No end in sight to driving licence woes for Brits in France

A month after a new process to exchange to driving licences was due to go live Britons in France remain unable to access it with UK authorities admitting that the delay is because no reciprocal agreement between the UK and France is in place.

No end in sight to driving licence woes for Brits in France
Photo: AFP

The issue of swapping driving licences for UK nationals living in France has been a long and painful one with frequently changing advice that has meant that since 2019 most people have been unable to swap their UK licence for a French one.

This situation seemed to have been resolved at the end of 2020 with the announcement that from January 1st 2021, Brits living in France would be able to use an online portal to exchange their licences for French ones. 

All UK licence holders would have to exchange their licences, but they had a year to do it.

However when people tried to make the exchange at the start of January they were confronted with an error message.

From the beginning French authorities said this was because a reciprocal agreement between the two countries had not been concluded, but British authorities initially pointed the finger at complications and delays on the French side.
However this week, UK authorities confirmed to The Local that the ongoing delay was was indeed down to the lack of a reciprocal agreement.
On Thursday a spokesman for the British Embassy in Paris told The Local: “A reciprocal agreement is not yet in place but we are in close contact with the French authorities to confirm future arrangements regarding the exchange and recognition of UK licences in France.

“We are unable to comment on specific timelines but hope to secure an agreement as soon as possible and will communicate any updates on the Living in France Guide.

“In the meantime, valid UK licences will continue to be recognised in France until the end of 2021”.

It's not clear how many Britons in France are waiting to exchange their licences but the number could easily stretch into many thousands.

The intention was that they would have a year to exchange their licences but this has now been whittled down to 11 months with no firm start date for the beginning of exchanges.

Current rules say anyone who does not manage to make the application to exchange their licence before December 31st 2021 will have to take a French driving test – an expensive undertaking which sees the average cost of the test and compulsory lessons at around €1,500. 

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 as well as many “lost” ones.

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.

The backlog appears to be affecting all licence applications, with many American drivers reporting that the process has taken many months.



Member comments

  1. Despite TheLocal repeating in articles on this subject that the portal was only open on the 1st January 2021 this is not correct. It was open about the 1st November 2020 and I duly made the application which was acknowledged and submitted the ID photo requested. I did read that only applications already submitted correctly before 1st January would, in fact, be dealt with. However, to date I have received no further communication. Furtunately my UK licence is valid to 2023. The French one should arrive by then

  2. The above is correct. I applied in March last year but made a mistake on it. I applied again in December and got a reference number. Unfortunately my licence expired in July.Quite worried!

  3. TBH I think both the French and UK governments have quite a lot of other things to think about now, in these times with Covid.

    Would it be practical for the 2 governments just to extend the period to exchange licences to rnd of 2022 ? Let’s be honest : it already seems unlikely that the responsible French office could complete the work by end of this year as so much time haa been lost.

    To allow more important things to be dealt with it would make sense to immediately increase the deadline to end 2022.

  4. The silly, xenophobic, racist, fallen-empire-victim witty britties should have thought about it before making the worst decision a nation has ever made.

  5. You are all right to be concerned. My partner sent off his South African licence (which he had had for 27 years) in June 2018 to Nantes for exchange. Many phone calls later eventually the documents were returned last August with the information that he should now submit it all again online. This he did immediately. Today he has had an email telling him his application has not been approved. I wish everyone luck. They are going to need it!

  6. You are all right to be concerned. My partner sent off his South African licence (which he had had for 27 years) in June 2018 to Nantes for exchange. Many phone calls later eventually the documents were returned last August with the information that he should now submit it all again online. This he did immediately. Today he has had an email telling him his application has not been approved. I wish everyone luck. They are going to need it!

  7. There are also a significant number of British citizens reaching the age of 70 whose licenses become invalid after their 70th birthday. If they could have exchanged them, the French do not have such an age limit and they would still be able to drive. However, due to this mess, they now no longer are able to drive and can not exchange an expired license, so are being forced to consider more dangerous and expensive insurance options such as purchasing a no license required micro-car. However these limit people who might live in more remote areas as they are also speed limited. I can not understand why the UK government does not agree to a reciprocal agreement. When the EU began, the British government had no problem with the reciprocal arrangements, so why now?

    1. Are there any other Brits here in my situation which is giving me much concern ? I am resident and within the 6 month expiry period of my UK Driving Licence I applied in July 2021 for an exchange. My Demand was acknowledged and there has, so far, been no request for any extra information. According to my ANTS account my application is being dealt with. My messages to Ants and to Paris Embassy go unanswered and obviously, according to the one year rule, we must drive with a French Driving Licence after 31 December 2021. There is only 9 weeks left and then I maybe stranded!

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.