June 11: Article updated to clarify rules on French driving tests
A reader whose UK driving licence expired in March due to her having type 1 diabetes is considering selling her rural home due to being unable to drive in France.
Kate Thomas, 52, who lives in the massif des Bauges park south of Annecy, said her health condition does not affect her driving, but it obliges her to renew her UK licence every three years – which is not possible for people who live outside the UK.
She moved at the end of May 2019 from the UK but did not previously apply for exchange due to reports of backlogs in the exchange system and of people having applications returned unprocessed.
Since January 2021 no swap applications from Britons are being accepted, pending a UK-France agreement on driving licences, which has yet to be concluded, following Brexit.
Agreements are now in place with the UK and all EU countries apart from France, Italy and Spain.
“I feel that I and others with health conditions, or those who have reached 70-years-old [which also invalidates a UK licence] are being discriminated against,” she said.
“I am frustrated at the idiocy of the situation and of both governments leaving people stranded, not knowing if they will ever get their licences back.
“I hope they can agree that licences that expired while these negotiations were ongoing will be honoured, as the only reason they have expired is this bureaucracy, not any fault of ours.”
Ms Thomas, a freelance medical writer, said she is “petrified” at the thought of the difficulty and expense of taking a French test, which requires a written exam in French as well as a practical test (in some circumstances 20 hours of driving school lessons or of practice in a dual-control car, can also be required).
She said the process could take months or years and she feels would struggle to cope with it.
“We live in a very rural area, around an hour from everything and with no public transport,” she said.
“I have lost my independence and have to rely on my partner to get anywhere – I can’t even go to a medical appointment without him.
“We are in the middle of renovating a house and barn and if I cannot drive it means we will have to sell and either move to a more populated area or move back to the UK, neither of which we want to do.
“I can’t help my partner now because we are always driving about to get building materials, and it’s a waste of time for two of us to do it each time.”
She added: “This is a basic issue – it should have been one of the first things negotiated in the Withdrawal Agreement. Surely they don’t want every Briton in France to have to take a driving test?”