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Driving in France: what you need to know

driving in france

French Driver’s Licenses used to be pink and made of paper! Since Sept 2013 modernization has come to newly obtained licenses which are now credit card sized plastic cards with a chip. All pink paper licenses are to be replaced gradually before 2033. The end of an era.

Driving in France: what you need to know

This article covers driving in France: paperwork, insurance, and how to obtain it. Buying a car. In case of accident. Items you are required to have in the car.

DRIVER’S LICENSE:
Generally speaking (because there are of course exceptions, this IS France) if you are in France for over a year and aren’t European, French law requires you to have valid French driving papers for driving in France. This one year period starts on the date of your first carte de séjour. Etudiant status is one of the exceptions; as a student you can drive with your foreign license for the duration of your studies. Some US states and other countries allow an exchange of licenses, other states and countries do not and you’ll be required to pass the French exam to obtain the French license. Keep in mind an exchange must be done within the one year grace period failure to exchange in time will mean having to take the test in order to obtain a French license.

If you cannot exchange your existing license it is not necessary to go through a driving school to obtain a French license. You may take both the written exam and the driving exam on your own, in French or with a translator, and do the preparation on your own as well for example at the BPI (Bibliothèque publique d’information at the Pompidou Center). A school however does do all the paperwork and scheduling which can facilitate the process and reduce the wait for a test date. It is also not a bad idea to do at least a few hours of driving practice with a school before taking the test. They’ll give you the insider tips on how to pass and take you through the actual circuit. Not to mention teach you the rules of the French road and road signs which is very helpful.

If you obtain a new license by taking the exam, you will be considered a jeune conducteur and receive a restricted license even if you have had years of driving experience elsewhere. This means that you will have only 6 points instead of 12 for the first 3 years. And you will have to put the red A on the back of your car, meaning that you must drive slower than the speed limit on roads outside of cities.

The plus side is that French driver’s licenses are valid for 15 years (as of Sept 2013) and can be renewed by simple administrative formality without retesting.

To check on the number of points left on your license: check with the prefecture either by mail or in person. Those who have the newest licenses with chips and a confidential code can use the online service Telepoints.

The Fehrenbach International School of Driving offers driving in France courses in English. Fehrenbach also offers a DVD and code book for learning on your own.Driving in France

For information on exchanging your driver’s license for a French one, visit the site of the Préfecture de Police. Scroll down to the section OBTENTION D’UN TITRE DE CONDUITE, then part C. (Site in French).

For more details on driver’s license exchange, getting a French license or importing a vehicle please see the US Embassy’s page

BUYING A CAR:
The seller of a used car must provide:
Carte grise = registration (if the seller does not have this, do not buy the car, you won’t be able to put the car in your name without it). The seller, once he has received your money, will write “Vendu le” with the date and time of the sale on the carte grise, then sign it before giving it to you.
Déclaration de cession d’un véhicule – Declaration of sale. This is signed by both parties but kept by the seller so he can prove that the car is no longer his
Certificat de non-gage – proves that there are no legal liens or outstanding parking tickets on the car.
Certificat de contrôle technique – proves that car passed vehicle inspection

Once you have completed the sale take all the documents to your local préfecture and get your new carte grise. You have one month from the day you bought the car to get it registered in your name. Don’t forget to get at least minimal insurance too.

Carte Grise: Must be kept in the car at all times. The cost depends on how many horsepower (chevaux) your car has. As of 2009, cars in France now have license plate numbers for life (regardless of who owns it), so you won’t have to get a new number plate if the car alredriving in franceady has the new license plate (white background, black letters like the one shown here). You still need to get an updated carte grise to show the change in ownership.

Contrôle Technique (CT): This is a vehicle inspection that must be done every two years for most cars when driving in France. Sellers must do the CT within 6 months of selling a car. There are two listings on the CT: contre-visite means that there are problems that need to be fixed within 2 months or the car cannot be driven legally; and the second heading lists other problems that should be fixed, but aren’t required by law.

