Due to the new Franco-British driving licence deal, people using UK licences should not be obliged to take a French test. However, some may choose to do so, and new drivers or other non-EU nationalities (plus drivers with UK licences issued from 2021 onwards) who are not able to swap in their first year of living in France have no choice if they wish to drive here.
The ordinary French car driving licence is called Permis B. It allows you to drive a maximum 3.5-tonne vehicle with no more than nine places, including the driver.
It also entitles you to ride a 125cc motorbike or scooter (if you undertake an additional seven-hour training course).
You have to be over 18 to drive with a Permis B, but you can start lessons younger.
If you are not French or European, you must have lived in France for at least six months and have valid residency documents.
Obtaining your licence may require patience, with waiting time for a practical test reported to be currently around three months, up from 45 days, due to a lack of examiners.
The first step is the theory exam, known as le code, which you can do via a driving school, which will organise the exam and offer lessons, or as an external candidate.
External candidates must sign up for an NEPH – numéro d’enregistrement préfectoral harmonisé – on the website of government agency ANTS.
You can buy Code de la Route books, with the key information you need to know, from bookshops or online from around €10. There are also several apps and online courses that can help. There is a link to courses created by leading driving schools on the government road safety site.
The exam, which costs €30, must be taken at a centre run by La Poste or companies SGS, Pearson Vue, Bureau Veritas or Dekra. See here under En candidat libre.
There are 40 multiple- choice questions and the pass mark is 35. Results are valid for five years.
If you opt for driving school lessons, you can either follow a classic formula of lessons alone or one which includes driving practice with a member of the family or a friend at home, conduite accompagnée.
In both cases, a minimum of 20 hours of formal driving lessons are usually required.
However, one The Connexion reader who took lessons ahead of a test after many years driving on a UK licence reports the school told him he only required five hours, after an initial hour’s evaluation.
There are several versions of conduite accompagnée: first, apprentissage anticipé de la conduite, where you can start from age 15 and may take the practical test at 17 (though only drive alone from 18).
One advantage is obtaining a full 12 points on the licence after two, and not three, years without driving offences (new drivers start with six points).
The other main option is called conduite supervisée and is available from the age of 18.
You have to sign up with a driving school in both cases, have lessons with an instructor and pass the code de la route before you can drive with an experienced driver at home.
This can be a friend or family member, and there can be more than one.
They must have had their licence for more than five years and have their car insurer’s approval. The driving period should be at least a year with a minimum of 3,000km in France.
Their car needs a conduite accompagnée sticker – you find these stickers on sale in supermarkets.
This option suits people who have failed a first practical test, as well as those wanting a maximum of experience before taking their first test.
Without a driving school en candidat libre
This could be attractive for experienced overseas drivers who want to pass the French test but avoid the hours in a driving school. It can also be for new learners.
You must have an NEPH number. You must also pass the highway code, unless you have a valid driving licence obtained for the first time in the past five years from another EU country. Usually, you must show you have practised with another designated driver, in a hired dual-control car. However, an Interior Ministry source said this is not the case if you already have a non-EU licence and your right to drive is still valid in the issuing country.
The accompanying driver must have had their licence for at least five years and must not be paid for the sessions.
The car you use must have extra mirrors, dual controls and learner signs. These can be hired from companies online.
There is no minimum number of hours required, but you must have a livret d’apprentissage, a training log book, which can be in digital form.
You can obtain one from a driving school. The accompanying driver should sign a charter.
You sign up for the exam yourself via the relevant local organisation.
For learner drivers age 15-25, the Permis à €1 par jour scheme spreads the cost via an interest-free government loan, with payments amounting to a euro a day and a maximum of €30 a month. It is available only via accredited driving schools and banks.
Some mairies, regions and departments give financial support to learner drivers.
You apply for your licence via the ANTS website. French licences are valid for 15 years.
Young drivers must respect lower speed and alcohol limits, and they have six, instead of 12, points on their licence. There must be an A for apprenti sticker on the car. This lasts three years, or two for those who followed the apprentissage anticipé route.