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Getting a French driver’s license

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

It is possible to drive in France with a driver's licence from another country; but, after a set time, drivers of certain nationalities are required to exchange their licence for one issued in France.

The good news is that France accepts driving licences issued by a big number of countries, which is true whether you are relocating to France permanently or simply traveling there temporarily. In addition, France has agreements with other countries that make it possible for certain drivers to readily swap their current licence for a driving licence in France.

The majority of non-French citizens are only permitted to use their home country's driver's licence in France for the first year of their residency unless they are from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA – EU plus Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein), or Switzerland. Those individuals are exempt from this rule. Before then, you are required to get a French licence in one of two ways: either by trading your existing licence from another country or passing the French driving exam.

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Who is permitted to drive in France?

After arriving in France, visitors who are at least 18 years old and who have a valid driver's licence are permitted to operate a motor vehicle on French roads for at least a year. Even if they have a licence to drive in their native country, drivers under the age of 18 are not permitted to operate a motor vehicle in France.

If you have a valid driver's licence issued by a country that is a member of the European Union, the European Economic Area, or Switzerland, you are permitted to use that licence in France forever.

Everyone else is required to get a French driver's licence within the first year of their arrival in France. After one year of residence in a state, a foreign driver's licence automatically becomes invalid.

If you plan on driving in France, you are also going to need to get auto insurance. You are required to have at least minimum coverage for third-party liability on your car, and you have the option to purchase extra insurance that protects you against loss, damage, and theft. Check out several insurance providers and comparison websites, such as the following to get a quote:

● Assu 2000

● BlaBlaCar Assurance

● Le Comparateur Assurance

EU/EEA citizens driving in France

If you hold a driver's licence that was obtained in a nation that is part of the EU or EEA, you are permitted to drive in France for an indefinite amount of time provided that you meet the following requirements:

● This driver's licence is legitimate and does not include any endorsements, limitations, or suspensions of any kind.

● You are older than the sixteen years required by French law to operate the vehicle category (e.g., 18 for cars)

● You are not breaking any medical or legal limitations that are in place (e.g., prescription glasses)

If you want to drive legally in France, you may get a French driver's licence by exchanging your current one. However, if you are found guilty of a driving crime that results in points being added to your licence, you will be required to replace it.

Non-EU/EEA citizens driving in France

You are exempt from the need to get a French driver's licence for a period of up to one year if you possess a full licence from a country outside of Europe. However, there are a few requirements that you need to fulfill:

● This driver's licence is legitimate and does not include any endorsements, limitations, or suspensions of any kind.

● It has to have been granted in your prior nation of residence, where you also had to have resided for a minimum of six months, before you may use it.

● It is required to be accompanied by either an official translation of the licence into French or an International Driving Permit. Neither option is acceptable without the other (IDP)

● You are older than the sixteen years required by French law to operate the vehicle category (e.g., 18 for cars)

● by any legal or medical limitations that may apply (e.g., prescription glasses)

● Unless you are either a student or a diplomat, you are required to get a French licence before the end of the year.

Students and diplomats

Students and diplomats from other countries do not need to exchange their licences while they are in the country and are permitted to drive.

The process of exchanging a driver's licence from another country in France

The United States of America, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and South Africa are only some of the nations with which France has established reciprocal partnerships. These enable foreign nationals who have been in France for less than one year to exchange their current driver's licence for its equivalent in France without having to take and pass a driving exam in France. The following is a list of the nations that have agreements currently in effect. You may also validate this information by contacting the French consulate body in charge of your country.

After a year of living in France, you are required to get a French licence if your nation does not have an agreement with France. Candidates are required to demonstrate competence in both the practical and theoretical aspects of driving in France.

Whether you have a specific licence, you should check with your area to see if you are required to take an exam to get the French equivalent.

There are a lot of insurance firms that will provide you with a policy even if you have a licence from outside of the EU. If you are involved in an accident, and the insurance company discovers that you were operating a vehicle while your licence was suspended or revoked, you may be held accountable for the damages.

How to exchange your driver’s licence

Applications to swap your driver's licence may be made at your local Préfecture de Police or Mairie. Ask for the demande d'échange de permis de conduire form. You may also apply to the headquarters of the Paris Police Department if you are in the city. Verify whether or not your destination sub-prefecture processes licence exchanges before you go there to prevent any problems.

It is a good idea to have a copy of the list of nations with you if you want to exchange your licence based on a reciprocal agreement. This is in case the local office is not aware of the reciprocal arrangement. The following is a list of nations that currently have active agreements.

Documents necessary include:

● photocopy in colour of your out-of-country driver's licence, together with an official translation of it if required;

● official translation of either the driver's licence or, if you have one, the International Driver's Permit (IDP);

● latest passport pictures;

● a photocopy of your visa if you are a citizen of a country that is not part of the EU/EEA or Switzerland;

● if you are a citizen of the EU/EEA or Switzerland, evidence that you have lived in France for the last six months.

● The amount of time and money required to deliver a new driver's licence is specified.

There is a fee that must be paid to exchange your driver's licence from another country for one issued in France. This fee might vary from one location to the next.

The time it takes to get a French driver's licence might range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the prefecture. The actual licence looks like a pink credit card and is issued in such a fashion. Prefectures with a higher applicant volume will have lengthier wait times since they process more forms. Every 15 years, a person is required to renew their driver's licence.

