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.
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“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.