Driving licence in France

British residents in France didn’t need to exchange their British driving licence for a French one after moving to France before Brexit. But what happens now?

During the transition period

As a general rule, it is only possible to drive in France on a foreign license issued by a non-EU country for a period of one year, before the holder must exchange it for a French one. While the UK is still a member of the EU,  British residents in France can use their UK license as long as it is valid to drive a vehicle of the equivalent category and provided it is not suspended or restricted and has not been revoked in the issuing country. It is optional to exchange it for a French driving licence and becomes mandatory in a few cases, such as getting points for traffic offences.

The UK Government does not recommend attempting to exchange a UK driving license for a French one ahead of Brexit, unless lost, stolen or expiring, or to update a category change, because of a considerable backlog in processing requests. The Centre d’Expertise et de Ressources des Titres (CERT) is being reorganised to deal with the backlog which is said to be between 8 to 12 months at this writing.

What next?

When Brexit comes into full effect, if you are resident in France before 2021, you may not need to exchange your licence to drive legally in France, unless you fall under one of the mandatory conditions previously mentioned. According to the UK Government Brexit information site, because of the backlog French authorities will continue to recognise British licences just as before Brexit. It is not clear at this time how the distinction will be made between Britons living in France and others who are just visiting.

The Withdrawal Agreement

The exit deal doesn’t contain any provisions for driving licenses, according to the French Government Brexit information site, but it does provide for a transition period. During the transition EU rules continue to apply meaning there will be no consequences on driving licences.

For Brits already residing in France, specific and reciprocal provisions will later specify the terms of exchange for holders of a British license.

British tourists in France will be able to drive for the duration of their stay with a UK driving license. An international driving licence or IDP is not required if the permit is accompanied by an official translation.

For Brits moving to France after the transition period, the UK driving licence will be recognised during the one-year grace period, but the holder must apply for an exchange within that time.

While France is unlikely to make life difficult for the thousands of British tourists it welcomes every year, it could nevertheless ask visitors to produce an International Driving Permit (IDP). Americans, for example, are advised to carry IDPs although authorities rarely asked drivers to produce it. These are available from the AA and are valid for twelve months from the date of issue.

France may also potentially ask resident Brits to apply for a French driving licence  from scratch, although it is unlikely. Some non-EU citizens have to apply for a new French license and retake their tests rather and are unable to do a straight exchange, with the cost and effort involved, not to mention the language barrier.

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This guide is provided for general information purposes only and does not intend to be a substitute for professional advice. We encourage you to consult your estate agent, legal or tax adviser.

This article was updated in February 2020

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