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HEALTH

Reader Question: can I bring medication into France?

If you’re heading to France and need to bring medication with you, there are things you need to know.

Reader Question: can I bring medication into France?
(Photo: Loic Venance / AFP)

Reader question: What are the rules on bringing prescription medication with me into France? Do I need extra paperwork at the border? Are there any banned medications?

First the good news. Yes, you can bring medication with you to France – but there are a number of things to consider, including where you’re coming from.

The go-to advice for bringing prescription medication to France from any other country is to bring your prescription as well. This helps prove to customs officials – and anyone else with the authority to ask – that the medicine is for your use and has been prescribed by a medical professional.

Do this even if you are simply heading to France on a short holiday. It may avoid awkward questions at the border.

The amount of non-narcotic and non-psychotropic medication that can be brought to France from another country must, according to French customs officials, “be compatible with personal therapeutic use for the length of treatment given on the prescription or, where there is none, treatment for three months under normal conditions of use”.

Individuals may also bring in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances for their own use if they carry them personally (ie they cannot be sent by mail or brought for you by another person).

Quantities must be compatible with personal therapeutic use for the length of treatment given on the prescription or, where there is none, treatment for one month under normal conditions of use.

However, due to differences in medical regulations and licensing, there are some differences depending on where you are travelling from.

EU to France

Anyone coming from another EU country must be able to produce the original prescription.

UK to France

As well as the rules on the French side about the need to produce a valid prescription on request, and the limits on drug amounts, be aware that UK GPs in most circumstances cannot prescribe more than three months of medical supplies at any single time. 

For anyone coming for a short holiday, this won’t be an issue but if you’re planning to stay longer, you need to consider this. 

French pharmacists can fill out a UK prescription, or one from any non-EU nation, if the prescription “appears authentic and [is] understandable”.

The UK has not yet diverged from EU standards on the majority of medicines, so it should be fairly easy to get your prescription filled in France, even if the brand names of the drugs may be different. However this directive basically leaves the decision on whether to fill the prescription in the hands of the pharmacist.

It may be easier for those staying in France for long periods to book an appointment with a French GP. 

As with a pharmacist, a GP may refuse to prescribe certain medications, or may offer alternatives to the drugs prescribed by UK-based doctors. Be aware that medical advice may be different in France, but in general the health system is very good so you’re unlikely to end up on a worse treatment regime (and could even end up on a better one). 

US to France

The American CDC recommends that travellers from the US:

  • Keep medicines in their original, labelled containers. Ensure they are clearly labelled with your full name, healthcare provider’s name, generic and brand name, and exact dosage.
  • Bring copies of all written prescriptions, including the generic names for medicines. 
  • Ask your prescribing health care provider for a note if you use controlled substances, or injectable medicines, such as EpiPens.

Be aware, not all drugs available in the US are legal in France – such as certain pain medication. You will be able to use medicines you bring with you, as long as you carry a supporting prescription, but will not be able to renew that prescription in France. 

So if you are coming to France for an extended period, and require specific medication that is not available here, you need to make arrangements with your doctor well in advance of your trip, and you will need to have and be able to produce appropriate documentation upon request.

As mentioned above, exemptions for bringing your own medication do not extend to medication sent by mail – either ordered online or posted by a friend back in the US. While not all parcels are routinely opened, be aware that sending prescription medication by mail is not allowed, and there is no guarantee that your parcel will get to you. 

Member comments

  1. The advice to carry one’s prescription seems overly optimistic, I haven’t had a physical prescription in years, it’s all transmitted electronically from doctor to pharmacy or from pharmacy to pharmacy.

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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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