Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Your UK driving licence – legal here but not in the UK?

Thousands of British Ex-pats are driving in France wth UK licences which cannot be valid according to DVLA, but the FCO says that they are! But who is right?I have to admit that I am a man who is not afraid to express an opinion or state a point of view, even if that view is not a popular one! I do allow (gracefully, I think) others to disagree & hold a different one, but I do get irritated when people talk rubbish when they really should know better. A prime example of this is the BRITISH GOVERNMENT!
Having spent my early years driving around the UK, motoring in France is generally a very relaxing pastime . Certainly the transition from a UK to a French motorist was very easy, with no necessity to change my paper licence when I arrived in 2000. A quick check on the internet a few years ago confirmed my original understanding of European law – from 1997 a UK licence was valid throughout the EC and as a French resident my UK licence would remain so. In view of recent questions posted on some forums I decided to check the official, as opposed to the “Brits in France” websites to get a definitive answer. I wish I hadn’t bothered! The answer was either yes or no, depending on who you contacted! I stepped on to the carousel…

First stop, the DVLA. A few years ago this was their comment:- 

Moving to another country

 "You don't need to notify DVLA of a change of address when moving to live abroad.”

That’s ok then.
But this has now changed slightly to:-

Moving abroad

"If you move abroad, check with the driving licence authorities there to find out how to get a local driving licence.”

Very non committal, thus dumping the question of licences in the lap of the French Government whose website says

“Driver's licences issued by other countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) are recognized in France.

The person who lives in France, holds a European driving licence, may drive. It must meet certain conditions.”

(These conditions are basically that the licence must be in date and must be valid for the category of vehicle driven. It does not mention the address)

So your licence IS valid in France!
This ties in nicely with the current information given by the British Consulate in Paris who, in answer to the question  Is my UK driving licence valid in France? say:-

“A British licence is valid in France. According to the European Community Directive (91/439/EEC), since 1 January 1997, British nationals taking up residence in France for more than a year do not have to exchange their British licence for a French one anymore.”
The UK government, or at least parts of it, further confirm this. I found on the net from the House of Commons library, standard note number SN3060, dated 7/6/2012, written by Louise Butcher. It claims to explain the law on driving licences and I quote a part from it:-

2.2 Second Directive, 91/439/EEC

The Second Directive, as amended, is currently in force across the EU until January 2013, when the Third Directive takes effect.
The two main aims of the Second Directive (91/439/EEC), adopted in July 1991, were to facilitate the free movement of the citizens of the EU and to contribute to the improvement of road safety. To those ends, the Directive:
                    abolished the obligation to exchange driving licences within a year in the event of a change of State of normal residence;
                    adopted the Community model driving licence (established by the First Directive) for ease of use across Member States; and
                    harmonised the categories of driving licence, the conditions for the issue of a driving licence, the minimum ages for the various categories, driving tests, and minimum standards of physical and mental fitness.

So there you have it. You may use your UK licence in France  Even the new directive 2006/126/EC which is now in effect does not change this.

But wait! What happens if you use it when you visit the UK? The address shown on it is not your home, and you cannot put a French address on it or even a new UK one as the conditions to do so are as follows:-
“You’ll need to:
  • have your driving licence (both parts if it’s a photocard licence)
  • be a resident of Great Britain
  • provide addresses of where you’ve lived for the last 3 years
  • have a valid UK passport or other form of identity
  • have your National Insurance number if known
  • not be disqualified from driving
If you need to change your name at the same time, you’ll have to apply by post.
If you’re moving abroad, you can’t register your new address on your British driving licence. Contact the driving licence authority in your new country of residence.”

This leaves you open to a £1000 fine in the UK although in your new country of residence you are apparently perfectly legal!

I decided to speak to DVLA to get to the bottom of all this and the gentleman I spoke to confirmed the legitimacy of my licence here in France but on the question of the address while in the UK he was less convincing. He would think that you would only have to present proof of French residency to a policeman to negate the possibility of a fine. “What document would I need to show?” I asked. He did not know.
I would like something more concrete so I phoned the headquarters of Kent police. My question was a simple one or so I thought! The spokesperson was not aware that my UK licence was valid throughout the EC, as indeed many gendarmes here are not. After putting me on hold he spoke to a Sgt Brown, number 10508, who advised that one must inform DVLA of your French address (which she assumed that they would put on the licence – I was not able to talk to her direct). What about the DVLA’s original statement saying the complete opposite? When did that change? DVLA cannot add a foreign address! Basically, no current address equals a £1000 fine. Perhaps, it was suggested, I should contact the DVLA and get their stand in writing?

Round and round…

This phone call involved quite a wait followed by the startling information that to be valid your licence must have your current UK address on it, which as a French resident you do not have, therefore your licence is invalid. Therefore those of us still using our UK issued licences must be driving illegally as there can be no such thing as a valid UK licence in the hands of a French resident by dint of the fact that it is impossible to have your real residential address on it! So the British consulate and the European Community are wrong??? I have sent a copy of this article to the DVLA in the hope that someone can clear this up! I am currently waiting for a reply from each.

And before any cleverdick says “Just get a French licence” be aware that you can lose certain categories such as caravan and large trailer towing, or require a medical for others, although some have gained categories! It would also be like buying a brand new Ferrari and finding that it cuts out if you exceed 20 mph and the dealer just tells you not to drive it above 20 mph. Sure, it won’t cut out any more…
Round and round we go.

Mark Rimmer. “


  1. Let us all know what eventually transpires. Good luck.

  2. I guess that the answer is to report your UK licence lost or stolen, get a replacement and then exchange this replacement for a French licence. Whilst in France you use the UK licence - perfectly legal, and when in the UK use the French licence - again, perfectly legal.

    Best of both worlds =D

    1. Sorry, Peter, Article 7 (5) directive of 91/439/EEC states-
      5. No person may hold a driving licence from more than one Member State.

  3. Excellent article - I await the outcome with interest. One obvious thing to add, although I expect most people know - if you commit a driving offence in France you are required to change your UK licence to a French one.

  4. Mark - great info - would it be ok if we add this as a useful link on SFN? If so can you get in touch with Terry Williams as he is the admin for the useful links page? Thanks! Cx

  5. A very interesting article, thank you. However, you write:

    'The Second Directive, as amended, is currently in force across the EU until January 2013, when the Third Directive takes effect.'

    Have I missed something? What is the third directive?

  6. Hi Sally, Thank you for your comments.
    The Third Cirective concerns the harmonization of driving licence formats and categories. In effect all newly issued EU licences will look the same and all new drivers will qualify to drive the same categories EU wide.The Third Directive can be seen here

    Important things to note are that the new categories are not retrospective, but do relate to we expats. Note paragraphs 4, 5 & 6.
    France is a little behind with the update and their leaflet on the new licences (doc no 24/12/2012 15.13.19) lets us know that the new format will not be available until the second half of the year!

  7. My old MP also forwarded my blog to the DVLA with an accompanying note (With House of Commons logo)which asked " must be relatively straightforward to provide a substantive response to the concerns expressed in Mr Rimmer’s article."
    If there is a simple answer I would have felt that it could be easily given - to date none has been offered.

  8. If you are legal or permanent resident and country does not issue the international driving license you should be aware of the following: Consumers cannot legally drive in most countries without obtaining a temporary or permanent driver's license from the country in which he or she plans to drive; and Our unofficial international translation of driver's license does not confer any driving privileges on consumers whose home countries do not issue International Driving Permits.