have to be registered in your full, official name. But, that's where problems sometimes start arising for expats from the UK. If you're calling yourself Bill and your real name is William on your birth certificate, then they may consider that you are two different people. You're going to end up in a pickle when they refuse to register you until you've proven that you are the one and the same person. In France, you can only change your name officially if it has a connotation that would lead to discrimination or if it would cause prejudice. For example, Monsieur or Madame Batard, or even Lanusse. No, I'm not making them up, they are real French names. But otherwise, you can't change your name in this country. Even when you can, it's a long administrative process.


In these times of lockdown and in which our movement between départements has been controlled with attestations, things are not much different from the 19th century. The French were controlled historically and stopped from moving from one town to another throughout the 19th century, with a passeport interne and a livret d'ouvrier. The police would check who was coming and going from place to place and freedom of movement was not the order of the day. The livret d'ouvrier existed from 1803 and lasted right up until the 1890s. It had originally been created in 1781 and was abolished after the French Revolution. Then the 1st Consul, Napoleon reinstated it in 1803, just a year before he was to crown himself Emperor of the French. It made it impossible to freely go to work in another place, and it also made it illegal to join together with other workers and form a union. Coalitions of trade workers became possible after 1864 when the Ollivier Law was passed, but free movement of workers was still restricted until 1890, although, in fact, the last ones were issued as late as 1908. Now we look on at a distance at China and condemn the Huji, or the national system of domestic passport that exists restricting movement of the Chinese within their own country. But it was part and parcel of the 19th century in this country too.


Identity cards, however, were first created, in fact, for foreigners in France in 1917. It was apparently, at the time, to control foreign-born residents in France that were considered to be the cause of crime and delinquency. Identity cards only became obligatory for the entire population in France under the Vichy regime on 27th October 1940. A month later the law of 20th November 1940 made it the only way to prove ones identity and in occupied France, an obligation. By 1942, with the administrative obligation to put the word "Jew "on identity papers and facilitate deportation, there was a whole industry that grew up to provide false papers throughout the country.


After WWII ended, this Vichy law of 1940 regarding identity papers was not abolished, but only amended. It became part of French law by decree in 1955 and was valid for 20 years. It included the fingerprint (of the left index finger only and a signature) of the holder. It was in 1987 the (apparently) 'unfalsifiable' identity card was created. Today, it must include the following information:


  • Surname

  • First names

  • Date and place of birth

  • Sex

  • Height

  • Nationality

  • Address

In a future BLOG post, we will look at the French Carte de séjour, or the right to residency. Check back soon.

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