If you already possess a driver's licence that is older than three years but is less than three years old, your newly granted French licence will be a probationary one until a period of three years has passed. This is the same requirement that applies to French drivers.

Getting a French driver’s licence: French driving test

If your country does not have an agreement with France, you are required to get a French driver's licence after being in France for one year and passing the same driving and theory exams as French citizens to be eligible for a licence.

Going through the prefecture or a driving school to obtain a registration form Cerfa 14866*01 is required to apply for a driving test. This form must be submitted along with a proof of identity or residency permit, two recent passport-sized photos, two self-addressed envelopes, and a medical certificate stating that you are fit to drive.

The evaluation includes both a theoretical portion and a practical portion. The theory portion is based on the French Highway Code, which may be purchased in bookstores.

First, you are need to do well on the theoretical test. After that, you get five opportunities spread out over three years to pass the practical exam. The test consists of a 25-minute drive under typical city traffic conditions. A portion of the examination will focus on your understanding of first aid.

You will find out the outcome of the exam within forty-eight hours; if you pass, you will be given a temporary licence to use until your official licence is granted within four months. If you fail, you will not get a licence. If you do not pass the exam, taking it again may take many months; inquire about this at the testing facility. You are allowed to bring a translator with you into either the theoretical or practical portions of the examination.

Tips for taking the French driving test

You are allowed to prepare on your own for the written exam by studying the Code of the Road. Even when done in English, this may be difficult at times. The majority of prefectures demand that to take the driving exam, you enroll in a driving school where you may choose to pay for individual lessons or purchase a package of lessons known as a forfait. There are also several online resources available for a charge that may assist you in preparing for the written examination.

Even experienced drivers have to be aware that the people administering the tests can have quite particular requirements. It's possible that safe driving or even driving within the law won't be enough; they could want you to drive more like the French. Some of the requirements for passing the test may vary depending on the region of France in which you reside. If this is the case, taking driving lessons in your area can be an effective approach to acquiring the necessary knowledge.

If you reside in Paris, numerous schools are geared toward English speakers, and you may be able to take the examination in English if you enroll in one of these institutions. Outside of Paris, you may request a translation at your local préfecture; however, this service may not be available in all areas. You also have the option to request a car with an automatic gearbox; however, the availability of such vehicles is once again contingent on your location.

Driving infractions in France are penalized, in addition to costs, by a decrease in points; if you lose all of your points, your licence will be revoked. This point punishment system is included on French driver's licences. It is essential to keep in mind that new drivers, even non-EU nationals who have successfully passed the test, will start with half the points (normally six points) during the first few years of their driving careers (typically three years).

Road rules, speed limits and drink driving in France

● Always stay on the right side of the road while driving.

● On one-way streets, traffic coming from the right has precedence; on two-way streets, traffic coming from the left has priority.

● When driving in France, you must ensure that you have your driver's licence, car registration, and proof of insurance on you at all times.

● It is against the law for children less than 10 years old to ride in the front seat of a vehicle unless there is insufficient space in the rear seat.

● You are obliged by law to carry a self-test breathalyzer kit that is compliant with French safety NF requirements and must be unopened and still within its expiration date.

● The legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol is stringent: 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The permissible blood alcohol concentration for drivers with less than three years of driving experience was lowered to 0.02% in July 2015.

● When driving in France, you are required to have a reflective triangle and a reflective vest in the vehicle at all times.

● It is against the law to drive while using headphones or a headset, regardless of whether it is for a phone or music.

● Eat nothing and don't drink anything while you're behind the wheel.

● For certain violations of speeding laws, drivers may face hefty fines or deposits immediately, and their vehicles may be seized.

● When it's dry out, the speed restriction is lower than when it's raining. In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour, whereas it is 90 kilometers per hour outside urban areas. On dual carriageways, non-toll motorways, and toll motorways, the speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour. Wet weather: 50 kilometers per hour in urban areas, 80 kilometers per hour outside of urban areas, 100 kilometers per hour on dual carriageways and non-toll motorways, and 110 kilometers per hour on toll motorways. Take note that the town sign is where urban speed restrictions begin. Those who have fewer than two years of driving experience are required to adhere to reduced speed restrictions.

● It is against the law to have any equipment capable of detecting speed cameras in your vehicle in France since the country has a large number of speed traps, some of which are disguised inside unmarked cars. If your navigation system has this capability, you should turn off the warnings.

Driving your car in France

You are permitted to drive a vehicle that is registered in your home country in France if you are a resident of the EU and will be staying in France for less than six months at a time. When you register your stay in France, you will have 30 days to register your automobile in France and pay the French vehicle registration tax. If your stay is longer than that, you will close this window. In Expatica's guide on driving and parking in France, you'll find further information on topics such as importing a vehicle and getting it registered.

Contact your local DREAL (Direction Régionale de l'Environnement, de l'Aménagement et du Logement) office for information and forms.

There are a variety of road signs and signals in France.

To see a list of all the road signs in France together with their translations, click on the link provided.

Road and traffic conditions in France

Bison Fute gives the most recent information on the state of the roads and the volume of traffic across France.

For more information

The official website of the French government that covers all elements of driving, licensing, and road safety in France is referred to as Securite-routiere.

Public service announcement: information (provided in French) on how to drive in France with an EU or EEA license.



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