[Article updated October 28 at 14:45 with further details on A category licences.]
It is usually mandatory to change your driving licence if you come to live in France, if you have a licence from a non-European country (except UK licences issued before 2021). We recap the rules.
For non-EU foreigners (not benefitting from free movement to France) a licence from a non-European country (which includes the UK for licences issued after 2021) is valid for one year from the acquisition of ‘résidence normale’ in France. After that, it must be exchanged, and this is only possible if the issuing country (or US state) has an agreement with France on driving licence swaps.
‘Résidence normale’ is defined as a country where someone lives for more than six months (185 days minimum) per year, due to personal or professional reasons.
In practice the period will usually be taken as starting from the date when your long-stay visa is validated after coming to France (or from issue of your carte de séjour if your visa requires you to apply for one within two months).
If you are a EU/EEA/Swiss citizen who moves to France with a non-EU/EEA licence then you should apply to swap it from six months after moving to France and before 18 months.
You must exchange your licence if:
- You are resident in France (not including foreign people with a student’s residency card) and have a licence from a non-EU/EEA country apart from the UK (note that Swiss licences are treated as non-EU for these purposes).
- Or you have a UK driving licence that was first issued in 2021 or afterwards
If your UK licence was first issued before 2021
You do not need to exchange your UK licence for a French one. In this case, your UK licence will be recognised in France for as long as it is valid.
However, you must still exchange your licence if:
- Your licence has expired
- You need a new category of licence
- You have committed a road traffic offence in France, leading to a loss of points, a restriction, a suspension, or a cancellation of your licence
- Your licence has been stolen or lost
- Your licence has been badly damaged
When does my licence need to be exchanged?
- If you are from a non-European country: One year from your acquisition of résidence normale status
- If you are European (EU, EEE, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland): From the sixth month of your time in France and before the 18th month
Which foreign licences can be exchanged?
Your foreign driving licence must:
- Have been issued by a country that exchanges licences with France on a reciprocal basis
- Be issued by the country in which you had normal residency at the time
- Be valid
- Be written in French or be accompanied by an official translation
If these conditions are not met, you must retake your driving test in France.
What about a motorbike licence?
It is not possible to obtain an ‘A’ motorbike licence (for the most powerful motorbikes) by exchange.
You will be issued an A2 motorbike licence and will have to take a course after two years to get your full ‘A’ licence.
This is according to the government website Service-public.fr, although a reader has said that their A category was transferred when they exchanged their licence.
What other criteria are there to exchange your foreign licence?
- Be of the minimum age to drive vehicles of the equivalent category of your licence in France
- Have résidence normale
- Have a valid residence permit if you are neither European nor French
- Have passed the driving test in the country you lived, where the licence was issued
- Comply with any medical requirements noted on your licence (for example, wearing glasses)
- Have undergone a medical examination to determine your fitness to drive, if necessary (eg. this is required in order to maintain certain HGV categories when swapping a foreign licence)
- Not be subject to a suspension, withdrawal or cancellation of your right to drive in the country of issue of the licence
- Not have been sanctioned in France, before obtaining a driving licence in another country, by a cancellation or invalidation of your right to drive
How can I request an exchange?
This is done online, on the ANTS website here. It is free.
What you need depends slightly on your nationality
- Colour image of both sides of the original driving licence
- Official translation of the driving licence if it is not written in French
- Proof of identity
- Proof of where you live, less than six months old (eg. utility bill)
- Photo code and digital signature
- Certificate of driving rights less than six months old at the date of application (issued by the foreign authorities that issued the driving licence)
- Certified translation of the attestation of driving rights, if it is not in French
- If you are not a national of the country where the licence was issued, proof of normal residency there
- If you have a heavy goods licence, proof of medical fitness to drive HGVs
- If your licence has been cancelled or suspended: cancellation or suspension decision + letter informing you of the obligation to exchange sent by the prefecture + medical opinion
- All documents written in a foreign language must be accompanied by an official translation
This is the official list published by government website Service-public.fr.
Non-EU citizens also need
- Proof of legal residency in France
Europeans also need
- Proof of that France is their main place of residency
- Proof of date of arrival in France, such as a ticket or application for French social security
French people also need
- Proof of date of return to France
- For your first application for a licence, if you are French, aged between 17 and 25, you need a copy of the individual certificate of participation in the journée défense et citoyenneté (JDC) or an individual exemption certificate
Can I drive while my exchange is being processed?
Yes, while your application is being processed, you can drive because you keep your driving licence.
Depending on the complexity of your application, the processing may take several months. At the end of the processing, you will be asked for your original foreign driving licence to check its authenticity (except in the case of suspension or cancellation).
You will be contacted by SMS and e-mail. The e-mail explains how to send the original driving licence by registered mail.
When the examining department receives the original of your licence, you can download a secure attestation de dépôt sécurisée (ADS, certificate of deposit) from the ANTS website. The ADS is valid for 4 months.
This certificate allows you to drive while waiting to receive your French licence.
How can I track my exchange application?
You can follow the production and delivery of your driving licence online via the ANTS website.
You can long into this via the FranceConnect service, using your login details for one of the following sites: impots.gouv, Ameli, La Poste, Mobileconnectetmoi.fr, MSA or Alicem, or with your login details for ANTS.
Your driving licence is sent by Lettre Expert. This is a secure shipment, with hand delivery against signature. If you are not in when the postal worker comes, you must go to La Poste within 15 days with your notice of passage or with the letter’s number. If you don’t, your licence will be sent again.
How long does your new licence last?
The licence is valid for 15 years from the date on it.
However, the period of validity of the licence is different in the following 2 cases:
- In case of a medical condition requiring a restriction
- For HGV categories, the validity is linked to the driver’s age. For example, five years for a driver under 55.
If your original licence is a provisional licence, the French licence you receive will be too.