Insurance and Insuring a Vehicle

General information on taking out and cancelling a French insurance policy, with comprehensive details on insuring a vehicle (options from third party to all risks) and making a claim. Plus a glossary of terminology used by insurance agents...

In France all insurance companies are regulated by the Code des Assurances which is a specific set of laws governing the rights and obligations of insurance, the insured and insurers.

The policy is called a contract and must be treated as such. The onus is on the insurer to ask the right questions in order to adequately cover the risk whereas in many other countries the onus lies on the insured to disclose.

When signing an insurance contract it is crucial to understand the declarations that have been made and the extent of your guarantees. All insurance contracts are made on the basis of automatic renewal (tacit reconduction). This means that a policy will automatically renew itself on the annual renewal date without any agreement from the insured.

Obligatory Vehicle Insurance

A vehicle is classed as "all engines with a driver's seat", so this includes anything from a minibus to a tractor.

All vehicles must be covered by Responsabilité Civile the French equivalent of third party liability, even if it is not driven on the roads.

Caravans and trailers over 750 Kg must be insured separately.

Valid insurance is shown by displaying the green coupon in the bottom, right corner of a windscreen (the green coupon and green card are issued by the insurer).

Police may stop a vehicle for any reason and the driver must be able to provide them with:

  • Valid driving licence
  • The Carte Grise (Log book if you do not live permanently in France or have been living here less than six months)
  • Valid green coupon showing on windscreen
  • Valid green card signed by the insured
  • Proof of valid Controle Technique if the vehicle is older than four years

Not having valid insurance is an offence and can lead to a fine, the driving licence of the owner may be revoked, and the vehicle may be confiscated.

Who is insured

All policies cover the following:

The public liability of the driver to all third parties, including an unauthorised driver who has taken the car without the permission of the owner.

In a car policy there are three main people named within:

  • Le souscripteur (the subscriber)
  • Le propriétaire du véhicule (the owner of the car)
  • Le conducteur principal (the main driver)

These titles can be the same or different people. In France the insurance is on the car and not on the person, therefore anyone who holds a valid driving licence is covered to drive the car unless expressly forbidden in the policy (Ferrari etc). In most policies it is stated that if the person who is driving has less than three years driving experience (prêt de volant) the excesses (franchises) will be higher.

Third party

For a car policy everyone is third party who is not the driver, even friends and family as passengers, which is not the case for other public or private liability contracts. The driver is covered for any material or bodily claims resulting from an accident.

The driver is also covered for, in the event of a claim, défense et recours, which means that should it go to court the insurer will represent the driver's interests and pay any costs if necessary.

Example: if an insured runs over a pedestrian the insurer will:

  • Pay for the damages
  • Inform the insured of their rights
  • Pay for the inquest
  • Pay for the court costs

These are the basic minimum requirements that the law requires drivers to have.

In some cases a no claims bonus (coefficient reduction, majoration or bonus malus) can be transferred from the last insurer.

In France it takes 14 years to achieve full no claims bonus which is 50 percent, so it's recommended to bring your paperwork from other countries.

Optional cover

  • Les dommages corporels du conducteur: The driver will receive an immediate indemnity payout for any bodily damages they incur if they are responsible, including death and permanent disability. If they are not responsible, the recours guarantee kicks in and the insurance company will take to court the responsible party for the damages.
  • L'incendie – explosion: Fire and explosion cover, does not include lightning strikes.
  • Le bris de glace: Glass breakage for windscreen, rear and side windows. With some companies it also includes the front headlights.
  • La tempete – l'ouragan – le cyclone: Covers the direct action of the wind, for example the car is literally blown into a river. Or the indirect action, for example a tree is blown over onto your car. For this to be validated by an independent expert there must be other damage to property in the area as well.
  • Les catastrophes naturelles: Natural disasters are announced by the government; and are also paid by them. This is why a small percentage in premiums is listed as taxes.
  • Le Vol: If the car is stolen and then found within a period of 30 days the insured must accept the car back. If it is not found within that period then they will be compensated for the loss.
  • La protection juridique: Legal advice and back up for all car related problems, covering buying, selling, repairs etc.
  • L'assistance: There is no real equivalent of a national breakdown service in France, (for example the AA or RAC) however, usually an insurance policy can provide this cover for either home start (0 Km) or roadside with an excess of 30 Km from your named domicile for the car and people. Each company has its own specific clauses and uses for this option.
  • Contenu: The personal effects in the car and the radio. Make sure to be aware of the exclusions.
  • Dommages accidentels: Covers the damage to the car caused by the driver or by an unidentifiable third party. This is what normally qualifies a policy as Fully Comprehensive (Tous risques).

Transferring a policy

When you buy a new car to replace an existing car the insurance policy is called a replacement contract. Your old car is covered for one month on third party cover in order to give you time to sell or destroy it. After the one-month has elapsed it is no longer insured.

It is illegal in France to have a car that is not insured, even if it is off road or garaged it must carry third party cover. One of the reasons for this is because if it were stolen the car would not be covered as mentioned earlier.

Claiming

The normal process after an accident is to fill in an accident report (constat amiable - this document will be supplied by the insurer at the start of the policy and should be kept in the car).

This is then given to the insurer in order to start the claims process. If there is confusion or disagreements over the responsibility, involve any witnesses to the incident and if there are none then each person submits their version of events and the insurance companies battle it out. The driver will then be asked to provide a quote for any work he may need carrying out. If it is a significant amount then an independent expert will have to inspect the damages.

A car is automatically insured to travel anywhere in Europe for the period that the insurance is valid, and is insured to the minimum legal requirements for the country that it's being used in. Any extras on the policy that exceed the legal minimum requirements of the country may have a restriction of three months, after which they are not valid.

  • For more information and an example of how to fill in the constat amiable, see the guide Car Accidents in France, found in the left hand side menu

Cancelling Insurance

In order to cancel a contract there are various rules to be applied.

For an insurance that has never been renewed before, at least two months written and registered notice of cancellation must be given before the renewal date for the renewal date as a contract can not be cancelled "midstream". It is the stamp on the envelope which is the final proof of the correct notice period. This protects the consumer in that the insurance continues until registered cancellation is received.

The Loi Chatel of August 2005 introduces that an insurer must inform their client in the annual renewal notice that the client has the right to cancel the policy around the renewal notice date.

When receiving the renewal notice, up to 20 days are allowed after the date stamp on the envelope of the renewal notice in which to cancel by registered letter with recorded delivery (Lettre Recommandée AR). It is important to keep the envelope the renewal notice came in as proof of receipt date. To find out how to send a registered letter (Lettre Recommandée AR) see the guide Post in France: Codes, Addresses and Mailing a Letter found in the left hand side menu.

Cancelling for the following reasons at any period of the policy is also possible:

  • Sale of the insured car (this requires proof of sale)
  • Death

An insurance that has been renewed once can be cancelled at any time, provided that a new insurance contract is signed.

  • Service Public provided detailed information on car insurances (in French)

Glossary of Terms

French English
Code des assurances Law governing insurance
Contrat Policy
Tacit reconduction Automatic renewal
La loi Chatel Method of contract cancellation
Responsabilité civile Third party liability
Carte Grise Registration papers
Controle technique (CT) Vehicle roadworthiness (MOT in the UK)
Le souscripteur The subscriber
Le propriétaire du véhicule The owner of the car
Le conducteur principale The main driver
Prêt de Volant Lending a car to a person with under 3 years driving experience
Franchises Excess
Defense et recours Legal defence
Coefficient reduction/majoration/bonus malus No claims bonus