Getting a French Driving Licence: What You Need to Know


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Getting a French Driving Licence: What You Need to Know

Do you need to change your driving licence when you move to France and is it possible? Whether you are an EU citizen living in France, a British citizen resident in France after Brexit, or an American, Australian, or other non-EU citizen – here’s what you need to know about getting a French driving licence.

Do you need to change your driving licence for a French one?

Whether or not you need to exchange your licence for a French one depends on two things:

  • How long you intend to stay in France
  • Where your driving licence was issued

Driving on holiday or a short visit

If you are only staying in France for a short period and have no intention of living or becoming resident in France, you do not need to exchange your driving licence for a French one. This applies to most travellers, second-home owners, and some students.

If you have an EU or British driving licence, or your licence is in French, you may legally drive using your current licence (an international driving permit is not required). If you have a driving licence from a non-EU country and it is in another language other than French, it must be accompanied by an official translation or an international driving licence. Read more about that here

Moving to France: Exchanging Your Driving Licence

If you are moving to France, it is likely that you will need to exchange your licence for a French one. Here’s a rundown of the legal requirements.

EU-Issued Driving Licences

If your licence was issued in the EU or EEA, you are not required to exchange your licence for a French one. An exception to this may be if you have picked up points on your licence (e.g. a speeding fine or other offence) – in this instance, you may be asked to exchange your licence in order for the relevant points to be deducted from your licence. Read more about the procedure here.

British and Northern Ireland-Issued Driving Licences

Those with a British or NI-issued driving licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021, are not required to exchange their licence until the licence or photocard expires. You can apply for a new licence within six months of the expiry date of either the licence or photocard (whichever is first).

If you have a British or NI licence issued after January 1st, 2021, this is not covered by the reciprocal agreement, and you must exchange your licence for a French one within one year of becoming resident in France.

Read more about how to change your UK driving licence for a French one.

Non-EU Issued Driving Licences

If your licence was issued by a country outside of the EU, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, you must exchange your licence for a French one within one year of becoming resident in France. Whether or not you can exchange your licence or need to re-take your driving test in France depends on the country, and sometimes state, in which your licence was issued (more on this below).

Can I Exchange My Driving Licence for a French one?

Now that we’ve covered whether or not you need a French driving licence, the next question is whether or not you can exchange your licence for a French one.

For those with a driving licence issued outside the EU/EEA (excluding British and NI licences, as mentioned before), this depends on where your driving licence was issued and whether a reciprocal agreement is in place with France. You can see a full list of the countries that do have a reciprocal agreement here.

Countries with a Reciprocal Agreement (including Australia/New Zealand)

For those with licences issued by a country with a reciprocal agreement in place, it is possible to exchange your driving licence for a French one. This is a relatively straightforward process (although expect a fair amount of paperwork – this is France, after all!), and most of it can be done online.

How to apply for a French driving licence

You can make your application via the ANTS website here – click ‘echanger un permis étranger pour un permis français. You will need to provide the following documents:

  • Passport or National Identity Card
  • Proof of address less than 6 months old (e.g. an electricity bill)
  • A full, recent copy of your birth certificate
  • Your current driving licence OR an official declaration of loss (in the instance of a lost licence) OR an official police report (in the instance of a licence theft)
  • Your French Carte de Séjour (residency permit) OR equivalent

United States and Canada-Issued Driving Licences

Licences issued in the United States and Canada are also dependent upon the state in which the licence was issued. Currently, the only US states with reciprocal agreements in place are Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Florida, and Connecticut.

Exchanges for motorbike licences (Permis A) are further limited to Pennsylvania, Florida, and Connecticut, and other licences depend upon the individual agreements.

Currently, the only Canadian states with reciprocal agreements in place are Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland et Labrador, Québec, Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. These exchanges are for Permis B (standard vehicle) licences only – different rules apply for heavy vehicle and/or trailer licences.

Countries without a Reciprocal Agreement (including the US and Canada)

For those with a driving licence issued in a country or US or Canadian state which doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement in place, the situation is vastly more complicated. Once you move to France, your driving licence will be valid for one year only – after this period, you will no longer be able to legally drive in France on your current licence and risk a court summons and/or fines if you do so.

If you wish to continue driving in France, the only option available is to take a French driving test and apply for a French driving licence. You can read more about the requirements here.

Your French Driving Licence

A French driving licence is valid for 15 years from the date of issue (this may be different for drivers with certain medical conditions or ‘heavy’ vehicle permits). The most common French licences are ‘Permis A’, a motorbike licence, and ‘Permis B’, the standard driving licence which allows you to drive vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes.

New drivers who have passed their test within the last three years will only be issued a provisional licence. All licences are issued with a full 12 points, which may be deducted in the case of speeding or other traffic offences.

