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.
British driving licences are accepted and most standard car insurance packages will cover you for driving in France.
But how is Brexit changing that?
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.
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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.
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.