Earlier this year French officials stated that applications to swap a British or other non-EU driving licence for a French one were taking around seven months to process.
They added, however, that steps were being taken to reduce the waiting time.
We asked Connexion readers who have exchanged or tried to exchange their licences how long it took and how they found the service.
Responses varied considerably, with one person claiming to have waited only “five days” and another still without a licence after two years (though this may be related to complications after the end of the Brexit transition process, see more below).
In general, the process seems to be taking between three and eight months, but on the whole it appears that more recent applications have been dealt with faster than was previously the case.
One reader said: “Unbelievably, [I] sent all the info off in mid July. My licence was received mid September … both dates this year!” while another stated that they had had theirs two weeks ago after applying in April.
Another said: “I swapped my driving licence from the US version to French in five days – super efficient.”
However, another reader said: “My application for transfer of my UK licence was acknowledged in August 2021 and I am still waiting.”
‘I’m not holding my breath’
Louis James*, who lives in Corrèze, also reported still waiting despite applying in 2021.
He said: “I started my application for a French driving licence in October 2021, and I’m still waiting for it.
“I spoke to my local prefecture some months ago and asked how long the process might take. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘un an est normal’ [a year is normal].
“And when I queried why it would take so long to change one credit-card-sized piece of plastic for another in French she laughed and said: ‘C’est la France !’”
“A part of the problem is that the fonctionnaires at the Interior Ministry don’t actually communicate directly with you, although they could do if they wanted to by sending an SMS.
“All they do is post comments on the ANTS website where you completed your online application. So, unless you check that website you don’t know there is something they are waiting for from you,” such as copies of both sides of your carte de séjour as opposed to one.
“And you are dealing with a faceless fonctionnaire who doesn’t identify themselves. He or she is not a named person who you could address in an SMS or other message.”
However, “the prefecture can be very helpful. They usually have someone who deals with internet enquiries and they will help foreigners fill in the online ANTS driving licence application form.
“Make an appointment and go armed with passport, driving licence, carte de séjour and/or proof of address. I went to the Corrèze prefecture and had an extremely helpful woman.
“I live in hope that sometime in 2023 I will receive my permis de conduire. But I’m not holding my breath!”
‘The process went smoothly’
“I applied for a driving licence swap in March of this year, after my UK licence had expired. I just received my new French licence this week, so it’s been about seven months,” said a reader living in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne).
“The process went smoothly, I think. There was one hiccup but they dealt with it fine: about three months in, they asked me for a new supporting document – a ‘Certificate of Entitlement-Licence Summary’ – via the ANTS system.
“I downloaded that document from the DVLA website, uploaded it to the ANTS website, and a few months later my demande was approved by ANTS.
“So all in all it went fine and I never had cause to ring up either the ANTS or the DVLA.”
‘Centralising so many services has not proved to be a success’
Retiree Alan Box said: “My UK driving licence was due to expire at the end of February 2022.
“I applied for an exchange via the ANTS web site on 5 November 2021. Some two months later I was contacted by ANTS via an SMS asking me to provide more information that they had never listed anywhere before as being required.
“Once the additional information had been provided - immediately upon receiving the request by SMS - it wasn't until exactly six months had passed to the day since lodging my application that my French licence was eventually posted to me.
“In the meantime my UK licence had already expired meaning I was no longer able to drive legally.
“I am sure that an exchange of licence is not a simple process and that various checks need to be made before it is granted. But is it really necessary for such a process to take so long and for no mechanism to exist that would prioritise foreign licences that are due to expire?
“What made everything even more frustrating is the fact that I had originally applied for a licence exchange in 2019 (by post to Nantes), only to have my application returned a couple of months later with a letter saying that my application had been rejected because the prefecture had too high a level of demand and telling me that there was no need for me to exchange my licence.
“I have lived in France for 20 years and the experience of exchanging my driving licence is easily the most frustrating situation I have had to deal with.
“Centralising so many services under the banner of ANTS has not proved to be a great success.
“Once my application had finally been accepted, I have to say that things did move very quickly and the new licence was sent by a secure, tracked mailing service.”
The Connexion notes that it is not unusual for the process to take up to six months, so officials have previously told us it is recommended to apply six months before expiry, if not slightly earlier.
Applicants are usually not asked to send their old licence in until shortly before the end of the process, at which point they are issued a document which allows them to temporarily drive legally in France for several months while the new licence is printed and sent out.
Waiting for ‘almost two years’
Elli Downer, who is retired and lives in Aquitaine, told The Connexion: “We sent our applications off in November 2020, received acknowledgements and the following year a demand that we obtain a document from the DVLA to confirm that my husband's licence was clean.
“This arrived within 48 hours, well done the DVLA! No such demand for me.
“Then for almost two years, absolutely no further contact.
“This delay with no explanation is unacceptable. Advice would be welcome."
We note that this reader applied shortly before the end of the Brexit transition period. Many of these applications were kept on hold pending the signing of a UK-France driving licence agreement in 2021, at which point it was stated that some of these older applications would be honoured and others would not, depending on certain conditions.
It is unclear from the information available to us as to whether this may explain the situation the reader finds themselves in.
‘Two categories missing’
Andrew Williams, who lives in Alsace and works for a medical diagnostics company, told The Connexion that: “I applied to swap my driving licence in January and finally received the French one in September.
“This involved them coming back to me twice during this period for clarification and now I have my licence there are two categories missing – D1 and D1E – which they tell me are only available in the UK and will not be granted here in France.”
Another reader living in Vienne said that he applied on January 3 and received his licence on Monday (October 24), but that despite attending a medical to retain his ‘Grandfather Rights’ C1 category for driving vehicles of up to 7.5 tonnes, it had not been transferred to his new document.
Grandfather Rights are also known as ‘acquired rights’ for drivers of heavy goods vehicles.
If you are an HGV driver who obtained your licence prior to September 10, 2009, you will have an acquired right to the C, C1, C+E and C1+E licence categories for vocational use in the UK, because it was before Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) requirements came in.
Several people have previously reported to The Connexion that their C1, C1E, D1 and D1E categories obtained before 1997 – another date on which UK licence rules changed – have not been transferred to their French licences.
The Connexion contacted the French government’s road safety department to ask for clarification on why this might be.
A spokesperson explained that for licences issued before January 1, 2021, driving licence categories will come with a numerical code. He said that codes 01 to 99 are standardised across EU countries and so should be transferred during a licence exchange.
However, if the code is above 100, it is specific to the country of issue and will not appear on a swapped licence in a different country.
“So, if the British C1 category was issued before January 1, 2021 with restrictive codes above 100, it cannot be added to the French licence,” he added.
This may explain why these readers lost some categories.
“I am now unable to drive our €80,000 camping car as it is over 3,500kg!” our reader said.
“I am reluctantly considering having to sell our camping car and losing many thousands of euros that we can ill afford.”
When is a driving licence exchange normally necessary?
Generally, British people who are resident in France can continue to use UK driving licences issued by January 1, 2021 and which are still valid.
Paper licences are usually valid until you are 70. For plastic photocard licences, the expiry date is on the front (at one stage hybrid ones with a main paper part plus a photocard were issued, however the paper part is now invalid, so we consider that these are now also effectively photocard licences).
When photocard licences come within six months of expiry, they must be exchanged for a French version.
If your UK licence was issued after January 1, 2021, it will remain valid for one year after the date when your long-stay visa is validated after coming to France (or from issue of your carte de séjour if your visa requires you to apply for one within two months) and you need to apply to exchange it before then.
You would also have to change to a French licence if, for example, you live in France and commit a driving offence, or if your licence was lost or stolen.
*Name changed on request of contributor