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LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?

If you spend only part of your time in France but don’t officially reside in the country, what are the rules regarding vehicle ownership? Can second home owners buy a car for the time they spend here?

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?
Photo: Alexis AMZ DA CRUZ / Unsplash

Whether you actually need a car in France depends a lot on where you live. Larger towns and cities increasingly have public transport and cycling and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that means owning a car is not always necessary.

But, for those who live in rural areas, owning a car is vital, while even in well-served towns and cities, a car remains a necessity for many people.

But what happens if you’re a second home owner who is a non-resident in France? Can you buy and own a vehicle here?

The short answer is: Yes, you can. But – there’s always a but – you need to be aware of certain issues.

Buying a car

The most straightforward way to own a car in France is to buy one here. That way, it will come with the necessary registration documents and the car will already be registered in France.

You still need to change the details on the vehicle’s certificat d’immatriculation – informally known as the carte grise – to show that you are the registered owner.

Car dealers will usually arrange the paperwork, possibly for a fee, with your input limited to signing the right bits of paper. You will need to provide valid ID (such as a passport) and proof of address in France that the car will be registered to.

To do this you will need to provide documentation that includes your full name and address.

Any of these are accepted:

  • The title deed to the home if you are the owner;
  • A rent receipt in your name if you are a tenant;
  • A recent bill for the taxe d’habitation or local tax that is less than six months old;
  • A telephone, gas or electricity bill (water bills and mobile phone bills may not be accepted)
  • A certificate of insurance of the home

If you’re buying privately, however, you’ll need to sort out all the paperwork yourself. 

The registration process is these days entirely online at the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS) website.

READ ALSO Second home owners in France: Can I register a car at my French address?

Financing

If you have the funds to buy the vehicle outright, you’ll have no problems – simply hand over the cheque at the appropriate time. It will be harder, however, to access financing for your vehicle if you’re not permanently resident in France.

READ ALSO How to get financial help in France to buy an electric car

Second-hand vehicles

If the vehicle you want to buy is more than 4 years old you will also need: a valid roadworthiness inspection – known as a contrôle technique (CT), unless the vehicle is exempt from it. 

The CT must be less than 6 months old on the day of the registration request (2 months if it’s a counter-visit to confirm that defective points detected during an initial test have been repaired). 

If this deadline is exceeded, you will have to pay for a new test, and sort out any defects at your own expense.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French ‘contrôle technique’ 

Insurance

Any vehicle permanently kept in France must be insured in France. Be aware that any vehicle brought permanently into France from another country must – legally – be registered with French authorities otherwise owners risk a fine of up to €750.

This is especially important for Britons after Brexit. French insurers will no longer insure a car registered in the UK. And British insurers will not insure cars registered outside Britain. Nor will British insurers insure vehicles of permanent residents in France. 

Remember also, that DVLA rules mean cars are considered exported if they have been taken out of the country for more than 12 months – and they, then, cannot remain on UK plates.

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

Here, the vehicle is insured, rather than the driver, and it must always be covered. You can cut the cost of insuring your vehicle in France by reducing the level of coverage temporarily during periods you’re not in the country. 

But you will have to be aware of maintenance issues caused by leaving your car unused for any length of time.

CTs and the art of motorcar maintenance

Speaking of maintenance, French cars that are four years old or more must undergo a contrôle technique road-worthiness test every two years. 

These are carried out at dedicated test centres in towns and cities across France, and it is your responsibility to ensure your car is roadworthy and tested so it can be used on French roads. Proof of testing is fixed to the windscreens of tested vehicles so that officials can check easily.

Crit’Air

The Crit’Air system was introduced in 2017 and assigns a number to each vehicle based on how much they pollute, so you will need to apply for a number to stick on your windshield. 

READ ALSO How France’s Crit’Air vehicle sticker system is taking over the country

In the many towns and some entire departments, the sticker is a requirement year round, even if they are only used to ban the most polluting vehicles during spikes in air pollution. Basically, it’s a good idea to have one just in case you travel in or through those places that require them.

Crit’Air stickers are obligatory in Paris, Grenoble, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Marseille.

