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Living in Paris: It's All About the Dossier

Living in Paris: It's All About the Dossier

When I first announced to people that we would be moving to Paris, the comments were always the same “The wine! The cheese! The bureaucracy!” I wasn’t sure what to expect in regards to French bureaucracy, but in my research, one thing kept coming up: the dossier. 

Our dossier that we carried with us everywhere. Full of all of our important documents.

What is a dossier? 

It’s essentially a file of documents that prove your value to various institutions (banks, landlords, utility companies) with things like salary, tax information and more.

In preparing for our own dossier, I found many checklists that didn't apply to us. They were for those who had been living and working in France already. Even so, we wanted to be prepared. I started gathering a few things before leaving the US - birth certificates, marriage certificate and passports with visas. And we'd figure out the rest once we got to Paris.


Each landlord has their own checklist. Below is a comprehensive list of all the documents we have been asked for during our apartment search as well as other tasks like immigration, utilities and banking.

  • Passport with visa + photocopies
  • Birth certificate with certified translation
  • Marriage certificate (if applicable) with certified translation
  • Proof of employment in France. An attestation de l’employeur stating your contract duration and salary. Or proof of employment from the US. Something to ensure that the money will continue to come in.
  • Proof of salary. Include your last 3 - 5 pay stubs; they want to be sure you make at least three times the rent. 
  • Tax information. A US tax return from the previous year works just fine.
  • RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire) information. You get this once you have a French bank account
  • Proof of residency: most recent electricity or gas bill with French address (we didn't have this) or a lease. The lease/contract doesn't always work because of illegal subleasing, but you can try. It's what we did.
  • Proof that you that you successfully paid rent for the last two months (receipts)
  • Guarantor’s information and dossier, especially if you are a student. They will most likely require that the guarantor is a resident of France. Luckily, we didn’t need one.
  • A resume. This can be a good addition, but you never know. You give them a chance to learn a little bit more about you so you’re not just an income figure.
  • Passport photos. We took a few extra in the states, but found that you need French sized photos for immigration forms. You get 5 pictures for 5 euros, much cheaper than in the States.
  • Filled out forms. These are usually provided by whatever company or agency you are dealing with. Make sure to make a copy for yourself. 


For apartment hunting: the French rental market favors the tenants, meaning that it’s hard to kick renter’s out. One example: renters are not allowed to be evicted during winter months, from November to March. The landlords end up being very “discerning” when it comes to choosing a candidate. They can ask for a lot of information from potential tenants, who willingly hand it over, and are very picky about who they choose in the end.

For banking: the US has strict laws about their residents opening foreign bank accounts, so each bank has to comply with their rules. We opened an account with HSBC in the US so we'd already be in the "system", but I'm not sure if that sped up the process for us or not. For banking, we needed passports, proof of residency and tax information. (Read more on opening a bank account.)

For cell phones: the company (Orange, in our case) has to make sure you are a resident of France. We needed to provide our temporary rental agreement (it worked), passports and RIB. Here, instead of you paying the bill each month, they debit it from your account directly, hence the need for the RIB. (Read more on getting a cell phone.)

What I learned about putting together a dossier:

  1. Bring things from your home country. Though I wanted some documents kept safe at my parents’ house, we brought our social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, recent paystubs, and banking information with us.
  2. Get important documents translated ASAP. This makes things easier on the people you’ll be doing business with and you want to get started on the right foot, correct? Based on a tip, we went to ISM Interpretariat - Service Traduction for certified translations. It cost about 30 euros per document and they were ready within a week.
  3. Make a lot of copies. I would say at least 10, but it all depends on how many apartments you end up seeing. And because some landlords ask for different documents, you won’t hand out the same documents every time. They are happy with copies and don't usually ask to see the originals. 
  4. Get organized. The first apartment we visited, we had a stack of documents in a folder. We were trying to pull out the right ones but honestly, it was a mess. The agent was super nice and very patient with us. We learned from that mistake and reorganized our dossier in a brand new folder (with plenty of copies). Our next appointment was easy peasy.
  5. Bring it with you everywhere (just in case). In our first couple of months here, we’ve found that you need paperwork for almost every “getting-settled” task. Having it on hand made it easy to produce a copy of a passport in a pinch.
  6. Keep your RIB in your back pocket. I don’t think it’s necessary to hand over your bank information unless it’s specifically requested. But be prepared!
  7. It feels weird. I couldn’t every get over the uncomfortable feeling of handing out all of my most important documents to complete strangers. I would likely never see them again, but they had almost all of our very personal information.

The dossier is only one aspect of settling in à Paris, but a very important one! You'll feel better if you're not scrambling to put one together right before an apartment visit. And If you’re still at home in the US with access to all your paperwork, get a jump start so you don’t leave anything behind! 

Because we’ve been navigating the complexity of setting up a life in France, I find myself wondering if expats who have moved to the US find it just as confusing and time-consuming… And also, how does this whole process differs from country to country?

How did you find yourself dealing with the bureaucracy of your new country? 


Vocab for today:

  • le dossier - file
  • les documents - documents
  • la bureaucratie - bureaucracy
  • organiser - to organize
  • important - important
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