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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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BRITS IN EUROPE

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.

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