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>>>