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ID cards and the bureaucratic maze

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-02-25

National ID cards in France are mandatory if you want to prove your nationality, but entering into the process of getting one leads you into the notorious bureaucratic maze of French administration from which it can take an age to emerge.

National ID cards in France are mandatory if you want to prove your nationality, but entering into the process of getting one is something people dread for it requires entering the notorious bureaucratic maze of French administration, from which it can take an age to emerge.

In France, it’s not uncommon to be stopped by the police and asked to show your ID card. If you do not have one, it could result in a friendly visit to your local police station - or Commissariat as it is know in France - for a stern talking to.

The ID card in not only necessary for police ‘stop and searches’, it is also necessary for daily administrative life in France, such as opening a bank account or buying property. The French ID card can also be used as an alternative to a passport when inside the EU.

Can you prove you’re French?

The laminated plastic card bears your photograph, name and address, and is the only way to legally prove your citizenship in France, no other documentation will do. This precious document needs to be renewed every 10 years, much like a passport, and that is when the headache for many French nationals begins.

The issue of renewing or obtaining this document applies to French citizens who were either themselves, or their parents, were born abroad. The procedure is such a notorious quagmire, that even a government report released on February 23 acknowledged diplomatically the ‘resentment” felt by the population towards this little plastic card. is publishing individual accounts from those who have experience of this administrative nightmare. If you have a story to tell, please send it to us at

Sébastian Seibt (France 24 staffer)

In 1995, I decided to get a French ID card thinking it would be a straightforward process. Wrong! It turned out to be an ordeal that lasted for months. It began with shuttling back and forth between the town hall and the police station to try to and get a nationality certificate – a document that would prove I was French and eligible for a national identity card.

My case turned out to be more complicated than I thought: I have been a resident of France since the age of four but was born in Germany to a mother who was born in Tunisia and a father who was born in the former Czechoslovakia – both my parents are now French citizens. Authorities asked me to provide the birth-certificates of my family members, including my great grandmother who was born in Hungary. As my file kept getting thicker with administrative paperwork, I started to lose my sense of belonging.

Finally, one fine day, a local official awarded me a French national identity card after a quick review of my thick file – it all happened within ten minutes. I still don’t whether all my papers were in order or if I was just a lucky beneficiary of a civil servant’s negligence.

François Picard (France 24 presenter)

I’m a French citizen who was born abroad, but I haven’t had a French national ID card for three years. The last time I took a step toward getting one, I was told to make an appointment at a county court to prove my nationality. I asked the civil servant I was dealing with at my local town hall, “How do you think it is that I have French passport?” He simply answered “A passport is not proof of nationality.” I haven’t really faced a problem without my ID, but I’m still quite annoyed that my nationality was called into question.

Amara Makhoul (France 24 staffer)

A few months ago I had to renew my national ID card following a change of address. A civil servant at the 15th arrondissement (a district in south Paris) town hall asked me to provide proof of my French nationality given that my parents were not French. The official said my French ID card was no longer proof of my nationality as rules for obtaining a French national ID had recently been changed. They asked me to submit a certificate of nationality – issued to my parents when I was a baby, which was when I was granted French citizenship. I headed back to the town hall with the required documents only to be told that my file was incomplete. They now wanted my parents’ proof of identity.

So I returned with photocopies of my parents’ ID cards. The civil servant asked me incredulously why I had not also brought my parents’ nationality proof. I reminded her that it was my card that was under discussion, not that of my parents! Finally she accepted my file, nearly three weeks after my first visit to the town hall.

Date created : 2010-02-24