If you have a valid driver’s license from a European Union country, you may drive in France until it expires, or you may exchange it for a French license. If your valid license is from outside the EU, you can drive in France for one year after your official entry date. After the first year of residence, a French driver’s license is required. You can get one by either exchanging your license for a French license if your home country or state has a reciprocity agreement with France or by passing a written highway code test and a driving test. For details about French driver’s licenses, please see http://www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr/Demarches/Particulier/Permis-de-conduire-et-papiers-du-vehicule/Permis-de-conduire.

Exchanging your License

To exchange your license, check with the issuing authority or the Prefecture de Police de Paris (http://www.paris.pref.gouv.fr/) to make sure a reciprocity agreement exists as this list is constantly changing.

The list of countries can be found at http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/R10943.xhtml. The American states of Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Florida and Connecticut allow driver’s license exchanges, however, you must verify under which category. (i.e, A or B).

You must meet the following conditions to make the exchange:

  • Your license must still be valid
  • It must have been issued before your French residency began
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • You must request the exchange within the first year of residency
  • You must pass medical visit if necessary

Remember to begin the procedure at least three months before the deadline in order to allow for delays. If you do not get a French license within the time frame, your home country’s driver’s license will no longer be valid for driving in France, your insurance company may refuse to pay claims and you may have to take the written and driving tests in order to obtain a French license.

To exchange your license, you will need to go to the Préfecture de police, Bureau des permis de conduire, 92, boulevard Ney, 75018 Paris, Métro : Porte de Clignancourt ( Ligne 4 ), 01 58 80 80 80. It is open Monday-Thursday from 8:30am-4:30pm, Friday 8:30am-4:15pm. Try to arrive before 3:00pm, because the administration may refuse you if the offices are too crowded. You will need to provide:

  • The driver’s license request form (available at the Préfecture)
  • Your current driver’s license with an official translation in French
  • Proof of current address
  • Passport and carte de séjour with photocopies
  • Four passport-sized photos

For complete informaton, in French, visit http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F1460.xhtml.

Obtaining a French Driver’s License (If exchanging is not possible)

If you are not fortunate enough to qualify for the exchange license, you must take both a written (code) and driving (pratique) test. If you are already a licensed driver in another country, you do not have to take driving lessons in France. However, the driving test must be taken in a dual-command car, so you will have to go through a driving school to arrange to take the test. You may also want to take some classes to become familiar with the French highway code and driving practices. The test is difficult, (think French philosophy applied to road rules) and many people have to take it more than once in order to pass. Once you are enrolled with a school, they will handle all of your paperwork as well as scheduling your written and practical test.

Check with different schools to find the best prices and services to meet your needs. Some schools offer driving classes in English.

  • Fehrenbach Driving School (01.45.06.31.17) at 53, boulevard Henri-Sellier in Suresnes, just outside the Paris limits, conducts all classes in English. http://www.frenchlicense.eu

Arrangements can be made for the test to be taken in the suburbs and to have a translator available.

The procedure to get a French driver’s license takes a minimum of about two months because of waiting periods imposed by the government.

Obtaining an International Driver’s License

An International Driving Permit (IDP) allows you to drive a private automobile in another nation when accompanied by a valid license from your home country. It is not a license to operate a motor vehicle on its own.

For a list of agencies that issue IPD, please refer to http://www.drivers.com/article/207.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) issues International Driver’s Licenses in the United States. You will need to provide:

  • The completed application to the same address with a photocopy of your valid U.S. driver’s license
  • Two passport-size photographs
  • US bank check or international money order for $15.00 payable to the AAA. The International driver’s license issued by the AAA is valid for one year.

An International driver’s license is only valid for use in France by U.S. citizens who are here temporarily (less than 90 days). The International Driving Permit is translated into the nine official languages of the United Nations, including French and English and serves as a translation to be used in conjunction with the visitor’s valid driver’s license. It can be useful in emergencies such as traffic violations or auto accidents, particularly when a foreign language is involved.

NOTE: This can only be considered as a translation in many languages, and cannot be separated from the U.S. driver’s License. Longer-term residents must comply with the requirements set forth above under “Driver’s License”. An International driver’s license cannot be obtained in France.

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