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DRIVING

France and UK ‘in final stages’ of agreement that will allow Brits to exchange driving licences

The British government says it is "in the final stages" of negotiating a reciprocal agreement with France that will allow Brits living in the country to swap their driving licences and avoid having to take a French driving test.

France and UK 'in final stages' of agreement that will allow Brits to exchange driving licences
UK licence holders have struggled to exchange them for French ones

Thousands of Brits in France have been blocked from exchanging their driving licences for French ones due to the lack of a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement – and some people have ended up stranded and unable to drive as their licence expired while they were waiting.

Stranded: The Brits in France left with no driving licence due to the lack of a post-Brexit agreement

Now, however, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Paris said the agreement is “in the final stages and we expect to be publishing updated guidance very soon”.

The update follows a written answer in the UK parliament which seemed to suggest that the UK had already concluded post-Brexit reciprocal agreements with all EU countries apart from Italy.

The Conservative Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, stated: “All EU/EEA Member States, except for Italy, have confirmed reciprocal arrangements for exchanging licences, confirming that a retest will not be required for resident UK nationals.

“Most of our agreements are permanent arrangements and a small number require formal agreements which will be concluded before the end of this year. Where these agreements are needed, the UK has secured interim arrangements with the relevant Member States. All EU/EEA countries have confirmed that International Driving Permits will not be required by UK visitors.”

British residents in France are currently blocked from swapping their licences as the reciprocal agreement has not yet been confirmed.

In Sweden, UK licence holders are still waiting for the deal to be ratified by the Swedish parliament before they can begin the swap process, while in Spain UK licence holders who did not register to swap before December 31st 2020 face having to take a Spanish test

The saga of swapping UK driving licences for French ones has been a long and complicated one, with several changes to official advice and a complete block on most Brits exchanging their licences in place since 2019.

For Brits who are permanent residents in France, UK licences remain legal to drive on until December 31st, 2021. However those whose licence has expired – either because they have reached the age of 70 or because they have a medical condition that requires regular renewing of the licence – have been left unable to either renew their UK licence or swap it for a French one.

Initially there was supposed to be a 12-month window for Brits to swap their licence for a French one, but the continued lack of an agreement means that is now reduced to nine months.

READ ALSO Reader question: Is my UK driving licence still valid in France?

People who do not manage to swap in time, or whose licence expires while they are waiting, face having to take a French driving test, a lengthy and expensive undertaking with a series of compulsory lessons that takes the average cost of the whole process to around €1,000.

The swap requirements only apply to UK licence holders who have their full-time residence in France, tourists, visitors and second-home owners can continue to use their UK licence and do not need an International Driving Permit.

The swap rules apply to all UK driving licence holders, even those who have French citizenship.

In an official UK government response to a petition organised by UK nationals living in France, the government said it was “working with the French government to finalise this agreement”.

The response added: “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.”

Member comments

  1. Whilst this is good news, given the UK governments inability to speak the truth, it would be good to get confirmation from the French government that there is indeed an agreement being ratified.

  2. Why didn’t they apply when they first arrived. Could it be that they thought they would get away with having points taken off them for traffic offences.

    1. Hi Boggy – no, it wasn’t that at all. Cars are registered to an address, if you committed a speeding offence you would be sent the fine, and if it was a serious offence you would be forced to swap your licence by the authorities. Otherwise there was no requirement to change your licence. I tried to change mine (voluntarily) in Jan 2019, but the central office was so swamped with applications that they suspended them and told everyone by letter that there was ‘no need’ to change at that time. Since then no one has been able to change. It’s a real problem, especially if like me you need your licence to work.

      1. hello, it’s actually too late now, I was told by the ANTS. My application was rejected because the agreement hasn’t been signed. And by the way the official website of the Ministère de l’intérieur is not up to date and misleading. any request will be rejected now.

  3. This British government says something is true. Good luck with that.

    I’ll wait for the French announcement. In my years here, I trust a Frenchman’s word over any English tory.

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DRIVING

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

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

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

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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