Read our guide to Your French Driving Licence: Permit Types, Points, & Validity

Driving in France

Whether you own a car in France, travel to France in your UK or EU-registered car, or hire a rental car – FrenchEntrée has all the need-to-know info about driving in France. Our Essential Reading articles will take you through buying, registering, and insuring your car, as well as offering tips and advice on driving and car ownership in France.

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  •  Roger
    2023-08-27 11:20:47
    I am a part-time resident in France for 6 months a year, own a second home but live in my home country (USA) for the rest of each year, I have a one-year Titre de Sejour, Temporaire, which renews every 12 months. I cannot exchange my USA driver's license for a French license because that will not be recognized in the USA to drive there. As a second home owner, can I continue to drive in France with my US license? Or is there a way to keep both?


  •  Peter
    2022-07-30 06:04:04
    The French government have clarified what they mean for UK licence holders in ref to issued before January 1st 2021, it's not when the licence date of issue it's when a driving licence was first issued. So for example you could have a UK 10 year licence issued in 2022, but you passed your test in 1990 so your first licence was issued before January 1st 2021 so you can use your licence until it expires until 2032.


  •  Kris Hendrickson
    2021-11-24 07:33:57
    Kris Hendrickson
    After taking the French driving test a new French licence, even for someone who has driven in another country with a full licence for many years , comes with six points for the first three years or two years depending on who taught you to drive in France. . If one has no infractions during that period the licence then has twelve points. It also has other restrictions such as having to drive at no more than 100kpm on the motorway/freeway during the time one has the A affixed to the car. I took the test two years ago, having driven in Britain and the USA for fifty years, the rules may have changed in the past two years but I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.


  •  David YOUNG
    2021-11-24 05:29:14
    David YOUNG
    You mention that for non-EU issued licences, "including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, you must exchange your licence for a French one within one year of becoming resident in France." The catch as I have found out is that the definition in French law of "becoming resident of France" is in fact the 12 month period of one's initial visa de long séjour. In Australia the French consulate in Sydney issued me a 12-month visa de long séjour because I was visiting France for a long holiday which exceeded the 90 days allowed under the Schengen rules. For a second long visit, I was advised by the French consulate in Sydney, that rather than subsequently applying for separate visas de long séjour for each long visit, while in France to convert this second visa de long séjour to a titre de séjour which I was successfully able to do and subsequently renew every 12 months. But when I eventually retired and came to reside permanently in France my request to exchange my Australian driver licence was refused because I should have asked to exchange it during the 12 month period of my second visa de long séjour even though until my retirement my permanent place of residence (and of paying tax) was still in Australia ! A really "non-thinking" situation by the French bureaucracy since it is still the same Australian driver licence as when I was granted my second visa de long séjour. I can use my Australian driver licence to drive for visits when in any other country but I cannot now exchange it to drive in my country of permanent residence - France !!


  •  Colin Penrose
    2021-11-23 10:15:37
    Colin Penrose
    Thank you for the simple explanation. Useful information.


  • marlene Butterfield
    2021-11-23 07:30:22
    marlene Butterfield
    My husband and I exchanged our UK paper licences before Brexit. I received my French licence with all the 'Grandfather' rights that we both had had previously but my husband didn't have anything and wasn't even allowed to tow our caravan. This was rectified at the time, well three trips to Perigueux, 3 hour round trip! We now have a Motor Home and since June have been going round in a never ending circle because in order to drive the vehicle,(3.5 T +)my husband now needs the full licence he had originally. I am 9 years older than my husband but would be allowed to drive the MH! So beware that your French licence has all the items that your UK one had!


  • Gordon Wilson
    2021-11-23 06:49:57
    Gordon Wilson
    My wife is American but has lived in the UK for 30 years and has a UK driving license. We have tried three times to exchange it for a French one but because my wife has an American passport and British license the authorities can't or won't do it. It seems their bureaucracy cannot cope with such! Or perhaps the young lady who dealt with us was no wiser than we were regarding the rules! Whatever the case, it seems ridiculous that my wife will no longer be able to drive from April.


    • Zoë Smith
      2021-12-09 12:54:38
      Zoë Smith
      Hi Gordon, This is an interesting case that I haven't come across before. Being as the licence was issued in the UK, it would appear that you would fall under the same rules as any British licence holder. However, I know French administration can be very difficult in situations where the paperwork doesn't 'match up' and I imagine that this is the problem here. Have you tried speaking to a different representative, who might be better placed to advise you? It would be a good idea to take along all original documentation that you have including the paper counterpart to your licence and proof of your residency in the UK - as a general rule of thumb in France, I find paperwork will often be accepted if they have official documents to cover every aspect of the anomaly (which in your case is the fact that your ID and licence don't match!). Also, is your British licence due to expire? It is not currently possible to exchange a British licence unless it was issued after January 2021 or is due to run out. If it is, be sure not to let the date pass before applying as it may be much more difficult (or even impossible) once the licence has run out. I hope this helps, please do let us know how you get on.