Confusion and concern after France stops exchange of driving licences until after Brexit

Britons living in France have been subjected to even more Brexit worries after the French authorities said they would not be processing applications to exchange British driving licences for French ones until they know exactly what's happening with Britain's departure from the EU.

Confusion and concern after France stops exchange of driving licences until after Brexit
Photo: AFP
The announcement, published on the website of the Loire-Atlantique prefecture in Nantes, where most applications are processed, will no doubt come as a surprise to many Brits living in France.
They had previously been told by the UK government to exchange their driving licences “as soon as possible to make sure you get one before 29th March 2019”  – the day when the Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.
The Centre d’Expertises et des Ressources des Titres – Echange des Permis Etrangers (CERT – EPA) based at the prefecture in the French city of Nantes, located in the Loire-Atlantique department, is responsible for processing driving licence exchanges for the whole of France except for the Paris region. 
The notice posted on the prefecture's website at the end of February said: “Do you have a British driver's licence that you wish to exchange for a French licence?
“It will take a little patience while waiting for the decision on the precise terms of Brexit to request your licence exchange,” says the site. “Your request will not be processed and if you have submitted your file, it will be sent back to you with an accompanying letter.”
Nantes will now only be dealing with the following requests: lost or stolen licences, expired licences, exchanges following an offense committed in France resulting in a loss of points, a restriction or suspension or cancellation of your licence or someone requesting a new category of licence. 
If your request does not fall into one of these groups, then it will not be processed and, indeed, your file will be sent back to you with an accompanying letter. 
That spells yet more uncertainty for Britons in France who are already living in limbo over the question of whether they will be able to meet the conditions for residency.
“The problem we have is the uncertainty of Brexit from all fronts. People are unable to get their licence or even know if its been processed, as all forms of communication available to us are not staffed as well as they need to be,” admin for the 'Applying for a French driving licence' Facebook group Kim Cranstoun told The Local.
“If there was a mechanism where we could easily ascertain where we are on the list/queue it would really help. The stress not only for those that need their car daily but those that depend on their licence for work is huge,” she said, adding that the inequality of the process “is one of the biggest problems we have.”
“Some have been waiting for 18 months with nothing and others have received their licences within 4 months. Frustration levels are high.”

France's Interior Ministry is yet to respond to our request for clarification as is the British Embassy in Paris, where officials are believed to be aware of the issue.
The Local understands the British Embassy are pushing French authorities to introduce a grace period of a year to allow for licences to be exchanged.
The Local understands that French authorities have returned applications to certain British residents telling those who applied for a licence that in the event of a no-deal Brexit the government will pass legislation allowing them to continue driving under the current conditions until new terms are laid out.
So at least on March 30th Britons won't have to leave their cars at home.
Those who have received their “attestation”, means their applications will likely be processed albeit with long delays.
As far as we know, applications are still being processed in the French capital although a spokesperson for the Paris Prefecture de Police told The Local that “there are significant delays”. 
The 'Applying for a French driving licence' Facebook group has called on people to stop sending their applications until after Brexit: “Currently on hold no applications to be sent to Nantes until we know what is happening after the 29th.” 
But they advise that when the process to exchange a licence is put in place, it is a good idea to send an “application suivi/avec avis de réception“.
In the case of a delay, applicants at least have proof that the exchange has been requested if their new licence is requested by your insurer or even the Gendarmes.
While Britons have the right to drive until Britain's withdrawal date from the EU, currently expected to take place on March 29th, what happens after that remains unclear.
The French government said more details on the specific reciprocal 'dispositions' for exchanging driving licences in the case of a no deal would be released at a later date and it is possible that UK permit holders who reside in France may ultimately have to get a French driving permit and will be given a period of grace to obtain it. 
French authorities in Nantes previously told The Local that Britons wanting to live in France after a no deal will be able to drive with a UK permit for up to a year, and must apply for an exchange within that time. But had originally encouraged people to not wait until the end of March.
British tourists in France will still be able to drive using a UK driving licence as they can today.
If the current Brexit deal on the table is ratified by MPs in London then will be a transition period until December 2020 meaning Britons can continue to driver on their UK licence as they do now.
French authorities will state at a later date what the procedure will be for after that transition period.

Member comments

  1. This is how Germany sees the issue. A EU photo Licence issued in any EU country is a VALID EU DOCUMENT irrespective of Brexit. Under EU law France must change this document irrespective of any silly ideas it has when this document expires. P.s The time it takes to change a UK licence to a German one is 2 weeks. Go figure.

  2. I am surprised that some brits are only now considering applying for an EU driving license. The UK D/L requires you to have a valid UK address. If you have moved to an EU country and the address is no longer valid then nor is the D/L. Imagine being on holiday in the UK or hiring a car and being asked about the address. I obtained a german one on selling my home in the UK. I also had to reregister my car and take out local insurance.

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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.