Want to know how to get a French permis de conduire? It may depend on whether you have a Driving Licence or a Driver’s License! Read more in this comprehensive guide for English speakers on how to get a French driver’s license (permis de conduire).
Driving Licence or Driver’s License?
I highlight this tiny difference as an introduction to a much bigger one! Those of us who own a driving licence (UK/EU), may swap it out for a French licence (permis de conduire)…as long as it is ‘clean’. For those holding a driver’s license (US/CAN), it’s not always as easy: Some states/provinces operate a licence exchange program with France. However, those of you from non-exchange states will only be able to drive in France with your current licenses for one year, after which you will need to take the French driving test to get a valid permis in France.
(I’m a Brit writing this, so I’m going with the UK spelling of licence for this article.)
Australian and New Zealand Driver’s Licences & South African Driving Licences
As the spelling takes the middle ground, so do the exchange rules – these licences are exchangeable but only within a year of your OFII-stamped arrival in France.
Here is the list of all countries, including states and provinces, with a French driving licence exchange agreement in place.
US and Canadian licence-holders
If your state or province isn’t on the exchangeable list, and you haven’t moved to France yet, I know what you are thinking. What if I move to a state or province with an exchange program, get a licence from there, then move to France? Genius! Only there’s a snag. You must prove you’ve lived in that state/province for at least 6 months before arriving in France.
But there’s an additional warning for Canadian licence-holders. Canadians have a year to exchange their licence if their issuing province has an exchange program with France. If the issuing state is not in the exchange list, you have only THREE MONTHS to register with a French driving school and subsequently take the French two-part driving test.
French Driving Schools
The driving test is in French and consists of:
- a written theory test (‘le code’) and
- a practical driving test.
You can find French driving schools who offer English-language driving courses, although mostly in urban areas. There is also English-language support material available to buy online for the theory portion. Feel free to contact Renestance for driving schools and resources in English.
You need a clean licence to exchange
Remember any licence you wish to exchange should be clean; that is, free of any penalties, endorsements or suspensions. To prove this, you need to submit a document provided by the licence-issuing body in your home country. These documents must be under three months old at the time of exchange request.
UK Case study: You have an old-style UK paper licence which has expired points still showing on it. To prove that your licence is now free of endorsements, you should ask the DVLA to send you a Certificate of Entitlement (request by phone, post or online).
US Case study: You have had a Maryland licence since you were 16 and have now decided to retire in the Mediterranean sun. Contact the Motor Vehicle Administration in Maryland and order an original of your Certified Driving Record online.
If I can exchange my licence, how do I do this?
The procedure to exchange European-issued licences is different to that of non-EU licences. The French government has recently changed the system, so now you can only exchange a European licence by sending the application by post to a special processing center in Nantes. Then…
- Nantes will verify that your licence is valid for exchange, send you a provisional French driving licence and ask you to send in your original licence.
- In due course, you will then receive your definitive French licence.
- Note: At the time of writing, the wait for the definitive licence is about one year from the date of the application.
- Warning: You may have trouble renting a car with the provisional licence.
If you hold a non-European passport and have a non-European licence, in principle, the request should be handed-in at your préfecture by appointment. However, each préfecture has different rules, and some allow you to drop your paperwork off for processing. Also, there may be a cost to exchange your licence, but this also varies by préfecture.
If you have an EU passport and a non-EU driving licence, you need to provide the same documents as those required for a non-EU passport-holder, but you can post them to the processing centre in Nantes.
Here’s a simple table to clarify.
|Passport||Driving Licence||Application method|
|Non-EU||Non-EU||Appointment at préfecture|
Exception for Paris residents who wish to exchange any type of foreign licence. This should be done by post.
When should I apply?
You need to supply proof of at least six months of French residency, so you cannot apply before then. As an EU-licence holder, you are not obliged to exchange your licence as long as you keep your (driving) nose out of trouble, as stipulated here: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1758.
Note: in France, you start with 12 points and they take them off as you commit infractions. You lose your right to drive when you reach zero.
