Home Living in France Transport Getting a French driver’s license
Last update on September 11, 2020

You can drive in France using a foreign driver’s license, but after a certain time, some nationalities need to exchange it for a French driver’s license.

Whether you’re moving to France or just visiting, the good news is that France recognizes driving licenses issued by a large number of countries. France also has agreements that allow certain drivers to easily exchange their existing license for a French driving license.

Unless you’re from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA – EU plus Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland, most foreigners can use a foreign driving license in France for the first year only after obtaining residency. Before then, you must get a French license either by exchanging your foreign license or by taking the French driving test.

Who can drive in France?

Every foreigner who is over 18 and holds a full driving license can drive in France for at least one year after arrival. Younger drivers with a license in their home country can’t drive in France until they turn 18.

If you have a driving license from an EU/EEA member state or Switzerland, you can use your license in France indefinitely.

Everyone else must get a French license within the first 12 months of arrival. Foreign driving licenses are invalid one year from the date of residency.

EU/EEA citizens driving in France

If you have a driver’s license issued by an EU/EEA country, you can drive in France for an unlimited period of time as long as:

  • the license is valid and does not have any endorsements, restrictions, or suspensions
  • you are above the French minimum age for driving the vehicle category (e.g., 18 for cars)
  • you’re in compliance with any legal medical restrictions (e.g., prescription glasses)

You can choose to exchange your license to a French one if you wish. However, if you commit a driving offense and get points on your license, you have to exchange it.

Non-EU/EEA citizens driving in France

If you hold a full non-European license, you can drive in France for up to one year without needing a French license. However, you must meet a few conditions:

  • the license is valid and does not have any endorsements, restrictions, or suspensions
  • it must have been issued in your previous country of residence and you must have lived there for at least six months
  • it must be accompanied by either an official translation of the license into French or alternatively, an International Driving Permit (IDP)
  • you are above the French minimum age for driving the vehicle category (e.g., 18 for cars)
  • in compliance with any legal medical restrictions (e.g., prescription glasses)

At the end of the year, you must get a French license unless you are a student or a diplomat.

Students and diplomats

Students and foreign diplomats can drive for the duration of their stay without exchanging their license.

Exchanging a foreign driver’s license in France

France has reciprocal arrangements with a number of countries – including Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Canada. These allow citizens of other countries who have lived in France for less than one year to exchange their existing driver’s license for its French counterpart, without having to pass a test in France. Here’s a list of countries with agreements in place. You can also check with the French consular authority for your country to confirm.

If your country doesn’t have an agreement with France, you must get a French license after 12 months. Applicants must pass both the practical and theoretical French driving tests.

For certain licenses, check with your region if it’s excluded and requires a test to get the French equivalent.

Many insurance companies can issue you a policy with a non-EU driving license. If you have an accident and the company finds you were driving with an invalid license, you may be liable for damages.

How to exchange your driver’s license

Applications to exchange your driver’s license can be made at your local Préfecture de Police or Mairie. Ask for the demande d’échange de permis de conduire form. If you are in Paris, you can also submit an application at the police headquarters. Some sub-prefectures don’t process license exchanges; check before you go to avoid any issues.

If you are exchanging your license on the basis of a reciprocal arrangement it is worth bringing along a copy of the list of countries, in case the local office is unaware. This is a list of countries with agreements in place.

Documents required include:

  • color photocopy of your foreign driver’s license, with official translation if necessary;
  • official translation of the license or the International Driver’s Permit (IDP) if you have one;
  • recent passport photographs;
  • if you are a non-EU/EEA or Swiss citizen, a photocopy of your visa;
  • if you are an EU/EEA or Swiss citizens, proof of six months’ residence in France.

Delivery time and costs for exchanging a driver’s license

There is a cost to exchange your foreign license for a French driver’s license, which varies from place to place.

Depending on the prefecture it can range from a few weeks to several months to get your French license. The license itself is in a pink credit-card format. Busier prefectures will take longer as they deal with larger numbers of applications. The driving license has to be renewed every 15 years.

If you have an existing driver’s license that is less than three years old then your newly issued French license will be a probationary one until a three-year period has elapsed – the same condition that applies to French drivers.

