What you need to know
When first starting to drive in a foreign country it is important to take extra care, particularly if the driving practice differs from that in your own country. For the English this means adapting to driving on the right side of the road, and for Americans this usually means learning to drive a stick shift. Whichever the case may be, most foreign driving licenses are valid in France for at least one year from the date of arrival.
An European Union directive now permits mutual recognition of licenses between EU member states, so for example British citizens who take up residence in France do not need to exchange their UK driving license for a French one. The only exception to this rule is when an individual is convicted of a motoring offence in France, at which point they are required to exchange their license for a French one so that the penalty can be applied. Whether by choice or not, in order to obtain a French license your UK license must be returned to the DVLA once a French license has been issued.
American residents of France (holders of a carte de séjour or carte de residence,) may drive in France with a valid US driver’s license for one-year recognition, beginning on the date of validity of the first carte de séjour. After this they may no longer drive with a US license and must pass both the French written and road examinations.
If you are a holder of a US driver’s license from one of these states, you will be exempt from the tests required to obtain a French license and your existing document will be exchanged for a full 12-point French driver’s license.
France has reciprocal agreements with the following US states:
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
If your license was not issued by any of these states, you will be required to pass both the written and driving exams, although upon application you may be exempted from the minimum hours of practice required prior to taking the tests. The French license you will eventually be granted once you pass the test is a restricted license, known as a Permis Probatoire, which is based on 6 points and is valid for 3 years. A regular, French license has 12 points. Points are deducted as a result of infractions of the French driving code. If all points are subtracted during the 3-year period, the license will be revoked. Once the 3-year period is over, and as long as you have not had all of your points revoked, you will be granted a regular license with 12 points.