Reader Question: I have been refused exchange of my British licence that I have held for 38 years without incident in France or in the UK, on the grounds of a ZW code on the back. I was born in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), took my driving test at 16/17 years and I still have my original licence. I left for South Africa after the war and was transferred to the UK in 1980. I was given a UK paper licence and later the European card-style licence in 1999 as I worked for Dutch company and often went to Holland.
We came to France in summer 2004 and I tried to exchange but was refused as my licence had not expired and was European. I was later told by gendarmes after a check of my papers to change it, but again the prefecture said ‘No, it has not expired and is European’.
Now it has expired but I am still being refused a swap. Where do we stand?
People holding British driving licences issued before January 2021 can continue to use them in France for as long as they remain in their validity period, as marked on the card.
This is a result of the UK/France driving licence agreement that was signed last year and the effect is essentially to allow UK licences issued before 2021 to continue to be treated in a similar way to EU ones, without the usual requirement for exchange in one year after moving to France for holders of licences from other ‘third’ (non-EU) countries.
Once a UK (or EU) licence expires (and preferably around six months before), it is necessary to apply to exchange it for a French licence if the person wishes to go on driving in France without taking a French driving test.
However, government information page Service-public.fr states that “If your European driving licence [which British documents were considered to be before 2021] has been obtained by exchange, it must have been issued by a country engaged in a reciprocal exchange programme with France.
“If not, it is impossible to exchange it for a French licence. You can use it in France for one year after you obtain residency.
“To continue driving in France beyond this time, you must sit a French driving test.”
A list of all the countries which have a reciprocal exchange agreement with France can be found here.
It includes African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini and Côte d’Ivoire – as well as Australia and around 20 US states – but not Zimbabwe.
It therefore appears, unfortunately, that since your driving licence was obtained through an exchange with Zimbabwe, it cannot be treated as similar to a standard European one and so a swap cannot take place.