Identity checks, police and detention

Last update : December 2023

Police checks are frequent in France (on public transport, in stations, in the street, etc).

You can be arrested in the event of an identity check - to check whether you have the right to stay in France - and/or if you are suspected of breaking the law. If you are undocumented and you are arrested, you risk an Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français (OQTF) (obligation to leave French territory) and, sometimes, house arrest or imprisonment in a Centre de Rétention Administrative (CRA) (administrative detention centre).

Useful addresses in the event of an arrest or detention of foreign nationals. See here:

General advice

  • Keep copies of your documents in several places (with a friend or an association) and on the Internet (e-mails, etc.). It is not always advisable to give your passport (even if it is out of date), as it may facilitate your deportation from French territory.

  • It may be useful to carry the following documents with you:

    • Documents related to your procedure (asylum application document (“Attestation de demande d’asile”), application for a residence permit, etc.)
    • Your proof of address or accommodation
    • Documents relating to your family situation in France: your child’s school attendance certificate, marriage certificate, etc.
    • A SIM card and/or mobile phone without a camera
    • The telephone number of a trustworthy person, a member of an association and a lawyer to contact immediately if you are arrested or detained.
  • If you are arrested or placed in an administrative detention centre, contact as soon as possible an association that will try to put you in touch with lawyers who can defend you.

  • Avoid the risk of being stopped. Avoid places where there are frequent checks, such as major railway stations (Châtelet, Gare du Nord) and airports, and avoid staying near RER and underground stations. If the police has your passport, they can deport you very quickly. Always travel with a valid ticket or Pass Navigo. There are always a lot of checks on public transport (metro, RER, bus, train). Whenever possible, walk or use a bicycle. Avoid driving and always wear your seatbelt if you are a passenger. If you go to the prefecture following a summons on which it is written “pour exécution de la mesure d’éloignement” (for enforcement of the removal measure), you will be arrested and placed in a detention centre. You have the right to refuse entry to your house to the police.

Additional information

You always have the right to apply for asylum and/or a residency from the prefecture. This may enable you to fall within the scope of an administrative procedure.

The police can check your identity and your right to be in France. Show the police the documents you have on you, explain your life in France (your work, your family, your state of health, etc.) and whether you have any procedures underway at the prefecture, the court, etc. If you have just arrived in France to apply for asylum, say so to the police and explain the fears you have in your country. If you don’t have your file with you, you have the right to get it back, ask so to the police. The police can take your fingerprints: it is risky to hide your identity. It is better to answer the questions asked by the police about your identity and situation. Your answers must be used by the authorities to examine your situation. However, if a question makes you uncomfortable, you can refrain from answering it. In the end, the authorities may: 1) confirm that you have the right to be in France and release you; 2) issue you with an obligation to leave the country (OQTF) with a deadline of 30 days and release you; 3) issue you with an obligation to leave the country (OQTF) without delay and take you to a detention centre. In all cases, contact an association or a lawyer as soon as possible.

You can be held for up to 24 hours for an identity check / up to 48 hours for police custody if you are suspected of having broken the law. You have 4 basic rights. You can ask for :

  • An interpreter: specify the dialect you speak best, even if it is a relatively rare language: Sudanese Arabic, Sorani Kurdish, Senegalese Peul, etc.
  • A doctor
  • A lawyer
  • A call to someone you trust or an association. Give details of your arrest (where, when) so that they can help you.

Warning: do not sign any documents if you do not understand what is written on them. Ask to speak to an interpreter!

To submit your appeal, you have either 30 days or just 48 hours! The deadline is written on the document from the prefecture. Please note that if you have received the decision by post, the appeal period begins when you collect your post. If you have not done so, it is the date of the postman’s visit that counts. Contact an association or a lawyer immediately. Legal aid is granted to people with little or no resources. Applying for legal aid enables you to obtain a free lawyer who will make an appeal.

If you are found to be residing irregularly, you may be placed in an administrative detention centre (CRA) for up to 90 days, during which time the prefecture will do everything it can to deport you to your country of origin.

An association is present in each detention centre to inform you of your rights and help you to have them respected. You can also ask for the help of a lawyer, who will be able to help you challenge your detention and the decision to deport you.

Be aware that you have very little time to react if you want to avoid being deported. You have 48 hours from the time you are placed in detention to take your case to the administrative court to contest the deportation decision. If you want to apply for asylum, you must also do so during the first 5 days.

You will automatically be brought before the liberty and detention judge after 48 hours. They will decide whether or not it is legal to extend your detention for 28 days. At the end of the 28 days, the prefecture will ask for the detention to be extended. You will be brought before the judge again for a further 30 days, after which the judge may order a further extension of 2x15 days.

If you have not been deported by the end of this 90-day period, you will be released.

It is therefore important that you seek legal support as soon as you are placed in detention.

You may also be placed under house arrest pending deportation. You will not be able to change your place of residence and you will have to report regularly to the police or gendarmerie. You will not automatically receive legal support from an association.