The French drivers licence in "credit card" format in effect since September 16, 2013
The French drivers licence in “credit card” format in effect since September 16, 2013

Must I carry my driving licence with me in France?

Yes, French law states that you must have your driving licence, your insurance documents and your car registration papers (carte grise) with you.

How do I obtain a French licence?

Assuming you hold a valid licence from an EU or EEA (European Economic Area) member state you can request to change from your current license to a French licence. However thanks to an EU directive you are not obliged to exchange your UK licence for a French one if you are resident in France. To request an exchange you should apply to your local Prefecture (the form is called the demande d’échange de permis de conduire). You will need to provide:

– a valid current licence (an official translation may be necessary including details of any penalties or suspensions)
– proof of domicile
– 2 passport size photographs
– your carte de séjour (or passport)
– the fee, in the form of timbres fiscale

It is worth keeping your original licence as the French licence will not show how many years you have been driving prior to the issue of the new one.

Please note that if you do keep your UK licence you will still be bound by French law on the length of validity of licences and any medical examinations required in order to keep one.

How long is the French driving licence valid for?

In line with the harmonisation of EU standards, a French licence delivered on or after September 16, 2013 has a format resembling a credit card. Originally it was meant to include an electronic chip but it was later decided (as reported by Le Figaro on November 2014) that it would be too costly and therefore the credit card format was retained but the chip was dropped. It must be renewed every 15 years. Holders of a pink paper licence issued before this date have ample time to exchange it, the deadline is January 19, 2033.

Is my UK licence legal to drive on?

Yes, citizens of EU countries are permitted to drive within France on the driving licence issued by their country of origin. UK driving licence holders moving to live in France should be aware that the DVLA in the UK do not allow foreign addresses on UK licences. If you inform them that you have a foreign address they will send you a form which you can use to obtain a French licence. You should also note that if you commit a driving offence in France which involves the addition of penalty points to your licence you will be obliged to change from a foreign to a French licence.

As a non-EU citizen how do I obtain a licence in France?

If you become resident or intend to become resident you may drive on your licence for one year after receipt of your carte de séjour (resident permit) during which time you must apply for a new French licence or exchange your existing licence.

If you are from Australia or South Africa you may exchange your licence for a French one. If you are from the United States and your licence is from Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or South Carolina you may exchange your licence. Those from other states are required to obtain a new licence by taking the French driving test and examination.
Similarly, those from some Canadian states – Ontario and Quebec – may exchange while others have to get a new licence.

Check with your local Prefecture to confirm whether or not you will be entitled to exchange or take the exam.

You should make sure you allow enough time to obtain your new or exchange licence before the expiry of the one year period as the insurance coverage will be invalid if the one year period has passed.

What about temporary stays in France?

As a temporary resident (up to 3 months) you may drive on your licence provided it is valid and current.

What is the driving penalty system in France?

The initial probationary licence starts with 6 points, all other drivers have 12 points on their licence and can have anywhere from 1 to 6 points deducted for offences, depending on the nature of the incident. You may also have your licence suspended for short periods. Offences include speeding and various forms of reckless driving but also include less serious offences such as failing to dip headlights, ignoring priority signs or failing to come to a complete stop at road junctions. All lost points are reinstated after a certain period of time that can vary from six months to three years  depending on the nature of the offence and provided no further offences are committed. You may also reinstate 4 points by taking a two-day driving awareness course (stage de sensibilisation) If you lose 12 points you will lose your license to drive for at least six months, after which time you may be expected to take further examinations before regaining your license.

Please Note :

The above information relates to a pre-Brexit environment which is likely to remain unchanged for at least 2 years after the UK has triggered Article 50 but may change thereafter.
Please read our Brexit update articles to keep abreast of the situation>>>

14 Responses to “Driving licence in France FAQ”

  1. charliec1960

    Hi,

    I live in the US, but spend several months per year living in France. I’d like to buy a car and leave it in France, but I need to get insurance. I’ve tried to figure this out on my own but have been turned away every time I try. Can you give me some pointers on how to go about this?
    Thanks,
    Charlie

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  2. zombywoof

    Hi. Charlie. If you have a property in France then you should not have any trouble buying and registering a car in your name. You certainly shouldn’t have a problem getting insurance in France as their are many people who do this from their holiday home (ourselves included prior to moving here).
    If you do not own a roperty, then it’s a bit more difficult, but if you stay with someone they can issue you with a declaration ‘on their honour’ stating you stay there, which should suffice. Please check if this is correct info for non-EU residents. Good luck.

