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BREXIT

Brexit: No, not everyone in France needs to get a French licence

The British government has caused confusion among Brits in France by publishing advice that seems to imply that they must all swap their driving licences for an EU one - even though this is not the case in France.

Brexit: No, not everyone in France needs to get a French licence
Photo: AFP

This article is now out of date – find the latest announcements HERE and HERE

 

 

Subscribers to the British government's Brexit advice page alert system were sent an email on Wednesday advising them of changes to the information on driving.

On clicking on the link they were advised that UK citizens living in the EU must exchange their driving licences for one from the country they are living in.

Although this is true for some EU countries, it is not the case in France, where local authorities have been issuing very different advice.

 

The gov.uk site states: “You must exchange your UK driving licence for a local EU licence to drive legally in the country you live in. You should do this before 31 December 2020.

“Exchange your licence as early as you can because your application may take longer than usual to process.”

It then advises people to check local regulations in their country.

However, if readers then click through to the country page they discover what the real situation is in France.

French authorities have said that the majority of British people who are already resident in France, or who move here before the end of the transition period, will not need to exchange their licences, and can continue to drive on a British licence.

The exceptions to this are: 

  • 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.

If you need to renew your licence for any of the above reasons you cannot do it in the UK, as you will need a UK address and have to make a declaration that this is your full time address. If you actually live in France this would obviously be a false declaration, which is a criminal offence in itself.

Those people – and only those people – need to send their licence to CERT to be exchanged for a French one.

Authorities now say that the wait time for new applications which fit one of the above criteria is 3-4 months.

French authorities have been swamped with applications from thousands of British people in France after UK authorities advised after the referendum that all licences would need to be exchanged.

The situation has created a massive backlog of applications with some people waiting more than a year.

In an interview with The Local on Tuesday, Baptiste Mandard, Deputy General of the Centre d'Expertises et des Ressources des Titres – Echange des Permis Étrangers (CERT) in Nantes which deals with all applications from outside Paris reiterated that for most people there is no need to exchange their licence.

He said: “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 of dealing what happens after December 31st, so there is no need to apply for an exchange now. 

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

He added that the service has plans to launch an online platform 'within the next six months' to make the exchange process easier.

Read the full interview with Baptiste Mandard here.

Kim Cranstoun, who runs the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence said: “People should make sure that they select France on the gov.uk page and read the criteria for living and driving in France.”

For more information about the situation around driving licences or driving in France, head to our Preparing for Brexit section. People on Facebook can also get help and support from the group Applying for a French Driving Licence.

 

Member comments

  1. “The situation has created a massive backlog of applications with some people waiting more than a year.”
    This is vague at best.
    Which part takes more than a year?

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READER QUESTIONS

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Over the summer people living in France have received their tax bills, and some Brits who are residents here will have noticed that their bill is larger than usual - here's why.

Why some Brits in France are facing bigger tax bills since Brexit

Brits who live in France and make a tax declaration here, but have income from the UK, may have noticed that their tax bill has increased this year – here’s why and whether you can challenge the increase. 

Brexit

Yes, this is Brexit related and it refers to social charges on non-French income. The standard rate for these charges are 7.5 percent for income from an EU country and 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country.

The tax bills received over the summer relate to the annual French tax declaration filed in April 2022, covering the 2021 tax year. In other words, the first year after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Social charges

Social charges are levies with a social purpose introduced in France in the 1990s to finance the country’s complex social security system.

If you have a French payslip you will already be familiar with them, and they actually make up the bulk of deductions from salaries, significantly more than income tax.

READ ALSO How to understand your French payslip

One of the big questions is whether France’s social charges are actually a ‘tax’ – the government repeatedly insists they’re not, for all that they look like a tax and are paid like a tax. 

The position on French social charges has changed several times in recent years, sometimes in response to court action all centred on whether this money that government deducts from your income can be called a ‘tax’ or not.

Katey Murray, at The Spectrum IFA Group, explained: “Article 29 of the amended Finance law of 2012 extended social charges to rental income from French properties and capital gains on properties for people who are not French tax resident.

“In 2015, a Dutch national challenged the fact that he was paying social charges in France and social security contributions in the Netherlands. The case went before the ECJ, which ruled these levies were similar to social security contributions and therefore contrary to European law.”

France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, confirmed the ECJ’s ruling. “French tax offices then, if a claim was made to them, reimbursed undue social charges,” Murray said.

“However, the French Government stated that these claims could only be made by someone covered for their healthcare by the system of another European country (EU, EEA or Switzerland) and not someone covered by a non-European health system. 

“This was confirmed by the ECJ for a French national living in China in a case in January 2018.”

Foreigners in France

And it’s this ‘healthcare system’ distinction that has become the key detail for Brits in France, clarified by a court ruling from March 2022 on the details of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. 

Social charges are currently set at 7.5 percent for income from an EU country, or 17.2 percent for income from a non-EU country. So income from the UK jumped to the higher rate at the end of the Brexit transition period.

However the ECJ ruling on healthcare cover is the key bit – essentially if you are already contributing to another European country’s social security system, you benefit from the lower rate.

This mainly affects two groups – Brits living in the UK (and therefore covered by the NHS) who have income in France, and Brits who are living in France and who have an S1, which states that their healthcare costs are covered by the NHS.

S1 holders are mainly British pensioners living in France, but the scheme can also apply to other groups including students and posted workers. 

Brits who are living in France and are covered by the French health system pay the higher rate on income from the UK. 

Technically the 7.5 percent rate is a ‘social levy’ rather than the prélèvements sociaux.

The ‘social levy’ is not charged on pensions, so if you are an S1 holder who receives a British pension, you will not have to pay any social charges at all, while certain types of property income may also be exempt from social charges.

Tax

As we stated above, social charges are not a tax (although they are deducted from your income by the tax office).

Taxes on income from the UK is covered by the bilateral dual-taxation treaty between France and the UK, which states that you don’t have to pay tax in France on income that you have already paid tax on in the UK. 

So the first thing to check on your tax bill is whether deductions relate to impôt (tax) or prélèvements sociaux (social charges).

Challenge your tax bill

So what to do if you think you have been incorrectly charged on income from the UK?

If you are an S1 holder, it’s a case of telling the tax office that you benefit from the lower 7.5 percent social levy, rather than the 17.2 percent social charge.

Murray said: “You can state that you are not subject to social charges by ticking boxes 8SH/8SI on your tax form (2042 form) or, if you have been charged at the higher rate, you can claim them back on your personal page on the impots.gouv.fr website.”

If the over-charge relates to a different issue – for example you have been charged both tax and the social charge or charged on exempt income – your first step is talking to the tax office, either in person or over the phone.

READ ALSO How to challenge your French tax bill

This article is a general overview of the tax rules and is not intended as a substitute for financial advice, if your financial affairs are complicated you are always better off getting professional help from an accountant who specialises in international taxation.

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