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

Licence swap rules vary depending on bilateral agreements between the issuing country and France

Less than half of the 50 US states have licence exchange agreements with France
Published Last updated

RQ: My driving licence is from Utah, where I used to live, and I was told I could not exchange it for a French one. I thought US licences could be exchanged?

If relocating to France, a driving licence obtained from a non-EU country must in most cases be exchanged for a French driving licence within 12 months.

In some cases, however, licences cannot be exchanged, and drivers must retake both a practical and theory test in French, to be granted a French licence.

To be exchangeable, the country that issued the licence must have signed an agreement with France on reciprocal licence exchange.

If France allows citizens of a country or place to exchange their licence without retaking a test, the other country must allow French citizens who move there to do the same.

Note that, with regard to UK licences, the UK and France agreed to go on treating these, exceptionally, the same as EU licences, if the date of first issue of the licence was before 2021.

This means these do not have to be exchanged unless they are nearing their expiry date or in certain other situations such as where a person commits a driving offence that would usually involve removal of French licence points.

What is the rule for American licences?

For Americans – and Canadians – it depends on the state where your licence was granted, as only 18 US states have reciprocal licence exchange rules with France.

These are:

  • Delaware

  • Maryland

  • Ohio

  • Pennsylvania

  • Virginia

  • South Carolina

  • Massachusetts

  • New Hampshire

  • Illinois

  • Iowa

  • Michigan

  • Wisconsin

  • Arkansas

  • Oklahoma

  • Texas

  • Colorado

  • Florida

  • Connecticut

In some of these states (such as Pennsylvania and Connecticut) both motorcycle and car (classed as ‘A’ and ‘B’ categories respectively on French licences) can be exchanged, whereas for others, it is restricted to car licences.

For South Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan, any type of licence can be exchanged, including those which allow vehicles from other classes (C, D, etc) to be driven by the holder.

And for others?

There are eight Canadian provinces (but no territories) that allow licence exchanges:

  • Prince Edward Island

  • New Brunswick

  • Labrador and Newfoundland

  • Québec

  • Manitoba

  • Ontario

  • Alberta

  • British Columbia

In seven of these, only car licences can be exchanged, however all licences from New Brunswick can be exchanged.

A list of other countries whose licences can be exchanged – instead of retaking a test in France being mandatory – can be found here.

Alternatively, an official online checker can be found here.

Countries and territories on the lists include, for example, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Channel Islands.

Is there no alternative?

Unfortunately if your licence is not from one of the eligible countries or states, there is no alternative except to retake your test after your first 12 months in France.

Earlier this year the EU commission proposed updated driving legislation with the aim of improving road safety and standardising rules across the bloc.

Among these proposed changes, making it “easier for citizens from non-EU countries with comparable road safety standards… to exchange their driving licence for an EU one,” was highlighted.

Such future changes may make it possible even for licences for countries where a reciprocal agreement is not in place with France – such as the other US states – making it easier for those who move to an EU country to exchange their licence.

However, as of writing no further updates have been given and wide scale changes such as this usually take years to complete.

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