For members


Reader question: What’s the deal with the ‘traffic light’ labels on French food?

If you're shopping in France you're likely to have noticed labels on food giving nutritional scores, but what do they mean and why do some food not have them?

Reader question: What's the deal with the 'traffic light' labels on French food?
A picture shows a "Nutri-score" panel, a 5-colour and letter coded nutrition label for food products, at a Delhaize supermarket in Brussels on April 4, 2019. - Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block introduced the Nutri-score label, consisting of 5 colours and letters, from A to E, and from green to red, which indicate the nutritional value of products. (Photo by LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ / BELGA / AFP) / Belgium OUT

Question: I like the French food labelling system as it helps me to eat healthily, but I’ve noticed that not all foods have a nutritional score – why is that?

The food labelling system, known as NutriScore, arrived in French supermarkets in 2018 and since then has been gradually expanding into more brands.

The system gives a score from A to E on all processed foods containing more than one ingredient. The score is based on a combination of factors including the levels of sugar, fat and salt in a food product, whether it is processed or not and its vitamin, protein, calorie and fibre content.

A is given to the healthiest foods and E to the least healthy.

The NutriScore system is, however, completely voluntary for food companies – although the health ministry has been involved in promoting the system and encouraging manufacturers to use it, it has stopped short (so far) of making it compulsory. The EU has also discussed making food labelling compulsory, but nothing is at present in force.

It’s probably fair to say that the majority of foods on display in supermarkets now do display the score, with shoppers being able to draw their own conclusions on why, for example, a packet of chocolate chip cookies isn’t displaying a food score.

The scheme has attracted some criticism from France’s artisan producers, however, who say that the scoring system places too much evidence on fat and salt content – giving traditional French produce like Roquefort cheese and charcuterie an E rating – and does not pay enough attention to the health problems that come with ultra-processed food.

If you’re keen to find out how healthy an unlabelled item is, the French app Yuka allows you to scan the bar code of any food product and be given a detailed nutrition score. You can also use it on cosmetics to check their composition.

If you’re looking to improve your diet, the official recommendations from French public health body Santé publique France are;

  • Increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, dried vegetables (lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc.) and unsalted nuts (nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.), increase homemade food and physical activity.
  • Choose seasonal foods, produced locally, eat alternately fatty fish and lean fish, wholemeal or cereal bread, cereals, pasta, semolina and wholemeal rice, rapeseed, walnut and olive oil, and have a sufficient but limited consumption of dairy products.
  • Reduce alcohol, sweetened products and beverages, salted products, meat, deli meats, products with a Nutri-Score D and E label and reduce time spent sitting.

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For members


Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

If you're living in France you may eventually need to swap your driving licence for a French one - but how long you have to make the swap and exactly how you do it depends on where your licence was issued. Here's the low-down.

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

First things first, how long are you staying in France?

Holiday driving

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 also need an International Driving Permit – it’s basically a translation of a domestic driving licence that allows the holder to drive a private motor vehicle in any country or jurisdiction that recognises the document.

Check with driving authorities in your home country to see if you need one to drive in France. 

Drivers with European licences and UK and NI licence-holders are exempt from the International Driving Permit requirement.

French resident

So far, so simple. It starts to get a bit trickier if you plan to move to France for a longer period. Then, everything depends on the country in which your driving licence was issued (and not your nationality, in this case it’s all about where the licence was issued).

READ ALSO Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

If you hold a licence from an EU / EEA country

These are relatively straightforward. Because of freedom of movement rules within the EU full driving licences from Member States are valid in France. EEA country licences have the same status.

Holders of an EU/EEA driver’s licence 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.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you move to France permanently, you may, however, change your licence for a French one, by following this procedure.

What if you’re from the UK?

For a while, official advice left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether

But – Good News! – British and French authorities announced in June 2021 that a reciprocal agreement had been reached that allows people who live in France to drive on a UK or NI licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021 to continue using them.

It essentially created a phased system where people only need to exchange when their photocard or actual licence runs out, whichever comes first – although you apply to make the exchange once you get within six months of the expiry date.

If you commit certain traffic offences or if your licence is lost or stolen you may need to exchange earlier.

Anyone whose licence was issued after January 1st, 2021, will need to exchange it for a French one within one year of moving to France. 

You can find full details on the rules and how to do the exchange HERE

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 ANTS and providing them with all the necessary information.

READ ALSO Grace period for fines over France’s new law on winter tyres

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.

You can find the online portal to make the swap here.

US and Canadian licences

If you have an American or Canadian licence things are even more complicated, because it depends on the state that your licence was issued in. 

The following US States have licence swap agreements with France.

  • 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

Drivers with licences from States not listed above cannot simply swap their licence, instead they have to take a French driving test within a year of moving to France, or stop driving.

The following Canadian provinces have licence swap agreements with France:

  • 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. Drivers with licences issued from other provinces will have to pass a French driving test before they can hold a French driving licence.

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.

READ ALSO What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

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. 

READ ALSO COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

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.