Six months on . . . and still no end in sight to driving licence woes for Brits in France

Six months on . . . and still no end in sight to driving licence woes for Brits in France
Photo: AFP
More than six months into a supposed 12-month exchange period, there is still no agreements on how Brits in France can swap their driving licences for French ones and many people remain stranded with no licence at all.

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 UK authorities later confirmed that the ongoing delay was was indeed down to the lack of a reciprocal agreement.
 
Now, six months on, there is still no sign of an agreement and an increasing number of people have been left stranded with no licence at all, since UK licences that expire – either when the holder turns 70 or for medical reasons – cannot be either renewed or exchanged for a French licence.
 

A spokesman for the Embassy said: “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.

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. 

READ ALSO Four years and €1,600 – What foreigners should know about taking the French driving test

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.

READ ALSO ‘I’m 8km from the nearest supermarket’ – the Britons in France struggling without driving licences

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.

The swap rules affect only UK licence-holders living in France, British tourists and visitors can continue to drive on a UK licence and do not need an International Driver’s Permit.


Member comments

  1. Surely the issue must all be laid at the feet of the French? The UK continues to recognise EU licences & does not require UK residents who hold an EU licence to exchange it for a UK licence until they reach the age of 70. Why can’t the French simply reciprocate? It’s a failure of the Brits who negotiated the Withdrawal Agreement that continued mutual recognition of driving licences wasn’t included.

      1. You didn’t even read the comment did you?

        Read first sentence, get cross, blame commenter….

        As I noted in my closing sentences the fundamental problem is that the British negotiators didn’t get mutual recognition of driving licences included in the Withdrawal Agreement. Pragmatically the UK has unilaterally agreed to continue recognition of EU driving licences so UK residents with an EU licence don’t need to exchange. The easiest solution for the current impasse would be for the EU states to do the same. Failing that there is literally nothing the UK can offer by way of concessions as a quid pro quo as they have already solved the problem for UK residents holding an EU licence. I recognise that it’s a self-inflicted wound as a consequence of Brexit but the current problem is entirely caused by France & the other EU states making licence exchange difficult or impossible.

        1. The EU countries laws and exchange systems have been in place for third countries before brexit, (of course you all knew that…) and since the UK unilaterally decided to become a third country it became subject to those systems. The fault is brtain’s and britain’s alone. As is usual with brits, somehow they expect the damn Europeans to clear up any brexity mess the UK made, and if they don’t do as their jolly well told, blame them. But that’s how britain works. Missing you already….

          1. Glad to see that the French at least have mostly reciprocated. All those French residents with a UK licence issued before 1st January 2021 don’t need to exchange until they expire while all those with an issue date after 1st January 2021 will have a year after the date on their WA CdS to exchange for a French licence. Why couldn’t they have announced this 18 months ago? Why has it taken so long to negotiate a blindingly obvious solution to the issue?

  2. I applied online in mid 2020. In mid December 2020 I was asked for more information and to add a jpg of a letter relinquishing heavy goods ( as is standard) . I responded & posted the news docs immediately. I haven’t got a licence swap despite it all being completed in the transition phase. I have written three times w/o response. I don’t think this is in the spirit of the WA.

  3. We arrived in 2016 , went to the Prefecture to exchange our licences and we were told that we don’t need to. Tried on line in 2019 but no luck it was a waiting game. Now we’re almost seventy and in January my licence runs out ! We’re in a position that isn’t dire like some as we live in a town but I would be very very worried if we were in a rural location as a lot of retirees are.

  4. 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?

  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!

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