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Why was I fined for driving UK-registered car as a French resident?

Reader with a carte de séjour tells how they were recently fined by French customs over their UK-registered car

Driving a UK-registered car while being a full-time resident in France could be problematic Pic: Spech / Shutterstock

Update, August 4: This article was amended to include information about Brexit residency card holders who move away temporarily to another country

Reader question: Can I drive my UK-registered car on trips to France if I have a 10-year French residence card? I was recently fined by customs when leaving France and told that I had to register the car in France and pay import duty because I am now ‘French’. I spend roughly equal time in France and the UK.

The fact that our reader has a French residency card, a carte de séjour, suggests that they are officially full-time resident.

They should therefore declare their worldwide income in France and pay any due tax here. It implies that they live in France for over six months in a given year. 

In reverse, if you spend over 183 days in the UK in any given tax year you are technically deemed to be a UK resident.

As a general rule, it is possible with a ten-year Withdrawal Agreement (WA) carte de séjour to leave France for up to five years and retain a French right of residency during that time frame. This scenario can happen but is not the case of our reader. 

As our reader's main residence is in France, then the border guard is correct as under French law, if you are staying in France for over six months in a year then your car must be formally registered in France. 

Not complying with this can be risky as if you have an accident your insurance may be invalid.  

You have a few months to sort this out and change your car registration over when you first arrive but if you have a WA carte de séjour then this shows you have been here for at least 18 months and probably more.

Registering a UK-registered car in France

The process of registering a UK-registered car in France is not necessarily straightforward. 

Since Brexit, you have to go through customs and also obtain a certificate of conformity before applying via the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS) website

The process is cheaper if you are bringing the car over as part of a move to France to become a resident. 

There are two potential taxes you may also have to pay: VAT and customs duty. You are exempt from both if you are moving permanently to France, the vehicle is for personal use, and you bring it over within 12 months of your arrival. 

Our reader may not fall into this category, depending on the date their carte de séjour was issued and other details related to how long they have lived in France. 

You can read more about registering a car imported from the UK in our article here: Process, costs, carte grise: How to register a car in France

Mark Stevens of The English Car Mechanics firm in Opio, Alpes-Maritimes, previously told The Connexion that he has not heard of anyone having to pay import duty to customs when bringing over a car to France from the UK – yet. 

However, he warned that, if duty and VAT is applied, it could be costly.

“My advice would be to sell any British-registered car in the UK and buy a fresh one in France,” he said. 

“It will save a lot of hassle and potentially a great deal of money. If import duty is included and if customs do not agree with your assessment of the price for VAT and put it up, it could be very expensive.” 

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