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EDUCATION

What changes about life in France in September 2020?

Masks and other Covid-19 rules will be key in the month to come, but there will also be also strikes and price changes to look out for.

What changes about life in France in September 2020?
All photos: AFP

La rentrée

September 1st is the day some 12 million school pupils will return to classrooms across France for what's known in French as la rentrée scolaire (to read more about the cultural phenomenon that is la rentrée, click here).

Reopening schools will be different this year, especially seeing as teachers and pupils over 11 years old (in secondary and high school) will be masked. We took a look at both the general changes in schools in France this September and the anti-coronavirus health plan set in place.

Masks become compulsory in the workplace

September is also when many people return to work after a summer holiday. This year, anyone working in a shared indoor workplace will need to wear a mask from September 1st. We have explained the rules on wearing masks in workplaces here.

No large gatherings yet

Gatherings of more than 5,000 people were supposed to be allowed as of August 15th, but a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases in France saw the government push back the date to October.

Additional rules limiting gatherings in public can be made in France's 21 “red zones”, which have been identified as particularly vulnerable due to the high number of cases confirmed in the area.

In Bouches-du-Rhône, the Marseille area, local authorities banned public gatherings of more than 10 people after a Covid-19 spike last week.

Strikes are back

The 5,000 person-limit on does not affect demos, and the hardline worker's union CGT has called on people to take to the streets across the country on Thursday, September 17th, in a what a “general strike” to “condemn the government's social policies,” the union wrote in a statement.

Worker's unions FSU and Solidaires have declared their support of the protest, which could mean some schools or public transport will be affected.

.. and so are the 'yellow vests'

The 'yellow vest' movement, which saw its heyday in the winter of 2018/2019 when thousands of protesters took to the streets across France to protest the government's policies, has been out of the public eye for quite a while.

On September 12th, the movement will try and make a comeback.

One of the social movement's main public figures, Jérôme Rodrigues, told Slate that “Covid has been our best ally,” by spotlighting inequalities and proving the 'yellow vest's' claims on the “degrading of the health system and the limits of the capitalist system.”

Previous attempts to reignite the movement have resulted only in sparse numbers.

.. and hunting season

This is the month the French hunting season kicks off, which means that people living in rural areas do well to watch out for people with guns.

READ ALSO: How to get through the hunting season in France without being shot

In most areas, the season begins in mid September and lasts until sometime in February. The rules vary however so check the French National Federation of Hunter's website for details about your area.

Cigarette prices increase (but not all of them)

Continuing the government’s aim to reach a goal of an average price of €10 for a pack of cigarettes in France before the end of the year, some brands will see the price of their 20-packs increase by €0.10 in September, from €9.20 to €9.30. A few packs currently set at €9.60 will on the contrary decrease to €9.40.

Gas prices increase (slightly)

Gas prices in France will rise for the second month in a row, following months of steady decrease. On September 1st French households will see a slight price hike of 0.6 percent on average, according to French utility multinational Engie.

The increase will be 0.2 percent for households depending on gas for cooking, 0.7 percent for those using gas for heating, and 0.4 percent for homes using gas for both purposes.

Partial unemployment benefits scheme narrows

France’s chômage partiel (partial unemployment) furloughing scheme, which was ramped up in March to avoid mass layoffs during the nationwide lockdown, will continue to be gradually phased out.

Domestic workers working for private employers – cleaners, gardeners, carpenters, babysitters, teaching assistants – will no longer be able to access the scheme as of September 1st, according to a decree published in the French online legal portal Journal Officiel. The scheme will be maintained in French overseas territories of French Guinea and Mayotte for these workers until the end of the health state of emergency (a date not yet set).

France will divide its furloughing scheme in two in October and continue cut down on the financial support in the months to come.

READ MORE: What you need to know about France's crisis unemployment scheme

New 'junior' transport pass children in Paris

Children aged between 4 and 11 in the greater Paris region Ile-de-France will, as of September 1st, be able to travel on a new 'junior pass'. The pass will cost €24 and can be used on all types of public transport in the region.

Cannabis smokers face €200 fine

As of September 1st, a person caught with less than 10 grammes of cocaine or 100 grammes of cannabis will be fined €200 instead of being arrested – if they admit to the offense and are more than 18 years old. This new rule has been tested in several French cities already, including Rennes, Lille and Marseille, and will now be made national. 

Using narcotics in France is illegal as of a 1970 law and offenders face a fine of €3,750 and up to one year in prison, but this law is rarely enforced because of all the administrative work required. The goal of the new law is to make it easier for police to sanction cannabis smokers and cocaine users without going through all the administrative work currently in place. 

