A guide to insurance in France
Compulsory insurance reaches across many sectors in France. Here's an essential guide to make sure you're properly insured while living in France.
The French have a more dirigiste approach to insurance than many new arrivals may be used to. Where liability is concerned for example, insurance is often obligatory. This guide is designed to make sure you are properly insured while living in France.
The French insurance market offers a wide choice of companies and policies to choose from. You may contact an insurer online, through a local agent or via a broker.
As in other spheres, you get what you pay for. A broker may be more expensive but his job is to get the best deal for you from the insurer and to be at your side throughout the life of your contract including whenever a claim occurs. Insurance has its own jargon and, in a foreign country, language may be an additional problem. Although some company sites carry an English-language page, most do not.
Some local agents speak English and there are brokers who specialise in helping expatriates. Banks and supermarkets also offer insurance policies at attractive rates but they are not tailor made and the staff is not trained to the same degree as those who only transact insurance.
Insurance is a legal requirement
Insurance is a legal requirement for vehicle owners (assurance automobile), homes whether rented or owned (assurance habitation), for civil liability (assurance responsabilité civile or chef de famille), and for school-age children (assurance scolaire).
In addition to having a job or a private income, one of the requirements for residency in France is that you are covered by health insurance. If you are employed or self-employed, you have to pay into the state health coverage system (La Sécurite sociale). This will not cover you fully and most people take out top-up insurance commonly called a Mutuelle.
If you are not employed and are not entitled to a European pension, you will have to take out private health insurance that covers you from the first euro of your healthcare expenses. For more information on health insurance see 'A guide to healthcare in France'.
You are legally required to insure your home
Whether you rent or own, you must have your policy in hand before moving in. All home insurance policies in France are comprehensive and they will cover any damage to your home and contents, such as fire, water damage, theft and vandalism.
In addition, any risk of damage that an accident at your home might cause to someone else's residence will be included since this is obligatory. This will cover you if, for example, your apartment's bathtub leaks into the ceiling of the flat downstairs or a tile falls off of your roof onto someone’s head.
Natural catastrophes are also automatically covered. Recent years have seen an alarming number of natural catastrophes in some regions, particularly forest fires and flooding in the south of the country, including in urban areas.
You will be asked questions about the property, including the number of square meters and the number of rooms, but most companies will not require a visit before offering terms. You will not be asked to value the building since this is dealt with by a national building index.
Be sure you ask for adequate contents cover; some people try and reduce the premium by undervaluing their contents and rue the consequences on the day of a claim. Fire alarms are not required either by French law or most insurers. Certain theft protections may appear draconian such as the presence and use of an alarm (depending upon the value of your contents) and the closing of shutters at night or during long absences.
It is strongly advisable to make sure you understand the small print of any policy, especially regarding the excesses you will have to carry and your obligations to protect the property.
All of the major companies are reputable, and the only significant difference in policies will probably be between rates. Some companies will offer discounts if you choose them for multiple policies such as home and car insurance.
Insurance required for school children
Some home insurance policies will automatically cover your liability for any damage or injury your child may cause at school; others will offer this as a separate cover at a nominal premium. In both cases, the insurer will give you a certificate or attestation that the school will ask you for at the beginning of the school year. While not strictly mandatory for school attendance, it is required for any activities outside the official curriculum including field trips of any kind as well as extracurricular sports.
Motor vehicles in France must be insured
All motor vehicles in France must be insured for collision liability, even if they are not in use, unless all four wheels are removed. Policies are either third party (tiers collision), third party fire & theft or comprehensive (tous risques).
Whenever you drive your vehicle, you are legally required to carry—along with your car registration papers (le certificat d’immatriculation) —a document, the attestation d’assurance, issued by the insurance company proving you are insured. Part of this, is a green certificat d'assurance testifying to the validity of your insurance. This must be fixed on your vehicle windscreen, so as to be clearly visible.
Don't leave these papers in the glove compartment; if your car is stolen and you cannot produce them, you will have difficulties in obtaining the police statement you need to make an insurance claim. You also help the thief pretend he is the rightful owner.
Your insurer will also issue you with an internationally standard form, le constat amiable, to fill in the event of an accident. It provides space to fill out insurance details, a written and graphic description of the accident and it must be completed and signed by both you and the other party involved. It is a carbon copy sheet, and both parties send their copy back to their respective insurer to establish responsibility.
Do not add anything to the form after completing and signing it with the other party as the two insurers may compare their copies in establishing who was at fault.
An English language version of this form is available here.
French car insurance carries a draconian no-claims bonus system. It takes 13 years of no fault driving to obtain a full 50 percent no-claims bonus. This can result in some drivers offering to pay directly for damage they cause, so as to avoid an increase in the cost of their policy. Do not accept such an offer because if the damage is more expensive to repair than the amount you have received from the other party, you will have no recourse whatsoever!
As in English, it is easy to confuse life insurance (assurance vie) – and death insurance (assurance décès). Life insurance refers to a savings programme that sets aside and invests money for retirement or other long-term financial projects. It will also pay in case of death before the end of the policy term.
Insurance that will only pay a premium to your family in case of your death is called, most practically, assurance décès and is often linked to loss of earnings (prévoyance). Assurance décès following accident only is very cheap (around EUR 20 per month to cover all of the family) but when death through illness is included the price is considerably more and takes into account your age and your existing state of health.
If you are employed, you might be automatically signed up for a life or a death policy; check with your HR department.
Beware of slick deals to cover the cost of burial (assurance obsèques); they are much less attractive than standard life insurance. They do offer assistance to the loved ones in dealing with the formalities after death but a good solicitor can help them with this.
If you take out a sizeable home-loan with a French bank, it will require you to take out a life insurance. This is intended to protect both the bank and your family by paying off the outstanding mortgage in case of you or your partner’s death. While the bank will pressure you to take their own so called “in-house” life insurance policy, try and resist this in order to shop around for a better deal amongst outside professional life insurers since the bank takes a commission, thereby increasing the amount you pay in premium.
It is mandatory to insure major construction works carried out on your property by a decennial cover called dommages ouvrage.
Maybe you have come to France for a better life style and intend to work here on a self employed basis? In which case you will need specific insurances such as professional indemnity. Perhaps you also need cover for your professional or manufacturing equipment as well transport and credit insurance. Specialist policies such as these are best handled by brokers.
Major French insurance companies (some have English-language versions of their sites):
As mentioned above, you can also go to a local agent (which despite the title Agent général is an agent tied to one company only) or approach an independent insurance broker specialized in expatriates. One British insurer – HISCOX – deals in up-market home insurance and fine arts in France. It only works through brokers.
For ordinary personal insurances, all three forms of insurer (company, agent or broker) will be able to help you but for specific cover such as yacht insurances or policies to cover your professional activity, you would do best to consult a broker.
Geoffrey Auckland / Expatica
For any further information or questions upon this article, please go to Geoffrey Auckland's website. Geoffrey Auckland is also Expatica's insurance expert. You can ask him questions via our Ask the Expert tool.
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