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Driving and Autos: Driving and Driver's License

People in France drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Requirements for Locals

The name of the agency that issues licenses in France is the Préfecture de Police. A driver’s license in French is called a permis de conduire.

There are many different Préfectures de Police serving different regions; find your local office on the main website:

Even if you are an adult, you will be considered a jeune conducteur (young driver) after earning your first license in France, and your license will be restricted for your first three years in the country. This means you will have only six points on your driver’s license instead of 12—points for infractions are deducted, rather than added, in the French system. You will also be required to put a red “A” sticker on the back of your car, meaning you must drive more slowly than the speed limit when outside major metropolitan areas. Note that there are separate requirements for those getting a motorcycle or commercial truck license in France.

After you have passed a written and practical test (see below), you can apply for your driver’s license by mail—the process usually takes six to eight weeks. You will need to include:

  • A self-addressed, stamped envelope with adequate postage and an acknowledgement of receipt
  • An original document certifying your successful completion of the test exam
  • A copy of your ID with a photograph or a residence permit for foreign applicants, photocopied on both sides
  • Your previous driver’s license

Requirements can sometimes vary depending on the region of France where you live; check with your local Préfecture de Police to verify.

Written and Road Test

Both a written and a road test are required to earn your license in France. If you take the test in an car with an automatic transmission, the license will specify that you are authorized only to drive automatic transmission cars in France.

The written test has 40 multiple-choice questions, of which you are required to answer 35 correctly. You have only 30 seconds to answer each question. Many driving schools offer practice tests on CD-ROM, or you can buy practice test CDs and practice at home.

There are a number of private driving schools throughout the country that can help you prepare for the test through both classroom and practical instruction. A complete program usually takes about two or three months to complete, and the cost can be several hundred euros, including exam fees, study materials, and eight hours of driving instruction.

Attending a driving school is not mandatory, but it will make the process easier: the driving school will take care of your paperwork and exam scheduling. In addition, if you do not use a driving school, you are required to provide your own car with two sets of controls for the driving test.

Both the driving and the written test will be in French, but you are allowed to bring a translator.

If you don’t pass the written and practical exams on the first try, it can be a long wait to try again—usually two to six months. You’ll also need to pay for driving school a second time.

It’s a difficult process, but once you have a French permis de conduire, it is valid for life—you never have to renew it.


You must be a resident of France to get a French driver’s license. To be a resident, you must have lived in the country for at least 183 days (six months) and have a valid carte de séjour or carte de résidence.


The minimum legal driving age in France is 18. 


You will need to provide a copy of a valid state-issued photo identification. 


There are exam fees for both the written and the road section of the driving test. 

Requirements for Foreigners
Driving Using a Foreign License

If you are a holder of a carte de séjour or a carte de résidence, you can also drive with a valid license from your home country for a period of 12 months, beginning on the date of validity for the first carte de séjour.

After that, you must get a French driver’s license. There is an exception for those in France on a student visa, who can drive in France with a license from their home country until the expiration of their visa.

Foreign drivers in France are strongly encouraged to have a notarized French translation of their driver’s license, as well as an International Driving Permit (see below).

Obtaining a Local License

If you are not on a student visa and you are staying in France for more than a year, you are required to get a French permis de conduire.

Some countries have agreements with France that allow citizens of those countries to exchange their driver’s licenses for a French one with minimal fuss or paperwork, and without taking the French driver’s test. If your country has an exchange agreement with France, you have until three months before the expiration of your carte de séjour to initiate the exchange. The Maison des Francais de l’Etranger ( has a complete list of countries that have reciprocal agreements with France. Drivers from the United States and Canada may or may not be able to exchange their licenses, depending on the state their original driver’s license is from. Check with your embassy to find out if you can exchange your license.

To exchange your driver’s license for a French one, you will need the following:

  • A copy of your carte de séjour or carte de résidence
  • A copy of your passport
  • The driver’s license from your home country
  • A notarized or official French translation of your previous driver’s license
  • 2 ID photos
  • A Distingo envelope from the post office.

Some Préfectures de Police have different requirements; double check with your local Préfecture to verify.

If your country, state, or province does not have a reciprocal agreement with France, or if you do not apply within the appropriate time frame before your carte de séjour expires, you will have to earn your license as the locals do—by taking the written and practical exams.  

European Union Citizens

If you are a citizen of a European Union (EU) country, you are legally able to drive anywhere in the EU using the license issued by your home country, including France. Rules for issuing licenses as well as the physical form of the license have been harmonized among all EU countries. 

International Driving Permit

If you are planning on driving in France using a foreign license, even for a short time, you are strongly encouraged to get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). 

An IDP includes your name, photo, and basic information in ten languages. When carried together with a foreign license, it can serve as local identification in addition to permitting you to drive. It is valid in over 150 countries. The IDP is only valid when carried in conjunction with a driver’s license issued by your home country. An IDP is valid for 12 months from the date of issue.


If you are an Australian citizen, you must have a valid Australian driver’s license to get an IDP. The local Australian Automobile Association (AAA) office issues IDPs:


To get an IDP in Canada, you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid Canadian provincial driver’s license. The Canadian Automobile Association issues IDPs:

The United States

To obtain an IDP in the US, you must be over the age of 18 and have a valid US driver’s license. An IDP can be obtained from any Automobile Association of America (AAA) office or by mail if you are already overseas. For more information, visit the AAA website: