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LIVING IN FRANCE

‘Be prepared to be patient’ – Registering your British car in France after Brexit

One of the many changes ushered in by Brexit concerns bringing a UK-registered car to France. The new process is considerably more complicated, but possible - as motorist Mark Pyman found out.

'Be prepared to be patient' - Registering your British car in France after Brexit
Cars on the A7 motorway between Marseille and Orange. (Photo Boris Horvat / AFP)

It’s been quite a common practice among Brits moving to France to bring their car with them and re-register it as French, as cars – especially second-hand ones – have historically been cheaper in the UK.

However since Brexit what was a relatively simple process has become a lot more complicated.

This does not apply to people who are merely visiting France, but those who are moving to live here full time.

Plenty of people have given up and bought a French car instead, but if you prefer to keep your British vehicle there is a length re-registration process to go through.

READ ALSO Reader question: How can I import a car from the UK to France?

Mark Pyman, who lives in the south of France, has successfully re-registered his British car as French.

He said: “It has been a lengthy process – it has taken several months – and it has been complicated and frustrating. But if you are patient, resourceful and prepared to submit endless copies of various documents, then you do get there in the end.”

He took us through the process required.

Seven stages

My wife and I rented an apartment in Aix-en-Provence in September 2020, shortly before the Brexit deadline of December 2020. After spending summer 2021 in the UK we decided to bring our beloved but aged Volvo S60 to France, and to see if it was practical to re-register it in the French system. 

There was plenty of guidance on first-port-of-call websites – but all the advice referred to registrations before Brexit. Since about 2018 the process started to change and French officials were said to be unsure of the procedure. 

The process, as I now understand it, consists of seven steps:

  • Bring the car to France
  • Formally register the car as having been imported into France  – Dédouanement
  • Obtain a Certificate of conformity, that your car adheres to EU rules
  • Have your car pass the French version of the MoT, the Contrôle Technique
  • Obtain the car registration document (Certificat d’Immatriculation, which used to be called the Carte Grise)
  • Obtain insurance
  • Change the British number plates for French plates

Bringing the car to France

We drove to France from the UK without making any declarations of importation, and without obtaining any UK export documents. The car was still UK registered, UK taxed and insured. Some months later, we obtained the certificate of importation.

Dedouanement

Before Brexit, Britons needed a ‘Quitus Fiscal’, a tax document to show that importing their car from another EU country did not lead to any need to pay extra VAT. 

You now need a Certificat from the Douanes Francaises to prove the car has been imported. This is then added to the documents required for immatriculation.

You start by going to the Customs site (here). They also have information post Brexit, here, which includes contact phone numbers. 

I found the douane officials helpful, and it was they who told me the nearest place is to get the certificate. 

It’s normally in a port or an airport; ours was in the Port of Marseille. 

Then you have to keep emailing and phoning the contact point to get an appointment. This can take a while. When you go, take every document you have on the car; including, if possible, the date and cost at which you have purchased it and proof of where you are living in France. Because our car was not new, there was no customs charge or VAT charge. There is a small administrative cost, of about €40.

Certificate of Conformity

This is a very standard two-page document. So long as your car is a reasonably ordinary one by EU standards, then there are lots of websites that offer to provide you with one. 

I went to a UK-based one – they charged £168 and took a month to send it. If I had phoned Volvo in the UK, as I did, they provided one free of charge within a few days.

If your car does not have a certificate of conformity, expect to go through a messy, slow, expensive procedure to get the car physically tested for the various necessary points of conformity. I don’t have any experience of this, but people we know locally do and this was their experience.

Contrôle Technique

This test is required every two years in France once your car is four years old.

Garages will do a pre-contrôle for you to tell you how much will have to be done before you can expect to pass it. 

Very nervously, I put the Volvo straight in for the test. To my surprise, our car passed with no issues at all, despite being 12 years old and having done 120,000 miles. 

Handily, this Volvo was the first to have electronic headlights, so they can be switched from being angled to the left (for the UK) to being angled to the right (for France) with just an electronic toggle. The test cost €69. 

