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Talks between UK and France begin on driving licence swap

More Britons in France are now unable to drive, due to their UK licences expiring and no exchange deal being in place

30 March 2021
It is hoped that a deal permitting mutual exchange of the countries’ driving licences will be agreed upon between France and the UK
By Connexion journalist

Franco-British negotiations have started on a solution for the exchange of UK driving licences for French ones, the Interior Ministry has told The Connexion.

It is impossible to get a new UK licence if you live in France and there is currently no way to get a French licence other than taking a driving test here.

One reader said he intends to return to the UK after a fruitless two-year struggle to exchange his licence. He lives in a rural area and relies on his car.

The UK’s Department for Transport said: “DfT officials are making every effort to reach a swift understanding with France regarding long-term reciprocal exchange arrangements for UK licence-holders living in France.”

It is hoped this will result in a deal permitting mutual exchange of the countries’ driving licences.

This is essential, as there is no legal basis in France for exchange of a non-EU/EEA/Swiss licence for a French licence without it.

The only solution would be to take a French (practical and theory) test, requiring 20 hours of driving practice in a school or using a hired dual-control car.

Unexpired UK licences of people who were resident in France in 2020 will continue to have validity in France in 2021

In the meantime, French officials say unexpired UK licences of people who were resident in France in 2020 will continue to have validity in France in 2021.

UK licences of new arrivals will be valid for the standard 12 months for non-EU arrivals. Swap applications made via the ants.gouv.fr website (run by official agency Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés) from its opening in March 2020 to December 31 – during the Brexit transition year – will still be processed. However, new applications cannot currently be made.

The DfT said it spoke to all EU states last year in the hope of agreements being in place by January 1. Britons in the EU were encouraged to swap last year due to uncertainties, it said.

The UK says it is currently possible to exchange in all other states, apart from Italy – with which nothing is yet agreed, even on temporary validity – and Spain, where validity is currently recognised until July 1.

Some require exchange by a cut-off date while others have agreed to recognise ongoing validity.

A senior French official told The Connexion in January it had not been possible to start bilateral negotiations before full Brexit as the EU’s future relationship with the UK was unknown. A basic swap deal (unless continuing validity is agreed) would mean – once it is permitted – an exchange process, which from recent experience may take many months. The exchange system has suffered delays since it was centralised in September 2017 from a former process at local prefectures.

It was initially carried out by paper to the CERT at Nantes prefecture. Processing briefly improved after applications moved online, but worsened as the pandemic hit.

The current situation is in some respects less advantageous than France’s now-defunct unilateral decree of April 3, 2019, which said it would continue to recognise (non-expired) British licences of residents for use in France with no time limit in the case of a no-deal.

From 2019 to early 2020, the CERT at Nantes began returning applications unprocessed if they were not deemed “obligatory”, such as the UK licence imminently expiring or after a road traffic offence incurring points. Those concerned who did not reapply online now feel aggrieved.

One reader, who applied to the CERT in September 2018 and had her application returned in February 2020, said ANTS suggested she could appeal to Nantes. However, her emails to Nantes two months ago had not received a reply.

French officials did not respond to our questions about whether something can be done for this group, or current processing times for those who applied at ants.gouv.fr last year.

UK driving licences are not renewable for non-UK residents and a recent temporary extension offered for expiring licences is effective only in the UK.

A petition for France and the UK to conclude an agreement has nearly 13,000 signatures.

Read more: Petition for UK to French driving licence swap passes 11,000

One reader highlighted a further problem. If he is forced to take a French test, he will have to take two – one for a car licence and one for his motorbike.

Another who has recently purchased a motorbike said six French insurance firms refused to insure him because his licence is British and could be invalid at the end of the year.

A seventh firm, the Mutuelle des Motards, said it would insure him but he must exchange as soon as possible and his policy will be cancelled at the end of the year if he has not done so. He did not wish to risk it because of possible blacklisting, he said.

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