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Reader question: Is my UK driving licence still legal in France?

The ongoing diplomatic impasse over driving licence swaps has left many Brits in France confused over whether they can continue driving. Here's the situation.

Reader question: Is my UK driving licence still legal in France?
Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Question: I keep reading about these problems with UK driving licences and now I’m worried – is my UK licence invalid or can I still drive in France?

The saga of swapping UK driving licences for French ones has been a long and painful one, even by Brexit standards. But the situation at present is that Brits living in France need to swap their licence for a French one before the end of the year – except that no applications for exchanges are currently being accepted because the UK and France have so far failed to reach a reciprocal agreement on this.

So what does this mean if you’re in France and you need to drive?

If you are a tourist or visitor this doesn’t affect you – visitors to France can continue to use their UK licence and don’t need an International Drivers Permit.

If you are a permanent resident in France you will need to swap for a French licence, but French authorities have agreed to continue recognising UK licences until December 31st, 2021, so for now you can keep on driving legally.

If your UK licence has expired or is about to expire then you have a problem. UK licences expire once the holder reaches 70 while people with certain medical conditions need to renew their licence regularly and these people are caught in an impossible situation – they cannot renew their licences in the UK because they do not live there and they cannot swap it for a French one because applications are not currently being accepted. The Local has spoken to people, many of them elderly, now stranded in rural France with no driving licence. We have asked British authorities what they advise their nationals in this situation to do but have not received any guidance.

If you have already swapped your licence for a French one then you’re all good, there is no need to take any further action. Many UK nationals resident in France before 2018 have made the swap, but from 2018 applications were frequently returned and since 2019 there has been a block on UK licence holders swapping their licence for a French one, unless they met certain criteria. 

So what can UK driving licence holders do now?

There are only really two options – wait and hope that the British and French governments come to an agreement (negotiations are apparently ongoing) or take a French driving test.

The French driving test is complicated, involving both a theory and a practical test and also expensive – a certain number of lessons is compulsory even for experienced drivers and the total cost of both tests and lessons averages more than €1,000. 

If you choose to wait, you could sign this petition while you’re waiting, it calls on the UK government to end the impasse and make an agreement.

READ ALSO Four years and €1,800 – taking the French driving test as a foreigner 

Member comments

  1. Although a reciprocal is being asked for, as a French person, you can apply on line from GOV.UK website for a “D1” pack which allows you to swap your French Licence for a UK one. It’s costs £43 (48 Euros) and I’d be happy to give the French Government 50 Euros just to get this completed…

  2. O.K. i am trying to get my head around his very distressing situation. If, as you say, a French person can exchange there driving license in England – albeit for a small fee. Then it would appear that the problem lies with the French government, we in France thought the UK were to blame. Can anyone please solve the puzzle?

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Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

France's Ministry of Transport has announced that toll-fees will increase in 2023. Here is what motorists in France can expect.

Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

With French motorists already expecting increases in fuel prices starting in January, the cost of travel on many of France’s motorways will also increase in 2023.

Toll rates on the main routes across France are set to go up by an average of 4.75 percent starting on February 1st, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Transport on Friday.

These rates already rose by two percent in 2022. 

While the increase is still lower than the rate of inflation (six percent), motorists in France can still expect driving to become more expensive in 2023, as the government does away with its broad-scale fuel rebate (€0.10 off the litre) at the start of January.

As of early December, the French government was still discussing plans for how to replace the fuel rebate. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, told Les Echoes in November that the government was considering a targeted, means-tested “fuel allowance” for workers who depend on their vehicles to commute to and from work. 

How much will I be affected?

The degree to which drivers will experience increased costs depends largely on what kind of vehicle they use, in addition to how far you plan to drive on the toll-road. 

Vehicles are broadly classified as follows:

Class 1 (Light vehicles): these are cars and minivans. This class also includes vehicles pulling trailers with a combined height of no more than 2m and a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of less than or equal to 3.5 tonnes.
Class 2: Large utility vehicles and camping cars
Class 3: Heavy goods vehicles, coaches, other 2-axle vehicles, motorhomes taller than 3m
Class 4: Vehicles taller than 3m with a GVW greater than 3.5 tonnes
Class 5: Motorbikes, sidecars, quad bikes, three-wheeled motor vehicles 

The next determining factor for how significant the price rise will be depends on which company is operating the road you use, and there are several different companies that operate toll-roads in France. 

Each year, toll (péage) prices in France are adjusted and re-evaluated for the following year on February 1st, following discussions between the government and the main companies that operate the French freeways. The fees are in part used for road maintenance costs. 

To estimate the cost of tolls for your next French road trip, you can use the calculator on this website