For British people who are resident in France and have a UK driving licence the last four years have been a confusing time with contradictory advice issued on whether they should exchange their licence immediately for a French one or wait until the end of the Brexit transition period.
The confusion seemed to have been finally cleared up in November 2020 with the announcement that all British residents in France would have to exchange their licences, but they would have until December 31st 2021 to make their application.
The online system to do this was to be made available to British residents from January 1st, 2021.
However since the beginning of January, the online portal has been saying that UK licences cannot, after all, be exchanged because there is no reciprocal arrangement in place between France and the UK.
This suspension does not apply to people who hold a Northern Ireland licence.
No new applications to exchange UK licences are being accepted – even from people whose licence is about to expire.
It is understood that talks are underway between French and British authorities and in the meantime people are advised to wait to make their applications – UK licences remain legal to drive on in France.
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This change only affects UK licence-holders who live in France – an agreement has been reached that allows British tourists to drive in France without needing an International Drivers Permit.
Kim Cranstoun, who runs the Facebook group Applying for a French Driving Licence, said: “A UK licence remains legal to drive with in France without an IDP.
“The officials have been bombarded with questions and are on it, so for now DO NOT try and start an application. Please try not to worry and sit tight.”
The French government's Brexit website advises British residents: “If you have not exchanged your British driving licence before the end of the transition period, it will be recognised in France for one year.
“You will have to apply for an exchange within this period if a reciprocal agreement is concluded between France and the United Kingdom.”
It appears that it is the lack of a reciprocal agreement that is causing the current suspension.
This is just the latest twist in the long and complicated saga of UK driving licences.
In the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum, the British government told all British people living in France that they would need to exchange their driving licence for a French one.
Thousands of people did so, completely overwhelming officials in the small department at Nantes préfecture which processes all requests for foreign licence exchanges. It resulted in a massive backlog of applications.
In 2019, French authorities issued a new directive – only people who fell into certain categories (such as those whose licence was lost or about to expire) needed to exchange their licence, everyone else could carry on driving on their UK one.
They then began work on clearing the backlog and also created a new online process to make applications easier.
This means that anyone who moved to France after 2019 has never been allowed to make an application to exchange their licence.
British and French authorities have been contacted for comment.