Brits in France launch petition to end post-Brexit driving licence impasse

Fed-up Brits in France have launched a petition calling on the British government to end the post-Brexit fiasco that has led to thousands of people being unable to exchange their driving licences, and others losing their licences altogether.

Brits in France launch petition to end post-Brexit driving licence impasse
Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

The petition on the UK government’s website calls on the British authorities to conclude the agreement and end the hardship for Brits living in France.

“The petition was launched to focus the UK Government on concluding the reciprocal agreement on licences, due to their lack of understanding that we were unable to exchange last year due to the criteria set out by France,” said organiser Trevor Hall.

“Many licences are expiring and not just because of age, this is causing problems for those who need their licence for work or daily life.”

The story of swapping UK licences for French ones has been a long and painful saga for British people living in France, with almost three years of contradictory information and changes in policy.

READ ALSO No end in sight for driving licence woes for Brits in France

This was supposed to have been resolved with the creation of an online portal that allowed people living in France to swap their UK licence for a French one.

This does not apply to British tourists or second-home owners, who can continue to use their UK licence.

However the online portal is currently not accepting applications from Brits, as a reciprocal agreement has not been reached between the two governments since the end of the transition period on January 1st 2021.

UK licences will continue to be accepted until the end of 2021, but a supposed 12-month window to exchange is now a nine-month window with no end in sight.

Worse still is the situation for people whose licence has expired or is about to – as is the case for all UK licence-holders once they reach 70.

READ ALSO Stranded – the Brits in France left with no driving licence due to the lack of a post-Brexit agreement

They are unable to either renew their UK licence or exchange it for a French one because of the impasse, and people have been left stranded and unable to drive as their licence expired.

The Local has spoken to several drivers left stranded, including recently-widowed Josephine Washington, 71, of Corbières, who has been left with no licence after hers expired while she was waiting for the exchange.

She said: “I live about a mile outside the nearest village so I need to drive for everything, even taking the rubbish out. My husband was very ill and died in October 2019 so there were a lot of trips to and from hospital that I had to rely on others to drive me.
“I’m also partially disabled so driving really is vital for me.”
In an official response to the petition, the UK government said:

“The Government is committed to establishing arrangements with France, that facilitate private motoring with the minimum of bureaucracy, as soon as possible.

“The Government is committed to establishing reciprocal arrangements with France that facilitate private motoring with the minimum of bureaucracy. At the end of 2020, the Department had successfully agreed arrangements with France for the mutual recognition of photocard licences. As such, UK photocard licence holders will not need to carry an additional International Driving Permit (IDP) when driving in France – nor any EU Member State.

“For UK residents in France, we have secured interim arrangements which will allow UK licence holders’ to continue to use their UK licence until 1 January 2022, provided that it remains valid in the UK. There is therefore no requirement for these valid UK licences to be exchanged during this period, until a reciprocal agreement is reached between the United Kingdom and France. We are working with the French government to finalise this agreement.

“These interim arrangements however do not extend to those UK residents whose licence has expired, and we are aware that this is causing difficulty for a number of UK residents in France. We are working closely with the French Government to explore solutions for those with expired licences and the Government commits to providing an update as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Department for Transport are working with the British Embassy in Paris to clarify the approach to exchanging UK licences in France and updates will be made to the Living in France guide and the the driving licence section on”

You can sign the petition HERE.

The Local is also asking its British readers to fill in a short survey HERE, telling us of your experiences – successful or otherwise – in swapping your licence.

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Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

If you're living in France you may eventually need to swap your driving licence for a French one - but how long you have to make the swap and exactly how you do it depends on where your licence was issued. Here's the low-down.

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

First things first, how long are you staying in France?

Holiday driving

If you’re just in France for a short period, such as for a holiday, you will usually be able to drive a vehicle using your usual driving licence.

You may also need an International Driving Permit – it’s basically a translation of a domestic driving licence that allows the holder to drive a private motor vehicle in any country or jurisdiction that recognises the document.

