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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: How to swap your UK driving licence for a French one

Brexit means a change to the situation for people who live in France and have UK-issued driving licences - here are the new rules and how to swap your licence for a French one.

EXPLAINED: How to swap your UK driving licence for a French one
Photo: AFP

After several years of negotiations that left many Brits in France in limbo, a deal has been agreed 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, which you can find 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, flags up that supporting documents which are in English do not need to be accompanied by translations.

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.

Waiting times

Throughout 2020 and 2021, many people were waiting many months for their applications to be dealt with and some people’s licences even expired while they were waiting (see below for details).

However it appears that authorities have now manage to clear most of the backlog and waiting times are now much shorter.

According to Kim, the average exchange time is now just four weeks, provided – and this is crucial – you upload all the correct documents the first time.

Expired licences

People whose licences 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.

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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For members

VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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