One of the things on our long list of ‘things to get organised’ when we first moved over permanently was exchanging our driving licences.
Now, up until the unholy mess that is Brexit happened, this wasn’t even something I needed to worry my head about. The UK was part of the EU, we both had EU licences and they were recognised across Europe.
As the negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement progressed, first by Prime Minister Theresa May, who failed to get her draft agreed by Parliament, followed by her successor Boris Johnson with a new version, and it looked more and more likely that the UK would be crashing out of Europe with no agreement. This of course created massive uncertainty for Brits living in the EU about how our rights would be affected. This included whether our UK-issued EU driving licences would still be accepted.
The official advice from the UK government was to exchange our driving licences “as soon as possible to make sure you get one before 29th March 2019” – the day when Britain was scheduled to leave the EU.
Until about the time we arrived in France to live, the process had been quite straightforward. All applications were handled by your local Préfecture. In September 2017 changes were made to the application procedure for exchanging Foreign Driver’s Licences obtained in an EU /EEA country and all applications had to be made by post to a central office in Nantes. (Unless you lived in Paris, where the Préfecture continued to deal with applications)
So I gathered together all the required documentation for our two applications and there were many…
- Cerfa Form n° 14879 * 01 Completed, dated and signed
- Cerfa Form n° 14948 * 01 reference 06 which had to be printed in colour, completed, dated and signed
- 1 double-sided colour copy of the driver’s license to be exchanged (and, if necessary, an official translation)
- proof of identity (1 copy)
- proof of residence (1 copy)
- 1 double-sided copy:
- Side 1: proof of your residence in France for at least 6 months (for example: rental contract, employment contract, proof of social security, tax notice …)
- 3 photos (2 on the 2 cerfa forms and one loose)
- 1 self addressed prepaid registered envelope …
And posted them off to Nantes.
Then we waited… and waited…
And waited …
There were news articles about the massive waiting times, overwhelmed staff in Nantes and many immigrants, and not just from the UK, who were worried sick because their licences were lost in the system and the gendarmes weren’t always up to speed with the situation.
Then in March 2019 CERT, the French public services, said they would not be processing applications to exchange British driving licences for French ones until they knew exactly what was happening with Britain’s departure from the EU. I’ve a feeling that the change in policy was probably more about managing the backlog rather than anything to do with the legalities surrounding Brexit.
As promised, not long after, our two fat dossiers were dropped back into our letterbox, each with an accompanying letter politely informing us that unless we had lost/had stolen our licence or we had to get penalty points added they would not be dealing with exchanges until further notice.
So that particular ‘to do’ got pushed down the list for the timebeing.
To keep up with the constant changes in policy caused by Brexit (The Brexit withdrawal agreement contained no provision for driving licences – that would all be decided during negotiations during the Transition Period) I joined a Facebook group called Applying for a French Driving Licence. This is a brilliant source of support and information for anyone (not just Brits) moving to France and trying to get a French licence. I can heartily recommend it.
Through this group I discovered that the French authorities were planning to introduce a new online application system, through the ANTS website that we had previously used to register the car and van. CERT weren’t accepting any renewals until this went live, but we were starting to get a bit concerned because Colin’s licence would be expiring in August when he hit the big Seven-Oh, and from anecdotal experience it had been taking months, even more than a YEAR, to get a new one.
Finally, in March 2020 the new online application service for foreigners went live. The administrator of the Facebook group had been working closely with CERT to try and resolve some of the serious problems that members had been experiencing under the old system (people even losing their jobs because they no longer had a valid licence!) and she advised that we should not try applying any earlier than 3 months before it expired. That didn’t sound good! But I knew from the group that those who had tried sooner had just got a message to apply again later.
The problems we had experienced with the ANTS site previously had been exacerbated by the fact that we hadn’t at that point had our first income tax return to complete, so didn’t have our tax reference number to create an ANTS account. This time, with that magic number, it was easy-peasy. I completed the online application and uploaded scanned copies of the all the required justificatifs, documents proving the authenticity of the information provided. (All this was pretty much identical to what we had sent before, but all copies had to be updated.)
We then received
- an email confirmation that the application had been received
- an email to say it was being dealt with
- An email to say our application was incomplete and to look in our account space online. ( This proved to be because, although I had ticked a box to say Colin was renouncing the Heavy-vehicle categories on his licence, I had missed that they wanted a letter uploaded, formally confirming this renunciation! Letter uploaded and application resubmitted)
- An email informing him that the application had been approved and instructions to send off his UK licence.
We downloaded the official attestation, confirming that he had been approved for a French licence (in case he was stopped by the gendarmes) and about a week later his shiny new French driving licence was delivered by our beaming post lady.
At least we are both now legal drivers. The French authorities have now stated that they will recognise my exisiting UK licence until it expires in a few years time – unless of course it all changes again!
But this hasn’t even been our longest battle with the system. Our application for our Cartes de séjour, residence permits is still ongoing. Watch this space!