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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: How to swap your UK driving licence for a French one under the new system

At long last, a post-Brexit deal has been agreed to allow Brits living in France to swap their driving licences for a French one - here's how to go about it.

EXPLAINED: How to swap your UK driving licence for a French one under the new system
Photo: AFP

After several years during which the exchange of driving licences was effectively suspended, a deal has finally been announced between French and British authorities.

Who is affected?

This affects UK driving licence holders who are living in France – tourists and visitors can continue to drive on their UK licence and do not need an International Driver’s Permit.

The deal is a generous one, so many Brits living in France will not need to apply to exchange their licence immediately.

The great majority of people whose licences were issued before January 1st 2021 can simply keep on driving on their UK licence until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

READ ALSO What Brits in France need to do now with their driving licences

The people who need to apply to exchange their licence are:

  • Anyone who has a UK licence issued after January 1st, 2021. This must be done within one year.
  • Anyone whose licence expires within the next six months. This can refer to either the expiry of the licence itself – for example if you are approaching your 70th birthday – or the expiry of the photocard, whichever comes first. Please note that applications to swap licences that have more than six months left on them will be rejected.
  • Anyone whose licence has been lost or stolen
  • Anyone whose licence has already expired. Because of the long-running problems with exchanging some people’s licences ran out while they were waiting. The French government has agreed that these can be exchanged for a French licence and drivers will not need to retake a driving test
  • Anyone who is ordered to exchange their licence by a gendarme after committing a driving offence

How to exchange?

The swap itself is done via an online portal. The portal previously blocked UK exchanges pending the deal, but since Monday, June 28th has been accepting UK applications again.

You can find the portal HERE

If you haven’t used it before you will need to create an online account, or if you already have online accounts for French government services such as Ameli or tax declarations you can login by clicking on the France Connect button.

Once logged in, select Je demande l’échange ou l’enregistrement de mon permis de conduire étranger (I request the exchange or registration of a foreign driving licence) and fill in the details requested on the form such as name, address etc.

Once you have completed the form, you get to the section where you can supply supporting documents as requested. These vary slightly depending on your circumstances but will include 

  • Proof of ID
  • Proof of address such as a recent utility bill
  • If your driver’s licence is in a different name to your passport, you will need to supply your full birth certificate 
  • Photos – these must be taken in a government-approved photo booth or via the app

The documents need to be scanned and uploaded to the website, not sent by post, although photos can be sent in the mail.

You can find a full guide to each step of the process of filling out the form at the Facebook page Applying for a French Driving Licence.

Kim Cranstoun, who runs the group, did a test run using the site on Monday and added two crucial facts

  • Supporting documents which are in English do not need to be accompanied by translations
  • UK nationals do not need to supply a post-Brexit carte de séjour with their application – so if your licence has expired/is about to expire but you have not yet received your carte de séjour, you can go ahead and apply

Next steps

Once you have made the initial application, you will then be contacted later and, depending on your circumstances, asked for extra documents, and then to send in your old driving licence.

Some people, including those whose licences have expired, will be asked for a Certificate of Entitlement showing they are entitled to drive. This is obtained via the DVLA in Swansea and the certificate must be from the past three months when you submit it.

You will then be asked to send in your old driving licence to be exchanged and will receive in exchange an Attestation de Depot de Permis de Conduire (certificate of deposit of driving licence) and you can use this of proof of your right to drive while you are waiting for your new licence to arrive. People whose licences have expired can begin driving again once they receive this certificate.

Pending applications

If you already applied under the old system and your application is still pending, the advice is just to wait.

If you fit the new criteria, your licence will be exchanged and you should be contacted to ask for extra documents or to send in your old licence. Once you have sent in your old licence you will receive an attestation that allows you to drive until your new licence arrives.

If you don’t fit the new criteria your application will be rejected and you can carry on driving on your UK licence.

Expired licences

People whose licences have expired while they are waiting can swap them for French ones without having to take a driving test.

If you have already applied and your licence expired while you were waiting then the advice is as above for pending applications.

If your licence expired and you were not able to apply before, you can apply now using the process as outlined above.

Once your application is processed you will be asked to send in your old licence and given an attestation – it is only when you receive the attestation that you can legally drive again.

How long will the process take? 

Good question! Many people have been caught up in the systems backlog and have waited many months for their applications to be dealt with.

The new criteria should significantly cut the waiting list by allowing more people to continue driving on their old licences, but authorities will need some time to clear the backlog. In short, we simply don’t know how long applications are expected to take.

For more details, head to Applying for a French Driving Licence.

Member comments

  1. I’m now a resident of France and have had a driver’s license for over 45 years in six different countries, but not France. I currently have a New York State driver’s license, which I’ve been told doesn’t have “reciprocity” with France. My (French) insurance company tells me that I need to start all over again, ie sit in a classroom with a bunch of 18-year olds, take a written test, and then a driver’s test. This can’t possibly be the case, can it?

  2. Your article is not correct. You now MUST supply images of Cartes de Sejour to exchange a UK licence. This is creating a problem for married women, as both maiden and married names must be on the CdS, and many do not show the maiden name. This causes a long delay in the licence exchange process, as Départements no longer handle amendments to CdS, instead it is now handled centrally, but the system is not yet working fully. My wife is thus stuck hitting her head on two brick walls and getting nowhere with either, and her licence has now expired.

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DRIVING

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic. Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. Also, for the American readers out there – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!

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