Why your name must be correct on the paperwork you’ll need to live in France

Why your name must be correct on the paperwork you’ll need to live in France

Starting your new life in France will involve a certain amount of paperwork and it’s important to make sure that your name appears correctly on all of your documents – and that changes are made if not. These are some of the the things you should check

When you arrive in France you will quickly realise just how often you will need to prove who you are and where you live, and how important it is that your name appears correctly on your paperwork. Whether it be getting into the health system, importing and registering your car, setting up a business, applying for a carte de séjour/residence permit/citizenship or just other general day-to-day administration needs, you will get used to these being the first two things on the list.


One of the first things to understand is that the French have a livret de famille where their family history is recorded. It’s like having your birth, marriage, and divorce records and also information relating to your parents, spouse and your children all in one booklet. At a glance anyone in administration can find out all they need to know from reading the livret de famille. The livret can be obtained from the mairie and there is no cost involved, however if you are not French or a French resident you can only obtain a livret de famille if you got married and had a child in France, so for everyone else that means producing all the necessary documentation separately.


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One of the other things to understand is the fact that women have to fill in all official forms using their maiden name or birth name. The reason for this, as with many laws in France, dates back centuries to a time when the legal position was that “No citizen can carry a surname or a first name other than the one on their birth certificate”. An amendment in 1985 stated that, “Marriage has no effect on the names of the spouses who will continue to be known officially under the name that figures on their birth certificate. However each spouse may choose to use in everyday life the name of their spouse either by substitution or by adding it to their birth name”.

This can be done on official forms by adding the name you use on a daily basis under ‘nom d’usage’. As a foreigner who cannot produce a copy of a livret de famille you will almost always need to give them a copy of your birth and marriage certificates and if you have divorced and/or remarried, a copy of your divorce papers.


You will spend a great deal of your time proving not only who you are but also where you live, so the next step is to understand how the French want you to justify your domicile. You will need to produce a utility bill (water, gas, electricity, landline not mobile), tax bill (income or taxe d’habitation), house insurance or a rent receipt less than three or six months old depending on what you are applying for. They will sometimes accept the deeds of the house or an attestation from your local town hall. A word of warning – if you live as a couple, even if you are married, make sure that both of your names are on the bills and paperwork. If not, the person whose name does appear will have to confirm in writing that they provide free accommodation for their partner or spouse at that address (une attestation d’hébergement).

Also make sure that both your name(s) and address are spelt correctly on the bill and that your name is identical to the one on your passport and birth certificate, otherwise you are likely to encounter problems and your dossier may well be rejected. Don’t be tempted to use a shortened version like Andy, Pete or Gill or to leave off your first name because you are always called by your second name.

If you live in someone else’s house and do not have any papers in your name, you will need them to provide an attestation to say you live there free of charge along with their proof of identity and a bill less than three or six months old in their name.


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One of the most frustrating and incomprehensible requests you may come across is the need to produce a birth certificate that is less than three months old. The reason for this law is because in France any changes in your life such as marriage, civil partnership, or wardship are mentioned in the margin of your original birth certificate, and the town hall has three months to do this. Therefore, although the certificate itself lasts your whole life, you have to provide a copy that is less than three months old which will have given the authorities the proscribed time to make any necessary mentions. The fact that the UK and most other countries do not do this makes no difference, because when you are living in France you are governed by French law.

The administration process is integral to the French way of life and you will not be able to avoid it! So, make your life as easy as possible by making sure you have followed these simple instructions, and by being vigilant and asking for changes to be made if your name or address is incorrect on a document or bill.

Madeline Aveson-Gruber is the founder of Aquitaine Lifestyle Solutions

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