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BREXIT

INTERVIEW: French authorities issue latest driving licence advice for Britons in France

For British people living in France, driving licences have been a particular source of frustration, with changing advice and instructions as time went on. The Local called the head of the issuing office for the latest information.

INTERVIEW: French authorities issue latest driving licence advice for Britons in France
French authorities ask Britons worried about their driving licence's validity post-Brexit to keep calm. As long as the licence has not expired, there is no need to apply for a French exchange.Photo: A

The situation been a headache for not only British people, but also for the Centre d'Expertises et des Ressources des Titres – Echange des Permis Étrangers (CERT) which receives all the applications from the whole of France except Paris.

Their office in Nantes, northwest France, has therefore been overflowing with applications for months.

We asked Baptiste Mandard, Deputy General of CERT, for his advice to British residents in France. His answers relate only to people who are already resident in France by the end of the transition period (December 31st, 2020).

READ ALSO What are the rules for driving in France after Brexit?

The Local: Will British driving licences still be legal after Brexit on January 31st?

Baptiste Mandard: Yes. As long as the licence has not expired, there is no reason as to why you cannot drive on a British licence after January 31st.

TL: For how long?

BM: The transition period lasts until December 31st 2020 and there won’t be any changes to the rules until after that date.

However, if your driving licence has expired or been suspended due to an infraction, you must convert your British licence into a French licence so that the French government can withdraw the points necessary.

Anyone who loses one point or more on their driving licence will need to do that [previous advice had been that this was only necessary for offences that deducted three points or more].


It is not necessary for all British drivers to convert their licences to French ones, only in certain circumstances. Photo: AFP

TL: How many British driving licence exchange applications are currently waiting to be treated at the CERT office?

MB: Since we opened our service two and a half years ago we have received 22,000 applications from UK citizens who want to exchange their driving licences. We still have 5,000-6,000 applications left to deal with.

The rest of them we have already answered – whether we accepted the exchange or not, we have sent out our answer.

TL: How many of the applications are declined?

MB: A third of all the applications – not just the British ones – we receive at CERT are incomplete and thus declined.

TL: How long can people expect to wait for their application to be dealt with?

MB: New applicants will get an answer about 3 to 4 months after they sent in their application. Old applicants (ie those stuck in the backlog] can expect a delay of six months, starting now.

About 50 percent of all the applications we received here in Nantes were useless. The applicants asked for an exchange, but they didn’t need to. These applications are not prioritised. First we deal with the applications that we consider urgent. 

TL: Which are the urgent cases?

MB: The urgent cases are the people that have had their license suspended, those whose licence have expired, or those who have added a qualification on their licence and need to update it – from car to truck, for example.

TL: Will the applications that aren’t considered urgent be declined?

We ask people to wait in line, they are not a priority. We also ask people to wait to apply until we have launched our online procedure.

TL: Is that part of a plan to reduce the waiting time?

MB: Yes, we are launching an online registration platform to simplify the application process. Today you have to send in your application via post, but soon, probably sometime in the coming six months, you will be able to register online.

One of the reasons as to why we are moving to an online platform is that many of the applicants have moved and don’t receive our letters. That's a difficulty for us.

We have also completely reorganised our service. We have recruited more people and simplified our processes.

TL: What should a person do if they have applied for a French licence but have not yet received it, but their British licence is on the verge of expiring?

MB: As long as the licence has not expired, the person can still legally drive in France. It is the expiration date that matters. After the expiration date the person cannot drive anymore.

We are doing our very best to reduce the delays. We have managed to get them down from six to about 3-4 months. However I advise people to apply for a driving licence exchange at least 6 months prior to the expiration date just to be sure that they get their new licence in time.

TL: Is it possible that some applications have been lost in the process?

MB: I can imagine why you ask due to the delays. But bear in mind that that we have received a lot of applications. Sometimes people write us to ask where their applications are, but – and I cannot stress this enough – we are dealing with it as quickly as we can.

TL: What is the best way for people to check on their application?

MB: If people have an urgent, specific request, we ask them to write us via email. There is a simple online procedure that they can use in the case of an urgent request (link here).

TL: Some of our readers have told us that French police officers have told them that their licence is no longer valid and that they had to convert it into a French one.  Are there any documents online or similar that people could show the police if they find themselves in such a situation?

MB: This is new to me. As far as I know there is no need for any supplementary documentation on the side of the driving licence. The British driving licence itself is sufficient.

TL: Do you have any other advice to British people in France regarding their driving licence exchanges?

MB: Come to us either if you have lost points on your licence, if your licence is about to expire or if you have added a qualification on your licence. Otherwise you do not need a French driving licence. We have a full year to look at what happens after December 31st, so there is no need to apply for an exchange now. Wait for our online platform.

Right now we just really would like to reassure your readers: you can still use your British driving licence after January 31st.

Note – for British people who have already applied for a licence and are stuck in the backlog at CERT, some may find that their photocard licence expires while they are in the queue. For those people, there is no need to panic, they can apply to the DVLA back in the UK for a certificate of entitlement that will allow them to carry on driving. For full details click here or head to the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence to find out more.

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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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