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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: What Brits in France need to do with their UK driving licences

After a painful four-year saga there is now a process in place for holders of UK driving licences who live in France. Here's how the new rules work and what you need to do.

EXPLAINED: What Brits in France need to do with their UK driving licences
Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

There have been a lot of twists and turns on this issue since the 2016 Brexit referendum, with shifting official advice that left many in limbo and others stranded without a licence altogether. However, now a deal has been agreed between France and the UK on licences.

Announcing this on Friday, a statement from the French Interior Ministry said: “Following the implementation of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union (EU) known as Brexit, the French and British authorities have reached an agreement on the continued mutual recognition of driving licences which will come into effect from Monday, June 28th 2021”. 

The new conditions have also been updated on the Public Services website.

Who?

This refers to holders of UK driving licences – regardless of their nationality – who live in France. British tourists and visitors are not affected and can continue to drive on their UK licence while in France and do not need an International Driver’s Permit.

Unlike with immigration rules, the date that you moved to France does not matter, this applies to all UK licence holders.

Because this is a reciprocal agreement, the same conditions apply to residents in the UK who have a French licence.

What?

The Interior Ministry summarises: “In concrete terms, British licence holders living in France and French licence holders living in the UK can continue to drive with their original valid licence.

“They do not need to apply for an exchange for the licence of the country of residence, except when the validity date of the original licence has expired or in the event of loss or theft of that licence.” 

The new rules divide licence-holders into two groups – those whose licences were issued before January 1st, 2021, and those whose licences were issued after that (presumably a much smaller group).

Licence issued before January 1st, 2021 – keep driving on your UK licence for now. You only need to swap once the licence itself or the photocard expires, whichever comes first.

Standard UK licences expire once the holder reaches 70, although those with certain medical conditions need to renew more regularly. However, if you have a photocard licence that will have an expiry date on it – usually in category 4b or column 11 on the card.

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.

Important – if your licence has more than six months to go until it expires, do not submit it for exchange, your application will be rejected.

Licence issued after January 1st, 2021 – you will need to exchange your licence for a French one within one year of moving to France. If you are a third country national (including UK citizens) this is dated from when you receive your residency permit. If you are an EU citizen it dates from your arrival date in France.

How?

For those who do need to swap, this is done via an online portal, which opened to UK licence holders on June 28th.

In order to do the swap, you will need;

  • A Certificate of Entitlement from the DVLA in the UK. This needs to be no more than 3 months old, so don’t ask for this until you are ready to apply
  • Proof of address no more than six months old (eg utility bills)
  • Current licence
  • Proof of ID
  • Proof of right to residence in France if applicable (eg carte de séjour) or proof of your arrival date in France
  • Birth certificate – if the name on your licence is not the same as on your passport, you will need to provide a copy of your full birth certificate (including parents’ names)
  • Photos – these must be taken in a government-approved photo booth or via the app.

You will also need to create an account on the government’s ANTS website in order to make your application.

You can find full details of how the application process works HERE or in the Facebook group Applying for French Driving Licence.

What if my licence has expired?

Because of the long impasse, some people have been left without a licence as it expired while they were waiting.

READ ALSO ‘I’m 8km from the nearest supermarket’ – The Brits in France stranded without driving licences

Normally, expired licences cannot be swapped, but – recognising the problems created for some – the French have agreed that expired UK licences can be exchange for French ones on the same online portal.

Once you reach the stage of submitting your old licence you will receive an Attestation de Depot de Permis de Conduire (certificate of deposit of driving licence) and you can use this to drive in France until your French licence arrives.

What if I already applied and my application is pending?

If you applied before applications were suspended in January 2021, and you have an application number, your application will continue to be processed only if you meet the new criteria above.

If not, your application will be rejected and you can apply again once you become eligible.

What if my licence is lost or stolen?

You can apply for an exchange.

Why?

This is a pretty generous deal, in fact more generous than the pre-Brexit rules, which required a licence exchange after a year in France.

French authorities haven’t said as much, but the reason for this seems to be simple pragmatism.

There are a lot of Brits in France — around 200,000 — and a substantial number of them have UK licences.

It was technically always the rule that Brits should swap their licence after a year of residency, but this rule was not widely publicised or enforced, so many people either didn’t know about it or never get round to it. There’s also a substantial cohort of people who moved after 2019 and have been blocked from exchanging by the ongoing post-Brexit wrangles.

That leaves a lot of licences to be swapped, all of which go through one office in Nantes, which processes all driving licence application swaps for all foreigners in France.

An initial call for Brits to swap their licences back in 2017 saw thousands of people apply, completely swamping the service and creating a months-long backlog which also affected applicants from other nationalities.

That backlog has now largely been cleared, and an online portal created, but there were fears that the same thing would happen again if the original deadline to swap of the end of 2021 was adhered to.

This new system appears to be a compromise that will see Brits swapping licences in phases as they expire, without overwhelming the systems in place. 

Member comments

  1. My first application of December 2020 when it was permitted to submit same was rejected by SMS in June 2022. Apparently the French regulations had changed, once again, and they were no longer accepting applications if UK licence had more than 6 months left. My licence expires on 23 January 2022 and a second application for made in July 2021. This also was rejected this morning by SMS & email without reason despite my submitting all required documentation. A search of my Ants account does no longer show my second application so I cannot ascertain motive for refusal. Ants do no longer answer calls or reply to messages. I decided in mu best French to write to Ants by, of course, recommende AR to explain my position. I am not optimistic of a reply ! However the overseas contact number works and I had a french friend call Ants from UK to explain my predicament. My applications were duly recorded on file and I was advised, for some unknown reason, to submit a third application after 2 January 2022 and I was very likely to receive an exchange French permis de conduire. Frankly it has been a nightmare and very stressful and I am not” out of woods yet”. I wonder if others here have had similar experience to me.

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DRIVING

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

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

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

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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