Whether you need to get a driving licence in France or you already have a foreign licence, here is everything you need to get you safely on the roads in France.
Who can drive in France?
Foreigners who have a full, recognised foreign driving licence are eligible to drive in France for one year as long as the foreign licence:
- is valid
- was issued in the country of residence prior to residing in France, and
- is accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) and/or an official notarized translation of the licence.
- you have to be over 18, the French minimum age for driving a car
- your licence must be without restrictions, endorsements or suspensions
- you must comply with medical restrictions (eg. prescription glasses)
- you cannot have been banned from driving in France prior to getting your foreign licence
- Foreign driving licences become invalid one year from the date of residency so it is a good idea to get it exchanged prior to this date if you will be staying for more than one year
French driver’s licence for EU/EEA citizens
If your driver’s licence is issued by an EU/EEA country, you must have obtained your foreign licence while you were legally living in the country it was issued in. Exchanging your licence for into French one is optional unless you are deducted points for a driving offence, it then becomes mandatory.
Non-EU/EEA citizens driving in France
If you have a full non-European licence:
- you have to have obtained your foreign licence prior to receiving your permanent residency or your visa from the Ofii (l’Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration)
- if your nationality is different from the one on your foreign driver’s licence, you need to have obtained it while living legally in that country
Diplomats and students with legal residency are permitted to use their foreign driver’s licence for the duration of their stay in France. (Some conditions apply).
Exchanging a foreign driver’s licence in France
You are required to exchange your foreign licence if you wish to drive in France once your allotted period is passed for using your foreign licence. You will not be legally allowed to drive if you don’t exchange your licence. If your licence cannot be exchanged you need to successfully pass a theory and practical driving test to obtain a probationary drivers licence. You can get more information here (in French).
Citizens from countries that have a reciprocal arrangement with France and can exchange their foreign licence into a French Licence without having to pass a test in France if they have lived in France for less than one year. The list of countries can be found here and more information can be obtained here (in French).
Where to apply for French driver’s license
To apply for an exchange of your foreign licence for a French one, you can go to:
- your local prefecture
- your local sub-prefecture (not all of them handle these requests so check before going)
- Police Headquarters in Paris
Documents you need to get a French driver’s license
What you require for your application may vary depending on your situation so check with the prefecture before you go. You may be asked for:
- The cerfa n°14879*01 form
- The cerfa n°14948*01, Ref. 06 form printed in colour
- Your original European driver’s licence + 2 photocopies front and back
- An official piece of identification (passport) + 2 photocopies
- 2 photocopies of proof of address for the last 6 months
- Carte de Séjour with photocopy of both sides
- non-EU/EEA or Swiss citizens require a photocopy of their visa
- EU/EEA or Swiss citizens require proof of six months’ residence in France
- 2-4 recent passport photographs
- 2 photocopies of proof of address
- your foreign driver’s licence (or a colour photocopy), with notarized translation
- an official (notarized) translation of your driver’s licence or the International Driver’s Permit (IDP)
The cost for exchanging your foreign licence to a French licence can vary and it can take from a few weeks to several months. The French driving licence has to be renewed every 15 years. If your existing driver’s licence is under 3 years old, your new French one will be a probationary one for 3 years.
Getting a French driver’s licence: French driving test
If your country doesn’t have an agreement with France, after one year of residence, you will have to take driving and theory tests to get a French driver’s licence. The written test can be taken on your own by studying the French Highway Code – Code de la Route. There are also several fee-based, online tools that can help you prepare for the written test.
You will need to go through the prefecture or a driving school to get the registration form Cerfa 14866*01, which you will need to submit with proof of identity or a residency permit, a medical certificate confirming that you are fit to drive, two recent passport-sized photos and two self-addressed envelopes. Some schools cater to English speakers otherwise you can request a translator from your prefecture.
Road rules for driving in France
If you're eligible to drive in France, congratulations! Remember though, road rules may be slightly different from your home country. Here are a few:
- Not only should you drive on the right, but priority to traffic is from the right. Priority to traffic on roundabouts is on the left.
- It's forbidden to drink, eat, or listen to headphones whilst driving.
- Speed limits vary depending on weather conditions. You'll see them marked on signs in different areas. There are strict penalties for speeding, and it is illegal to carry a speed-camera detecting device in your car.
- Drink-driving is taken seriously. The rule is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and it's 0.2% of alcohol for drivers with less than 3 years of experience.
- A points system is used for penalties. Drivers start with 12 points, and between 1 and 6 points can be deducted for different offences. New drivers start with only 6 points for the first 3 years after passing their test.