Obtaining a French driving licence

<French driving licence - a 'permis de conduire'>In December, I went to the prefecture in Annecy to switch my British driving licence for a French one. Since Britain is part of the EU (for now at least!), a British licence is accepted for driving in France unless you are caught doing something wrong, like speeding. For the first time in my life, I was pulled over for speeding around Lake Annecy last year. This is an area where the speed limit changes between 30 and 70 with a few 50s thrown in, and I was careless. Two gendarmes with a handheld speed camera pulled me over. The bad one of their good cop/bad cop combo told me I wasn’t allowed to drive in France on a British licence and that he would have to charge me for that too. I stood up for myself and said I knew that was incorrect, and the good cop agreed. Phew! Feathers ruffled, bad cop insisted I must change my licence to a French permis de conduire immediately. Most of the Brits I know have never bothered changing their British licence even if they’re legally meant to, but exchanging my Australian licence for a British one only took a couple of weeks and it was a very simple procedure involving the post office and a form, so I decided to do the right thing.

I kind of regret that now.

Three visits to the prefecture later, all well-spaced thanks to letters being sent backwards and forwards demanding to see paperwork they had already seen, and I was given an A5 sheet of printed paper with the blank spots handwritten as a temporary permis de conduire.

It was March!

The paper had a two-month limit. No problems, I thought. The British one took less than two weeks to arrive. How much more difficult can this be? Well, there’s either a backlog, or it’s very, very difficult. As the end of the two-month limit loomed, I wondered if I should no longer drive. Six days before the deadline, I called the prefecture. Bad news: two public holidays in a row, so no chance of getting through. Counting down to four days, I called and was told that nobody was there that day to take my call. Ah, that’s why it takes two months perhaps. It was a Friday, so I called back Monday — the day the temporary paper ran out — and spoke to a lady who seemed totally confused as to why I was calling. “But we sent it out to you more than a week ago!” she gasped. Perhaps she lives in a different France where mail takes only a week to arrive.

<My very own French driving licence from Annecy prefecture>Two days later, the licence arrived. The accompanying letter said I’d need to replace it in 2014 due to a new law to update the current tri-fold style permis to a more standard credit-card-sized permis. Of course I’ll need to replace it. Why on earth would the French government offices be any more efficient than offering a driving licence for a year and a half? If nothing else, the extra workload is bolstering the French employment figures at a time when France has officially entered a recession. So, well done, I say.

Besides, the tri-fold permis is enormous. It doesn’t fit in my purse at all, so I’m looking forward to the next round of switching licences next year when I will once again be able to fit the card in my purse. I’m guessing it will arrive some time in 2015.

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I’m a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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7 comments on “Obtaining a French driving licence
  1. Steph says:

    My Irish one runs out in October this year and I’ve been putting off getting the French replacement in the hopes those new ones would have been introduced by then. Looks like I’ll be having to jump through the hoops twice too. 🙁

  2. Rosemary K says:

    Well, thank god I traded in my Australian licence when I got to France over 35 years ago. French bureaucracy doesn’t get any better. I’m also a French citizen now which means I don’t have to mess around with resident’s visas. I had my first speeding ticket last year as well and have just got my points back, which is strange, because it was less than a year ago.

  3. Wendy says:

    Steph, prepare for it early! Mine arrived literally days before I needed it for a hire car.

    Rosemary, I’ve heard such bizarre stories from some Aussie friends who were told they didn’t have the right to live here when they did and that they couldn’t renew their visas/Cartes de Sejour! I imagine becoming a French citizen requires a lot of paperwork, but probably less overall compared with 35 years on an Aussie visa. I’m glad I scored a British passport!

  4. Rosemary K says:

    I was part of the Australian overseas lobby group about ten years ago who changed the constitution so we could have dual citizenship. It’s certainly made a big difference!

  5. Wendy says:

    WOW! Well done, Rosemary (and thank you!). I was ready to head back to Australia when they changed the law in Britain to allow dual nationality: I didn’t consider losing my Australian citizenship as an option. Luckily, the change happened at the right time.

  6. Alisa says:

    I’m so jealous of you being able to just trade yours in!! My state in the US doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement, so I’d have to go to driving school to be legal… so frustrating. Until I scrape up the horrendous amount of money to do that, I just cross my fingers & pray I don’t get stopped!

  7. Wendy says:

    Alisa, an American friend had the same problem, but she reckons she switched her US license from her home state to a different state (I’ve forgotten which one) and she was then allowed to exchange it without having to go for a whole test. I don’t know how easy that is to do, but it has to be easier than a French license test. They include trick questions in the theory exam! Good luck either way. I feel very lucky to not have to go through that.

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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