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Photo Credit: Stuart Heath, via Flickr, Creative Commons Licence

If you’re thinking about staying in France for any length of time, you may want to consider exchanging your driver’s licence for a French driver’s licence.

Doing so within the first year of your arrival in France will mean that the process is much easier (well, easy for France, anyway!) and will not require you to retake a driving test.

Here are five steps to take in order to get a French driver’s licence:

1) Determine whether you’re eligible to exchange your driver’s licence for a French driver’s licence.

Whether or not you can exchange your foreign driver’s licence for a French licence depends on whether your country (or state in the US or province in Canada) has a reciprocal exchange with France. Citizens from certain countries (who earned their driver’s licence in that country) can get a French driver’s licence without taking the test if there’s an agreement.

So first, to find out whether you can exchange your licence, check to see if your country, state, or province, is eligible:

  • Australia (Categories A & B)
  • Canada: Alberta*, British Columbia*, Manitoba*, New Brunswick, Newfoundland – Labrador*, Ontario*, Prince Edward Island*, and Quebec*
  • EU or EEE country driver’s licence
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • United States: Arkansas*, Colorado*, Connecticut (Categories A & B), Delaware*, Florida*, Illinois, Iowa*, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio*, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas*, and Virginia*
  • Other countries on this list.

* Category B only

Unfortunately, if your country, state, or province isn’t on this list, you’ll have to retake the driving test in France. You won’t necessarily have to take supplementary driving hours, but we’ll cover this process in another post.

2) Begin the process less than 1 year after moving to France.

If you would like to exchange your foreign driver’s licence for a French licence, you’ll have to begin the process before you have been living as a resident in France for one year.

While students are able to keep driving with their international licence as long as they are students (they are considered residents of their home countries), salaried employees and others with a one-year carte de séjour must request a French licence before the end of their first year.

If you’re European, or French (having never lived in France), you also have one year to exchange your EU licence for a French licence after establishing residency in France.

Wait any longer, and you’ll have to take the driving test in France.

3) Get a certified translation of your driver’s licence.

If your licence isn’t in French, you’ll have to get a certified translation, and the going rate is about €50/page in Paris.

If your licence is in English, you can contact one of the certified translators on the U.S. Embassy’s approved list. Note that they do not oversee the work.

4) Fill out and assemble lots of paperwork.

As with anything in France, you’ll need to provide about a gazillion documents in order to get your French driver’s licence. First, you’ll need to fill out this form, Cerfa N°14879*01.

You’ll also need originals and copies (bring 2) of the following documents:

  • Your French visa and carte de séjour (or visa valant 1er titre de séjour)
  • Your original driver’s licence, with front and back copies

As well as:

  • 4 identity photos, taken at a Photomaton or equivalent machine
  • A self addressed, stamped envelope

5) Contact the prefecture to figure out where to bring your documents.

Requests to exchange a foreign licence are processed at some, but not all, préfectures. Before you go anywhere, google the préfecture for your department and the phrase “échanger permis de conduire étranger.” This should give you an address to go to.

When in doubt, try calling to ask.

The process for exchanging your foreign driver’s licence can take up to six months, and it can be refused if the French government asks your home country for more information and they don’t reply.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to expedite the process other than providing complete paperwork.

Also, if you received your driver’s licence less than 3 years before moving to France, the licence you receive will be a restricted licence for young people. Certain limitations – such as speed – may apply. Finally, the licence you receive will show the date you originally passed your driving test in your home country as the start date.

For more information, check out the Service Public.

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