33 French Words and Phrases Nobody Will Teach You

by | Feb 10, 2022 | Canada, France | 1 comment

I remember the first time I searched a Facebook forum about living in France. My head was spinning, my blood pressure dropped.

Carte Vitale the French National Health Care Card by Maday Miralles
Carte Vitale the French National Health Care Card by Maday Miralles

I thought, “I won’t be able to do this.” There were so many French words that I didn’t understand.

I could look them up, but I didn’t know their function and how or where it belonged in the process of immigrating.

An immigration attorney was going to cost a quarter of our yearly budget that we had set aside.

If we were going to do this, it was on our own. But this transition had to be smooth for the sake of my kids. My husband and I had a basic knowledge of French, but no idea what these words meant! BONJOUR wasn’t going to cut it…

I decided to write down every scary word you may confront before even stepping foot in France!

In order for these words to make sense, I need to touch briefly on the processes in which they belong. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s dive in!

French Words at Government Agencies/Offices

The process to live in France starts by applying for a Visa in the US. As an American, Australian, or Canadian, you automatically enter France with a tourist visa that allows you 90 days in a 180-day period into the Schengen Zone (not to be confused with the European Union) without doing a thing. It’s an agreement made between countries. If you would like to stay over 90 consecutive days, you will need to apply for a long-term visa at the French Embassy or Consulate.

Process to live in France starts by applying for a Visa by LIONEL BONAVENTURE
Process to live in France starts by applying for a Visa by Lionel Bonaventure


Each State is assigned a region, and you will need to travel to that location to apply. The French government has hired a third party called VFS as an intermediary.

This is the location where you will apply and receive your Visa in your passport.

The Consulate or Embassy will still approve and look at your dossier (application with supporting documents).

This long-term visa is an application of your intention to stay in France. Once you have entered France with your visa you will need to apply for your Séjour (Stay/Residency). Your Visa will no longer be valid as your Sejour takes its place, and that is what you renew.

Nowadays the process is streamed lined by filling out an application online with your visa number on your arrival. This will prompt the government office of OFII (Immigration and Integration office’s) to send you a convocation (summons). You may have to travel and stay overnight to the city where this office is located. When you arrive at OFII, you will hand in your summons, dossier, and timbre électronique ( the amount you need to pay), and they will give you a medical exam and an x-ray of your lungs. At this point, you will be given a Carte de Sejour residency sticker in your passport.

You will never go back to OFII as you have officially integrated. From now on, you will go to your Prefecture for Rendez-vous pour Renouvellement (appointment for renewal). This is where you will receive your Titré de Sejour (residency card) at renewal after a year, or Valable jusqu’àu ( valid until X date). This will be an identification card that will need to be carried with you at all times.

France is now divided into 18 States called Régions, 13 of which are metropolitan. The others are outside of France. Within those Régions there are Departments. They are like Counties or Parishes within the State. Each Department has a Prefecture with a Prefect (a French version of a county clerk) who governs it.

A Prefecture is a county office where immigration, passport, driver’s license, car titles, identification cards, and anything connecting to the Federal Government is handled. Prefects will be seen in regalia at ceremonies. This is the most important office, as this is where you will go for the renewal of your residency card. Prefectures are not created equal; some are more helpful and streamlined lined. They really do have a personality and a reputation.

A Prefecture is not to be confused with a Mairie. A Mairie is like a city hall. The mayor is a Maire and is elected by the people, unlike Prefect, who is assigned by the Federal Government. The Mairie is where you enroll your children in school or daycare (creche), enroll them in lunch daycare (cantine), register births, deaths, marriages, complain about a boundary issue with a neighbor, construction/renovation approvals and permits, or anything that has to do with the community.

French Words for Social Security and Health

Learn to speak French by Dreamstime
Learn to speak French by Dreamstime

Now that you are a bona fide resident, you have certain rights in France. It entitles you to a numéro de sécurité sociale (social security number).

You will also need to get a Carte Vitale, a green, federal insurance card. These are issued by the government offices of CPAM. CPAM stands for Caisse Primaire d’Assurances Maladie.

It’s the local department level of the national health insurance administration. You can show up at your local CPAM office and try out your French to apply, or you may go to the CPAM portal www.ameli.fr/(your department). People will refer to CPAM as Ameli if they are referring to the website. This was so confusing to us!

French Words: Here Is the Recap! Print This Out and Add It to Your Language Lesson!

  1. Accueil Étrangers:
    Host/Welcome Foreigners. When you need to do something other than a renewal at the Prefecture.
  2. Ameli:
    the webpage for National Health Insurance covers 60-70 percent of the costs.
  3. Cantine:
    Children go home for lunch for 2 hours. If you work you may enroll them in Lunch Daycare where food is provided.
  4. Carte de Sejour:
    Your first residency permit is a sticker added to a page of your passport. This basically invalidates your Visa as you are now a Resident of France!
  5. Carte Gris:
    Car title, which should be with you at all times while you are driving a car.
  6. Convocation:
    Summons. It is an appointment you can’t miss. They do not like it when you try to change it!
  7. CPAM:
    Stands for Caisse Primaire d’Assurances Maladie the office to enroll in National Health Care System.
  8. Creche:
    This is a daycare for children under the age of 3. Kids start nursery school ages 3-5.
  9. Departments:
    Like a county/parish within a State. Departments are divided within a Région.
  10. Dossier:
    Application with supporting documents.
  11. Étrangers:
  12. Impot:
  13. Maire:
  14. Mairie:
    Town/City Hall.
  15. Marticualtion:
  16. Mutuelle:
    Insurance to cover the 40-30 percent the National coverage does not take care of.
  17. Numéro de sécurité sociale:
    Social security number.
  18. OFII:
    The French Office of Immigration and Integration. This step is key for becoming a resident.
  19. Permis de Conduire:
    Driver’s license.
  20. Photo pour séjour:
    Picture needed for Residency card.
  21. Préfère:
    Could be compared to a County or Parish Clerk although they have more Federal Duties.
  22. Prefecture:
    County/Parish Office.
  23. Récépissé de Demande:
    Receipt of renewal appointment.
  24. Région:
  25. Rendez-vous:
  26. Renouvellement:
  27. RIB:
    RIB stands for relevé d’identité bancaire, or ‘statement of banking identity’ or just another way of saying bank account details.
  28. Séjour:
    Stay/Residency Timbre Electronique Impot: The amount you need to pay for your residency card. The amount is 225 euros. They can be purchased online. Verification can be sent via email or if text if you do not have a printer.
  29. Titre de Sejour:
    Residency Card. The direct translation is Title of Stay. The capacity in which you may remain in France. This can be as an extended visitor, working, etc. What we call a green card in the States. It is a residency permit that is renewable.
  30. Valable jusqu’àu:
    Valid until.
  31. Visa:
    The application that shows your intention to enter France with the intention to immigrate. If you just want a Sabbatical year or a year around Europe, there is no need to continue the process of residency if you intend to go home at the end of the validity.
  32. VFS Global:
    The company that works for the French Government assisting in the Visa Process.

Finally, just because of COVID-19 and it is so hard to hear and understand with the masks on, this is extra we find helpful!

  • Je suis malentendant:
    I am hard of hearing.

Language is amazing, especially when experienced in slang. Have you come across foreign idioms that you find help where you live?

by: Maday Miralles Carnley