Note that the garage expects to be given the Certificat d’Immatriculation, as they normally stamp that document once the Contrôle is done. 

Staff at the garage were surprised not to be handed a Certificate d’Immatriculation, as is usually the case in France – because I didn’t yet have one –  but were still okay to do the test once I explained and gave them the UK registration document.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France’s car inspections

Certificat d’Immatriculation (Carte Grise)

This is the document to which all the above has been leading up to. It used to be not-too-hard to do when the process was run by the Sous-Prefecture of the local Mairie. But, since about 2019, these have all been closed and you must go through the nationwide IT system, ANTS. 

This can be hard work, as the flow is not clear, and you cannot ask to speak to a person to help you. There is no ‘Chat’ function either.

You start here. We’ve discovered that it is best to connect via France Connect if you can.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Then go to:

  • Nouvelle Demande;
  • L’immatriculation;
  • ‘Faire une autre demande’ (this is curious, but just do it);
  • Je Commence la demande (you may not get here first time..repeat the above);
  • ‘Oui’ to Souhaitez vous etre guide dans votre demarche?;
  • ‘Non’ to Je suis un professionel de l’automobile;
  • You need the sub-section a new application for the first-time importation of a vehicle from outside the EU.

We were directed several times back to the beginning of this cycle, then one time it miraculously went to the form we had to fill in.

Be prepared to curse the software the first few times you go through this and get it wrong. You have to add various documents, and they have to be within size and format limits (eg less than 1 Mbyte file size, JPG and PDF). 

Here are the ones I uploaded:

You might need to resubmit the application several times. At least, when they reject it, there is a box where the person dealing with it (who remains anonymous and uncontactable throughout) can tell you what you still need to do. 

Once you are through this, they will give you a provisional Certificate, valid for one month. 

The permanent document arrives in the post. 

The cost depends on the emissions of your vehicle – the higher they are, the larger a ‘malus’ you have to pay. I paid €250.

Be warned: this one-page watermarked document is sent by courier and requires your signature on receipt – not just proof of identity, like with parcels. 

If you are out and it is sent to a La Poste pick-up point, there is a special procedure for collecting the documents that require signature. 

We had to return five times and go via the Poste phone tracking assistance (Tel 3631) before the person behind the counter could be persuaded to find the stored document.

Insurance

Car insurance requirements are different from the UK.  For example, to assess your no claims bonus, your insurer will want to know the date you first contracted with your British insurer, whether you were at fault (responsable) or not (non-responsable) for each and every accident. 

They also require documentary proof of almost everything – eg formal attestations – emails from your insurer are not acceptable. 

READ ALSO Speed cameras in France now detect if your car has insurance

We managed to get some of these from our insurer but not all. Both insurers I dealt with also asked for key documents about your claims experience to be in French. One of them later backed down.

Once you have signed the contract, it is – they say – difficult to change. So if I were to come back later with more proof, my insurer said she would not be able to accept it. I found that the cost of insurance was roughly double the UK cost.

READ ALSO Seven need-to-know tips for cutting the cost of car insurance in France

Changing the plates

I took the car to the local Volvo garage, and they changed the plates from GB to French ones.

You do need to synchronise this. It is an offence in France to have French numberplates and no insurance. Equally, we did not want to let go our British insurance until we were sure that there were no remaining hurdles. 

We kept the UK insurance valid until after the whole procedure was finished. This left us facing a  Kafkaesque moment – our British insurers said that they wouldn’t send the No Claims evidence document (which is, I think, a standard format and procedure across all British insurers) until after you have cancelled the contract. 

Which of course you don’t want to do until you know you’ll reach the end of this process. Our insurer was very helpful and provided me with a ‘for guidance purposes’ version of the No-Claims document.

Finally, UK formalities

There is a tear-off slip from the Car registration document that you have to send back to DVLA if you have exported the car. You can also request on this form how the remaining tax disc value can be refunded to you. I also informed the UK insurers, and they sent me the final no-claims-bonus statement.

