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The Nuts and Bolts of Getting a French Driving License

Exchanging your driving license or taking a test to get a French permit can be a rather daunting process. Unfortunately, for many expats it is unavoidable. This article sheds some light on the bureaucracy involved in getting a French driving license and discusses the French points system.

At a Glance:

  • Drivers with an EU license can keep driving in France until their permit expires.
  • You might have to exchange your driving license if you break traffic rules or don’t have an EU driving license.
  • You can prepare for the driving test by yourself or with the help of a driving school.
  • Once you have a French driving license, you will be subject to a points system. Points will be deducted whenever you cause a traffic offense.

 

Having your paperwork ready and in order is an important first step before you can go for a drive on French roads. You should always have your ID or passport with you, but what about your driving license? The rules about whether you are allowed to drive with your home country’s driver’s license can be complicated and confusing, and every country handles this differently. Let’s take a look at what drivers in France can expect.

If You Have an EU Driving License

If you have an EU license, you are allowed to keep using it until it expires. Keep in mind that to legally drive in France you need to be at least 18 years of age, regardless of whether the rules are different where you come from.

There is only one case in which you have to exchange your European driver’s permit for a French one: if you have caused an offense which resulted in a restriction or suspension of your license.

Of course, you can still exchange your license voluntarily. This might make sense if you have been living in France for a long time or are ready to settle down there. In this case, you should turn to your préfecture and hand in the necessary paperwork.

If You Have a Non-EU Driving License

Drivers with a non-EU license have to exchange their license after about a year or take a driving test to get a French driving permit. France has an agreement with many countries which allows their drivers to easily exchange their driver’s license. US drivers should keep in mind, though, that not every US state cooperates with this agreement.

Take a look at this list of countries and US states that allow this exchange to find out if this rule applies to you.

There is an exception, though: diplomats are allowed to drive in France using their own license for the entire duration of their stay in the country.

How to Exchange Your License

You usually have one year before you need to exchange your driving license. If you miss this “deadline” or don’t qualify for an exchange, you will have to take a driving test.In order to exchange your license, you need to submit the following documents:

  • form Cerfa n°14897*01 to request an exchange of your permit
  • form 06 Cerfa n°14948*01, printed in color
  • two copies of both sides of your foreign driver’s license, printed in color
  • one document attesting to the validity of your driver’s license, certified by the country that issued your permit and translated into French (if necessary)
  • one copy of proof of address (justificatif de domicile)
  • four passport-sized photos
  • one copy of your carte de séjour or visa
  • one copy of your passport with the OFII sticker
  • one envelope, addressed and stamped

Depending on your individual situation and nationality, you might be asked to hand in additional documents to complete the process. Turn to your préfecture  or sous-préfecture if you have more questions, or take a look at the Service Public website (in French).

Preparing for the Test

Those who cannot exchange their driver’s license for any of the reasons mentioned above, need to take a written exam as well as a practical driving test. You can enroll in a driving school for this purpose. The advantage is that they don’t just offer lessons but will also help you to set up the exam by communicating with the préfecture, etc. Make sure to find an international driving school if your French isn’t up to par yet. However, driving schools can also be very expensive and if you are a seasoned driver, it might not make sense to pay an arm and a leg for this.

Instead, you can practice for the written test on your own. There are online resources, as well as booklets and CD-ROMs you can order to practice by yourself. The test consists of 40 questions, 35 of which you have to answer correctly. In order to prepare for the driving test, it can make sense to take some extra lessons. This will allow you to get acquainted with the French road system and, if you are used to driving automatic cars but don’t want to be restricted to that kind of car, learn how to drive a manual car.

When the day of the exam rolls around, you can hire a translator to assist you during the written and practical tests. On top of the individual driving lessons, this can become quite expensive too, so make sure to compare prices beforehand.

Taking the Test

You need to present a valid ID before you can take your written test. If the results — which you will receive via email — are positive, you are allowed to book the road test. If you fail your exam, you can take it again. Since exam spots are reserved for those taking the written test for the first time, you might have to wait between two and six months for another opportunity.

Your driving test will take about 30 minutes and you will be notified of the result within 48 hours. It is possible to repeat your driving test five times within five years, without having to take the written test again.

After you have passed all of your tests, you will receive a probationary license which designates you as a jeune conducteur (young driver) regardless of your age or driving experience. This probation period may last up to two or three years. Only when this period is over are you considered an experienced driver and gain the full 12 points (more on this below).

The French Points System

Whether you lose your license after a traffic offense is determined by a points system. First-time drivers start out with six points. These are increased each year if the driver has not broken any rules, up to 12 points at the end of their probation period.

Most traffic offenses will cause you to lose a certain amount of points. When you are down to zero, your license will be revoked for 6 months and you will have to return it to your préfecture. If this happens within five years of a previous loss of points, this period without a license is extended to one year. You can find out more about the amount of points certain offenses can cost you from the Service Public (in French).

 

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