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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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LIVING IN FRANCE

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

If you want to send Christmas presents to friends and family overseas you need to know the deadline dates and how to avoid being hit with extra charges - here's what you need to know.

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

Deadlines

First things first, you need to make sure your parcel arrives in time for Christmas, which means sending it before the deadline.

The French postal service La Poste has the following deadlines;

In Europe

If you’re sending a parcel within France, the deadline to have it delivered by Christmas is December 23rd. 

If you’re sending to the UK or Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spanish islands (eg Tenerife), Croatia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Norway, Portuguese islands (eg Madeira) or Romania you have until December 16th.

If you’re sending to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden or Switzerland you have until December 17th.

If you’re sending to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Portugal you have until December 19th.

Outside Europe

If you’re sending to the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Hong Kong you have until December 10th. Likewise if you’re sending to most French overseas territories, the deadline is December 10th.

For most other countries the deadline is December 3rd, but you can find the full list here

Private couriers like Fed-Ex and DPD have their own deadlines, although they are broadly in line with La Poste, and if you’re buying online each company has its own deadline on when it can guarantee a Christmas delivery.

Fees and customs declarations

If you’re sending parcels to another EU country then it’s pretty straightforward – just pay the delivery cost (you can check how much it will be to send via La Poste here) and make sure you send it before the deadline.

If, however, you are sending to a country outside the EU (which of course now includes the UK) then you will need to fill out a customs declaration form explaining what is in your parcel and whether it is a gift or not.

In addition to standard postal charges, you may also need to pay customs duties, depending on the value or your parcel and whether it is a gift or not. 

Find full details on customs duty rules HERE.

Banned items

And there are some items that are banned from the post – if you’re sending parcels to the US be aware that you cannot send alcohol through the mail as a private individual, so don’t try a ship some nice French wine or a bottle of your local liqueur. 

Most countries ban firearms and fireworks, not unreasonably, although be aware that this includes items like sparklers.

Sending food and plants is also often restricted with countries including Canada and Australia having strict rules and most other countries imposing restrictions on what you can send.

This also applies the other way and France bans any foodstuffs containing animal products (eg chocolate) sent from outside the EU. 

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