If the fine is paid before 15 days it can drop to €150, and if paid later it can increase up to €450 .

 

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For members

DRIVING

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

If you're living in France you may eventually need to swap your driving licence for a French one - but how long you have to make the swap and exactly how you do it depends on where your licence was issued. Here's the low-down.

Reader question: Do I have to swap my driving licence in France?

First things first, how long are you staying in France?

Holiday driving

If you’re just in France for a short period, such as for a holiday, you will usually be able to drive a vehicle using your usual driving licence.

You may also need an International Driving Permit – it’s basically a translation of a domestic driving licence that allows the holder to drive a private motor vehicle in any country or jurisdiction that recognises the document.

Check with driving authorities in your home country to see if you need one to drive in France. 

Drivers with European licences and UK and NI licence-holders are exempt from the International Driving Permit requirement.

French resident

So far, so simple. It starts to get a bit trickier if you plan to move to France for a longer period. Then, everything depends on the country in which your driving licence was issued (and not your nationality, in this case it’s all about where the licence was issued).

READ ALSO Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

If you hold a licence from an EU / EEA country

These are relatively straightforward. Because of freedom of movement rules within the EU full driving licences from Member States are valid in France. EEA country licences have the same status.

Holders of an EU/EEA driver’s licence are not required to exchange their foreign licence for a French one as long as they have not picked up any points on their licence through committing traffic offences such as speeding.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you move to France permanently, you may, however, change your licence for a French one, by following this procedure.

What if you’re from the UK?

For a while, official advice left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether

But – Good News! – British and French authorities announced in June 2021 that a reciprocal agreement had been reached that allows people who live in France to drive on a UK or NI licence that was issued before January 1st, 2021 to continue using them.

They only need to exchange when their photocard or actual licence runs out. You can apply to exchange your licence for a French one once you get within six months of the expiry date of either the licence or the photocard, whichever is first.

You may also be ordered to exchange your licence if you commit certain traffic offences.

Anyone whose licence was issued after January 1st, 2021, will need to exchange it for a French one within one year of moving to France. 

Full details on the rules and how to do the exchange are available here

Non-European licences

Anyone who holds a non-European driving licence may drive in France for a year after their legal residence in France is confirmed on their original licence. After that, if they stay in France any longer, they should apply for a French driving licence.

This is where things get a little tricky. If the state that issued the non-European licence has signed a bilateral agreement with France, the exchange is relatively straightforward. It involves applying to the French driving licence agency ANTS and providing them with all the necessary information.

READ ALSO Grace period for fines over France’s new law on winter tyres

If, however, the driver passed their test in a country that does not have such an agreement in place, then they will have to take a French driving test before they can legally continue driving in France.

The French government has a list of countries that have a swap rule with France listed here (pdf) and on its Welcome to France website for people looking to move to the country.

You can find the online portal to make the swap here.

US and Canadian licences

If you have an American or Canadian licence things are even more complicated, because it depends on the state that your licence was issued in. 

The following US States have licence swap agreements with France.

  • Delaware*,  Maryland*, Ohio*, Pennsylvania**, Virginia*, South Carolina, Massachusetts,  New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin*, Arkansas*, Oklahoma*, Texas*, Colorado*, Florida**, Connecticut**

* Swap for Permis B licences in France,
** Swap for Permis A and/or B licences in France
see below for what this means

Drivers with licences from States not listed above cannot simply swap their licence, instead they have to take a French driving test within a year of moving to France, or stop driving.

The following Canadian provinces have licence swap agreements with France:

  • Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland et Labrador, Québec, Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia

Only New Brunswick offers a straight like-for-like swap. All the others swap full Canadian licences for French B permits. Drivers with licences issued from other provinces will have to pass a French driving test before they can hold a French driving licence.

Permis A, Permis B

The Permis A French licence is basically for motorbikes. Holders can ride two- or three-wheeled vehicles, with or without a sidecar.

The Permis B French driving licence allows holders to drive a vehicle with a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes, which seats no more than nine people. This includes standard passenger cars, people carriers and minibuses.

READ ALSO What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

What else you need to know

First things first. Unlike numerous other nations, including the UK, having points on your licence in France is a good thing. 

Full, ‘clean’ French licences have 12 points, with motorists losing points if they are guilty of motoring offences.

Anyone who has been driving for more than three years, and who exchanges a full, clean licence in France will, therefore, receive a French licence with 12 points. 

READ ALSO COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Provisional French licences – issued to motorists who passed their tests within the past three years – are loaded with six points, rising to the full 12 after three years of ‘clean’ driving here.

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