However, with Brexit looming, we do recommend exchanging a UK licence sooner rather than later. Non-Eu licence holders should apply as soon as possible after six months’ residency in France.
You may have heard other foreigners say they’ve driven for years in France on their old licence. However, see the two points below for incidences where the repercussions for not having exchanged your licence can lead to problems:
Scary point for EU licence holders! If you commit an infraction that incurs a fine whilst driving in France, you are legally obliged to exchange your licence within the next 12 months. If you do not, and you try make the exchange more than a year after your infraction, you will be denied a licence and must take the driving test in France (yes, in French!).
Warning! If you commit an infraction or have an accident, and your driving licence is not valid in France, your car insurance will not cover anything.
And what if I want to continue my rights to drive a 16-wheeler?
For those wishing to exchange a licence for driving a vehicle other than a car or motorbike, such as heavy goods vehicles or larger passenger vehicles, or for towing over 3.5 tonnes, for example, you will need to pass a medical examination. Extra forms need to be completed and after your appointment with a doctor chosen from a dedicated list, you will continue your application paperwork as per the formalities for your country’s licence exchange procedure.
And if I need help?
We can guide you through the process step-by-step, completing forms for you, advising which documents you need and which rules apply to your case.
Also, after the successful release of our Health ebooks, we are now working on our Driving ebook package. Watch this space or let us know if you are interested in pre-ordering. The Driving ebook pack will include ebooks on:
- Exchangeable Driving Licences
- Non-Exchangeable Driving Licences (including French driving test information)
- Importing a Vehicle to France
- Driving in France
- Renting or Leasing a Vehicle in France
- Buying a Vehicle in France
- Glossary of Driving Terms.
Note that all information is correct at the time of going to press, however these procedures are susceptible to continuous change. To be sure, contact us for absolute up-to-date information if you wish to obtain a French driving licence.
If you need a hand applying for your French driving licence, whether that be through exchange or taking a French test, Renestance can guide you through the process.
More information for UK licence holders – DVLA: https://www.gov.uk/contact-the-dvla/y/driving-licences-and-applications
More information for Australian license holders: http://france.embassy.gov.au/pari/driving.html
Further information from the New Zealand Embassy: https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/countries-and-regions/europe/france/new-zealand-embassy/living-in-france/drivers-licence/
More information on the IDP for South African license holders: https://www.aa.co.za/products/membership/international-driving-permit
For further information about provinces with three months’ driving validity see this link from the Canadian Embassy in France: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france/consular_services_consulaires/driving_other-prov-conduire_autre.aspx?lang=eng
For information from the Canadian Embassy in France on licenses with a year’s validity: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france/consular_services_consulaires/driving_other-conduire_autre.aspx?lang=eng
Nicole is a bilingual Brit from Cambridge who has been living in the Languedoc since 2002 and is one of the first Renestance's Consultants. She knows how to get things done and can find the key contacts, having worked in real estate, managed two businesses of her own, and started a large social group for English-speakers in the area.
All articles by: Nicole Hammond
Ian Thomason 2018-12-17 at 13:28
Are the forms for exchanging a UK driving licence for a French one available from La Poste or somewhere? One of the forms must be in colour and my printer does not produce a very legible version.
Nicole Hammondon 2019-01-03 at 14:28
Hi Ian – you should be able to pick up the forms from your local préfecture or sous-préfecture. It’s also worth asking in your mairie as they may well print the off for you. If you have any difficulties, we do offer this service and formfill for you, which we usually email back to the clients to sign, but we could easily print them and pop them in the post to you instead. Good luck! Best, Nicole
Dawn ARMSTRONGon 2019-01-14 at 16:42
Hi, I want to exchange my UK driving license for a French one. However, I have misplaced the photocard. I’ve been searching for days and now I’m panicking. Can you advise be please?
Nicole Hammondon 2019-01-15 at 17:02
Hi Dawn – first question is, do you have your paper counterpart? You can use this, along with your Certificate of Entitlement, downloaded from the DVLA, to apply. If yo have neither then you’ll need to call the DVLA, but will need an existing, valid UK address to be able to order a whole new, replacement licence. They won’t send to non-residents. If you really can’t find it, and can’t order a new one, you may have to start from scratch and take your driving test in France yikes!)… Hope you have the paper part and/or an address in the UK! Best of luck, Nicole
I always curious to know more about how we can enhance our skill, how we can improve our portfolio to add some attractive certificate. I got some valuable points through this blog.
