Metal detecting in France – do I need a licence?

Metal detector iconWith over eight acres of land, and buildings dating back to medieval times, I thought it might be fun to get a metal detector and maybe find some long-lost treasure. However, I’ve found it’s not just a case of buying one of those ‘beepy’ machines and getting out on the land. There are laws in place in France if you want to use a metal detector.

Obtaining a metal detecting license

In order to conduct a search on any land, (if it’s your own, or somebody else’s), you need to have the landowner’s permission in writing. Not only that — because your metal detector may find an object which could concern/interest prehistory, art or archaeology, you must get administrative authority, in the form of a license, from the Prefect of the Region. The license will only be granted after your identity, competence, experience and method of searching has been checked. The Prefect will also look at the location you wish to search, scientific objective and duration of the search you want to carry out…not so simple then!

Do I really need to get all this in place just to use a metal detector on my own land? It seems a lot of hassle to go through just for a bit of fun. However, if I don’t take notice of the law, I could get into serious trouble – a fine and the metal detector could get confiscated. But if I want to use a metal detector on a beach, that’s ok.

It does seem complicated, but basically it’s to protect any historical or archaeological items that might be found…and I guess that as I live in the renovated kitchen of an old Château  built in 1297, the Château grounds and fields beyond could turn up some old historical artefacts, which would be of archaeological interest. So, on reflection, I don’t think I’ll buy one after all. Maybe, a few years down the line, when I have more time on my hands, I’ll get the relevant permissions and go treasure hunting!

Editor Notes

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever found whilst metal detecting? Had any good / bad experiences? Leave us a reply (see below) and let us know.


  1. ivan June 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    What doing System D the French way when you are metal detecting! System D is where lie, lie and steal some thing if your any good at System D you do! It is not if you get caught but when you get caught than you cry I will never do THAT again! Guess what that is a lie and you go right back to do what ever until caught again and repeat now you had enough or until you see his eyes are blood shot than take a break! Two three days top and start over!
    System D in an unwritten French law but is just as important to as the written French law to walk the land god’s wine and smelly cheese. This how the French think and I am half French I want the cat out of the bag! You want to metal detect you must learn to lie and you can stay out of prison that is the game of life the French love System D!
    If you can’t stay home the French will get in their web of lies! I wake up lying just to stay in shape with lying!
    The French police ask you the time of day you lie the same is true when metal detecting! You tell any one and ever one you lost one Euro when metal detecting and fine 9 times out 10 your fine if you have to throw one Euro out and look for it without founding it! I want to go home and this hell hole of a country France is not it!

  2. ivan June 17, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    That should say “What about System D” sorry!

  3. Simple Metal Detector April 9, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    Great tips! Really need it because next week I will go to Provence (France) with my Metal Detector. I have Garrett Atx, do you know?
    Simple Metal Detector recently posted.. Ten Great Gifts Beach Enthusiasts

  4. TJ May 23, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    There is a slightly different situation in France, but not so much due to obvious issues like landing beaches or licenses/permissions etc – a slightly better moral compass prevails in France and you are legally obliged and expected to hand in lost property under any circumstances. Since the police know that you are unlikely to be seeking a lost item for an unknown owner, metal detecting is generally viewed as a slightly nefarious activity that arouses police interest if they are less than busy.

    In principle you do not require a license to detect on e.g. Pampelonne beach, the main beach that serves the Saint Tropez area that is arguably the busiest/largest/best beach to detect currency/jewellery/watches in the south of France. However, it could be worth you noting a few practical points and advisories:
    – More ‘prudence s’il vous plait’ than in the UK – across all fronts – at all times, even between October and March.
    – Headphones mandatory so that you do not annoy others in daytime and reduce unwanted attention to self at night.
    – Invest in the best detector you can afford due to sheer amount of various metallic debris in the sand. Generally speaking UK beaches are in some of the highest and strongest tidal zones of the world, the Med the least, i.e. very weak tides indeed with a tidal range of under a metre – as such the beaches don’t get washed off or churned over – ever – so you have decades and decades of bottle caps/can pulls and lids of various alloys etc.
    – Only detect before and after beach hours at any time of year – unless you wish to be generally frowned upon and hassled by general public and police.
    – In high season 3 – 6 am is a good time to detect. Accordingly, for digging, you could e.g. carry with your trowel in your other hand, an aluminium camera tripod from a carboot sale for a couple of quid – set the legs at approx 2ft/60cm and then add an LED downlight at legs joint bracket, (one of those round LED lights with a push button switch that takes 3xAAA batteries works fine – if you get one from the pound shop try to get one that was designed for use as a headband light because then you’ve got some strapping/velcro to fit it to your tripod.)
    – Be careful that you do not stray in front of any beach restaurant/bar that has private user rights for the beach in front – technically there is 2-3m zone at the water’s edge that is tidal and public land, but you will get nowhere if you try to argue that you can detect along this strip if it is between a ‘private’ beach and the water’s edge. The police will side with the 3 waiters that lie about you straying onto their private beach – in turn the police will hassle you in no uncertain terms.
    – Note that plain clothes police operate 24 hours a day throughout the beach areas and beach hinterlands in the south of France. Technically you require a written permission or an official license for detecting on any land towards the rear of a beach as it turns into a field or carpark etc – problem being that these boundaries are not well defined in France. It works like this: someone official spies on you and aims to fine you at best at point where you walk off beach with a bit of last minute luck in mind on way back to car etc. I advise you not to do this – instead keep a carry bag with you and zip/small padlock your detector away into this bag near-ish to water’s edge before you walk off the beach. This will remove the obvious argument that will occur and save you from being arrested and carted off/fined.
    – If you are within your rights and confronted by the police, co-operate fully – the French police will love it if you adopt any kind of indignant or bolshy attitude – they will go into ‘game’ mode – the police to pretend that they think you are a drugs pusher – and that your detecting is a front for drugs distribution. They will then search your vehicle and fully check your passport and vehicle documents, tyres, spare bulb kit is right for vehicle type, expiry date on your fire extinguisher and breathalyser kits, high viz jackets have CE badges, first aid kit is up to scratch and all components within date, your headlight deflectors, GB sticker/GB inclusion on your number plate, warning triangle is accessible within 10 seconds in boot in case of emergency. They will, at best, set out to waste two hours of your time – and they will succeed. Be polite and they won’t be overly happy, but this is because of first paragraph above – they will at least be professional and you won’t have any actual problem.
    – Check local laws where ness. I would advise against you trying to detect on the pebble or sand/pebble beach at main points like Nice or Cannes etc. You can use a thin fabric bag that screws up to golf ball size when taking your detector onto and off a beach like Cannes, but you’ll still be at the attention of all concerned because your detector could be a dummy full of C4 – prepare to be stopped and hassled 24/7. July 2016: “Cannes council announced on Wednesday that the rucksacks and other large non-transparent bags that could hide bombs would be banned from beaches – with offenders expected to be hit with fines or told to leave the area.”

    In short – it works – don’t be put off – just be far more prudent than you would be in the UK across all fronts and make sure your papers and vehicle are in order. ‘La Goosh’ (Lagos) Portugal – etc – more favourable – quite a drive though!

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