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DRIVING

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

After a painful four-year saga there is now a process in place for holders of UK driving licences who live in France. Here's how the new rules work and what you need to do.

EXPLAINED: What Brits in France need to do with their UK driving licences
Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

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.

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.

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.

How?

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.

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

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.

READ ALSO ‘I’m 8km from the nearest supermarket’ – The Brits in France stranded without driving licences

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.

Why?

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. 

Member comments

  1. 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.

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DRIVING

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

If you're living in France you may eventually need to swap your driving licence for a French one - but how long you have to make the swap and exactly how you do it depends on where your licence was issued. Here's the low-down.

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

First things first, how long are you staying in France?

Holiday driving

If you’re just in France for a short period, such as for a holiday, you will usually be able to drive a vehicle using your usual driving licence.

You may also need an International Driving Permit – it’s basically a translation of a domestic driving licence that allows the holder to drive a private motor vehicle in any country or jurisdiction that recognises the document.

Check with driving authorities in your home country to see if you need one to drive in France. 

Drivers with European licences and UK and NI licence-holders are exempt from the International Driving Permit requirement.

French resident

So far, so simple. It starts to get a bit trickier if you plan to move to France for a longer period. Then, everything depends on the country in which your driving licence was issued (and not your nationality, in this case it’s all about where the licence was issued).

READ ALSO Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

If you hold a licence from an EU / EEA country

These are relatively straightforward. Because of freedom of movement rules within the EU full driving licences from Member States are valid in France. EEA country licences have the same status.

Holders of an EU/EEA driver’s licence are not required to exchange their foreign licence for a French one as long as they have not picked up any points on their licence through committing traffic offences such as speeding.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you move to France permanently, you may, however, change your licence for a French one, by following this procedure.

What if you’re from the UK?

For a while, official advice left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether

But – Good News! – British and French authorities announced in June 2021 that a reciprocal agreement had been reached that allows people who live in France to drive on a UK or NI licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021 to continue using them.

They only need to exchange when their photocard or actual licence runs out. 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.

You may also be ordered to exchange your licence if you commit certain traffic offences.

Anyone whose licence was issued after January 1st, 2021, will need to exchange it for a French one within one year of moving to France. 

Full details on the rules and how to do the exchange are available here

Non-European licences

Anyone who holds a non-European driving licence may drive in France for a year after their legal residence in France is confirmed on their original licence. After that, if they stay in France any longer, they should apply for a French driving licence.

This is where things get a little tricky. If the state that issued the non-European licence has signed a bilateral agreement with France, the exchange is relatively straightforward. It involves applying to the French driving licence agency ANTS and providing them with all the necessary information.

READ ALSO Grace period for fines over France’s new law on winter tyres

If, however, the driver passed their test in a country that does not have such an agreement in place, then they will have to take a French driving test before they can legally continue driving in France.

The French government has a list of countries that have a swap rule with France listed here (pdf) and on its Welcome to France website for people looking to move to the country.

You can find the online portal to make the swap here.

US and Canadian licences

If you have an American or Canadian licence things are even more complicated, because it depends on the state that your licence was issued in. 

The following US States have licence swap agreements with France.

  • Delaware*,  Maryland*, Ohio*, Pennsylvania**, Virginia*, South Carolina, Massachusetts,  New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin*, Arkansas*, Oklahoma*, Texas*, Colorado*, Florida**, Connecticut**

* Swap for Permis B licences in France,
** Swap for Permis A and/or B licences in France
see below for what this means

Drivers with licences from States not listed above cannot simply swap their licence, instead they have to take a French driving test within a year of moving to France, or stop driving.

The following Canadian provinces have licence swap agreements with France:

  • Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland et Labrador, Québec, Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia

Only New Brunswick offers a straight like-for-like swap. All the others swap full Canadian licences for French B permits. Drivers with licences issued from other provinces will have to pass a French driving test before they can hold a French driving licence.

Permis A, Permis B

The Permis A French licence is basically for motorbikes. Holders can ride two- or three-wheeled vehicles, with or without a sidecar.

The Permis B French driving licence allows holders to drive a vehicle with a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes, which seats no more than nine people. This includes standard passenger cars, people carriers and minibuses.

READ ALSO What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

What else you need to know

First things first. Unlike numerous other nations, including the UK, having points on your licence in France is a good thing. 

Full, ‘clean’ French licences have 12 points, with motorists losing points if they are guilty of motoring offences.

Anyone who has been driving for more than three years, and who exchanges a full, clean licence in France will, therefore, receive a French licence with 12 points. 

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

Provisional French licences – issued to motorists who passed their tests within the past three years – are loaded with six points, rising to the full 12 after three years of ‘clean’ driving here.

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