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LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?

If you spend only part of your time in France but don’t officially reside in the country, what are the rules regarding vehicle ownership? Can second home owners buy a car for the time they spend here?

Reader question: Can I buy a car in France if I’m not a resident?
Photo: Alexis AMZ DA CRUZ / Unsplash

Whether you actually need a car in France depends a lot on where you live. Larger towns and cities increasingly have public transport and cycling and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that means owning a car is not always necessary.

But, for those who live in rural areas, owning a car is vital, while even in well-served towns and cities, a car remains a necessity for many people.

But what happens if you’re a second home owner who is a non-resident in France? Can you buy and own a vehicle here?

The short answer is: Yes, you can. But – there’s always a but – you need to be aware of certain issues.

Buying a car

The most straightforward way to own a car in France is to buy one here. That way, it will come with the necessary registration documents and the car will already be registered in France.

You still need to change the details on the vehicle’s certificat d’immatriculation – informally known as the carte grise – to show that you are the registered owner.

Car dealers will usually arrange the paperwork, possibly for a fee, with your input limited to signing the right bits of paper. You will need to provide valid ID (such as a passport) and proof of address in France that the car will be registered to.

To do this you will need to provide documentation that includes your full name and address.

Any of these are accepted:

  • The title deed to the home if you are the owner;
  • A rent receipt in your name if you are a tenant;
  • A recent bill for the taxe d’habitation or local tax that is less than six months old;
  • A telephone, gas or electricity bill (water bills and mobile phone bills may not be accepted)
  • A certificate of insurance of the home

If you’re buying privately, however, you’ll need to sort out all the paperwork yourself. 

The registration process is these days entirely online at the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS) website.

READ ALSO Second home owners in France: Can I register a car at my French address?

Financing

If you have the funds to buy the vehicle outright, you’ll have no problems – simply hand over the cheque at the appropriate time. It will be harder, however, to access financing for your vehicle if you’re not permanently resident in France.

READ ALSO How to get financial help in France to buy an electric car

Second-hand vehicles

If the vehicle you want to buy is more than 4 years old you will also need: a valid roadworthiness inspection – known as a contrôle technique (CT), unless the vehicle is exempt from it. 

The CT must be less than 6 months old on the day of the registration request (2 months if it’s a counter-visit to confirm that defective points detected during an initial test have been repaired). 

If this deadline is exceeded, you will have to pay for a new test, and sort out any defects at your own expense.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French ‘contrôle technique’ 

Insurance

Any vehicle permanently kept in France must be insured in France. Be aware that any vehicle brought permanently into France from another country must – legally – be registered with French authorities otherwise owners risk a fine of up to €750.

This is especially important for Britons after Brexit. French insurers will no longer insure a car registered in the UK. And British insurers will not insure cars registered outside Britain. Nor will British insurers insure vehicles of permanent residents in France. 

Remember also, that DVLA rules mean cars are considered exported if they have been taken out of the country for more than 12 months – and they, then, cannot remain on UK plates.

READ ALSO Seven need-to-know tips for cutting the cost of car insurance in France

Here, the vehicle is insured, rather than the driver, and it must always be covered. You can cut the cost of insuring your vehicle in France by reducing the level of coverage temporarily during periods you’re not in the country. 

But you will have to be aware of maintenance issues caused by leaving your car unused for any length of time.

CTs and the art of motorcar maintenance

Speaking of maintenance, French cars that are four years old or more must undergo a contrôle technique road-worthiness test every two years. 

These are carried out at dedicated test centres in towns and cities across France, and it is your responsibility to ensure your car is roadworthy and tested so it can be used on French roads. Proof of testing is fixed to the windscreens of tested vehicles so that officials can check easily.

Crit’Air

The Crit’Air system was introduced in 2017 and assigns a number to each vehicle based on how much they pollute, so you will need to apply for a number to stick on your windshield. 

READ ALSO How France’s Crit’Air vehicle sticker system is taking over the country

In the many towns and some entire departments, the sticker is a requirement year round, even if they are only used to ban the most polluting vehicles during spikes in air pollution. Basically, it’s a good idea to have one just in case you travel in or through those places that require them.

Crit’Air stickers are obligatory in Paris, Grenoble, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Marseille.

READ ALSO By country: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?

Importing a car

You can import your car from another country, if you wish. But you will need to deal with additional paperwork.

On the British side, you will need to declare that you are exporting via National Export System. To do this, you must get an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number – but you can only obtain such a number if you are only moving goods for personal use (if you are simply bringing a car for yourself).

You will also need access to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) platform – again this is only possible for traders. If you fail to declare your export officially, border officials may block you from entering France with the vehicle. 

