Driving: When do you need to swap foreign licence for French licence?

Rules vary depending on where your licence was first issued and, in the case, of Britons when

If you do not exchange your licence in time, you risk having to take a French driving test
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Drivers who live in France and drive on a foreign licence are all required at some point to exchange their licence for a French one.

However the timeframe for this depends on where your driving licence was initially issued – and the date it was first issued on.

In some cases foreign licences will only need to be exchanged under certain circumstances but this includes when it expires, meaning all new residents who drive on a foreign licence will eventually need to exchange their licence for a French one if they remain in France.

If drivers fail to keep to the rules they risk having to take a French driving test (theory and practical) to obtain a French licence as a mere exchange is not possible after the deadline.

Below, we cover the main rules for driving licence exchanges.

EU licences

The simplest rules are for other (non French) EU/EEA driving licences.

If you hold such a licence and become a resident in France, you do not – unless for the exceptional events listed below – need to exchange your licence and it remains valid.

Note that this does not apply for Swiss licences, which must be exchanged.

There is a push for closer ties between EU licences, and recent votes on driving rules in the EU parliament may see driving licences across the bloc align even further.

However, as of March 2024 no points of these plans are concrete.

Read more: Phones, tests, lorries: Changes on way for (some) drivers in France

UK licences

Whether or not a UK licence must be exchanged within a set timeframe depends on the date that the licence was first issued.

If it was issued before January 2021, it is treated the same as an EU licence, and does not need to be exchanged immediately, except for in the case of the exceptional events below.

This is the date of the licence being issued, and not the date of moving to France, meaning someone who moves to France in 2024, but passed their test and got a licence in the UK in 1985, falls into this category.

However, if it was first issued after January 2021, it will need to be exchanged within 12 months of moving to France, and is treated as a non-EU/EEA licence.

Other non-EU licences

All other non EU/EEA licences must be exchanged within the first 12 months of the driver becoming resident in France.

However, some licences cannot be exchanged and drivers must take a full French driving test.

You can find a list of which licences require a test to be taken here using a government tool.

The decision is usually based on whether France has a reciprocal licence exchange agreement with the other country.

In the United States and Canada, reciprocal agreements are between each state/territory and France rather than the country as a whole. Texas and Illinois do, for example, but New York and California do not.

You can find a list of which states have reciprocal agreements with France below.

Read more: Can I exchange my US driving licence for a French one?

Events when all licences - EU and non-EU - must be exchanged

There are some circumstances when licences must be exchanged regardless of the above variations.

These are:

  • If the licence is about to expire

  • If a new category of licence is required

  • If the driver has committed a road traffic offence in France, leading to a loss of points, a restriction, a suspension, or cancellation of the licence

  • If the licence is stolen or lost

  • If the licence is badly damaged

There is some confusion over how motorbike licence exchanges currently work.

Some British readers report that only the ‘A2’ section of their motorbike licence – which only allows them to ride less powerful bikes – has been exchanged. However, most Britons whose licences were first issued prior to 2021 should be able to exchange the full ‘A’ category of their licences. You can read more about this in the March edition of The Connexion (page 18).

How do I exchange my licence?

Licence exchanges are free and you make the request through the ANTS website.

Service Public provides a step-by-step guide here (also available in English) on how to make the demand.

You will need a number of documents, including:

  • 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

  • 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

Note that all documents written in a foreign language must be accompanied by an official translation.

Non-EU citizens also need to provide proof of legal residency in France

EU licence holders / citizens need to provide:

  • Proof 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

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