Only EU nationals can drive indefinitely elsewhere in the EU with licences from their own countries.
The UK government advises applying before Brexit, as does leading campaign coalition British in Europe. Starting the process soon may prevent services being swamped and your licence being delayed.
The service responsible, CERT at Nantes prefecture, receives 22,000 dossiers a month and has already experienced significant delays since it was tasked with all foreign licence swaps in 2017. Previously, this was done by local prefectures.
Last year applicants were waiting around seven months or more.
Nantes said last year it was recruiting and training more staff but delays continue. Officials say they will prioritise applications for licences which are expiring soon.
In the event of the UK leaving with a deal, you could continue driving on a UK licence at least until the end of 2020.
If the UK leaves with no deal on March 29, a UK licence would immediately be a “third country” (non-EU) licence.
Usually, these are only recognised as valid in France for a year after the driver becomes resident. You must then take a French driving test.
The exchange application for third-country licences is also more complex.
The French government has not clarified conditions for exchange in the case of no-deal but says “specific and reciprocal provisions will later detail the terms”. Serge Boulanger, second-in-command at Nantes, said if you apply to swap now and have not had the new licence by the time of a no-deal Brexit, the fact you applied before it will be taken into account.
This is in line with arrangements agreed between France and the UK. He said there “will no doubt be time periods for the exchange conditions to be put into place, which will be specified at the time.”
If you exchange your licence for a French one, the UK says the latter can still be used on visits to the UK after Brexit with no requirement for an international driving permit. You would not have to pass another test if you move back and need to swap for a UK licence again.
Several readers, including former traffic officer Malcolm Hicks, 73, pictured, expressed concern over wording on the gov.uk site that Britons who swapped for EU licences could drive on the licence on visits to the UK “until it expires or you turn 70”. Wording was changed after we brought it to their attention (see here).
A spokeswoman for Nantes confirmed that French licences issued in return for UK licences follow French law and do not include an expiry date at age 70 for the right to drive a car (as they do in the UK).
Note that French licences show a code such as 70.098597.GB – but the number 70 does not relate to age. It is the French code for an exchanged licence, while the middle part is your old licence’s number and GB means it was swapped for a UK one.
Never send the licence with an initial application. Wait for an attestation de dépôt (receipt) which you can show French police in case of being stopped.
Nantes said these usually last 12 months, but it was eight for a Connexion member of staff who applied. These attestations are not recognised in the UK.
You cannot get a UK international driving permit without a British address and this would not be valid without a UK licence accompanying it.
If you have heavy vehicle entitlements on the UK licence (any of the C or D categories), you must have a medical to retain these on a French licence.
A colleague recently swapped her licence, which took six months. On applying, she received an email asking her to pass a medical to keep the heavy categories which came automatically from her UK car licence, or renounce them in writing.
The wording said the application would be dismissed if there was no response.
How to swap:
Application is only by post. You need to have your main residence in France. Visit service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1758 , click ‘démarche’ and download form cerfa n°14879*01 which will open as a PDF that you can type on or print off and fill in.
Cross Echange d’un permis délivré par un État appartenant à l’UE. In the following sections note:
- Nom de naissance is birth surname and nom d’usage is a married name (British married women who use their husband’s name should include a photocopy of their birth certificate as proof of maiden name).
- Where asked for commune of birth, put your British birthplace, but leave the section for the department number blank.
- You are asked for état de délivrance du titre and date d’obtention ou de délivrance. Insert Royaume-Uni then the issue date of the UK licence.
- The table below relates to start dates of entitlements. For example B1 is the right to drive a car. Insert original start dates for your rights, which are printed on your UK licence, then any dates for expiry of rights (these are not necessarily carried on to the new French one but may help the prefecture in prioritising applications). The form is in two identical sections. You must fill out and sign twice, with photos attached to both parts. Both parts should be sent.
- You also need to fill out and print (in colour) form cerfa n° 14948*01 – start by crossing absence des données nécessaires à l’édition du titre and demande de permis de conduire par échange.
You need three passport-style photographs (including the two for the main form), colour photocopies of the front and back of the UK driving licence, photocopies of the main pages of your passport (or ID card) and proof of residency (eg. photocopy of a utility bill less than six months old, an avis d’imposition tax slip or rent receipt).
If you live with someone else and your residency document is not in your name, you need a signed attestation on honour from the person you live with, certifying you live with them, plus a copy of that person’s passport/ID card. You must include a stamped, self-addressed envelope in the format lettre suivie 50g ‘prêt-à-poster’ (ask for this from your post office).