Exchanges of UK driving licences for the French equivalent are currently not being accepted due to problems with the legal framework for exchange following ‘full Brexit’.
There is as yet no Franco-British agreement on exchange of diving licences and driving licence exchange was not covered EU-wide in the new future relationship deal.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s road traffic section told The Connexion: “Negotiations must be started with the UK authorities quickly; we have no information on the calendar.”
Under EU rules immigrants may continue to drive in France on EU-issued licences if these remain in their validity period and as long as they do not commit driving offences that would usually require removal of points from a French licence. They are asked to apply for exchange notably if the licence is coming up for expiry or they commit a speeding or similar offence.
The right to exchange an EU licence is automatic, however for those arriving with ‘third country’ (non-EU) licences, this only remains valid for one year, during which the person must apply for exchange – but only if the country that issued the licence has a reciprocal agreement on exchanges with France. If this is not the case then the holder must take a French driving test to continue to drive in France.
Many countries, from Bhutan to Vanuatu, have such a deal (in the case of the US, however, some states have this and some do not).
Since last year, all licence swap applications are made via the site of the Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisées (ANTS), which is attached to the Interior Ministry, however processing of the dossiers is still undertaken by the CERT centre based at Nantes prefecture.
The British Embassy in Paris states on a Facebook post that it is aware of the situation. “We are in close contact with the French authorities to confirm arrangements regarding driving licence exchanges and will share any updates as soon as we have them,” it says.
Official French government information site service-public.fr states on its page about driving licence exchange that: “The rules for driving in France with a UK licence are being modified or are under negotiation” and the the page “is being updated”.
At present then, it does not appear to be possible to apply to swap a UK licence at all, even if for example you have committed a driving offence when this is normally required for UK residents of France.
Assuming the problem is quickly resolved, it is possible – that unless otherwise negotiated – some extra paperwork could be required for exchanges as is usually the case for third-country national driving licences as opposed to those from the EU.
This includes a sworn translation of the driving licence and an attestation of the right to drive obtained from the country that issued the licence and dating from less than three months ago.
The Connexion has asked the CERT at Nantes and the Interior Ministry if they can confirm that any applications made on the ANTS site by the end of 2020 under the transition period rules are still being processed as before.
These changes come on top of problems with licence swap backlogs that have lasted several years now. Reorganisation at CERT in late 2019 and the transfer of the initial application process to the ANTS website in early 2020 was at first reported to be speeding this up effectively, but the Covid-19 crisis then appeared to cause renewed problems last year.
Was there any warning that exchanges would not be possible in January 2021?
Not explicitly, but the French government’s Brexit information site Brexit.gouv.fr has stated since at least November last year that "if you have not exchanged your UK licence by the end of the Brexit transition period [December 31, 2020 – during which EU rules continued to apply to UK nationals] your UK driving licence will be recognised in France for one year but you will be required to apply to exchange it during this period if a reciprocal agreement is concluded between France and the United Kingdom”.
The road safety section told The Connexion in December it was necessary to rely on the wording on the Brexit site, adding: “Britons who already live in France on December 31, 2020 will become on January 1, 2021 third-country citizens and the ordinary law will be applied to them, ie. recognition of their licence for a year from January 1, 2021 and possible exchange after that.”
At that stage the service was unable to say if a section on driving licence exchanges might be included in overall Brexit deal, stating that “the negotiations are ongoing”. As we reported before Christmas in January's edition of The Connexion, there was no bilateral France-UK agreement on exchange in place at the end of last year.