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Can I register a new car in France with a foreign licence?

One reader has been given conflicting information over whether they can use their US licence - or need a French one - to register a vehicle

A certificat d’immatriculation is needed to register a vehicle in France Pic: HJBC / Shutterstock

Reader question: The car dealership says I need a French driver's licence to register a new car whereas my insurance company claims I can use my US licence / International Driving Permit. Which is right?

Firstly, it is possible to buy a car in France without needing any form of licence but this question specifically relates to the registering of a car.

When obtaining registration for a car – the certificat d’immatriculation, formerly known as the carte grise – a ‘valid driving licence’ must be shown. 

This may be the reason for the car dealership saying you cannot use your US licence; perhaps its validity may be coming to an end or could even already be over.

EU drivers can keep their foreign licences, providing the licence is within its validity date and that they do not commit any driving offences which would incur removal of points from a French licence (in which case they need to swap their licence for a French one).

For information for other readers, British licences are treated in the same way, provided they were issued before 2021. 

Otherwise, those coming to France with non-EU licences have up to a year to change their licence to a French one after they are established in France – that is, if the issuing country was one that has a deal with France on licence exchange. 

The 12 months run from when you validate a visa de long-séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS) or otherwise from when you are issued with your first residency card.

If it does not, then you would need to take a French driving test to continue driving in France beyond one year.

If you have been in France for around a year and you are still driving on your American licence, the dealership might be aware that you will need to change it to a French one soon and might be unwilling to register the car because of this. 

You should bear in mind also that in the US driving licence exchange deals are at the level of individual states and some do not have an exchange deal with France.

You can find a tool here, to check which issuing US states have an exchange deal with France. 

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