Assurance responsabilité civile: Car insurance is required for driving in France. You must have at least liability coverage. You will receive a small pocket-like sticker to put on your windshield, in which you must display your green proof of insurance. In addition, you should keep the larger proof of insurance paper with your carte grise, as the police will ask for them if they stop you.

Yellow Vest/Red Triangle/Alcohol test: These items must be kept in the car and readily accessible. A yellow safety visibility vest must be worn in case of emergencies. You must have it on when you exit the vehicle so keep it in the vehicle not in the trunk. In addition, you must have a red reflective triangle that needs to be put at least 30 meters behind your stopped car to warn oncoming traffic. And most recently it is obligatory to have an blood alcohol tester in the vehicle. You could face a fine if you do not have these items in your car.

Accident report IN ENGLISH:
If you have an accident with your car in France, you’re probably going to need to fill out an accident report for the insurance company. In French it’s called a “constat d’accident”. Your insurance company will provide you one in French to keep in your glove box. Here is one in English to guide you through filling out the form and drawing the accident diagram. It’s nice to have this English version handy in the glove box too, in case when an accident happens you are not calm, cool and thinking straight – in French.

Driving in FranceTraffic report

You can get an up to the minute traffic report for the Paris area on http://www.sytadin.fr/. Other larger cities also have their own sites which you can find via Bison Futé. The “clever bison” also gives the current incident report (accidents, closures) for all of France as well as predictions of traffic volume for holiday weekends. (Why on Earth is the traffic reporting system called “Bison Futé”? Bison Futé is a character, an eye-catching, smart, affable American Indian, invented by the publicity man Daniel Robert in 1976 as a gimic to get people’s attention as France rolled out a campaign to encourage people to use alternative routes and depart at different times of the day to avoid sitting in monster traffic jams like the one on 2 August 1976 that stretched down most of highway 10 from Paris to Bayonne, 600km!)

BONNE ROUTE!

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20 Responses to "Driving in France: what you need to know"

  1. I went to the Préfecture de Police to see about getting an “équivalence”. They asked me which state I came from, I said California, those scumbags said “oh désolé, il n’y a pas d’échange avec la Californie, il faudra passer l’exam ici”.

    In the US, it costs $15 to get a driver’s licence, no way in hell am I paying their stupid driving exam fees here.

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      Hi Forex, Sorry to hear your story. It’s true that MOST states do not have the bilateral agreement with French about driver’s license exchange. It’s really not a French problem tho, it’s a US one. The USA gives so much responsability to the states as opposed to the federal gov’t thus requires each entity (state) that offers a driver’s license to have a separate convention. So talk to your CA law makers and ask them to set one up. CA could join this list of states that have exchange conventions:

      États-Unis d’Amérique (échange limité à certains États : Arkansas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Caroline du Sud, Colorado (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Connecticut (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Delaware (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Floride (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Illinois, Iowa (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Pennsylvanie (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Texas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Virginie (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Wisconsin

      I came from NJ and had the same experience and you know in the long run I was glad to get my French license via a school – I LEARNED A LOT and am much more comfortable and safer on the road. Plus I took advantage of the situation to learn to drive a stick shift – a useful skill.

  2. Justine dit :

    Hi,
    You mention what a person would need to do if they are not European. I am British and I have a British driving licence. I have lived here for a number of years and I was wondering whether I would need to have my licence exchanged, re-sit the test or can I drive with my British driving licence?
    Thanks,

  3. jason dit :

    Hi there, I am moving to France next month and I need to take a crash course, maybe not the most appropriate term to use. But I need to obtain a French license as soon as possible. Could you please point me in the right direction of how to do this.

    Many thanks in advance.

    Regards,

    Jason

  4. Colin dit :

    Hello,

    I am a dual Canadian-British citizen, with a Canadian driver’s license, living in Bordeaux since one month. I have lived in France for slightly longer than a year and am wondering if the verifications done by the Prefecture would effectively find out that I have been in France for longer than a year. Do you know how the verifications are done, or is it based on declaration?

    Thank you,

    Colin

    • Julii McMillan dit :

      Hi Colin,

      I have the same issue as you. I am British-Canadian and I have a Canadian drivers license. I am wondering how it worked out for you because I am debating between going through the process of getting a french drivers license (exams and all) or trying to exchange my license despite the fact that I have been in France for over a year using my British Passport.

