Key steps on how to get your driver's licence in France
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
Getting your driver's licence in France is one of the crucial steps in your relocation process, after finding your home and opening a bank account. We will be honest, it is a real endeavour that truly makes you embrace the French bureaucracy! We have gathered the main steps you need to go through in order to obtain your right to drive on French roads!
With so many beautiful places to visit, obtaining your right to drive in France is essential!
WHO CAN DRIVE IN FRANCE?
Any foreign citizen that is 18 or above with a valid driver's licence can drive in France for up to one year after their arrival. That means that if you are an American citizen under 18 and hold a US driver's licence, you are not allowed to drive in France nor in the EU.
EU/EEA and citizens of Switzerland can use their driver's licence indefinitely in France as long as the foreign licence was issued in the country they were legally living in. They do not need to get nor exchange their driver's licence unless points have been deducted from it due to a driving offence, in which case it then becomes mandatory. In all cases the current licence must be valid and not have any restrictions or supervisions related to it.
Non EU/EEA citizens can use their driver's licence up to one year providing that:
Licence is valid with no restrictions
Must be issued from your previous country of residence (= you lived there for at least 6 months)
Must be accompanied by an official translation into French or an International Driving Permit (ID)
You must be 18 years of age
Be in compliance with medical restrictions
Students and diplomats can drive in France for the duration of their stay without needing to exchange their existing licence to a France one.
EXCHANGING YOUR DRIVER'S LICENCE
Before you pass your allotted period of one year (starting on the first day of your visa/carte de séjour), you need to start the process of exchanging your foreign driver's licence into a French one. France has reciprocal agreements with certain countries, states and provinces, you can see the list here. This means that people holding valid driver's licences within these countries or states do not need to pass the French Driving test but can instead exchange their current driver's licence for a French one. For those drivers whose country, state or provinces is not listed then they must pass the driving test within 12 months of their arrival in France.
For information for American citizens and as of December 2018, these are the states that can exchange a US license for a French license: Delaware - Maryland - Ohio - Pennsylvania -Virginia - S. Carolina - Massachusetts - New Hampshire - Illinois - Iowa -Michigan - Wisconsin - Arkansas - Oklahoma - Texas - Colorado - Florida - Connecticut.
The French driver licence card
Procedure to follow when exchanging a driver's licence:
Cerfa Form No. 14879 * 01 in color, completed and signed (the mobile phone number and / or email address of the applicant must be mentioned). Wait until you are at the Préfecture to sign and date in case you need to schedule a follow-up appointment.
Cerfa form n ° 14948 * 01 reference 06 in color, completed and signed
Original driving license + color copy (and keep a copy for yourself)
Certified translation of your driving record (also called "abstract") in French if it is not written in French
Proof of identity + color copy (valid passport)
Proof of address + color copy (utility bills or phone bills of the last 3 months)
Proof of the regularity of the stay in France + color copy (temporary residence card, residence card, multi-year title ...)
Proof of residence in the country of issue of your license on the date of issue unless you possess the nationality of that country (proof of residence implied 185 days at least on the calendar year of obtaining the permit, proving personal or professional ties)
Unless you are a refugee or have other international protection. This is a certificate of rights to drive less than 3 months from the country that issued the permit and to verify that you are not subject to a suspension measure, withdrawal or cancellation of the right to drive
4 color photos (including the ones to place on each of the 2 Cerfa forms)
If you live in Corsica or in certain French DOM regions (Réunion, Guyane, Martinique or Mayotte), the amount of the regional taxes must be paid by check to Le Trésor Public
If you meet the conditions to exchange your licence, you are requested to send the original of your licence. You receive in return a certificate valid for a maximum of 8 months. It allows you to justify the deposit of your license and you can not be held responsible for its non-presentation. You will receive your French driver's licence by mail (usually by registered mail).
UPDATE and WARNING:
As of September 18, 2017, applications to exchange your driver's licence can only be sent by mail and can no longer be dropped off at the counter of your local Préfecture. Clarify that information when meeting the Préfecture during your first appointment. It is unclear as of December 2018 if you are the one mailing your application to the centre in Nantes or if the Préfecture sends it for you.