Hi Nova Driving School – glad you liked the blog and that we’ve given you some ideas! Happy motoring and teaching in Vancouver (lovely site, btw!)… Best, Nicole
Jonathan Morganon 2019-01-22 at 15:18
We have recently applied for residency in France (Dec 2018). We understand that we have to apply for a French driving licence (among other things). We have had a property here in France for some years…and over that time we have (between us and our visiting sons) had numerous speeding fines (all paid of course). When we apply for a licence, will those previous points be deducted from my licence upon issue?…My anxiety is that as registered keeper of the car, all the fines were made out in my name (even though I was always the driver)?
Hi Jonathon – There is not a lot of official information out there, but having researched this, the various blogs seem to anecdotally state that points are associated with the registration plate of the vehicle, so if you exchange to a French licence, they will appear on the licence of the person the vehicle is registered to. Hope that helps! Best, Nicole
Jeannie Tabaillouxon 2019-02-19 at 16:00
My son Joseph received his Illinois drivers license 18 months ago.
Since he has double nationality French/USA, he applied to exchange his Illinois permit for a French permis de conduire.
We received a temporary drivers license from Nantes but they have now said we have to prove that he has lived in the US for one year. I understand that proof of residence is not needed if he is bi-national. Can you confirm this information?
Thank you for your response,
Hi Jeannie – Having bi-nationality does not exclude one from having to prove residency for at least 6 months (might be one year in your case because your son is a young driver?) in the state or country from where the licence one wishes to exchange was issued, I’m afraid.
Julia Bradleyon 2019-02-24 at 23:20
I am looking into how to exchange my driving licence for a French one. Please could you tell me how to go about obtaining a certificate of entitlement from the DVLA. Is it possible to download one or have one sent by email?
Hi Julia – I would hold tight for now as the licence issuing authority in Nantes is not exchanging UK licences in the lead up to Brexit. We’ll have more news in after then!
Harryon 2019-03-01 at 22:56
As a Brit driving in France on a UK licence for the last fifteen years, I took the government advice regarding Brexit and applied to change it for a French one. After two months they sent my application back with a latter saying there was no need to change it, even in the case of a no deal Brexit. I guess they are so far behind in Nantes (8-12 months according to estimates), that they are now blanket refusing all licence requests from Brits in a bid to catch up.
Hi Harry – yes – you are right – they have just started sending this letter out. We recommend holding tight until after B-Day to see what the decision is in the longer term.
Kamon 2019-05-24 at 12:34
Good day, Please I want to ask a question. My husband is british now living and working in france for 4years. He has a uk provisional drivers licence. Please is it possible to exchange this here in france. Thank you
Hi Kam – As a UK provisional licence is simply an age-related formality, ie you have the right to apply for a provisional licence when you are 17, giving you the right to drive accompanied until you pass your actual driving test, this is not transferable to another country’s system. Your husband will need to start the driving licence process from the beginning here in France, I’m afraid. There are English-language aids to the theory part and you can hunt around for a bilingual instructor, depending on where you live in France. Let me know if you have any questions. Best, Nicole
Dianeon 2019-09-06 at 20:41
Dear Nicole, I still have my French Driver License since 1986. I’m a dual French & US citizen and now plan to retire in France. Do I need to replace my french Driver License while living there? Thank you. Diane.
Hi Diane, French driver’s licenses don’t expire, so as long as you still have it, you should be able to use it. Lucky!
Cecile Marieon 2019-09-24 at 12:47
Nicole, please update this information. The link stating one can go to their local police to exchange a license is out of date. That link is from 2007. As of 2017, all DL exchanges are mailed to Nantes.http://www.prefectures-regions.gouv.fr/pays-de-la-loire/Actualites/Permis-internationaux-et-echanges-de-permis-etrangers-comment-faire