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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Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.