A keen motorcyclist has flagged up to us difficulties he and other older drivers are now facing with regard to exchanging a UK driving licence for a French licence.
Kevin White, 69, recently obtained a French licence in exchange for his expiring UK one but it does not include his ‘A’ larger bikes categories.
He said it is preventing him from enjoying his favourite pastime, which he pursued without issues for decades in the UK and has continued since moving to Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 2018.
It means he owns a €18,000 BMW 1200cc bike he now cannot ride.
Another reader, John Hindhaugh from Indre, reports similar concerns saying that it will be "an utter disaster" for him to lose the categories as he is a member of several motorcycle clubs and has enjoyed riding large bikes for 56 years.
Told to take lower licence and a course
Mr White's case has been further complicated by initial confusion over the rules relating to UK licences.
In discussing the problem with the ANTS agency that issues licences, it informed him that France no longer exchanges the full ‘A’ category (large bikes) for foreign licences but only the lower A2 category for less powerful bikes.
This must then be held for two years before the holder can take a seven-hour course to obtain the full ‘A’ category.
Mr White said: “Most motorcyclists will have a full motorcycle licence, and almost certainly a motorcycle that requires category A.
“I’m not buying a smaller bike to ride for two years before being able to ride the €18,000 bike I’ve already got.”
France does not exchange the ‘A’ category
The website of ANTS confirms these rules, but notes an exception for EU licences.
In many cases, notably with regard to validity and renewal, France treats UK licences first issued before January 1, 2021, as equivalent to EU ones. This is based on a 2021 France/UK agreement on licences.
We tried to double-check if any rules are laid down regarding motorbike categories, but no copy was available.
We also asked the French government's Sécurité routière road regulations department about this but it also referred us to the rule on France not exchanging the ‘A’ category.
UK did not keep records of tests before digitisation
Mr White, a retired car company manager, has since found a further complication in his case: his licence in fact shows neither ‘A’ nor ‘A2’ (the latter is for medium-powered motorbikes).
French driving licence officials have now told him it is because they believe he obtained his motorbike licence automatically, with his car licence, and this is not recognised by France.
It is because his licence shows the same start date in 1976 for both, with a small arrow, which the UK’s DVLA driving authority told him indicates the tests were passed before then.
He was told that this is because the UK did not keep full records of tests passed before digitalisation of driving records in the 1970s.
“The French won’t accept it, because they want the exact date, but I don’t know if it’s possible. It would be a pain to take a French test – but even if I do, I will have to take an A2 test, then wait for two years to be able to drive my 'A' category bike.”
Mr Hindhaugh told us he fears the same happening, as his categories all have the same start dates (incorrectly) and his licence is coming up for a swap.
"You may appreciate that at 75 years of age I cannot wait around for years or go through the long process of taking a French test - this is utterly ridiculous," he said.
Wife has been awarded both ‘A’ categories
Mr White said that his wife, who is 54 and had the exact test dates marked on her UK licence, has just received her French one – including both ‘A’ categories.
A motoring lawyer from the office of Eric de Caumont in Paris, Basile Tissot, confirmed that without proof of separate tests, it is usual for France to refuse these categories, as it does not recognise motorbike categories obtained automatically.
This would apply even for European licences, he said.
- It appears that the issues described above are not 'Brexit-related' as such, as Britons whose licences show the exact dates are reported to have been able to retian their 'A' categories. However, some readers have faced a similar issue regarding HGV categories (including for driving a minibus). In this case, to retain the categories a medical is required by France, however there is a further complication where some older British drivers had these awarded automatically, which is not accepted by France. According to Mr Tissot, an exception would likely be made for European drivers in such a case, so this may be a post-Brexit change. We are making futher enquiries about this.
Have you had any issues with licence swaps? Let us know at email@example.com