For your information, the address to send your application to Nantes is CERT EPE - TSA 63527 - 44035 NANTES CEDEX 01
If you live in Isère:
To apply for a foreign permit exchange in the Isère, you must first meet specific conditions
Then book an appointment online
Check and gather the list of required documents issued by the Préfecture de l'Isère, before showing up at your appointment
GETTING YOUR FRENCH DRIVER'S LICENCE (Test)
If you are unfortunately not eligible to exchange your driver's licence, you will need to go through the same process as any other French citizen when they turn 18. The most common course to get your licence is to first learn the 'code de la route' and pass your theory exam. You can buy the code book at most bookshops.
You then have five attempts over three years to pass the practical test, which is 25 minutes of driving in normal traffic conditions. If you pass you will get a temporary licence to use until your formal licence is issued within four months. If you fail the test it can take many months to retake; ask at your test centre. You can have a translator for both the theory and practical parts of the test.
Procedure to follow when applying for a French driver's licence
Cerfa 14866*01 in color, completed and signed
Proof of identity or residency permit
Two recent color photos
Two self-addressed envelopes and a medical certificate confirming you are fit to drive
Budget of 800 to 1200 euros
EXPECTED DELAYS (as per December 2018)
Exchanging your driver's licence
The period of issue of the French license is variable. It depends on the influx of requests and the complexity of the file. If there is reasonable doubt about the authenticity of your license, the procedure may last more than 6 months. After having heard several different testimonials within the international community in Grenoble, we would rather say that the procedure might take up to one year.
Getting your driver's licence (Test)
If no problems are encountered, a student is able to get his driver's license in about 5 months. (1 month of file registration, 1 additional month for the code and 3 months of practical training). Of course there are other so-called "accelerated" courses, which allow you to condense the practical training. In this case, make sure that the proposed deadlines can be maintained and that the training is of good quality.
You are only few steps before being allowed to drive all the French windy roads
OUR TIPS TO EASE AND SPEED UP THE PROCEDURE
It will he hard to list all the challenges we have heard from many expatriates living in France as they are very specific cases depending on their status in France and the country/state they come from but below are our/their tips to succeed in either exchanging or getting your driver's licence:
Exchanging your driver'slicence:
Plan ahead! Don't wait to be in France to inquire about what to do in order to exchange your driver licence. You first need to know if your country/state is part of the reciprocal agreement with France and then you need to start gathering the requested documents before moving! Some tricks are to read forums and be in touch with other expatriates as the list of documents can vary depending on your situation.
Validity of your current driver licence: You ideally want to move to France with a driver licence that is valid for more than a year otherwise you will have to ask your former country of residence to re-issue a new one and... being now far away from home will make it tricky
The 3-months (short) life of documents in France! A big thing with French bureaucracy is to have all your documents dated less than 3 months when presented to any governmental organizations. So be sure to update them each time your have a new appointment with the Préfecture or when you need to mail documents
Reciprocal agreement with American states: We have heard - but don't want to put it as an official information - that you could - before moving to France - re-issue your American driver licence in a different state if the one you currently live in is not eligible (not all American states have a reciprocal agreement with France...)
Language: If your level of French is still limited, be accompanied with a French person (friend, relocation agent, relative...) who could go through all the required paperwork, be your translator during appointments and speed up/ease the procedure
Information on the Préfecture's website: Although the website of the Préfecture should provide relevant, official and up-to-date information, be aware that laws/rules in regards to driver licences change regularly and don't always stipulate specific cases so again try as much as possible to connect with expatriates living in the area, check forums (or hire a relocation agent!) etc.
Clarify very well with the Préfecture what country and state you come from (my husband's application went really in the wrong direction as they thought he was British although his driver licence mentioned British Columbia from Canada...)
More is better: Add any additional documents you might consider useful to the procedure
Double-check (plus have someone doing it for you) that you have completed all the forms properly and attached all required documents
Format of your photo: make sure you follow the specific requirements for the format of your photo
Change since September 2017: Remember that as of September 18, 2017, applications to exchange your driver licence can only be sent by mail and can no longer be dropped off at the counter of your local Prefecture. The address to send your application is CERT EPE - TSA 63527 - 44035 NANTES CEDEX 01
OUR TIPS WHEN PASSING YOUR DRIVER'S LICENCE
Language: Find a driving school - Auto-école - with a monitor who speaks English
Preparation: Study Study study and practise! If you fail your tests, you may have to wait for many months before getting a new date
Budget: Obtaining your driver licence will cost between 800 to 1200 euros ; therefore make sure to include it in your relocation budget
Are you relocating to Grenoble, Isère or Rhône-Alpes? At Breeze Relocation our core business is to offer relocation services to anyone moving to the heart of the French Alps. We offer personable bespoke services that include: