One of the most frequently debated subjects among the expatriate community in France is the thorny issue of whether or not driving licenses issued in one’s country of origin need to be exchanged. Or not…
For those settling in France and wondering whether or not they are entitled to drive with a foreign license, the short answer is yes. However, this is not the whole story so read on!
What is valid in France?
Any driving license issued by a European country is valid in France up until it expires. Exchanging the licence for a French one is not mandatory, you just need to get a French license if you're still a French resident when the license expires.
Should you have pass the driving test in the UK and got it before 2021, you have no need to exchange your licence and it will be recognised in France for as long as it is valid. British licences issued before 2021 are only required to be exchanged if the licence has expired or you are requesting an extension to your licence in the form of a new category such as towing or driving a large truck. You are also required to exchange it if the original is stolen, lost or damaged or if you commit a traffic offence in France that results in the loss of points, restriction, suspension or cancellation of the licence. When the license expires you need to apply for a French one if you're still a permanent resident in France.
Driving license exchange
If you first got your British licence in 2021 or later (which means you were born in 2004 or later), you are required to exchange it for a French one and this requirement to exchange licences also applies for those arriving from countries outside the European Union. In order to be eligible for exchange, your licence must comply with various conditions. For starters. It must be issued by a country which has an agreement with France stating that the type of licence concerned may be exchanged for a French one. In the case of the USA, different states will have different agreements and in some cases there is no agreement in place. In this scenario, it may be worth exchanging your US licence for one issued by a state which does have an exchange mechanism agreed with France (list of states that have agreements with France – up to date from December 2021). The licence must also be valid and issued by the country in which you had your normal residence before settling in France. It will either need to be written in French or accompanied by an official translation undertaken by a translator who is officially recognised in France – this is known as traducteur assermenté. If the translation has been done abroad it must be legalised or ‘Apostilled’; the Apostille must be provided by the government agency in the issuing country of the original document.
Passing the test in France
If you are unable to meet these conditions then your only option is to take a French driving test and needless to say, this is also subject to certain conditions! You will need to be normally resident in France and have a valid residence permit unless you are European or French. You will need to be the minimum age to drive vehicles of the equivalent category of your original licence in France and you must have been resident in the country of issue when you passed the test. You must meet any medical requirements noted on your licence and if necessary, have passed a medical stating that you are fit to drive. You must also not have had your licence suspended, withdrawn or canceled by the issuing country.
Whilst this may all sound horribly complicated, the vast majority of people who fall into the category of being required to change their licence, will be able to do so easily. All exchanges are now carried out entirely online via the government portal known as ANTS – Agence nationale des titres sécurisés – and the site specifies the exact documents required in each individual case, it's also available in English so make sure to have a look if it's your case: ANTS – Driving license exchange.
Catharine's top tip:
If you do need to exchange your licence, you only have one year to do it so it makes sense to start the process as soon as possible. Use the online portal (in French) to get started!