How to enrol your kids in French schools In France: 3-18 years old

Children gathered around a teacher in a French school with laptop

Are you considering moving to France with school-aged children and need some advice from someone who’s been there? In this article, you’ll get an idea of what steps you as a parent and newcomer to France need to take to enrol your children in both public and private schools in France for children ages 3 to 18 years old.

How to enrol your kids in French schools in France.

I hope you have a lot of patience.

As a newly arrived foreigner in France, with no history or records in the French education system, trying to establish your presence for the first time in a new country, you have the perfect recipe for a bureaucratic nightmare. 

It’s impossible to know all the rules and steps needed to enrol your child in all French schools across France because rules may vary by region and individual school. However, you can still benefit from learning the basics.

I’ve put together some things you can expect so that you’re better prepared for the bureaucratic hell you’re about to embark upon. 

Can I enrol my kids in a school in France?

Primary school classroom in France

Yes, you can.

All children living in France, French and foreign, have the right to an education, regardless of their visa status (source French). This means your children can attend public schools as soon as they arrive in France once you enrol them. 

The bad news is, because of the enrolment process and the nature of the documents you need to provide, you can’t pre-enrol your child in a French public school from your home country. You have to have a physical address in France and prove it.  I’m not aware of any exceptions to this rule of physical residence before enrolment. 

I’ll go over how to do this in a minute.

You can however enrol your kids in private schools before you arrive in France. 

Good luck, though. You’ll have to find one well in advance because many private schools have waiting lists, especially the affordable Catholic schools in France. 

Where do I go to enrol my kids in school in France?

Mairie / hotel de ville in Le Petit-Quevilly

Depending on your child’s age and whether you’re interested in public education or private education, there are slightly different procedures for enrolling children in schools in France.

Let’s start with public schools at the primary school level (3 to 10 years old) and work our way up to high school. Then we’ll go over private schools. 

Public preschool and elementary school enrolment in France

Always start at the Mairie: {Mah-Rhee}

To enrol your child in preschool or elementary school, head to the local Mairie (City Hall or Town Hall) as soon as you arrive, sometimes called hôtel de ville. Many cities have their own webpage, so you should be able to find the address online and info about school enrolment on those pages. 

Smaller towns have one Mairie where the mayor usually works, but larger cities such as Paris have multiple town halls serving different boroughs or districts.  In this case, start with the Mairie for your district. 

What to expect at the Mairie (town hall)!

The staff at the Mairie are civil servants (les foncotionnaires). Some are helpful and cheerful while others, not so much. At some town halls, you might need to make an appointment or go on a certain day between certain hours. Others are on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The Mairie will provide you with a list of required documents to enrol your child in a public elementary school. Once you gather all the required documents and give them to the Mairie, you should receive a registration certificate (certificate d’inscription) and information about the school assigned to your child. 

example of certificate d'inscription from a maire in France for French school

It’s not over yet.

Now that you’re in the system, you may need to physically register at the school assigned to your child. 

Make sure to call the school or show up to make an appointment. 

  1. Bring all the same documents you provided the Mairie.
  2. Bring the registration certificate that the Mairie gave you.

And voila, if everything goes as planned, your child is officially enrolled in a French public elementary school.

Public Middle School and High School enrolment

Usually, you have to contact the school directly to enrol your child in a public middle school or public senior high school.

If you’re unsure which one to choose, head down to the Mairie to ask for some help.

The middle school and high school will ask for a set of documents from you as well. 

What documents do I need to furnish to enrol my child?

Woman holding documents in two hands needed to enrol her children in French schools in France

Documents needed for enrolling in a public school in France.

Before you even consider enrolling your child in a public or private school in France, make sure you have your documents in order.

My best piece of advice to you during this whole process is to OVERPREPARE YOUR DOCUMENTS. 

Bring originals and copies with you to all of your meetings. You may even need to have your documents translated to French. It depends on the establishment. Some school officials are sticklers for rules, while others are more lenient. 

In most cases, you’ll need the following documents, whether private or public. Remember that individual schools may ask for additional documents not listed below. 

  1. Livret de Famille (family booklet): It holds your family’s official records. If you’re not French, you probably don’t have a “livret de Famille”, but you can provide the following documents instead.
    • Birth certificates (parents and child)
    • Marriage certificates (yours)
    • Divorce certificate if applicable.
    • Passports for good measure. Remember, over prepare if you can. 
  2. 2 to 4 passport-size photos
  3. Proof of address (un justificatif de domicile): The school your child attends will be based on where you live.
    • The proof of address should be less than three months old: Last electricity bill/ gas bill / telephone bill, proof or rental insurance (attestation d’assurance habitation), rental receipt (Une quittance de loyer) or title to your home in France. 
  4. * Proof of parental authority if parents are divorced.
  5. Vaccination records (Carnet de santé): Proof that your child has all the required vaccinations for their age (see vaccination section below for list).

