Expat Essentials

Stephen Heiner in Paris: How to get free money for your new electric bike in France

(Editor’s note: This post on how to get “free money” to buy an electric bike was posted originally on The American in Paris website. It’s reposted here with the permission of the author.)

One of the aspects of life in French that is perhaps underappreciated by its citizens are the number of benefits on offer at any given time.  Sure, the French will brag to you about all that’s available, but often, they are conquered by the paperwork before they ever begin. 

I alluded to that in my article about free money for French classes some time ago. 

The hundreds of euros I recently got rebated from various agencies to cover the purchase of my new electric bike only underlined the lesson: If you are willing to do the paperwork correctly, you’re usually going to get what you want in France.

Start with Your City

So I know that there are other municipalities that offer money towards your electric bike purchase, and even though I’m writing this as a Paris resident, the same principles I’ve outlined here are applicable to other areas of France.  That first principle is that all other reimbursement programs for an electric bike purchase look to how your municipality of residence dealt with your purchase.

Parisians start here.  You’re going to create an account. 

Before you start excitedly filling out the application, make sure you have digital copies of the following:

  • a receipt with your name and address on it (I bought my bike at Decathlon and they are familiar with this process; once you finish checking out you can go with your receipt to the customer service window and have them print a formal receipt for you which has your name and address – remember to bring something that proves that address)
  • a certificate from the place that you bought the bike certifying that this model meets the EU standards for electric bikes (you can see the one I used for my bike model here)
  • your electricity bill or attestation de hebergement (this proves your residency)
  • your ID (either passport or carte de sejour; no preference)
  • your RIB (reimbursements are, presumably, only to French bank accounts: one more reason you should get one)

It took me half an hour to fill out the paperwork for the City of Paris. You have to keep in mind that this isn’t entirely “free money.” Paris wants a lot of data from the people they are giving money to, specifically, data about your mobility habits. They are wondering how often you take public transportation and how getting this bike is going to affect that, and whether you will be riding the bike in all types of weather or just on the weekends, etc. They also ask whether you would have bought a new bike if this subsidy program did not exist. I checked “no,” as I would have bought a used electric bike at half the price rather than a brand new one.

They also ask for a full itemization of your purchase. I knew that the program offered reimbursements up to 500 euros in total so I decided to max that out by also buying a helmet, basket, and lock, all of which are included in the programs.

The bike itself had cost 799 euros, so when you add 56 euros for the lock (one of the most expensive I could find), 35 euros for the helmet, and 52 euros for the saddlebags and basket, the total was 942 euros.

I submitted on 17 March and got a response on 23 April: 219.72 euros.  They didn’t give any reasoning for the calculus. While the email told me the money would hit my account within a maximum of two months, it ended up hitting within two weeks.

Also, I didn’t idly wait for the City to rule on my dossier.  I waited a month before sending a follow up via the electronic system and Twitter. Whoever is running the City’s social media account is paying attention and made sure that my request got answered more quickly and that’s why I think I got my response in five weeks instead of the six to eight you might read about online. 

Use social media to your advantage!

Then Try Your Public Transportation Provider

After I submitted my dossier to the City of Paris, I started a simultaneous dossier with IDF Mobilites, which is the agency that is in charge of all the public transportation in the Ile de France region (start here). While you cannot get a final decision from them until you include the decision from your municipality, you can do every other step of the process in the meantime and submit an incomplete dossier. Your dossier will then get flagged up for missing this documentation, but hopefully by that time you will have the decision from your municipality and can respond to the flag with the documentation.

While I had correctly done everything else, I had incorrectly submitted my RIB. I had typed in my personal bank account information but had inexplicably submitted the electronic RIB for my business bank account. Instead of letting me resubmit, they just trashed my dossier because the numbers didn’t match and made me start over.

So I started the process over with IDF Mobilites on 10 May.  The process and dossier is almost identical to the one for the City of Paris. The second time I applied I was able to submit proof of the aid I had already received from the City of Paris, which was simply an email informing me of the decision. While that didn’t strike me as “official” enough, I submitted anyway.  I didn’t get immediate pushback.

Since I had already submitted before, I knew the time to a decision, once they had a complete dossier, was 17 calendar days. Judging by the file number from my original application in comparison to my second one I calculated that they are getting 300-plus applications per day. That sounds like a lot, until you realize there are 12 million people in the region, and not all those dossiers are complete or acceptable. 

I submitted on 18 May and hadn’t heard by 4 June and so I sent a gently worded tweet to their official account.  Three days later I got a decision: 251.28 euros.  The notifying email gives an even longer lag time for the funds to hit your account: four months. But again, that was just to give them a wide margin of error.  The money hit within 12 business days … 471 euros towards my purchase meant that thanks to these two agencies, exactly half of my bike had been paid for.

When some people (who don’t pay taxes here) expressed dismay at these programs, I noted that not only am I an annual Navigo holder at IDF Mobilites, paying north of 700 euros each year for my pass, I also pay various types of taxes to the City of Paris.  I saw these funds as customer/tax rebates for myself which, all told, only took a couple hours of my time, including the actual purchase of the bike in the first place.

But Wait, There’s More!

There’s also a program called Bonus Velo that operates at a national level (but you apply within your specific region: Paris is “Grand Est”) and, unlike the previous two programs I mentioned, is means-tested.  If your French income was below 13,489 euros in the previous year, you can qualify. You must also apply for the program within six months of the original purchase. I happen to know someone who had applied for this program and asked him for the scoop.

Unlike the other programs, which are entirely online, this one operated in the old-fashioned way: a printed dossier sent by registered mail. You will need all the same information that you did for the other two dossiers, along with a copy of your previous year’s tax return, but note that the email that you receive from the City of Paris informing you of a favorable decision isn’t considered sufficient “proof” by this agency. 

That’s fine.

If you email the City and let them know you need proof for the Bonus Velo program they will send you a more “official” document than an email that conforms to what the Bonus Velo program demands. You will then have to print that up and include it with your dossier.

This process seems to be faster because if you have a completed dossier you will get a decision within one month of mailing it in. The person who applied for this program also went through a similar process with the other two agencies (for the same model bike!) and got 200 euros.  The money arrived within two weeks.

That meant he got 671 euros of an original 942 euros reimbursed, bringing his effective total for his brand new electric bike, helmet, lock, saddlebags, and basket to 271 euros. Not bad! 

This is a perfect example of taking advantage of programs that many French people don’t even know about, much less apply for. The processes just take a bit of time, but immigrants are so used to having to do paperwork just to legally stay in France, that doing paperwork to get money is almost fun, especially when you’ve come to understand how French bureaucracy works at every level.

There are several reasons why I got an electric bike in the first place (although, as a I noted, the incentive to get a new one was the free money) even though I’ve been almost exclusively a metro rider and walker in the City for years now. 

But I’ll talk about that more in another article.

About the author:

Singaporean-born American Stephen Heiner lived in Paris from 2013 to 2021 after living in Asia and the United States for most of his life. While he has an undergraduate degree in literature, he also has an MBA, and he’s very much the man who enjoys studying financial statements as much as he enjoys reading essays by G.K. Chesterton or James Howard Kunstler.

He visits his family in the U.S. and Singapore each year, but in the meantime enjoys his dream city, which he finally had a chance to move to after selling a company he built over a number of years. 

You can find him on twitter and instagram @stephenheiner.

You can also follow his immigration journey on www.theamericaninparis.com, where Stephen also offers consulting to those interested in relocating to, and/or making a life in, France.

See more of Stephen’s Dispatches posts here.

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