On the French side, you will need a 846A certificate to be able to drive your imported car legally – or to eventually sell it in France. 

READ ALSO Reader question: How can I import a car from the UK to France?

Obtaining such a certificate is no easy feat. But it can be done…

READ ALSO ‘Be prepared to be patient’ – Registering your British car in France after Brexit

You cannot keep a foreign-bought vehicle registered in two countries. Part of the process of switching to French plates is to inform authorities in the second country that it has been exported.

Member comments

  1. This article seems to contradict much of what is written elsewhere about non-residents owning and driving cars in France. In short, this article states it is possible and legal but I have read other articles (not in the Local) which state it is not. Any assistance or comments as to why there are such opposing views would be very welcome!

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DRIVING

When – and where – to avoid driving on France’s roads this summer

Summer in France means busy roads especially on certain days throughout July and August. Here's a guide of when you might want to avoid driving and which roads you should try to steer clear of on those days.

When - and where - to avoid driving on France's roads this summer

In France, the summer holidays are nigh – schools break up for the grandes vacances on Thursday, July 7th – which means the roads will get busy in the days and weeks to come as people escape to the seaside by the carload.

And with flight cancellations, strikes and other disruptions expected at French and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many are opting to drive to their holiday destinations despite the cost of petrol.

READ ALSO Planes, trains and roads: France’s timetable for 2022 summer strikes

Each year, France’s roads watchdog Bison Futé publishes a road traffic calendar, which lists the times of the year when travel can be particularly bad. Unsurprisingly, the summer holidays are among the heaviest travel periods, as French and foreign holidaymakers head for the sun.

It operates four levels of travel status, which are colour-coded.

Image: Bison Futé

The standard days, with ‘normal’ traffic are in coded green, meaning that circulation is running as expected. There may be a few jams on certain stretches, notably around cities, but nothing out of the ordinary. Higher traffic days are in orange.  Days with very high traffic volumes are listed in red, while extremely traffic volumes are listed in black. 

On ‘black travel’ days, Bison Futé has calculated that the combined length of all traffic jams on France’s roads could stretch a total of more than 1,000km – or the length of the country from north to south.

We’ll issue regular travel updates, like this one, throughout the summer. But for July and August, the roads monitor forecasts five black travel days, on July 9th, 23rd, and 30th, and August 6th and 13th – all Saturdays.

Only one of those days – July 30th – is graded ‘black’ for the whole of the country. That day is the notorious “chassé croisé” when traditional July holidaymakers head home, and the first of the August breakers set off on their holidays.

READ ALSO Juilletistes vs Aoûtiens: Do France’s two summer holiday tribes still exist?

Image: Bison Futé

The other ‘black days’ are for certain areas, identified by number according to the geographical area where traffic will be heaviest. The areas correspond to the numbers shown on the following graphic.

Image: Bison Futé

The busiest routes of the summer are those that lead to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean – notably the southwest of the country, though Brittany and Normandy are also always popular. Bison Futé even highlights the direction of travel in which traffic will be heaviest – using Départs to describe travel away from main cities, such as Paris, to popular resorts, and Retours for travel away from resorts and back to the cities.

So, on July 30th, the heaviest traffic will be heading to holiday resorts, hence the black ‘extremely difficult’ code. Travel back to the cities in comparison will be classed as ‘red’ – merely ‘very difficult’.

Any route will get busy as it passes large towns or major cities, and at the toll booth entry and exit points of France’s motorways.

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

Delaying your departure outside peak periods is frequently the best solution, and Bison Futé offers daily updates on the travel situation on arterial routes across France, including travel times to avoid.

These are consistently difficult stretches of French roads in the summer, but it depends on which way the traffic is heading – whether people are leaving the big cities or returning to them after holiday.

  • The A7 particularly between Vienne and Valence and the Fourvière tunnel in Lyon
  • The A7-A8 between Salon de Provence and Saint-Maximin – where two busy motorways collide
  • The A10 around Tours from Paris to Bordeaux, and the Bordeaux ringroad
  • The A9 between Nîmes and Montpellier, and between Narbonne and Perpignan
  • The A50-A55 around Marseille
  • The A8 heading to Monaco from Nice. The La Turbie toll area is a recurring nightmare for motorists
  • The A10-A71 link between Orléans and Vierzon
  • The A13-A84 between Rouen and Caen
  • The A6 and A10 motorways leading in and out of Paris  

Avoid these routes if you can, especially at peak travel times, for a holiday roadtrip that’s less fraught. For example, instead of braving the A10 around Tours, perhaps consider taking the A71, A20 and A89 to bypass the area altogether.

And the most obvious plan to escape the worst of the traffic – don’t travel on a weekend if you don’t need to.

READ ALSO ‘Something always goes wrong’: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

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