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Exchanging your British driving licence for a French one: What you need to know

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Exchanging your British driving licence for a French one: What you need to know
Photo: AFP
12:36 CET+01:00
Exchanging your driving licence for French one has quickly become an urgent issue for Brits living in France. Here's what you need to know about the process as well as some of the problems, as experienced by The Local's editor Ben McPartland.

Never has there been so much interest in information around exchanging a British driving licence for a French one.

That's down to the UK government issuing a warning notice to Brits in France and around Europe about the possibility that their British driving licences will no longer be valid in France, if there is no Brexit agreement between London and the EU.

One way around this of course is to simply take the step of exchanging a British licence for a French one, which shouldn't in theory be too much of a problem, although for some there are snags. (Scroll down to read about the problems The Local France's editor had exchanging his licence)

The government's warning notice also alerted Brits to the fact that if they want to change their licence then they should really do it right now because after March 2019 they may no longer be able to and may have to undergo a driving test in France in order to get a new licence. All this is if there is no deal of course.

But exchanging your driving licence is not just worth doing because of Brexit fears. Some people may have to do it if their UK photocard licence expires and they cannot renew because they are resident in France (scroll down for more info)

We've gathered together some info on how to exchange your licence for a French one, but your first port of call should be this French government website.

To be able to change your driving license to a French one, you must

  • have been resident in France for over 6 months and for at least 185 days per year (or normally resident in France but temporarily abroad for studying, training, an internship or a fixed-term project.)
  • hold a valid driving licence. If your photocard licence has expired you should request a Certificate of Entitlement to Drive from the DVLA to present in its place. NOTE: This will have to be translated into French by a certified translator.
  • follow any relevant medical specifications when you drive, such as wearing glasses, making sure your car is adapted to accommodate disabilities, etc.
  • be of legal driving age, which is 18 to drive a car unaccompanied in France.
  • not have obtained your licence abroad while you were banned from obtaining a licence in France.

What to include in your application

  • The form cerfa n°14879*01 (download here) fully completed, dated and signed with a valid email address or telephone number
  •  The form cerfa n°14948*01 (download here) printed in colour, fully completed, dated and signed
  • A double-sided, colour copy of the licence you wish to exchange
  •  A copy of proof of identity such as a valid passport or identity card
  • A copy of proof of address such as a bill from the past 6 months, a receipt for rent paid (quittance de loyer) tax bill or proof of residence from your landlord known as an attestation d'hébergement
  • A copy of proof of residence in France for the past 6 months if you are European (such as a housing contract, work contract, social security documents or tax returns) or, if you are not European, a double-sided copy of your carte de séjour
  • 3 photos (two of which are to be attached to the cerfa forms)
  • 1 50g stamped “prêt à poster” envelope (available from the post office) completed with your name and address.

Where to send your application

  •  All applications must be submitted by post.
  •  Applications from Paris must be sent to:

Préfecture de Police de Paris

DPG / SDCLP

Centre de ressources des échanges de permis de conduire étrangers et des permis internationaux de conduite (Crepic)

1 bis rue de Lutèce

75 195 Paris Cedex 04

Applications from outside Paris must be sent to:

CERT EPE

TSA 63527

44035 NANTES CEDEX 01

Next step

  • If your application is accepted you will then be asked to send in your original driving licence. In this instance, you will be provided with proof that you are in the process of exchanging your licence. This proof can be used as a temporary licence for up to 8 months while you are waiting for your French licence to arrive.
  • Waiting times for licences vary according to demand.
  • Your French permit will be delivered to your home address.
  • You will not be sent a probationary licence unless your original licence is less than 3 years old.
  • Your French permit will be valid for 15 years from the date of issue, or 5 years for heavy or large vehicle licences.

Things to note:

  • If your photocard licence has expired you will need to apply for a Certificate of Entitlement from the British driving authority the DVLA, which will then need to be translated into French by a certified translator.
  • You may also need to get a doctor's certificate to prove you are fit to drive that only certain doctors can provide. You will normally be sent a list of those doctors in your area.
  • Waiting times are pretty long and can be six to eight months.

Below The Local's Editor Ben McPartland tells of the process and problems he had in exchanging his British driving licence for a French one.

I was forced to convert my British licence into French one not because of anything hideous and life-changing like Brexit but because I suddenly discovered my British one had expired (or at least the photocard licence had) when I went to pick up a hire car in Paris.
 
My forgetfulness ended up costing €450 because the poor British bloke who had to drive the hire car ended up crashing it into an old French couple and landing us an insurance bill.
 
