Whereas in the UK the only obligatory insurance policy is for your car, in France the approach is much more nanny-state with health, home and car insurance all compulsory, as well as certain others in particular circumstances.
The principle at play is that everyone has an absolute duty to make good any physical or material damage caused to a third party whether in everyday life or especially when driving a motor vehicle. This is called Civil Responsibility Insurance (assurance de responsabilité civile) or RC for short. If you are not insured you will have to pay the victims from your own pocket and may be legally subject to heavy fines.
Everyone who drives a motor vehicle must be insured, at the very least for the damage that they may cause to 3rd parties. This is known as “garantie au tiers”. The next level up is 3rd party, fire and theft (tiers +, tiers complet – the name and coverage differ by insurer), and finally comprehensive (tous risques). The law changed a couple of years ago so that now you can resign the policy at any time after the first year of coverage is up. You still need to write to the insurer or broker and send it recommandé (registered post). You must also ensure any vehicle that is not on the road (non-roulant), unless it has had all four wheels or the battery and fuel tank removed. It’s worth noting that the policy is not automatically cancelled if the car is sold or written off. It is suspended and will come into effect again, if/when you purchase another car, unless you cancel it in writing, or it is dormant for over 6 months.
A home insurance policy is not compulsory for home owners, but you are legally responsible for any damage caused to others or their property, if for example tiles fall off your roof and injure somebody and so it’s a good idea to have an “RC” policy. On the other hand, if you have a home loan or mortgage, the lenders will almost definitely make it a condition of the loan that you insure the building to protect their assets. They may also insist that you purchase life insurance (known as death insurance “assurance décès” in French) and possibly “prévoyances” protection against permanent disability or illness preventing you from working and therefore repaying the loan . By law, you don’t have to purchase the policies that they offer you. Again following a change in the law, you are now free to cancel house insurance policies at any time after the first year is up.
It is compulsory for tenants to insure the dwelling against “risques locatifs” (rental risks) which include fire, explosion and water damage. The contents of the flat are not covered and are up to the tenant to insure if desired.
Owners of shared accommodation (copropriétaires) are also obliged to purchase an “RC” policy to cover possible harm caused to 3rd parties by the premises.
Everyone who lives in France is supposed to be covered by a health insurance policy although in most cases this is provided through social security cover by the CPAM (or another body such as the RAM). Anyone who is not covered by the state is supposed to purchase private health insurance as a condition of being resident in France under EU law. Top up insurance (mutuelle or complémentaire) to cover the shortfall from the state provided cover is not compulsory, but you will have to pay the difference from your own pocket.
All other forms of insurance in your private life are optional. Various forms of professional insurance are compulsory depending on your line of work, but that’s a different article.
As mentioned above, home and car insurance can now be cancelled at any time after the first year is up, or before if you sell the house or car and this also applies to insurance policies covering mobile phones etc. However if you do want to cancel a legally compulsory insurance policy such as car or tenant’s insurance you can only do it if you have already found an alternative provider and get them to do the cancellation for you.
All other forms of insurance can only be cancelled on the annual renewal date. You have to send a letter (ideally signed for, as that gives you proof of delivery) 2 months before the renewal date saying that you wish to cancel. If you don’t send it early enough then the insurer can refuse to cancel and demand that you pay the premium. That said if the contract has an automatic renewal clause which most do, the insurer is legally supposed to send you a reminder that the renewal date is approaching and giving the latest date by when you are allowed to cancel. The policy holder then has 20 days from the date on the postmark to cancel the policy. If the insurer does not send this information, the policy holder can cancel the policy at any time after the renewal date by sending a signed for letter to the insurer.