Traveling in France without a passport
July 24, 2007 12:22 AM   Subscribe

Can we travel without passports within France?

We will be without passports for 7 working days while our visas are being processed in Paris. During those days, can we take a train to Provence with just photocopies of our passports and our Canadian IDs and not worry about getting kicked off a train or some other unpleasantness? At what point would people have to show their passports at a station or on the train?
Our flights are booked and our time in Provence is fixed. We won't be in Paris for 7 working days. We don't want to take great risks and mess up our first (and maybe only) trip to France, but we would like to avoid having to pay for the very expensive 2 day visa processing. We are not considering changing our flight time to accommodate extra days in Paris because it would then be cheaper just to pay for the 2 day processing.
posted by hala mass to Travel & Transportation around France (20 answers total)
Photo ID maybe required for somethings, such as joining a video store, otherwise you will be fine, within France.

I would recommend the visiting the Languedoc, particularly Carcassone.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:36 AM on July 24, 2007

You don't have to identify yourself to buy a train ticket and ride the train.
posted by ollsen at 12:45 AM on July 24, 2007

You don't need passports to travel around if you are not leaving the country. Worst case (and very unlikely) is you get stopped by the police who ask for some form of ID which it sounds like you will have. A Frenchman stopped and asked for ID would not be expected to show a passport anyway, he would show his Identity card, which is not the same thing.
posted by jontyjago at 12:50 AM on July 24, 2007

The French won't bug you.

Hopefully you can stop in Lyon.
posted by solongxenon at 12:58 AM on July 24, 2007

You'd only need a passport if you were crossing a border. Since there's no requirement for you to register your presence anywhere in the EU beyond filling a form out at customs, you can skip around quite happily within the country you're in. You'd need photo ID to board an internal flight, but that needn't be a passport.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:10 AM on July 24, 2007

Officially, as a foreigner, you should have your passport with you at all times. In practice, police don't have too much time to bother tourists with identity checks. Photocopy of passports and Canadian ID cards should do more than fine. See this link: L'identité de toute personne, quelque soit son comportement, peut être contrôlée, pour prévenir une atteinte à l'ordre public, notamment une atteinte à la sécurité des personnes et des biens .../... Les étrangers doivent en outre établir la régularité de leur séjour en France (passeport, visa, carte de séjour").
posted by rom1 at 1:48 AM on July 24, 2007

Wikipedia on French identity requirements.

I know an English guy who was arrested by French police simply for not having a passport on him, only having a photo ID library card and a credit card. Maybe it would have been different if he had had a passport photocopy.

I have been told without verification that you can get a passport photocopy certified at a Mairie.
posted by grouse at 3:53 AM on July 24, 2007

you will hear the odd extreme anecdote and it is true that it is illegal in France to be without a valid form of identification if stopped by the Police. BUT that only happens at demonstrations, situations like late night brawls, things I do not think these travellers are looking for.
I have not seen anyone outside of these scenarios stopped and asked to produce ID in 25 years of almost annual trips to France (all regions)
posted by Wilder at 4:15 AM on July 24, 2007

The guy I mentioned claimed that the reason he came to the attention of the police was that his foreign credit card was rejected at a supermarket. But as soon as they discovered he had no ID, they lost all interest in the dispute.
posted by grouse at 4:23 AM on July 24, 2007

My anecdote: I lived in France for over a year, and never once was asked for a visa/passport/id. YMMV.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:26 AM on July 24, 2007

Actually, that's a good point - in a large supermarket in Spain last year, credit cards could only be used with a passport/EU ID card. I cannot remember if this was the case in France or not, but the French friends I was with thought it perfectly normal.
posted by jacalata at 5:30 AM on July 24, 2007

One thing to watch out for is paying for things by cheque or credit card, normally they will ask for your ID card if you are French or a passport if you are not, just paying cash would be a good work around.

I know my UK ATM cards work fine in France so I don't need to carry round lots of cash, no idea if the same is true for non european cards.

Also another vote for checking out the Languedoc, and Carcassone if you get the chance.
posted by Z303 at 5:31 AM on July 24, 2007

You'll be fine with a photocopy and Canadian driver's license. I'm pretty sure that any ID-demanding authority will give you a warm "Les Canadiens- nos cousins!" kind of reception anyway.

I'm a Canadian who recently lived for 4 months near the city of Lyon. I was told to keep my passport and work visa with me at all times, because I was essentially a temporary French citizen without the Identity Card they all have.

Crossing the border to Italy and Switzerland (especially) on the train was a different story. Even though they're both part of the Schengen I was asked for ID. You're not leaving France so don't worry about that.

I drove from Paris to Lyon and Lyon to Provence (near Arles) with only my driver's license. I was not asked to produce my passport at all while *in* France except to sign up for a train discount card.

Have fun in France!
posted by KevCed at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2007

Crossing the border to Italy and Switzerland (especially) on the train was a different story. Even though they're both part of the Schengen I was asked for ID. You're not leaving France so don't worry about that.

Switzerland is not a party to the Schengen agreement; you need a passport (or EU ID card) to cross the border from France into Switzerland, although you're unlikely to be stopped if you cross by car.
posted by juva at 6:33 AM on July 24, 2007

I have traveled all over the continent and I have never been asked for a passport in a country or at a border since the fall of the communist block. I lived for nearly a year in Belgium, worked in Germany, crossed the border twice a day (there is a little sign) and was never asked for a passport. The only thing that did happen was an occasional police checkpoint on the main connecting road I traveled -- they asked for a license and car registration (and complimented my car!). By air is a different kettle of fish and flying within Europe it seemed to be a good idea to have a passport. enjoy your trip!
posted by bluesky43 at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2007

It sounds like I'm pretty much the only person this has happened to, but I've had a random ID check on a French train. It was, technically, an international train, but the ID check happened a ways from the France/Belgium border. Two gendarmes got on at each end of the train and checked everyone. I had a Belgian carte d'etranger that seemed to satisfy them, but I don't know what they would have accepted in terms of international ID.

But yeah, it sounds like this was a super rare event and you should be fine.
posted by heresiarch at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2007

The only times I've needed a passport inside France was when renting cars and, once, checking into a hotel. In both cases they were just trying to fill in a form with a number; I'm sure a photocopy and an explanation would have worked.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2007

To add to my previous comment, I was asked for Id when buying a monthly subway/metro pass in Lyon, and occassionally when crossing the Switzerland border, but not always.

Occassionally they will do checks on trains, but it seems like that only happens when there's been some violence on one of the trains.

If you have a Quebec driver's license you can exchange it for free for a French drivers license (if you are a new french resident), if it's from any of the other Canadian provinces, you'll need to complete driver training (~$2000) for a french license. But you are fine driving on a Canadian license for a few months if you are a visitor.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:50 AM on July 24, 2007

I was asked for my passport by a ticket inspector on a French train but only because I had not validated my ticket before boarding the train. Presumably he was establishing my bona fides as an ignorant foreigner. Cannot remember the exact procedure but I think there was chest high stainless steel pillar with valider written on it that I had ignored before boarding. Maybe others could help? It may be an idea to ask the embassy in Paris to stamp a photocopy (provided by you) of the photo page of your passport. It may be your first trip to France, I doubt it will be your last, it's a great country.
posted by Dr.Pill at 1:04 PM on July 24, 2007

Thanks for all your answers, suggestions and well-wishes, everyone. We'll try to avoid all the situations that's you've mentioned when we would need to show our passports.
posted by hala mass at 9:03 PM on July 24, 2007

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