Anyhow the main problem was that I needed to renew the licence as soon as possible as I was driving with an out of date photocard and wasn't sure of the legal consequences.
 
The DVLA, the UK body that deals with driving licence problems issued me a so-called "Certificate of Entitlement" that I printed and carried with me that showed I had a valid licence in case I was stopped by the police. 
 
I also used the certificate to hire a car abroad without any problems.
 
I thought I'd be able to just renew my UK licence online but the fact I was no longer a resident of the UK meant things were not going to be so simple. 
 
That meant delving into the world of French bureaucracy.
 
Transferring a British license to a French one would have been far easier if my British licence had not expired.
 
I had to get the certificate of entitlement translated into French which was no big deal although it did cost €52 plus an extra €15 to get it done immediately.
 
The big snag came when French bureaucrats had a breakdown over my first name because on my passport it's the full name Benedict but on my old driving licence it just said Ben.
 
In France, as I was told sternly at the prefecture de police, they don't shorten names on anything official.
 
So they rejected my application and told me I needed to prove that Ben and Benedict were the same person. They told me to contact the British embassy to get a letter stating I was who I said I was, but they were unable to help.
 
So I had to dig out any kind of document I had to prove my identity.
 
Luckily I had a few documents including a French work contract and payslip, a letter from the Pôle Emploi as well as a tax certificate from the UK that all used my name as Ben.
 
I sent them everything I had including a "certificate of honour" declaring that I swore on my heart that I am both Benedict and Ben McPartland.
 
It seemed to do the trick. Although I wasn't quite there yet. Even though the authorities now accepted who I was they didn't quite accept I was fit to drive. Because my photocard licence had expired they wanted me to visit a doctor to be given the all clear that I was in good enough health to get behind the wheel.
 
So, I had to make an appointment with a doctor whose name was on a list given to me by the prefecture. After my blood pressure was taken, my heart monitored, my eyes tested I was given the all clear by the medic.
 
Around a month later I was finally able to return to the prefecture to pick up my new French driving licence in the name of Benedict McPartland, of course. I also had to hand over my old British photocard licence.
 
But it felt good.
 
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Brian Reid - 15 Jan 2019 18:16
My (French) wife and I (British) sent our paper UK driving licences off to Nantes in October 2018. No way of even ascertaining if they have been received and phoning the prefecture brings only smiles. After 35 years in England and 11 years in the Aube and 50 years without an accident I now find that there is a 6/12 month time delay. Result. No driving for several months. We live in a village and need the car for work. Any helpful tips would be gratefully received.
Boggy - 16 Jan 2019 08:01
If you have lived in France for 11 years the question is, why didn't you exchange your licence 10 and a half years ago? If you had performed that simple task you would not be in the situation you are now in. Perhaps the reason was you thought you would get away with points for traffic offences like a lot of British do.
Andrew Theaker - 16 Jan 2019 10:45
The procedure for exchanging UK driving licences for French ones is relatively straightforward, albeit rather protracted. I sent my application off on 9 January 2018 and my French licence was issued on 9 April 2018. My wife sent her application off at the end of July 2018 and she has just received her Attestation de Depot de Permis de Conduire, which is valid for 8 months. She has now sent off her photocard licence to Nantes and can continue to drive until she receives her French licence in the post. I accept that there is no way of tracking your application, you just have to be patient! Above all, do not send your UK licence to the Prefecture until you receive a letter from them asking for it.
Brian Reid - 16 Jan 2019 11:14
Boggy. My local prefecture in Troyes and the prefecture in Rennes told me it was not necessary. In fact they seemed to think that it was a waste of police time. PS. I am bilingual so there was no misunderstanding
Brian Reid - 16 Jan 2019 11:20
PPS that simple task is not so simple with a paper license. It has to be translated by an accredited solicitor/translator. The nearest I found lives 100 kms from me and it has to handed in in person and cost 800 euros.
Nicola - 19 Jan 2019 15:51
Just a quick question - if I exchange my UK licence for a French one, am I still able to drive in the UK on the new French licence, as I do visit family there? Also I haven't a CDS - only just applying for one so although I have proof of French address I don't have proof of residence.
Phil - 26 Jan 2019 19:25
My experience has been a total nightmare. I had to sue the Prefecture de Paris in administrative court and receive an order (the court ruled in my favor in November but only after more than TWO years of not being able to drive plus legal fees, translation fees and mind-numbing bureaucratic nonsense).

