UK-France driving licences: 2020 swap applications on hold

Thousands of exchange applications made during the Brexit transition period must be honoured, however they are waiting for ‘specific arrangements,’ officials say. Clarification also sought on international permits

21 June 2021
By Liv Rowland

Britons’ driving licence exchange requests from 2020 are waiting for ‘special arrangements’ to be worked out, a French official has said.

This is despite the applications being made via ants.gouv.fr during the Brexit transition period and subject to rules in place then as it was agreed the UK would be treated as an EU state during 2020.

A spokeswoman for the CERT at Nantes prefecture, where foreign exchange requests are processed, told The Connexion: “Thousands of exchange requests were put in before December 31, 2020 in the last part of the year, making it practically-speaking impossible to process them that year.

“These requests will be subject to special arrangements that are being worked out by the road safety officials.”

So far no reader who applied in 2020 has confirmed having had their new French licence issued this year.

Reader Bob Orford, a retiree from Haute Vienne, has told of difficulties he has been facing since his UK licence expired in November last year and his wife’s in January 2021. 

He said he applied in July 2020 and his wife in August 2020, however their licences are still being processed. He called ANTS recently to check and says he was told: “Our files were looked at in May, but all applications for the exchange of UK licences were currently on hold until the new agreement was concluded.”

He said the helpline assistant said they were aware of the legal right to an exchange under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (which put in place the transition period) but in practice nothing will happen yet. They expected to issue the licences “within three to four weeks” of an agreement being reached.

Mr Orford, 67, added that he and his wife had followed advice from the French government not to apply too far in advance as they had been dealing with backlogs and were not encouraging non-urgent requests.

He said: “We live in the countryside, five kilometres from the nearest shop, and need our cars for essential food shopping and to attend medical appointments. Also we cannot visit our family in Portugal as they also live in a rural area and we cannot hire a car. Our son’s first child is due in August.”

Meanwhile UK-France talks for an agreement over the problem of those driving on UK licences in France who did not apply last year are said to be “very advanced and about to be concluded,” according to an official at the Interior Ministry’s road safety section.

The issue for these drivers is that France states that it cannot now exchange their UK licence because it only exchanges non-EU licences where there is a reciprocal deal with the country in place. Seventy people stated in May in a Connexion poll they cannot now drive at all as their UK licence has expired.

Interim French measures say the licences may be used in France until the end of this year, or for 12 months after arrival for those who came to France since January 2021.

Mr Orford added: “To us this situation is much worse than Covid. This effectively means we cannot leave the house and are permanently stuck in.

“We don’t want to drive illegally, plus this means our insurance is invalid, so if we were in an accident it would ruin our lives.

"We are not even sure how to get to our residency card appointments at the prefecture, or to a supermarket to take passport photographs for the card. It's an unbearable stress."

The road safety section spokesman said the new deal should clarify the point about the 2020 applications as well as issues around UK licences of those who did not apply last year, and questions around International Driving Permits (IDPs).

The Connexion has raised the IDP issue as this document is needed to drive on visits to some non-EU states. EU countries are not requiring this from UK licence holders with photocard licences, though there is a question mark in some states regarding acceptability of paper ones without an IDP (these would now be over 22 years old). 

The UK does not issue IDPs to non-residents and France only usually issues them to EU/EEA/Swiss licence holders and is not currently issuing them to UK licence holders.

States that require them for UK licence holders include Canada, Australia, Barbados, Egypt, India, Israel, Morocco and Japan.

Read more

UK-France driving licence deal expected ‘very soon’ 

Driving licence issue may force me to move, says diabetic 

Lawyer: Deal not essential for driving licence swap 

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