The British Expat's Guide to Insurance Requirements in France
While insurance plays a major role in British life, the attitude towards risk in France is slightly different. Newly-arrived Brits or people thinking of making the move to France should be aware of some key differences when it comes to mandatory insurance. In situations where liability could be a factor, insurance is a legal requirement in French society, so it is important for Brits to stay on the right side of the law at all times.
In the UK home insurance is not a legal necessity. People are advised to take out building and contents insurance, but many mortgages are awarded simply on the basis that the borrower will pay for adequate home insurance for the duration of the loan. In France whether you decide to buy your own home or rent from a private landlord you will be required to present your insurance policy before moving in. French legislation requires that all home insurance policies are comprehensive, so they usually cover the most common perils such as fire, theft, water damage and criminal damage.
An essential component to all French home insurance policies is liability insurance. This means that should someone suffer an injury whilst on your property, the cost of their medical treatment and any damages they are awarded will be covered by the provider.
Like many areas of Europe, the regularity of flooding and other weather-related disasters has increased over the last two decades, and all home insurance policies will provide cover for acts of nature such as flooding. However, you should expect to pay higher premiums when you choose to live on known flood plains.
Your insurance provider will expect you to keep your property in a good state of repair, so regular maintenance is essential. Although you aren't required by French law to fit fire and smoke detectors, you could significantly reduce the chance of making a claim by having them in your home - which should keep your premiums as low as possible. However, your insurance company could insist on the fitting of an alarm system or security shutters, particularly if your property or its contents are particularly valuable. You should expect to be asked a series of questions regarding your property when purchasing insurance, but its value will be determined by France's National Building Index.
Whilst it is always important to read the small print of an insurance policy, it is even more important for a British expat with limited French language skills. You should ask to deal with an English-speaking agent, or you could enlist the help of a friend or relative who is fluent in French to examine every policy clause in detail.
Insuring your personal possessions may require separate policies, depending on the level of cover afforded by your existing home insurance policy. Most French policies will have cash limits on the value of insured items, so it may be a good idea to insure expensive items of jewellery individually.
Insuring Your Children at School
Unlike in the UK, a French school will often ask to see a copy of your home insurance policy to ensure it covers your child for any damage or injury they cause whilst under the supervision of teachers. This is not usually something that will preclude a child from attendance, but it could be mandatory for organised trips and excursions. In many cases, a standard home insurance policy will include this type of coverage, but it is a good idea to study your policy in detail to be certain.
In the UK, it is possible to avoid paying motor insurance if a vehicle has been declared "off road". However, all road vehicles in France need to be insured at all times - even when they are not in use. The only way around this is to remove all the wheels. Drivers have the option of taking third-party insurance, third-party, fire and theft or comprehensive insurance - referred to in France as 'tous risques'.
It is important to remember that drivers in France are legally required to have their official documentation with them at all times. This includes the vehicle's registration document and a valid insurance certificate - known as a 'certificat d'assurance'. Like a road tax disc in the UK, the certificat d'assurance must be fixed to the windscreen of the vehicle at all times.
In the UK, accidents will usually be dealt with by exchanging contact details with the other party. However, in France a specific form must be completed, which will be provided to you by your insurer. Referred to as a 'constat amiable', the document will include a detailed account of the accident and the signature of both parties. It takes 13 years to accrue the full 50% no-claims bonus in France, so many drivers will seek to settle a claim in cash on the day of the accident. However, this could leave you out of pocket when the damage to your vehicle is fully assessed by an expert, so always settle damages through your insurance provider.
French law also requires drivers to have specific equipment in their vehicle at all times. The essential equipment you should have stored in the boot of your vehicle includes reflective jackets, a warning triangle, headlamp beam deflectors and a personal breathalyser. Motorcyclists will also need helmets with reflective stickers. Not having these items may lead to a fine, but you may also find that your insurance policy becomes null and void.
Health insurance is a legal obligation in France, as there is no system that provides free treatment at the point of delivery - such as the NHS in the UK. If you have a job in France, or you are self-employed, you will be required to contribute to the national system of healthcare in France - referred to as 'La Sécurite Sociale'. However, this does not cover all forms of treatment, so it is usually a good idea to pay for a top-up insurance policy, called a 'Mutuelle'. If you aren't employed, you will need to pay for a private health insurance policy; this will be a condition of your residence in France.
Other Insurance Policies
If you decide to buy a property in France with the help of a French bank, you will be required to take out a life insurance policy.. If you plan to build your own home, construction insurance is mandatory in France, and you may be required to take out professional liability service if you perform a job that dispenses treatment or advice.
Moving to France should be a joyous time in your life, and if you take the proper financial precautions, it will be. Insurance is an integral part of French life, so make sure your stay in this beautiful country is not spoiled by failing to plan for life's contingencies.