My state in the US, Massachusetts, has an exchange agreement with France. But because I have a second citizenship (Italy), France denied me the exchange multiple times, citing arcane laws (that I couldn't be the same person, that I had to show I was legal in the US-- despite being born in the US (!) and requesting that I produce documentation showing I was a resident when I was 16 years old (they wanted tax returns etc etc which is ludicrous from a teenager). At this point, more than 2 years later my license has since expired...and reading Ben's experience I am now expecting more problems.
Bottom line, and a word of caution- and this was clearly stated by the judge in the hearing- that there is definite ambiguity around "date of issuance". The French see it as the "date driving rights were obtained". The court found that it was unreasonable to ask for 30-year old tax returns or electric bills from a 16-year old...(duh)...

They have 2 more weeks to issue it by court order.. we'll see what happens but if you are in Paris it is a disaster.
Angela Thompson - 28 Jan 2019 18:22
Thank you very much for this article. As a result I have very quickly put together a dossier for both my husband and myself, ready to post off. Just before I do I have one query......the form 14879 prints off as two pages, both identical. In the top right hand corner of the first it says "intended for the prefecture" and on the other "intended for the applicant". Am I supposed to send this off with my application, for them to send it back to me as some form of receipt or is it the intention that I fill it in and keep it for myself? In the case of the latter I would of course just take a photocopy of my form before I send it off, as with the other form they want filling in. Just want to get this right first time to avoid delays. Anyone?
Neurolink - 06 Feb 2019 12:03
Although it is taking a long time (I applied in September 2018 and just received the Attestation de Depot de Permis de Conduire a couple of weeks ago), I have to say that the folk in Nantes have communicated with me via email, particularly around HGV rights and medicals (I decided I no longer needed those), and I find them very helpful.
Sonya - 13 Feb 2019 19:51
Boggy - I now wish that I had exchanged my British driving licence a number of years ago, when it was a relatively simple exchange carried out at your local prefecture... I have been in France since 2006, and my reasons for not doing so earlier were nothing to do with trying to evade points for traffic offences (I've managed to never get any of those anyway...yet!), but simply that it wasn't deemed necessary. Similarly to Brian Reid, I was told by the Prefecture that it would be a waste of time ("let's not do that which we don't need to do" - or words to that effect, was my advice at the time). If only I'd had a crystal ball...

Brian Reid - I used a traducteur assermentée by post - no need to hand over anything in person, and I paid about €50 (for one page - obviously the price increases with the size of the document) - I think you need to look around for someone who will do this by post for you - I'm sure you should be able to find someone... I'd be happy to share the details of the person I use, but I'm not sure I'd be "allowed" to put her details on here? Anyway, bonne courage...
Brian Reid - 14 Feb 2019 22:45
Thanks. All in hand now with Nantes. 5 months nothing then something then a mistake then something else but I have hope having now sent my uk licence on request by registered mail with Avis de reception. Temporary licence valid until October so fingers crossed. Ps feel sorry for the people in Nantes with so many requests coming in and so few staff
Fiona - 26 Feb 2019 14:38
I sent my dossier to nantes in January 2018. 13 months ago. Heard nothing since. My uk driving licence expires in april 2019. You would think this had given them plenty of time! No such luch. In desperation and despite e mails to uk embassy in paris and nantes, i sent off a second dossier in january 2019. Still no news. If i havnt received french licence by april i will be absolutely furious and stuck as i live alone and rely on my car for getting anywhere. It is outrageous that there seems to be no system in place. Newer applications are being turned round than applications srnt a year ago and longer. Typical french inefficiency!
Ricky Dicky - 02 Apr 2019 21:21
I sympathise with Ben/Benedict. Before I moved to France I used Dick as my first name (only people who have known me for a VERY long time use Dicky) and have lots of official things in that name. However I quickly realised that the French like the "proper" name, Richard. I am now quite an expert in explaining that Dick and Richard are the same name, dating back, I keep telling people, to 14th century rhyming slang. My French explanation is probably gobbledegook but it works ! However, fearing a no deal, I have successfully changed my driving licence.
- 03 Apr 2019 10:23
Hello... we sent our paperwork to Nantes in October last year, to exchange two British driving licences for French ones. My husband received a letter of attestation in February and his French licence arrived yesterday. On the other hand, I have heard absolutely nothing at all. A little concerning as our demands were sent together, but obviously separate paperwork and photos. There is no obvious way to find out what's going on. I'm wondering whether I should just re-apply. Any advice would be welcome. Thanks. Hilary Shearing
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