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Can you really drive on an expired photocard licence in France?

The UK government has updated its Brexit information for those British nationals living in France with UK driving licences and it has corrected wrong information it published around the expiry of photocards.

Can you really drive on an expired photocard licence in France?
Photo: AFP

The issue of the impact of Brexit, especially a no-deal exit from the EU, on driving licences has been a real concern for Britons in France.

Initially Britons in France were advised to exchange their driving licences as soon as possible to avoid the prospect of having to take a driving test in France. 

That led to thousands of Britons inundating French authorities with exchange applications which led to a huge backlog. Many have been waiting over a year to get their French driving licence.

Eventually French authorities decided to stop accepting applications unless it was to replace a lost, stolen or soon-to-expire licence.

Then in April the French passed a decree that said authorities would continue to recognise UK driving licences in the future even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

That came as a huge relief to many drivers, although it wasn't much help for those who had already applied and were stuck in the system.

The British government is still advising people not to seek to exchange a British driving licence for a French one because of long delays.

In a sign of the difficulty around getting the right information to Britons in France, the UK government has had to correct information around the expiry of photocards after The Local contacted French authorities to confirm it.

Initially the British government said that anyone with a UK photocard licence that is about to expire did NOT need exchange it.

“Only the expiry of your entitlement is concerned, not that of your photo card. The expiry of your photo card does not restrict your right to drive in France,” the site read.

The British government said only those with four months remaining on the actual licence, rather than the photocard, should apply to exchange it.





But after The Local asked French authorities to confirm if this was correct and if British drivers would be able to take to French roads with out-of-date photocards, the advice changed again.

French authorities in Nantes told The Local they have been in touch with the British government to flag up the problem.

Now anyone who has a photocard licence due to expire within 6 months is advised to apply to exchange it for French licence.

Drivers with British licences can request a certificate of entitlement from the the DVLA authority in the UK which specifies more clearly when the person's actual licence will expire, rather than their photocard ID.

While in theory drivers are able to drive using the “Certificate of Entitlement” even if their photocard has expired they may run into problems if they are stopped by the French police.

Kim Cranstoun, who runs the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence told The Local most gendarmes or police will be sympathetic as long as you exchange is in the system.

She recommends getting the Certificate of Entitlement from the DVLA if your licence is expired or is about to.

She also recommends some other tips to British drivers.

“If people have applied for an exchange, it is recommended that they keep a copy of all correspondence in the car as evidence should they get stopped. Even though the officials can check they do like to see a piece of paper,” she said

Having a copy of France's no deal decree in the car is also recommended. The decree tells people to exchange their licence if it is due to expire in six months.

A spokesperson for the British embassy told The Local: “It’s advisable for British drivers in France to have a valid photo card. Though your driving licence entitlement may be valid, if the accompanying photo card has expired, there is a risk the police may challenge you.”

The government says anyone who needs a change of licence to drive other types of vehicles or those who have committed driving offences in France resulting in points deductions or even a suspension should exchange their licence.

“In all other cases, if you are resident in France before the day the UK leaves the EU, you do not need to exchange your licence to drive legally in France. French authorities will continue to recognise your licence as before Brexit,” reads the government website.

It also notes that the Centre d’Expertise et de Ressources des Titres (CERT) in Nantes, which deals with exchanges is being reorganised “to deal with the backlog with delays which are currently between 8 and 12 months.”

If you are in the process of exchanging your UK licence via CERT, do not try to renew in parallel with DVLA because this will invalidate your CERT application. Applications in the UK with a French address cannot be processed.

In terms of driving in France after Brexit, the government reminds Britons that: “If there is a deal, driving licence rules will stay the same during the implementation period,” which currently ends on December 31st 2020.

If Britain leaves without a deal on October 31st then anyone “resident in France on the day the UK leaves the EU will continue to be able to drive in France with your UK driving licence under the same conditions as any resident.”

But for those who move to France after Brexit day, if there's a no-deal then they “will have a one-year period to exchange their UK driving licence for a French one.”

Member comments

  1. Shouldn’t a lot of these British living here have exchanged these licences ages ago before all this brexit kicked off.

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For members


Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”