Using a French-Registered Car

All French registered cars must be equipped with a fluorescent safety vest and a warning triangle. Not having them exposes you to a fine of 135 euros. You will find them in car shops and supermarkets. You are supposed to keep the safety vest within reach of the driver's seat so that you can take it on before getting out of the car in an emergency.

Buying or Importing a Car

Before registering or re-registering a car in France, it must be submitted to a roadworthiness test (contrôle technique) if it is more than 4 years old. You may choose any authorised control station. It costs around €65. They must provide a report and place a sticker in the windscreen when the car has passed. The authorities cannot demand that a car imported from another EU/EEA Member State be tested unless it is due under the above rules. Note that there is no mutual recognition of roadworthiness tests in the EU yet. For example, if you have a 5 year old car that you had inspected in the UK last month and you move it to France, it must be tested in France before you can register it. The registration must be requested within six months of the date of the roadworthiness test.

The rules for roadworthiness tests are more relaxed for collectors' cars. The test is valid for five years instead of just two years. If no test date is indicated in the registration document, then you must of your own initiative present your collector's car for a roadworthiness test according to the following schedule:
Registration date on or before 31 December 1919: test latest in 2013.
Registration date between 1 January 1920 and 31 December 1939: test latest in 2012.
Registration date on 1 January 1940 or later: test latest in 2011.

If you are planning to buy a second hand car in France, check the price index in the ARGUS paper that you can buy at newagents.

If you import a new car to France, you must pay the French standard VAT rate. If you import a second hand car from the EU/EEA, you must go to your local tax office and present documentation that VAT has been paid in another EU/EEA country. They will then give you a VAT certificate. If the car is from a non-EU/EEA country, you need the customs document to register the car. If the car is above a certain age, no VAT is due if you don't resell the car the first year after importing it.

You need to document to the prefecture that the car has been technically approved. New car models introduced in the EU/EEA after 1/1/1996 are issued with an EU certificate of conformity to document that. It is valid in France, no matter which country issued it and which language it has been written in. If you don't have the original certificate, you can get one from the French importer against a fee that is typically between 80 € and 130 €. If the car cannot get an EU certificate of conformity because it is from before 1996 or because it is not from the EU, then you may be able to get an identification that certifies that it is similar to a model that has been type approved in France. You can get that from the French importer or from the DRIRE. If that is not possible, because the car does not conform to the standards that were applied for the French type approval, then the car needs an individual approval by the DRIRE. They may demand that the car be modified before an approval can be issued. The complexity and cost of this may indeed make it undesirable to import the car to France. There is no guarantee that they will approve the car at all. Think well before importing a non-EU/EEA car to France. There is an exception for collectors' cars, which can get a limited registration document even if they don't fulfil today's standards. For cars imported from a country where driving is to the left, it must be documented that the car can show speed in kilometres and that the headlights are adapted to right-side driving.

You must register the car at any prefecture or sous-prefecture in your département, by post or in person. You need personal identification, a document certifying your address in France, e.g. a utility bill, the previous car registration document, a form you must fill in to request registration, technical approval of the car, the VAT certificate from the tax office or the customs document, and the roadworthiness test document if applicable. You must re-register the car if you move to another address is France. See the tax section for tax details.

You must insure the car, but the prefecture does not verify that. Be sure to provide the insurance company with documentation of your current bonus and claims history, even from abroad. Without any insurance history, it will be much more difficult to find an insurer. Most French insurance companies accept foreign noclaims bonus. 

OTC - L'Organisme Technique Central - the government authority responsible for roadworthiness tests. Includes practical information and statistics.

Scrapping a Car

The procedure for scrapping a car, van, or 3-wheel motorbike is as follows, updated 31 March 2011:

Take the vehicle to a demolisher (démolisseur) or crusher (broyeur) authorised by the prefecture. They must accept the vehicle at no cost, although they can charge for transporting the car if you ask them to collect it.

They must give you a certificat de destruction on receipt of the car.

The vehicle registration document (carte grise) is cancelled once the prefecture receives either the déclaration d’achat pour destruction (form: cerfa n°14365*01) or the déclaration d’intention de détruire (form: cerfa n°14366*01) which the authorized demolisher or crusher must send within 15 days. They may do it online if connected to the vehicle licensing system SIV.

It is the responsibility of the demolisher or crusher to de-pollute the car, including the various liquids in the car at no cost for the car owner.

Legal reference: Code de la route article R322-9.