Many thanks to Mark for taking us through this process. Have you had a different experience of the new system? Let us know on [email protected]

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CRIME

What to do if you are arrested in France

Everything you need to know if you find yourself in handcuffs in France.

What to do if you are arrested in France

France’s legal system is born out of its Code Civil, and for criminal proceedings, the relevant legal infrastructure is the Code pénal.

The way the system works is very different to many anglophone countries, so if you are arrested do not expect events to follow the pattern you would expect in your home country.

Here are some of the scenarios you might find yourself in, and what to expect:

The police have stopped me:

There are a few scenarios here, they could give you an amende (fine), it could just be a contrôle d’identité (ID check) or contrôle routière (traffic stop) or you could be under arrest. 

READ ALSO Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

Fine – If they have stopped you to give you an amende, this is likely because you committed a minor infraction. 

This could be a traffic related offence – maybe you went through a red-light while riding your bicycle – or a minor crime such as littering.

The amount of the fine will depend on the severity of the infraction, which is at the discretion of the police officer. In most scenarios, the officer will ask for proof of identity, your address, and then the fine will be sent to your home. You’d be advised to pay it right away, because if you delay the fee can be increased.

Be aware that police officers will not ask you to hand over cash on the spot. It’s unfortunately true that scammers prey on tourists by pretending to be police and asking for cash ‘fines’ – a legitimate officer will not ask for this.

If you’re on public transport, transport police such as the Paris-based RATP Sûreté are also empowered to stop you and to issue fines if you have committed an offence such as travelling without a ticket. 

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Tips for dealing with police in France

ID check – The other scenario where you could be stopped by a police officer is during a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity, and it can only happen under certain conditions: they suspect you have committed or will commit a crime, you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur, the public prosecutor has ordered an area to be watched, or you are operating a motorised vehicle (contrôle routière).

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. If you do not have documents on your person to prove your identity, the officer can take you to the police station to check your identity there.

Many activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s unfortunately the case that these ‘random’ checks do seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

Arrests – Finally, an officer might arrest you.

The French criminal code allows police to arrest and detain (for a limited period of time) any person against whom there exists one or more plausible reasons to suspect that they have committed or attempted to commit a criminal offence – this is at the discretion of the officer so it can cover a pretty broad range of circumstances.

Detention

The French police are allowed to detain you if the police suspect you have committed or could commit a crime that is punishable by jail time. This means they cannot detain you for something that is punishable simply by a fine, but no arrest warrant is required in order to detain you.

If police detain you, you need to be aware of your rights: 

  • Right to interpretation and translation if needed
  • Right to information (you have the right to know the exact legal definition of what you’ve been accused of)
  • Right to legal assistance (from the moment of arrest)
  • Right to have someone, such as a family member, be made aware of your arrest
  • Right to have an opportunity to communicate with your family
  • Right to be in contact with your country’s consulate and receive visits if you are arrested outside your home country
  • Right to the presumption of innocence
  • Right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination
  • Right to be present at your trial
  • Right to consult police documents related to the investigation such as: the transcript of police interviews, medical certificates and notice of the rights in custody

In most circumstances you can only be held a maximum of 24 hours.

This can be extended if the crime you’re accused of is punishable of more than a year in prison. If so, the initial period of custody can be increased by 24 hours (up to 48 hours in total). In order for it to be extended, a public prosecutor must deem it necessary.

If the crime you are accused of is punishable by more than 10 years in prison, or relates to organised crime, initial detention can be up to four days, while those suspected of terror offences can be detained for a maximum of 144 hours (six days).

Court hearing

If the offence you are accused of is too serious to be dealt with by way of a fine, you will need to appear before a court.

If you’ve found yourself in this unfortunate situation, you should know that your hearing could either take place immediately at the end of your time in police custody or it could be sometime in the distant future – maybe even years later if it’s a complex matter.

The location of your hearing will depend on the severity of your offence: petty offences (contraventions) are typically dealt with in police courts (tribunal de police) or ‘jurisdictions of proximity’ (juridiction de proximité).