Getting a French driver’s license: French driving test

If your country doesn’t have an agreement with France, you must get a French driver’s license after one year of residence by taking driving and theory tests, in the same process as French nationals.

To apply for a driving test, go through the prefecture or a driving school to get a registration form Cerfa 14866*01, which needs to be submitted along with proof of identity or residency permit, two recent passport-sized photos, two self-addressed envelopes and a medical certificate confirming you are fit to drive.

The test consists of a theory exam (the French Highway Code – Code de la Route – is available from bookshops) and a practical test.

You have to pass the theory exam first. You then have five attempts over three years to pass the practical test. The test is 25 minutes of driving in normal traffic conditions. First-aid knowledge is part of the test.

You’ll find out the result of the test within 48 hours; if you pass you will get a temporary license to use until your formal license is issued within four months. If you fail the test it can take many months to retake; ask at your test center. You can have a translator for both the theory and practical parts of the test.

Tips for taking the French driving test

You can study the Code de la Route and take the written test on your own. This is not always easy, even in English. For the driving test, most préfectures require you to sign up with a driving school where you can pay by the lesson or a forfait for a series of lessons. There are also several fee-based, online tools that can help you prepare for the written test.

Even experienced drivers should know that test administrators may have very specific criteria. Prudent or even legal driving might not be sufficient; you could be expected to drive the French way. Although the road rules are the same throughout France, some of the conditions for taking the test may change depending on where you live – local driving lessons can be a good way to learn.

If you live in Paris, there are several schools that cater to English speakers; you might be able to take the test in English as well. Outside Paris, you can request a translator from your préfecture, although this may not be possible everywhere. You can also request an automatic transmission car, although again, availability depends on where you live.

French driving licenses include a point penalty system, whereby driving offenses are punished, on top of fees, by a reduction in points; if you lose all your points, your license will be suspended. It’s important to note that new drivers – including non-EU citizens who have passed the test – will have half the points (usually six points) for the first few years (typically three years).

Road rules, speed limits and drink driving in France

  • Drive on the right-hand side of the road.
  • Priority to traffic from the right; on roundabouts priority is traffic from the left.
  • Keep your driving license, vehicle registration, and insurance documents with you when driving in France.
  • Children under 10 years old aren’t allowed in the front seat of cars unless there is no room in the back.
  • You are required by law to carry an unused and in-date self-test breathalyzer kit conforming to French safety NF standards.
  • Drink-drive limits are strict: 50mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. The limit was reduced in July 2015 to 0.02% for novice drivers with less than three years of driving experience.
  • You must also carry a reflective triangle and vest in the car when driving in France.
  • Headphones and headsets – for phones or music ­– are prohibited when driving.
  • Don’t eat or drink while you’re driving.
  • On the spot fines or deposits can be heavy and cars can be confiscated for some speeding offenses.
  • There different speed limits for dry and wet weather. Dry weather: urban areas 50km/h, outside urban areas 90km/h, dual carriageways and non-toll motorways 110km/h, and toll motorways 130km/h. Wet weather: urban areas 50km/h, outside urban 80km/h, dual carriageway, and non-toll motorways 100km/h and toll motorways 110km/h. Note: urban speed limits start at the town sign. Drivers with less than two years of experience follow the lower limits.
  • There are lots of speed traps in France (including hidden in unmarked vehicles) and it’s illegal to have any device capable of detecting speed cameras in your car – if your satnav has this feature, disable the alerts.

Driving your own car in France

If you’re from the EU and will only be living in France for up to six months, you can use a car registered in your home country during that time. Stay any longer and you have 30 days after registering your stay to register your car in France and pay French vehicle registration tax. You can read more about importing a car and registration in Expatica’s guide to driving and parking in France.

Contact your local DREAL (Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement) office for information and forms.

Road signs and signals in France

Click here for a list of all the French road signs and what they mean.

Road and traffic conditions in France

Bison Fute provides up-to-date information on road conditions and traffic around France.

For more information

  • Securite-routiere: French government website on all aspects of driving, licenses, and road safety in France.
  • Service-public: information (in French) on driving in France on an EU/EEA license.