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By country: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?

Close-up of an 'auto-ecole' sign on top of a vehicle used by a driving school in France
Some foreign drivers may need to retake their driving test in France. Photo: Georges Gobet / AFP
If you live permanently in France, sooner or later you may need to swap your driving licence for a French one - but where you learned to drive in the first place could dictate whether you have to take a French driving test. Here's a country-by-country breakdown of the rules.

It’s important to note that driving licence rules are based on where the licence was issued, not your nationality. So for example French people who learned to drive and got their licence in the UK are also affected by post-Brexit rule changes regarding UK driving licences (more on those below).

Here are the basic rules for swapping your driving licence:

EU licences

These are relatively straightforward. Because of freedom of movement rules within the EU, full driving licences from Member States are considered equivalent to full French licences. EEA country licences have the same status.

Holders of an EU/EEA driver’s license 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.

If you want to exchange a European driving license for a French one, however, you can by following this procedure.

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UK and NI licences

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

Eventually British and French authorities announced in June 2021 that a reciprocal agreement had been reached with that effectively allows people who live in France and hold a UK or NI licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021 to continue using them.

They only need to exchange when their photocard licence 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.

Those 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 can be found here here

READ ALSO Eight online services which make dealing with French bureaucracy easier

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 and providing them with all the necessary information.

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

Not all States or Provinces are the same.

The following US States have licence swap agreements with France. Drivers with licences from States not listed here will have to take a French driving test within a year of moving to France, or risk a court summons for driving without a valid licence.

  • 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

The following Canadian provinces have licence swap agreements with France. Drivers with licences issued from other provinces will have to pass a French driving test

  • 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.

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. 

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.

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.

What about driving in France on holiday?

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, perhaps, also need an International Driving Permit – check with driving authorities in your home country to see if you need one to drive in France. Drivers with European licences and British licence-holders are exempt from the International Driving Permit requirement.


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