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

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

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. 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?

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  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. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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

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