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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?
You may need to take a driving test to get your hands on a French driving licence (Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

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.

It essentially created a phased system where people only need to exchange when their photocard or actual licence runs out, whichever comes first – although you apply to make the exchange once you get within six months of the expiry date.

If you commit certain traffic offences or if your licence is lost or stolen you may need to exchange earlier.

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. 

You can find full details on the rules and how to do the exchange 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.

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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.

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.

Member comments

  1. Please note, if you are a citizen of an EU country other than France itself, you need to exchange your licence within 18 months of settling in France. If you are a citizen of any country other than the UK, but hold a UK drivers licence, you need to provide evidence that you were resident in the UK at the time your licence was issued (this can be tricky if it was a very very very long time ago…so be warned).

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