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Americans in France: What you need to know about proposed changes to EU driving licence rules

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Americans in France: What you need to know about proposed changes to EU driving licence rules
Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

The EU is proposing changes to its rules on swapping driving licences, which could be good news for many Americans in France - here's what you need to know.


What's the change?

This is something that is being proposed at an EU level, to make it easier for residents in EU countries who have a driving licence from a non-EU country to swap their licence for a local one.

At present some people who have non-EU licences can simply swap them for a licence from the country they live in, while others have to take a driving test - and in some countries also take compulsory lessons - in order to get a licence, even if they have been driving for many years.


Whether they can swap or have to take a test depends on which country they live in, and where they got their licence.

Now the EU wants to create a list of countries that have 'comparable' driving standards to the EU, and allow people who have a licence from those countries to simply swap their licence for a local one, whichever EU country they live in. Find full details of the proposal here.

What is the situation in France?

Anyone who lives in France and holds a non-EU licence may drive on that licence for a year, but after that they must exchange their licence for a French one.

READ ALSO Which countries can I drive in with my French licence?

Across the EU, whether or not you can swap your licence depends on whether your come country has an agreement in place with the country you live in.

Several non-EU countries do have agreements in place with France, including the UK, but for Americans it is more complicated because it is done on a state-by-state basis.

So for example if your licence was issued in Maryland, you can benefit from the (relatively) straightforward procedure to swap your licence for a French one. If, however, your licence was issued in California you will have to take a French driving test (both theory and practical).

As well as being time-consuming and (for those whose French is still at beginner level) challenging, it can also be extremely expensive as most driving schools will insist on at least a few lessons first - the average spend is around €600. 

Four years and €1,800: My experiences of taking a French driving test

The EU's proposal would mean that, provided the US is accepted as a country with comparable driving standards, anyone with a licence issued in the US could swap it without having to take a test.

The changes won't affect France's domestic systems around making the licence swap, which can still be time-consuming.

If you do find yourself in the position where you still need to take a driver's licence test in France, you can sign up for an appointment using the platform "RdvPermis".

How soon will this happen?

Don't hold your breath, the EU is notorious for taking its time over any changes.


The change is part of a package of measures around standardising driving licences across the EU, which must be considered by the European Parliament and European Council under the EU’s normal legislative procedure.

If they are approved the European Commission will draw up a list of countries that it considers to have comparable driving standards to the EU, and then each of the 27 EU member state would be given a six-month deadline to provide its opinion on factors including driving licencing standards and road infrastructure in that country, according to the text of the proposal.

It's likely that we're talking years rather than months for the changes to come into effect, but we will keep you updated in our driving section HERE.


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