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Living in France

Getting Your Own Set of Wheels in France

Do you prefer driving your own car? It’s not uncommon for expats to buy their own set of wheels or import their beloved car from abroad. From sales contracts and import tax to the carte grise, there is quite a lot of red tape to tackle before you are ready for your daily commute.

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At a Glance:

  • When importing your car, you might be able to avoid paying duty or import tax under certain circumstances.
  • You need to be a resident in France before you can buy a car there.
  • Double-check the registration before you sign the sales contract to make sure everything is in order.
  • After buying a car, you have one month to register it and get a carte grise.

Although it may be easier to drive a rental at first, you may eventually want to get your own set of wheels. This will give you more flexibility, especially if you are living in a rural area, and will probably be cheaper in the long run. While buying a car in France is not that complicated, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

New or Used?

The process of buying a car in France is relatively straightforward, but by no means easy. Expats must be legally resident in France before they’re allowed to purchase a vehicle in France.

Both international and French brands are widely available, although French cars are more common in rural areas. If you’re on a budget, you could consider buying a used car to save some money. However, keep in mind that used cars are not as much of a bargain as in other countries.

On the upside, the re-sale value is rather high and, since everything is closely regulated, there’s a relatively low chance of getting  ripped off when buying a used car.

The Paperwork

As with everything, buying a car cannot be done without first getting through a pile of paperwork. Throughout the purchase, the seller will provide most documents, including the contract of sale. Make sure to read the contract thoroughly and understand the details. Some sellers try to get you to sign a business-to-business contract, selling the car without warranty. In a business-to-customer contract, such a clause would be void.

Moreover, you should double-check to make sure that the name of the seller(s) is on the registration document. If you’re buying a car from an official trader, the name of the company you’re buying from should be in the contract. It’s also important that the series number mentioned in the registration matches that stamped on the car.

The seller should provide the following documents:

  • a certificat de cessation (sale document and certificate of transfer)
  • a current vehicle inspection certificate
  • a certificat de non gage (also known as certificat de situation administrative) which proves they have the right to sell the car
  • a carte grise (registration certificate)

You should provide the following documents:

  • a certificat de residence (proof of residency in France)
  • your ID or passport

If you are planning to register the car outside of France, you will also need a European Certificate of Conformity (COC). You can get this document from the seller or request it from the manufacturer for a fee.

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Bringing Your Car

Even though buying a car in France might be the cheaper and simpler solution for most expats, some may prefer to bring their own car when they move.

How to Avoid Paying Duty and Import Tax

The good news is that you can import a car without paying duty and tax under certain circumstances:

  • If you have lived outside of the EU for at least 12 months.
  • If you have used your car privately for at least six months before the transfer.
  • If taxes and customs fees have been paid in your country of origin (or the country where you bought the car).

You have to submit the following documents to the customs office throughout the process:

  • two copies of an estimated inventory, with your vehicle listed
  • a completed from Cerfa No. 10070*02
  • a certificate of change of residence from the French consulate, proving your residence in a non-EU country and move to France
  • a registration certificate from your country of origin (including a translation if necessary)
  • the purchase invoice
  • valid foreign license plates

You will receive a copy of your inventory and form n°846 A from the customs authorities to present at the préfecture to register your car. You have four months to get your car registered.

If the conditions mentioned above do not apply to you, you will have to pay duty and tax. Once you have paid all fees to French customs, you will get a copy of the customs declaration, a receipt, and the document n°846 A to register your car in France.

Importing Your Car from an EU Country

If you import a car from another EU country, you don’t have to pay taxes under specific circumstances. This depends on whether you drive a new or used car. A vehicle is considered new if it is less than six months old or has traveled less than 6,000 kilometers on the day it enters France.  On the other hand, if your car is more than six months old and has a mileage higher than 6,000 kilometers, it is considered used. 

If you have bought a new car in another European member state and have paid VAT (value added tax) there, you are exempt from paying it again. However, this information can be a bit misleading, since having paid the tax simply authorizes you to get a refund from your seller or trader before paying VAT in France. If you drive a used car, you do not have to pay VAT.

In both cases, you will need to get a tax certificate in order to register your car. This can be picked up at any tax office near you within 15 days of the delivery of your car.

Together with this certificate, you need to present the original and a copy of the invoice or document of purchase, as well as the certificate of registration issued abroad. Keep in mind that all these documents might have to be translated to French.

The Carte Grise — Car Registration in France

The carte grise is your vehicle’s official registration. After you have purchased a car, you have one month to register it with your préfecture. You better not get caught driving without a valid registration — the fine is a minimum of 135 EUR.  

If you are buying a used car that is already registered, the seller will have to cancel the old carte grise before you can re-register it. In order to register your car, you need the following paperwork:

  • certificat de residence (proof of residence)
  • proof of insurance
  • valid passport or ID
  • payment of the registration fee

The fee depends very much on the type of car you drive and its horsepower, but it probably makes most sense to simply inquire with your préfecture about the costs.

Until 2009, number plates related to a specific person and address, but today they belong to the car even after it is sold. Since a new carte grise comes with a new registration number, your license plates have to be changed as well if your used car was last registered before 2009. This can be done by any car repair shop and shouldn’t be too expensive.

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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