Check with driving authorities in your home country to see if you need one to drive in France. 

Drivers with European licences and UK and NI licence-holders are exempt from the International Driving Permit requirement.

French resident

So far, so simple. It starts to get a bit trickier if you plan to move to France for a longer period. Then, everything depends on the country in which your driving licence was issued (and not your nationality, in this case it’s all about where the licence was issued).

READ ALSO Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

If you hold a licence from an EU / EEA country

These are relatively straightforward. Because of freedom of movement rules within the EU full driving licences from Member States are valid in France. EEA country licences have the same status.

Holders of an EU/EEA driver’s licence are not required to exchange their foreign licence for a French one as long as they have not picked up any points on their licence through committing traffic offences such as speeding.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you move to France permanently, you may, however, change your licence for a French one, by following this procedure.

What if you’re from the UK?

For a while, official advice left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether

But – Good News! – British and French authorities announced in June 2021 that a reciprocal agreement had been reached that allows people who live in France to drive on a UK or NI licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021 to continue using them.

They only need to exchange when their photocard or actual licence runs out. You can apply to exchange your licence for a French one once you get within six months of the expiry date of either the licence or the photocard, whichever is first.

You may also be ordered to exchange your licence if you commit certain traffic offences.

Anyone whose licence was issued after January 1st, 2021, will need to exchange it for a French one within one year of moving to France. 

Full details on the rules and how to do the exchange are available here

Non-European licences

Anyone who holds a non-European driving licence may drive in France for a year after their legal residence in France is confirmed on their original licence. After that, if they stay in France any longer, they should apply for a French driving licence.

This is where things get a little tricky. If the state that issued the non-European licence has signed a bilateral agreement with France, the exchange is relatively straightforward. It involves applying to the French driving licence agency ANTS and providing them with all the necessary information.

READ ALSO Grace period for fines over France’s new law on winter tyres

If, however, the driver passed their test in a country that does not have such an agreement in place, then they will have to take a French driving test before they can legally continue driving in France.

The French government has a list of countries that have a swap rule with France listed here (pdf) and on its Welcome to France website for people looking to move to the country.

You can find the online portal to make the swap here.

US and Canadian licences

If you have an American or Canadian licence things are even more complicated, because it depends on the state that your licence was issued in. 

The following US States have licence swap agreements with France.

  • Delaware*,  Maryland*, Ohio*, Pennsylvania**, Virginia*, South Carolina, Massachusetts,  New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin*, Arkansas*, Oklahoma*, Texas*, Colorado*, Florida**, Connecticut**

* Swap for Permis B licences in France,
** Swap for Permis A and/or B licences in France
see below for what this means

Drivers with licences from States not listed above cannot simply swap their licence, instead they have to take a French driving test within a year of moving to France, or stop driving.

The following Canadian provinces have licence swap agreements with France:

  • Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland et Labrador, Québec, Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia

Only New Brunswick offers a straight like-for-like swap. All the others swap full Canadian licences for French B permits. Drivers with licences issued from other provinces will have to pass a French driving test before they can hold a French driving licence.

Permis A, Permis B

The Permis A French licence is basically for motorbikes. Holders can ride two- or three-wheeled vehicles, with or without a sidecar.

The Permis B French driving licence allows holders to drive a vehicle with a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes, which seats no more than nine people. This includes standard passenger cars, people carriers and minibuses.

READ ALSO What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

What else you need to know

First things first. Unlike numerous other nations, including the UK, having points on your licence in France is a good thing. 

Full, ‘clean’ French licences have 12 points, with motorists losing points if they are guilty of motoring offences.

Anyone who has been driving for more than three years, and who exchanges a full, clean licence in France will, therefore, receive a French licence with 12 points. 

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

Provisional French licences – issued to motorists who passed their tests within the past three years – are loaded with six points, rising to the full 12 after three years of ‘clean’ driving here.