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BREXIT

What are the rules for driving in France after Brexit?

With Brexit just days away, we look at the rules for British drivers - both residents and tourists - in France after the UK exits the EU.

What are the rules for driving in France after Brexit?
Don't fall foul of the gendarmes. Photo: AFP

Driving from Britain to France has in recent years been a fairly painless experience – slap a GB sticker on your car, make sure your headlights have correctors and you are carrying a high-vis yellow vest and warning triangle and off you go.

READ ALSO France scraps law forcing drivers to keep breathlysers in cars

British driving licences are accepted and most standard car insurance packages will cover you for driving in France.

But how is Brexit changing that?

Transition period

Until the end of the transition period on December 31st nothing changes. But after that there are some big changes for both residents and visitors.

Brits who are resident in France

For people living in France, driving licences as a whole have been the cause of quite a confusing Brexit saga.

At first British people who were resident in France were advised to swap their licence for a French one, then were told only to do so in certain circumstances (such as a lost or stolen licence) and then were told they would have to swap them after all.

Before December 31st

Currently, only certain groups of people can swap their licence, and any other applications will be refused.

You must swap your licence if;

  • The licence has been lost or stolen
  • You have added a new driving category to your licence
  • You are specifically instructed to exchange it by a gendarme (this usually happens if you have committed a driving offence)
  • Your licence or photocard is due to expire within six months – anyone turning 70 must exchange their licence and the photocard licences need renewing every 10 years for most categories.

Everyone else can carry on driving on their UK licence. The swap can be done via an online portal – find out more here

After January 1st

After January 1st every British resident in France must swap their licence for a French one – but you have until December 31st 2021 to get your application in.

Despite the introduction of a new online portal it's likely that this influx of applications for a driving licence swap will lead to more delays.

You can help minimise these by;

  • Waiting until after January 1st – there is no point trying to 'jump the queue' by putting your application in before then, if you don't meet the pre-January criteria your application will be rejected
  • Ensuring that you fit the criteria and have the correct documentation. You need to have been a resident in France for at least 185 days before you can make your application and only certain documents are accepted as proof of this – full details here

Rejected applications will just clog up the system and make things slower for everyone.

Kim Cranstoun, who runs the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence, which offers detailed advice and guidance on the process, said everyone should not rush at once to apply.

She said: “CERT (who process the applications) want people to exercise caution and not to apply all at the same time, you have 12 months to apply for your exchange.

“If everyone applies again at the same time we could end up with the same position we were in early 2018 where we broke the system.”

For more information, help and advice about exchanging licences, head to the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence.

Moving to France later

The above all applies to anyone who has become a permanent resident of France at any time before December 31st, 2020.

As things stand now, new arrivals who come to France after December 31st will have to apply for a French licence as Third Country Nationals.

The system – the same one currently in place for non EU residents such as Australians – gives you 12 months after moving to exchange your licence. You will only be able to drive on a UK licence for 12 months, so if you don't manage to exchange it in that time you will be faced with taking the French driving test to gain a French licence.

However a separate deal may be done between now and December 31st.

Just visiting

The above all applies to people who actually live in France, but what about people who are visiting, either regularly in the case of second home owners or infrequently in the case of tourists?

Well during the transition period nothing changes and you can continue to drive on your UK licence during trips to France.

After January 1st visitors can continue to drive on a British licence – there is no need for an International Driving Permit.

Before your trip, you will also need to obtain a 'green card' from your insurance company. Readers of a certain age may remember these, they are issued by the insurance company to state that you are covered while driving abroad.

And another thing

Not specifically related to Brexit, but something that there seems to be some confusion over is re-registering of British cars in France.

If you move to France and bring your British car with you – or buy a British car after moving – you will have to re-register with a French registration plate and you only have three months after moving to make your application.

Read more on that process here.

Obviously anyone driving in France needs to obey French road rules – here's how some of those rules changed in 2020.

Check out The Local's Preparing for Brexit section for updates and details on residency, healthcare and rules on second home owners.

Member comments

  1. I can’t understand why the British, if they live here, feel under no obligation to change their licence. Perhaps they think by having a British one it exempts them from penalty points. It’s the same attitude why they don’t register their cars here.

  2. We don’t exchange our licences because even the French authorities don’t have a plan and don’t know what to do with our submissions. If you had to deal with the bureaucracy then (maybe) you’d understand. It’s not about attitude; it’s about inefficiency.

  3. If you don’t want to comply with the French regulations and their laws and systems you better stay in the UK!

  4. What is the position after 31st December 2020 for second home owners or visitors who have a valid UK Disabled Pass (the Europe wide version)

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For members

VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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