      Please let me know when you have a moment. I would greatly appreciate any advice.

      Thank you.
      Julii

  5. Aimee dit :

    I am selling my french car to someone who lives in belgium. I understand the procedure of selling the car, but I do not know what to do with the license plates. Do they just stay with the car or do we need to do something at the point of sale? Thank you for your advice.

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      I would think they would stay on the car until the Belgian gets their new license plates. Perhaps it would be helpful to ask the buyer. Once you sign over the carte grise marking “vendu le” on it you are no longer responsable for infractions done with that car.

  6. Marie-Texas dit :

    Hello,

    If I got this right from “Lisa from FUSAC”, with my Texas drive license I can get exchange it with a French one without having to take their local written exam “code de la route”.

    This is great news.

    I will ask for that exchange.

    Many thanks,
    Marie

  7. Sharon dit :

    STILL WAITING FOR MY LICENSE. I have been living in Paris for 6 months now and I sent in my application for the exchange of my driving license for a French one, it was back in July. Then it was the summer holidays granted. How long should I wait till I make enquiries and who should I contact to know my status for my driving license please.

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      Sharon, It does sound like this is taking too long. We suggest you contact the driver’s license office of the Prefecture where you live – ideally the place where you sent your application, but perhaps you sent it to a centralized spot. In France is is often a good idea to do these type of things in person. If you have a copy of your application take it in to the prefecture yourself.

  8. sandy dit :

    I moved to Paris 2 months ago. I would like to buy a car but i”m worried about the car insurance since i have a US driver’s license that allows me to drive for a year ( i have a “carte de sejour” ). Do you know any insurance company that would be willing to cover me?

  9. Migs dit :

    Does anyone know what happens if you are driving someone else’s car in France and get into an accident? There doesn’t seem to be information on this specific situation. My French husband has the car registered and insured in his name. I drive it using my US license. We’ve been playing fast and loose up to now, but I just wonder what would happen IF… ?? Anyone?

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      Just call your insurance agent and find out. You might need to put your name on the policy too. But I think family members are covered. BIG question tho is is your US driver’s license valid? How long have you been here? If over a year you’d better get a proper license. Are you from one of the states that allows and exchange? Read the article on this page to learn a bit more. There are links to the prefecture and to Fehrenbach Driving School who will give you the scoop.

  10. Zane dit :

    Hello!
    I’m from Latvia (EU) and I’m planning on doing my PhD in France, but not quite in a university – it’s going to be in an Institut de Recherche Technologique (IRT).
    I read that if I am considered as a student – I can just go on using my car without registering it in France during my studies. But the question is – does a PhD in IRT count as studies or as a job (after which i still get a PhD)? I haven’t found any online place where I could ask about this, maybe you could help?

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      It would be best if you would contact your school to see what status you would have then once you know that contact the Prefecture.
      It seems that if you are here a year or less you should be able to just use your car (and license) as is.

  11. Bruno Peronne dit :

    Merci pour cet article très intéressant .

  12. Charles dit :

    Hello
    I just moved to France a month ago as a french student i come from Kenya and we keep left like the British. I managed to get an International driving license before i left and was wondering if with this i can:
    1. Exchange with a french licence
    2.Use my International DL in doing uber or similar errands as i was thinking of getting a car and doing some side hustle during my part time hours as my student visa allows me to work but getting a job with my basic french is proving not easy at all.

    Please advice. Thanks

    • Lisa from FUSAC dit :

      Charles, Thanks for writing. Buying a car is a big investment between the car itself, insurance, gas, maintenance and parking. Do you have a Kenyan driver’s license in addition to the International License (which is essentially a translation of your home license)? I think with student status you can use your home license for the first year. I would suggest you check with Uber as to whether or not your license is valid for working with them before you buy a car. As for exchanging a Kenyan license read our full article, there is a link to a site that says which country’s licenses are exchangeable, if Kenya is not one of those you will need to take the driver’s test to get a French license. Other jobs ideas might be a bike delivery person or working in a restaurant.

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