Checking the papers of a foreigner: what are the rules?

Verified 09 September 2022 - Directorate for Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister)

The papers of a foreigner present in France, regardless of his nationality and age, can be checked by the police (police, gendarmerie, customs) during an identity check or a residence permit. These checks must comply with certain rules (competent authorities, reasons for the inquiry, conditions of place and time, etc.).

The police (police, gendarmerie) authorized to carry out identity checks are as follows:

  • Judicial Police Officer (OPJ)
  • Judicial police officer, under the responsibility of the OPJ
  • Deputy judicial police officer, under the responsibility of the OPJ

A customs officer may also conduct an identity check if the foreigner enters a customs territory.

Identity check

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Preventive Control

You can be controlled by law enforcement, regardless of your behavior, to prevent a breach of public order, including the safety of persons or property.

Control linked to an infringement

Law enforcement may ask you to provide proof of your identity if there is reason to suspect that you are in one of the following situations:

  • You have committed or are attempting to commit an offense infringement
  • You're preparing a crime or a offense
  • You can provide information about a crime or offense
  • You are wanted on the order of a judicial authority
  • You violate your obligations or prohibitions related to a judicial review. You're violating a measure house arrest with electronic monitoring. You are in breach of your obligations with respect to a sentence or action taken by the sentencing judge

The public prosecutor may also have an identity check carried out in the following cases:

  • In order to find and prosecute specific offenders, it must then indicate the offenses concerned, the locations and the duration of the check
  • To check compliance with hiring obligations to combat illegal work: the check may not last more than one month
  • To search for and prosecute serious offenses (terrorism, trafficking in arms and explosives, narcotics): the prosecutor must indicate the location and duration. It may not exceed 24 hours (renewable).

Schengen control

In the Schengen area, identity checks may be carried out to prevent and search for infringements related to cross-border crime.

The inspection may take place in the following areas:

  • Area less than 20 km from a border
  • Wider area, on a highway or train
  • Port, airport, train station and nearby area

The check can last a maximum of 12 hours in a row in the same place.

Out of identity check

Apart from any identity check, law enforcement agencies can invite a major foreigner to present his or her documents.

Checks may only take place on public roads, in public places or open to the public (stations, airports, cafés, etc.).

It may be carried out only if objective factors external to the person checked make it possible to presume that he is a foreigner. For example, the person drives a foreign-registered vehicle or distributes foreign-language leaflets on the street.

Title controls are limited in time and space. They may not be practiced more than 6 hours in a row in the same place. They may not result in the systematic checking of persons present or moving in that place.

For a short stay

For a stay of up to 90 days, the foreigner must present a passport bearing a endorsement valid (unless part of the exempt nationalities).

For a long stay

In the case of a stay of more than 3 months, the foreigner must present one of the following documents:

  • Long-stay visa, up to one year
  • Temporary residence permit, up to one year
  • Multi-annual residence permit, up to 4 years
  • Resident card, for 10 years or indefinite
  • Residence card bearing the mention pensioner10 years
  • Receipt of first application, renewal or duplicate residence card
  • Certificate of application for asylum
  • Temporary residence permit


a European citizen, from the EEA or Switzerland may enter freely and reside in France without a residence permit.

A foreigner who is unable to present his residence document may be taken to a police or gendarmerie premises. He will be retained there for verification of his right of residence.

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