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RESIDENCY PERMITS

OQTF – What is the ‘notice to quit France’ and can you appeal against it?

You may have seen the acronym OQTF in the headlines, along with politicians vowing to get tough on enforcement, but what exactly is an 'Obligation de quitter le territoire français' and what can you do if you get one?

OQTF - What is the 'notice to quit France' and can you appeal against it?
Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

An Obligation de quitter le territoire français, usually known by the acronym OQTF is ‘an obligation to leave France’ that can be served on any foreigner who is in French territory (ie mainland France or any of its overseas territories).

According to the Interior Minister, 120,000 of these were served in 2020.

This is not the same as expulsion – foreigners expelled from France must leave the country immediately, those served with an OQTF are given a deadline to leave – usually within 30 days of receiving the notice.

Expulsion is reserved for people who are living in France illegally and who represent some sort of threat to the French state – it’s usually used for terror suspects.

Who can get an OQTF?

Broadly, an OQTF is used in three scenarios; on the release of a foreign prisoner after serving a jail term in France, on a foreigner whose residency permit has been withdrawn (the most common reason for this is criminal activity), or a foreigner who does not have the correct residency papers.

This final category is the most common and encompasses people whose application to renew their visa or residency permit has been refused; people whose visa/residency permit has expired and who are therefore living in France illegally; or those who entered France in an irregular manner (eg arriving on a tourist visa and then working in France). It also includes asylum seekers whose claim has been refused and who have exhausted their appeals. 

OQTFs hit the headlines recently after the murder of a 12-year-old girl in Paris, in which the main suspect was an Algerian woman living in France illegally who had been served a notice to quit.

In her case, according to the government spokesman, she had entered France on a student visa but when it expired she did not renew it. She had left France and when she attempted to re-enter the country at Orly airport, border officials noticed her irregular status and she was served with an OQTF – although she was allowed back into the country.

The case has been particularly controversial because she was served the 30-day notice to quit in August, but was still in France at the time of the murder in late September.

According to the Interior Minister, only around 10 percent of OQTFs are enforced – something he has vowed to change. 

The notices can be served on any non-French person, but the categories of people who have had residence permits refused or withdrawn only apply to those who need them in the first place – and that is non-EU citizens.

How do you get it?

An OQTF is issued by your local préfecture (or the Préfecture de Police if you are in Paris) and is usually sent to you by post or email, or both.

It is a formal document outlining the reason that you are being served with the notice, and when you must leave France.

In most cases you have 30 days to leave the country, but some OQTFs give you just 48 hours to leave – this is usually reserved for people who represent some kind of threat to public order, but is also used for people whose residency papers have been refused or withdrawn because of a fraudulent application (ie submitting fake documents or lying on the application).

The 30 days is calculated from the day the decision is issued, but if the deadline falls on a weekend or a public holiday, you have until the next working day to leave France.

Can you appeal?

If you accept the decision, you can apply for financial aid to help cover the costs of your journey home, and you can also apply for an extension to the 30 days if there are exceptional circumstances that justify this.

Taking either of these options involves accepting the notice to quit.

If you do not accept the notice, then you have the right to appeal – the appeal must be lodged within one month of receiving the notice, with the administrative tribunal in your area – find your local tribunal here.

You can appeal either on the grounds that the original decision around your residency papers was unfair, or on the grounds that you cannot be removed.

Circumstances in which you cannot be removed from France include:

  • You have been a legal resident of France for more than 10 years (excluding years spent on a student visa)
  • You have been ordinarily resident in France since you were a child (arriving before your 14th birthday)
  • You have been married to a French citizen for at least three years, and you still live together
  • You are the parent of a French child who is living in France (you must prove that you have contributed to the maintenance of your child either since birth or at least for two years, polygamous relationships are excluded)
  • You are usually resident in France and you need healthcare that is not available in your home country

Find the full list here

According to the fact-checking organisation Les Surligneurs, 12 percent of OQTFs are cancelled on appeal, the majority on the grounds that the person has a settled family life in France, that they risk torture in their home country or that a return cannot be organised (for example, flights cannot currently be organised to Afghanistan). 

You cannot be forced to leave while your appeal is ongoing.

French vocab

Sans papiers – literally ‘without papers’, the informal way of referring to undocumented foreigners

Etranger en situation irrégulière – the more formal way of saying the same thing, a foreigner in an ‘irregular situation’ of not having the correct paperwork

Obligation de quitter le territoire français – Notice to leave French territory (ie mainland France or one of its overseas territories)

Séjournez régulièrement – a regular stay, ie time that you were in France legally with the correct paperwork

Titre de séjour – residency permit, sometimes also referred to as a carte de séjour (residency card) but it means the same thing

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For members

DRIVING

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.

They only need to exchange when their photocard 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.

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. 

Full details on the rules and how to do the exchange are available 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.

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

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.

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