For misdemeanour crimes such as theft, you would likely go to a correctional court (tribunal correctionnel), and for the most serious offences such as rape or violent crimes you would be tried in a criminal court called a cour d’assises or la cour criminelle

If you have a ‘fast-tracked proceeding’ (comparutions immediates), this is because the public prosecutor has chosen this avenue.

Typically, it only happens in very straightforward cases, and it would involve your case being heard immediately at the end of your time in police custody (garde à vue). You cannot request a fast-tracked proceeding yourself. You should be advised that in these situations, it means that there is very little time to prepare a defence. You can request more time, and of course, you can request a lawyer. A fast-tracked proceeding will happen in the tribunel correctionnel.

There is also the option of a “Comparution sur reconnaissance préalable de culpabilité” (CRPC), which is a pre-trial guilty plea procedure. In order to go through this procedure, you must have the assistance of a lawyer

Ongoing detention

If your offence is too serious for an immediate court hearing, you will need to wait for a court date.

In most cases you will be released from custody while you wait for the hearing under contrôle judiciaire, which is similar to bail and often involves certain conditions such as not attempting to contact the victim or witnesses in the case.

In certain circumstances the judge can institute a caution, which is a sum of money that must be paid to ensure that the person be present at the proceedings, but paying money for bail is much less common in France than it is in the USA.

If you are a foreigner you will likely have your passport taken and be forbidden from leaving the country. If you do not have a permanent residence in France, the court can assign you one and demand that you stay in France until your hearing date.

If you commit further offences, or try to contact witnesses or victims while waiting for your hearing, or breach any of the conditions, you are likely to be brought back into custody.

I want to contact my embassy

You have the right to contact your embassy at any point after an arrest, though you will need to expressly request this, they will not be automatically contacted when you are arrested.

The role of the Embassy is much more limited than many people think – the Embassy is there to ensure that you are not being mistreated because of your nationality. As long as you are being given the same rights as a French national in the same scenario, The Embassy will not intervene on your behalf.

The Embassy does not have the power to tell a court whether you’re guilty or innocent, to provide legal advice, to serve as an official interpreter or translator, or to pay any legal, medical, or other fees.

They can, however, help you to find the above services, and most embassies have a list of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you have been incarcerated, depending on the country you come from, the French government might be required to inform your country of your incarceration. For US citizens, this requirement exists with your permission, and for UK citizens the obligation to inform exists even without your permission.

I would like legal assistance

You can request a lawyer at any time when in police custody in France.

As mentioned above, your embassy is a great resource for finding an English-speaking lawyer. Most embassy websites will have extensive directories for lawyers.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

You can also check the local “tribunal d’instance” (your local courthouse), your département’s bar association (le batonnier/ Barreau), or consult websites, such as AngloInfo, which compile directories of English-speaking lawyers. 

If you cannot afford legal representation and need legal aid, you must be able to prove that you are low income. You can contact the Maison de Justice, which is the courthouse. Your département or region should have a website explaining the legal aids near you. This is Paris’ for example, HERE

Key Vocabulary

Appeal: appel

Bail: contrôle judiciaire

Bar Association: l’ordre des avocats/ barreau

Charge/Indictment: Accusations

Embassy: Ambassade

File: Dossier

Investigative Judge: Juge d’instruction

Judge: Juge or Magistrat

Lawyer: Avocat – keep in mind, when addressing a lawyer you should use the honorific Maître (the same title applies for male and female lawyers)

Judgment: Jugement

Legal Aid: Aide juridictionelle

Criminal offence: infractions

Felony: un crime

Misdemeanour: un délit

Petty crime: contravention

Police Custody: garde à vue

Public Prosecutor: Procureur de la République

Sentence: Peine

Warrant: Mandat

Witness: Témoin

Expert help for this article was provided by Maitre Matthieu Chirez, who is a practicing lawyer at J.P. Karsenty & Associates and is specialised in criminal law. You can access the firm’s website HERE.

Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice and if you find yourself in trouble with the French legal system you should always get professional help.

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