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Living in France

Regulations for Drivers in France

Driving in France can mean exploring rural regions full of historic castles or lavender fields in bloom. However, it may also mean venturing out onto the crowded, hectic streets of Paris. Our guide for motorists in France prepares you for all key aspects, from road conditions to permits to car insurance.

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Getting a French Driver’s License

While driving in France, remember to abide by the road rules to drive safely and stay out of trouble. You must be at least 18 years old to drive in France, though there are certain exceptions for older teenagers driving under supervision. Most rental car companies only rent their vehicles to people 21 years old or older.

If you move to France from another EU country, you do not need to apply for a French driver’s license. Your valid EU or EEA license enables you to legally drive in any EU member state.

If you do not come from an EU country, you are legally allowed to drive in France with your old license for up to one year after moving to France. The license must be still valid, must not have been suspended, and must be accompanied by an official French translation — you could also look into getting an International Driving Permit.

France has agreements with certain non-EU countries whose residents do not need to take a theoretical or practical driving test to exchange their foreign license with a French permit. A list of these countries can be found on the public service website (in French only).

At least three months before your foreign permit expires, you should go about applying for a French license. The process is not as daunting as it may seem.

You must apply for the French driver’s license within one year after receiving your legal residence permit; otherwise your license becomes invalid. The application takes place at the local préfecture or sous-préfecture. Remember to bring the following documents:

  • completed application to exchange your foreign driver’s license (form 14879*01)
  • completed application for a French driver’s license (form 14948*01)
  • proof of identity (e.g. passport)original and copies of your visa and residence permit (if applicable)
  • four passport photos
  • original and copy of your current driver’s license
  • an official translation of your driver’s license into French

You can also check the requirements yourself on the official government website (available only in French).

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The French Driving Exam

If you cannot simply exchange your foreign permit for a French driver’s license, you will have to take the theoretical exam, as well as a practical test. Also, a first aid course is obligatory. The theoretical exam is a multiple-choice test with 40 questions to be answered under time constraints (90 minutes altogether). If you get 35 out of 40 answers right, you have passed the exam.

To prepare for this test, you can purchase a study book called Code de la route in most bookstores — although it is only available in French. You can try free tests online; however, the accuracy of questions is not guaranteed.

If you want to prepare more thoroughly and your French is not up to scratch, there are a few international driving schools to be found in Paris.

After you have successfully passed the theoretical exam, you are entitled to take the practical driving test (32 minutes). You have five attempts in two years. Even if you are an experienced driver, it might help you to take a few practice lessons and ask your driving instructor what the examiners usually pay attention to.

Once you have passed the two exams, you’ll get a probationary driving license for France.

The French Point System and Traffic Rules

Once you are legally allowed to drive in France, you must obey the following road rules:

  • The speed limit in France usually follows this scheme: 130 km/h on highways (autoroutes), 110 km/h on major roads (urban highways and two-lane highways), 90 km/h on country roads, 80 km/h on the Paris Ring Road, and 50 km/h in towns and cities. If the roads are wet, a reduction in speed of at least 10–20 km/h is required.
  • Seatbelts are required for all passengers, and it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure this. Children under the age of 10 must sit in the back of the vehicle with appropriate child restraints. You should not put small children in rear-facing child seats in the front seat if its airbags are active.
  • Hand-held mobile phone usage and text messaging while driving are illegal, and you will be fined instantly if caught.
  • The legal blood alcohol level is 0.05%  and since 2012, you are required to carry a NF-certified breathalyzer, even if the introduction of a 11 EUR fine for non-compliance was postponed indefinitely in 2013. Be aware that fines may reach up to 9,000 EUR if you are caught driving under the influence. You may also have your driver’s license suspended, or may even face a prison sentence of up to four years.
  • You must carry a reflective jacket and a warning triangle in your car at all times.
  • Speed camera detectors are forbidden. If your satnav includes this functionality, make sure to deactivate speed camera alerts to avoid a hefty fine and the danger of having your device or even your car confiscated.
  • The French driver’s license is based on a points system. With a regular license, you start off with 12 points. New drivers, however, only have six points. If they don’t commit a traffic violation, they get two more points per year. Thus, they can reach a dozen points within three years.

Anyone who commits a traffic violation loses points (up to six points at once). Once you lose all the points, your license will be revoked. You can figure out how many points you have left by visiting the local préfecture in person or by accessing the online government system (website in French only).

Updated on: December 13, 2017
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