Documents needed for enrolling in a private school in France.

Private schools require most of the same documents as public schools plus a few more. The school website may tell you what documents you need to provide but not always. Here is an example list.

  1. All the same documents as a public school (listed above).
  2. Application: which you usually download directly from the school’s internet site. 
  3. School transcript or report card for the previous year (if applicable)
  4. A non-reimbursable registration fee: Usually by cheque from a French bank account.
  5. Some private schools may require additional documents such as an essay, a letter of recommendation, to take a test etc.

Vaccinations required to enroll your kids in school in France

calendar of vaccinations by age children need in order to enrol in school in France with vaccine name in English and French
calendar of vaccinations for kids in France

All school-aged children must have up-to-date vaccinations to attend school in France. Below is a simplified vaccination calendar that summarizes vaccination needed and age.

Tuberculose (BCG), diphtheria, polio, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), influenza type B,  Hepatitis B, Pneumococcal, Meningitic C, measles, mumps, rubella.

If you’re child is not up to date on their vaccinations, you may be able to get a 3 month grace period and still enrol your child. 

When should I enrol my child in school

For public schools:

You may be able to enrol your child as early as April for the fall session. If you won’t arrive in France until after the start of the new school year, your child may be sent to a school further away if the local one is full up. 

For Private schools:

Many private schools are on a first-come, first-serve basis, especially the better ones, which often have waiting lists. Some may also have academic requirements. So inquire early. Even a year early is not too early.

Changing schools

letter and envelope with words change schools in France

What if we move and or need to change schools in France?

Whether your child attends public or private schools, if you need to switch schools, you’ll need to take certain steps. 

  1. Notify the current school and ask them for a “Certificat de radiation” certificate of deletion. 
  2. Provide the new school with the certificate de radiation along with the documents you’ll need to register your child. 

What if I don’t like the public school assigned to us?

You have the right to ASK that your child be transferred to another school. It’s called a “demande de dérogation” (An expemption request).  However, approval is not guaranteed and is at the discretion of school officials. 

Some reasons parents might get approved for a change of school include: 

  • The current school has no cafeteria, and both parents work and cannot make arrangements for their child at lunch. 
  • A brother or sister is already enrolled at the desired school you want your child to attend.
  • Medical reasons: The current school does not have a special needs program. 

The change is discretionary and a multi-pronged process. 

  1. First, you need to check that the desired school has available places.
  2. You then need to write a letter and provide supporting documents + consent of the director of the chosen school.
    • For primary school, you give these documents to the Mairie.
    • For middle school and high school, you provide them to the current school directly.
  3. You can download a form directly on the town hall website for some schools. 
  4. If approved, out of courtesy, inform the director or directrice of your current school once you’ve registered at the new school. 

You’ll need some stamina. We’ve done this twice, and it was a really long and convoluted process. 

EXAMPLE of dérogation scolaire: Really simple letter asking to change to a school outside of your district in France.

Lettre de demande de dérogation

(Nom)
(Adresse)
(Téléphone)

Mairie de (ville)

Objet : dérogation pour une inscription scolaire hors secteur

Ville, date

Monsieur (ou Madame) le Maire,

À la prochaine rentrée, mon fils (ou ma fille) (nom et prénom), âgé(e) de (âge) ans, doit entrer à l’école élémentaire dont nous dépendons et qui se situe (adresse de l’école).

(This is where you would put the reason you would like to request a change of school)

Je vous serais donc très reconnaissant(e) de bien vouloir examiner ma demande et de m’accorder une dérogation de secteur scolaire.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur (ou Madame) le Maire, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.

Date & Signature

Other articles about schools in France you may be interested in. 

French school system grade levels in France explained: 3-18-Year-old

Kindergarten & French preschool in France: What’s it like?

Calendar & List Of All School Holidays in France Explained + Timeline

Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I’m A Bilingual North American With Thai And French Canadian Roots Who's Been Living In The South Of France For Over 10 Years. I Love Writing Weird, Wonderful, Interesting, Forgotten, And Fascinating Articles For Intellectually Curious People Amazed By France, French Culture, And World Travel.

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