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  3. growltigerkat

    Out of curiosity why are licenses from states like New York unacceptable for transfer to a French license?

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  4. dpdapper1

    Charlie,

    I’m in exactly the same situation. The French insurer that insures my apartment in France, Allianz, told me today that they can insure my car with an international drivers license (easily obtained from the AAA in the States) and a driving history from my current US insurer. Whether this is truly the case, and what it costs, remains to be seen once I get the international license and driving history and give it to them. . . .

    David

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  5. cherami

    cherami

    Can I comment that reading the web page on licenses it states that you can only exchange your license once it has expired or have I misunderstood.

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    • pitway

      pitway

      I don’t think so, you can change over anytime you like, as long as you are resident. There were tales of foncs chucking the paperwork back at people huffing that they don’t need to do it as the old licence was still valid!

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  6. bridgetholding

    I wonder if anyone can help me with this related problem…
    I’m living in France but I still hold a UK driving licence (perfectly legal as I understand it)
    I’ve just bought a car in France and need to insure it. All the reasonably priced insurance companies only seem to accept French licences. The internet-based Direct Insurance being the one I was particularly interested in
    Does anyone know a good value insurance company in France that accepts UK licences?
    Thanks for any ideas

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    • misswoodentop

      Hi Bridget – I live here in France, and I got insurance for my – initially UK registered – car from my bank – Credit Agricole, no problem.

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    • misswoodentop

      Sorry, and I still have my UK driving licence.
      The ‘photo’ bit expired last year, but since DVLA don’t acknowledge non-UK addresses, I had to ask for a letter from them confirming that I am still entitled to drive. It cost £5.

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  7. smk

    I live in the US and plan to exchange my drivers license for a French one. But, I’ve read that if a US license shows fewer than 3 years of driving (which it does because the renewal date is what is on the license) – I will only receive 6 points when I do the exchange. Does anyone know if this is true? And, is it true that the license must be at least 1 year old (according to its date) to even qualify for an exchange?

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  8. allenrowe

    Can anyone sort this out for me ? When I went to work in Brussels in 1987 I was legally obliged to swap my UK driving license for a Belgian one, on which I have driven ever since. I moved to France permanently in 2015 and asked Swansea to return my UK license to me. They refused, saying they would only do it if I was living permanently in the UK.
    I incurred a one-point penalty recently and started the process of swapping my Belgian license for a French one. Despite having all the paperwork recommended by the Perpignan Préfecture website, I was refused on the grounds that I had to provide the following two documents, 1) un justificatif probant de résidence d’au moins 6 mois dans le pays qui a livré le permis, incluant la date d’obtention du permis de conduire,2) un certificat de capacité original attestant de la validité des droits à conduire,récent,établi par les autorités qui ont délivré le titre+timbre fiscal de 25 euros.
    I got my Belgian license in Flanders, just to add to this soup and it is almost impossible to find which authority in Belgium should issue this set of documents. I would be very grateful if someone could point me in the right direction. Should I ask Swansea again, providing a UK address of convenience ?

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  9. RichardMalpas

    I am in the process of relocating to France and will be resident there from January 2017. My UK driving licence expires in August 2017 when I will be 70. If I exchange my UK licence for a French one before August will the French one also expire then? If it does is it automatically renewed or will I have to take a French driving test? Am I better off renewing my licence in the UK and then exchanging it for a French one? If I renew in the UK (with a UK address) but am resident in France will this affect insurance etc.?

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  10. Baggywrinkles

    There is a new driving licence law in France that your driving licence runs out at 80 years old What happens after that ? Is it the same as the UK after 70? just make a declaration on being sane etc. ?

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