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

Importing a car

You can import your car from another country, if you wish. But you will need to deal with additional paperwork.

On the British side, you will need to declare that you are exporting via National Export System. To do this, you must get an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number – but you can only obtain such a number if you are only moving goods for personal use (if you are simply bringing a car for yourself).

You will also need access to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) platform – again this is only possible for traders. If you fail to declare your export officially, border officials may block you from entering France with the vehicle. 

On the French side, you will need a 846A certificate to be able to drive your imported car legally – or to eventually sell it in France. 

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

Obtaining such a certificate is no easy feat. But it can be done…

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

You cannot keep a foreign-bought vehicle registered in two countries. Part of the process of switching to French plates is to inform authorities in the second country that it has been exported.

Member comments

  1. This article seems to contradict much of what is written elsewhere about non-residents owning and driving cars in France. In short, this article states it is possible and legal but I have read other articles (not in the Local) which state it is not. Any assistance or comments as to why there are such opposing views would be very welcome!

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POLICE

Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

The French Constitution offers broad legal protection to anyone in France from the right to trial to the right to legal advice, but there are some scenarios specific to foreigners in France.

Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

What are my rights if I am arrested or imprisoned?

If you are arrested you have the same rights as a French citizen to legal advice, phone calls, bail and a full trial – full details HERE.

There are some extra things to be aware of however;

Once arrested you have the right to an interpreter during police interviews.

You have the right to call your Embassy, although the help the Embassy can offer you is much more limited than many people think.

If you are released while awaiting a court hearing you will usually have to hand over your passport and undertake not to leave the country. If you are not a French resident, the judge can assign you a residency address in France.

If you are found guilty and imprisoned in France you maintain several rights, such as the right to vote (if you have French citizenship). France’s interior ministry has a handout detailing these rights, HERE

Can I appeal against my sentence?

Yes, you have the right to appeal a court’s decision.

Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process with very specific deadlines – and it can go either way, so you risk a sentence being increased.

If you are acquitted in court,  French law also allows for the prosecution to appeal against your acquittal.

I am the victim of a crime, what are my rights?

In France, the role of the state and the prosecutor is to protect the peace, this means that if someone commits a crime against you, it is up to the state to decide whether to move forward with criminal proceedings.

It’s not up to the victim to decide whether or not to press charges.

Conversely, if the state chooses not to go ahead with criminal proceedings, but you (the victim) want them to press charges, you have the right to appeal against their decision to drop the case.

Can I be expelled from France for committing a crime?

Yes, although this is generally reserved for people who have committed serious crimes such as violent crime, drug-trafficking or terror offences.

If you have been jailed for a serious crime in France you can be served with an ‘interdiction du territoire français‘ – a ban from French soil – on your release. These are reserved for the most serious offences and simply being incarcerated does not necessarily lead to expulsion.

If you are a full-time resident in France but not a French citizen, then being convicted of a crime can mean that your visa or residency card will not be renewed. This is again usually reserved for people who have committed very serious crimes, but in certain circumstances residency can be withdrawn for less serious offences such as driving offences or begging. 

READ ALSO What offences can lose you the right to live in France?

If you have French citizenship it’s virtually impossible for your to be expelled from France although in some rare cases – usually connected to terrorism – citizenship of dual nationals can be revoked.

What are the rules for minors?

Minors in the French legal system have some specific rights. The EU has laid out the specific rights of minors, which apply in France as well, and apply from the time of arrest.

  • Right to be be quickly informed of legal rights, and to be assisted by your parents (or other appropriate persons)
  • Right to be assisted by a lawyer
  • No prison sentence should be imposed on a minor if they have not been assisted by a lawyer during the court hearings. All measures should be exhausted to avoid a child being imprisoned.
  • Right to be detained separately from adults if sent to prison.
  • Children should not be required “to reimburse the costs of certain procedural measures, for example, for individual assessment, medical examination, or audio-visual recording of interviews.”
  • A child’s privacy should be respected and “questioning will be audio-visually recorded or recorded in another appropriate manner.”
  • Repeatedly questioning children should be avoided.
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