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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

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Over the past few months France has brought in several new laws relating to the roads - here is what you need to know, whether you're a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist.

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Changes for bicycles

France already has quite strict laws in place for cyclists, including a ban on listening to music on headphones while cycling, but as the government attempts to boost cycling in France, some additional laws have come into effect.

New categories – Starting in October 2022, France will create two additional categories for bicycles: the vélomobile (bicyles with protective panelling) and the vélo couché (horizontal bicycles). As these bikes are lower to the ground and more difficult for motorists to detect, they will be banned on roads where speed limits exceed 50 km/h.

Fast bicycles – Bicycles whose electric assistance allows them to go up to 45km/h will have to ride on a D9 track on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or more. This type of track allows for a separate space for pedestrians and cyclists. These types of bicycles should not ride on D10 tracks (where the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians) for safety reasons.

Reflectors – New rules will go into place at the start of October also allow bicycles to use orange or yellow reflectors, which were previously prohibited. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about cycling in France

Changes for drivers

Signs

Signs banning the use of “cruise control” were repealed starting October 1st.

Additionally, starting in October, on the road in front of railroad crossings, a checkerboard marking area will be added to limit the possibility of accidents. This is intended to help vehicles be more aware of where they cannot enter, particularly if they are to be blocked in that space due to traffic. 

QUIZ How well do you know your French driving laws?

Electric vehicles

Starting October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Violators risk a fine of €58.

Driverless cars

Starting September 1st, a new set of laws went into place that allowed for the licensing of more types of autonomous vehicles on the road in France, albeit with some limits.

Specifically, the laws concern “Level 3” (on a scale of 1 to 5) ‘semi-autonomous vehicles.’ These vehicles can operate either with a driver or automatically. However, France is still a long way from allowing unmanned vehicles on the roads, and it is important to note that so far only one such semi-autonomous vehicle has been approved for use – the Mercedes S-Class. Several other manufacturers have also announced their plans to launch their own versions.

City vehicle limits

Several new cities have introduced either introduced or extended their current rules regarding low-emission zones, which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain areas, based on the Crit’Air sticker system.

As of September 1st, the cities of Marseilles, Lyon and Rouen introduced such changes.

All vehicles are required to display a Crit’Air sticker, which gives them a rating of 1-5 based on their emissions level.

In Marseille Crit’Air 5 vehicles will be banned from a zone in the city centre, while the law comes into effect on September 1st, police will only start issuing fines on October 1st.

In Lyon the low-emission zone which is already in place in the city and its surrounding suburbs will now include private vehicles – previously it only concerned commercial vehicles. It covers Crit’Air 3,4 and 5 vehicles, however fines will only start being given in January 2023, until then police will simply inform drivers of the new rules.

READ MORE: MAP: Which French cities have vehicle bans or restrictions?

Rouen too is expanding its low-emission zone – which covers 13 communes of the city and its suburbs – to include private vehicles with a Crit’Air 4 or 5 rating.

A similar scheme is already in place in Paris, covers vehicles with Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 ratings, while several other cities have intermittent schemes that come into effect when pollution levels rise. 

The sticker requirement covers both French and foreign-registered cars.

“Contrôle techniques” for motocycles and two-wheel vehicles

Technically, all motorised two-wheel vehicles were expected to need to submit to inspects as per a 2014 directive from the European Union.

In France this means the Contrôle technique – the regular vehicle inspection already required for cars (similar to the MOT in the UK). This would affect owners of motorised two-wheelers (scooters, motorcycles, mopeds) larger than 50 centimetres cubed. It would also impact owners of unlicensed cars, three-wheeled scooters, sidecars and quads.

If you have a vehicle dating from before 2016, according to the directive by the European Union, you should do your technical inspection prior to October 1st. For vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2020, you have (in theory) until January 1, 2024. There is no set time frame for newer vehicles.

However, there has been much confusion surrounding this rule. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has attempted to pass legislation eliminating the obligation, but the legal status of the French government’s attempts are unclear, as they are still being judged by the European Commission. There will likely be more clarity on the subject, including further regulations regarding sound pollution, in the coming months, according to La Nouvelle Republique

According to reporting by La Voix du Nord, owners of two-wheeled vehicles do not have to worry about being fined if they have not yet submitted to inspections. 

Paris 

Within the city of Paris, riders of motorbikes, mopeds and scooters now have to pay for parking.

The new rules come into effect on Thursday, September 1st and concern motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Anyone who parks a motorbike, moped or a scooter with an internal combustion engine in public parking spaces within the Paris area has to pay.

READ MORE: Paris brings in new parking fees for motorbikes and scooters

Low-emission two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, can still park for free – however you will still need to register with the scheme. 

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