Driving Licence

French government site about driving licences:

Any licence issued by an EU/EEA country is mutually recognised within the Member States (Council Directive 91/439/EEC of 29 July 1991 on driving licences ; note that this Directive is being phased out and replaced by Directive 2006/126/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on driving licences ; Member States have until 19 January 2013 to adopt the necessary laws and regulations), hereunder France, without any formalities. Thus, there is no need to change such a licence to a French one, even if you become permanently resident in France. The licence is valid until the expiry date printed on it, unless national law in the new country of residence has more restrictive durations on their licences, in which case the national duration overrules the duration on the licence. You may, if you wish, either register your EU/EEA licence at your local prefecture so that they can easily issue a replacement in case of theft or loss, or exchange it to a French licence without a test. Translations cannot be demanded (see question 27 in the FAQ linked below). While the former option may be useful, there is absolutely no benefit of the latter option, unless you are approaching the expiry date on the licence or under national law. In case the police has to add points to your licence after a serious traffic offence, you will be obliged to change your licence to a French one.

You will find further useful details in this FAQ written by the European Commission (PDF, new window).

There are more technical details in this Commission Interpretative Communication on Community Driver Licensing (2002/C 77/03) (PDF, new window).

Overview of driving licence provisions by the European Commission.

For the procedure of changing an EU licence into a French one, see (note, the instruction to translate the driving licence is wrong) and

Arrêté du 8 février 1999 fixant les conditions de reconnaissance et d'échange des permis de conduire délivrés par les Etats appartenant à l'Union européenne et à l'Espace économique européen. NOR: EQUS9900102A

About driving licence delivery in general: Arrêté du 8 février 1999 relatif aux conditions d'établissement, de délivrance et de validité du permis de conduire. NOR: EQUS9900105A

Despite the EU Directive introducing this mutual recognition having been in force since 1996, many police officers and prefectures have still not bothered to understand the principle of mutual recognition and they keep asking drivers to exchange foreign licences even though these licences are perfectly valid. This is very typical of French civil servants: They often do not keep themselves up to date, and they only understand the most simple and common parts of the laws and regulations. When they don't know something, they just fill in the gaps themselves by guessing. I have seen enough examples to know that this is not an exaggeration. As the driving licence issue keeps coming up, I suggest that you print the following two articles from the French highway code to show ignorant police officers, as well as the Arrêté du 8 février 1999 fixant les conditions de reconnaissance et d'échange des permis de conduire délivrés par les Etats appartenant à l'Union européenne et à l'Espace économique européen. NOR: EQUS9900102A:

(Partie Réglementaire)

Article R222-1

Dans le cas où ce permis a été délivré en échange d'un permis de conduire d'un Etat n'appartenant pas à la Communauté européenne ou à l'Espace économique européen et avec lequel la France n'a pas conclu d'accord de réciprocité en ce domaine, il n'est reconnu que pendant un délai d'un an après l'acquisition de la résidence normale en France de son titulaire.

Tout titulaire d'un des permis de conduire considérés aux deux alinéas précédents, qui établit sa résidence normale en France, peut le faire enregistrer par le préfet du département de sa résidence selon les modalités définies par arrêté du ministre chargé des transports, après avis du ministre de l'intérieur et du ministre chargé des affaires étrangères.

On entend par "résidence normale" le lieu où une personne demeure habituellement, c'est-à-dire pendant au moins 185 jours par année civile, en raison d'attaches personnelles ou d'attaches professionnelles.

Article R222-2

L'échange d'un tel permis de conduire contre le permis français est obligatoire lorsque son titulaire a commis, sur le territoire français, une infraction au présent code ayant entraîné une mesure de restriction, de suspension, de retrait du droit de conduire ou de retrait de points. Cet échange doit être effectué selon les modalités définies par l'arrêté prévu à l'alinéa précédent, aux fins d'appliquer les mesures précitées.

Le fait de ne pas effectuer l'échange de son permis de conduire dans le cas prévu à l'alinéa précédent est puni de l'amende prévue pour les contraventions de la quatrième classe.

If, however, your EU/EEA licence was issued as a result of exchanging it to an EU/EEA from a non-EU/EEA country without a test, then it is only valid is if it were a licence issued by that original EU/EEA country; see next.

A non-EU/EEA licence is valid for up to one year after your settling in France. You may need to carry an official translation of the foreign licence. Within that year, you must change it to a French licence. France has bilateral agreements with a number of countries, allowing for exchange without a test. If the country that issued the licence has no agreement with France, then you must sit a new driving test. Note that in the case of the US, agreements are in place with certain states but not all. Ask at the prefecture if the country concerned is covered by an agreement.

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