There have been a lot of twists and turns on this issue since the 2016 Brexit referendum, with shifting official advice that left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether. However, now a deal has been agreed between France and the UK on licences.
Announcing this on Friday, a statement from the French Interior Ministry said: “Following the implementation of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union (EU) known as Brexit, the French and British authorities have reached an agreement on the continued mutual recognition of driving licences which will come into effect from Monday, June 28th 2021”.
The new conditions have also been updated on the Public Services website.
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This refers to holders of UK driving licences – regardless of their nationality – who live in France. British tourists and visitors are not affected and can continue to drive on their UK licence while in France and do not need an International Driver’s Permit.
Unlike with immigration rules, the date that you moved to France does not matter, this applies to all UK licence holders.
Because this is a reciprocal agreement, the same conditions apply to residents in the UK who have a French licence.
The Interior Ministry summarises: “In concrete terms, British licence holders living in France and French licence holders living in the UK can continue to drive with their original valid licence.
“They do not need to apply for an exchange for the licence of the country of residence, except when the validity date of the original licence has expired or in the event of loss or theft of that licence.”
The new rules divide licence-holders into two groups – those whose licences were issued before January 1st, 2021, and those whose licences were issued after that (presumably a much smaller group).
Licence issued before January 1st, 2021 – keep driving on your UK licence for now. You only need to swap once the licence itself or the photocard expires, whichever comes first.
Standard UK licences expire once the holder reaches 70, although those with certain medical conditions need to renew more regularly. However, if you have a photocard licence that will have an expiry date on it – usually in category 4b or column 11 on the card.
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.
Important – if your licence has more than six months to go until it expires, do not submit it for exchange, your application will be rejected.
Licence issued after January 1st, 2021 – you will need to exchange your licence for a French one within one year of moving to France. If you are a third country national (including UK citizens) this is dated from when you receive your residency permit. If you are an EU citizen it dates from your arrival date in France.
For those who do need to swap, this is done via an online portal, which opened to UK licence holders on June 28th.
In order to do the swap, you will need;
- A Certificate of Entitlement from the DVLA in the UK. This needs to be no more than 3 months old, so don’t ask for this until you are ready to apply
- Proof of address no more than six months old (eg utility bills)
- Current licence
- Proof of ID
- Proof of right to residence in France if applicable (eg carte de séjour) or proof of your arrival date in France
- Birth certificate – if the name on your licence is not the same as on your passport, you will need to provide a copy of your full birth certificate (including parents’ names)
- Photos – these must be taken in a government-approved photo booth or via the app.
You will also need to create an account on the government’s ANTS website in order to make your application.
What if my licence has expired?
Because of the long impasse, some people have been left without a licence as it expired while they were waiting.
Normally, expired licences cannot be swapped, but – recognising the problems created for some – the French have agreed that expired UK licences can be exchange for French ones on the same online portal.
Once you reach the stage of submitting your old licence you will receive an Attestation de Depot de Permis de Conduire (certificate of deposit of driving licence) and you can use this to drive in France until your French licence arrives.
What if I already applied and my application is pending?
If you applied before applications were suspended in January 2021, and you have an application number, your application will continue to be processed only if you meet the new criteria above.
If not, your application will be rejected and you can apply again once you become eligible.
What if my licence is lost or stolen?
You can apply for an exchange.
This is a pretty generous deal, in fact more generous than the pre-Brexit rules, which required a licence exchange after a year in France.
French authorities haven’t said as much, but the reason for this seems to be simple pragmatism.
There are a lot of Brits in France — around 200,000 — and a substantial number of them have UK licences.
It was technically always the rule that Brits should swap their licence after a year of residency, but this rule was not widely publicised or enforced, so many people either didn’t know about it or never get round to it. There’s also a substantial cohort of people who moved after 2019 and have been blocked from exchanging by the ongoing post-Brexit wrangles.
That leaves a lot of licences to be swapped, all of which go through one office in Nantes, which processes all driving licence application swaps for all foreigners in France.
An initial call for Brits to swap their licences back in 2017 saw thousands of people apply, completely swamping the service and creating a months-long backlog which also affected applicants from other nationalities.
That backlog has now largely been cleared, and an online portal created, but there were fears that the same thing would happen again if the original deadline to swap of the end of 2021 was adhered to.
This new system appears to be a compromise that will see Brits swapping licences in phases as they expire, without overwhelming the systems in place.