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EXPLAINED: What Brits in France need to do with their UK driving licences

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What Brits in France need to do with their UK driving licences
A man holds the first French smart card driver's license in front of a car, on September 11, 2013 in Paris. This secured new driver's license, integrating an electronic chip, will be put into circulation on September 16, 2013. This new license would improve the fight against fraud. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Most foreigners in France need to swap their driving licences for a French one within a year of arrival if they want to continue driving legally - but the system for UK licences is a little different.

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If you're living in France and you have a driving licence issued by a non-EU country, in most cases you will need to swap it for a French one within a year if you want to continue driving (although there are some exceptions including students).

Find the full details HERE.

For anyone with a UK or NI driving licence, however, the system is different - a legacy of Brexit. 

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. But in summer 2021 a deal was finally reached between France and the UK on licences.

The new conditions are on on the Public Services website.

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Who?

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.

READ ALSO Is it illegal to drive on a foreign licence in France?

What?

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.

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How?

For those who do need to swap, this is done via an online portal.

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.

You can find full details of how the application process works HERE or in the Facebook group Applying for French Driving Licence.

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What if my licence has expired?

Because of the long post-Brexit impasse, some people were 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 my licence is lost or stolen?

You can apply for an exchange, the process is the same as outlined above.

Why are UK licences different?

It's because of Brexit, but is really to do with simple pragmatism.

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.

An initial call for Brits to swap their licences back in 2017 saw thousands of people apply, completely swamping the driving licence exchange service, which is based in Nantes, and creating a months-long backlog which also affected applicants from other nationalities.

Initially there was intended to be a 2021 deadline to have swapped licences, 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 system is essentially a compromise - and is in fact more generous than pre-Brexit rules - that will see Brits swapping licences in phases as they expire, without overwhelming the systems in place. 

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Comments (3)

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Matthew 2023/08/24 18:07
So, my UK license has my UK address on it, which is no longer where I live (being resident in France!). I'd normally fall into the "don't renew until 6 months before expiry" - so 2029 for me. But the license is no longer valid as it doesn't have my correct address on it. I have no residential address in the UK, and DVLA will not issue a new license for an address in France. Any one has any idea what I should do in this case?
Anonymous 2021/11/08 18:02
My first application of December 2020 when it was permitted to submit same was rejected by SMS in June 2022. Apparently the French regulations had changed, once again, and they were no longer accepting applications if UK licence had more than 6 months left. My licence expires on 23 January 2022 and a second application for made in July 2021. This also was rejected this morning by SMS & email without reason despite my submitting all required documentation. A search of my Ants account does no longer show my second application so I cannot ascertain motive for refusal. Ants do no longer answer calls or reply to messages. I decided in mu best French to write to Ants by, of course, recommende AR to explain my position. I am not optimistic of a reply ! However the overseas contact number works and I had a french friend call Ants from UK to explain my predicament. My applications were duly recorded on file and I was advised, for some unknown reason, to submit a third application after 2 January 2022 and I was very likely to receive an exchange French permis de conduire. Frankly it has been a nightmare and very stressful and I am not" out of woods yet". I wonder if others here have had similar experience to me.
Anonymous 2021/06/27 22:46
Does anyone know if this also applies to provisional drivers licences?

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