This article explains how a French driver’s license works. Learn about the French point system: How to check your balance, how to regain points or how to contest traffic violations. This article also provides detailed instructions on how to order a new French driver’s license as well as useful information about probationary permits.
If you’re looking for information on how to apply for a French drivers license, read Get a French driver’s license in 4 steps.
French driving point system
Since 1992, France utilizes a points system for driver’s licenses. The driving license points system works the opposite of the American one: The more points you have, the better.
The full amount of points on a French driver’s license is 12 points whereas a probationary license comes with 6 points.
How to check your point balance
You can check your point balance on the Télépoints website along with some basic information such as your license’s category or validity. Use the password (code confidentiel Télépoints) you received with your French driver’s license.
You can lose from 1 to 6 points for each driving infraction you commit. If there are multiple infractions at once, the maximum number of points withdrawn in one incident is 8 points. The number of points withdrawn for an offense is calculated according to the offense’s category. Some minor traffic violations do not change your point balance.
Whenever you commit a traffic offense, you get notified by postal mail. When losing more than 3 points at once, you might have to take a mandatory course.
When you have no point left
Whenever you reach zero point, your driver’s license is revoked. Following your point balance reaching zero, the French interior ministry will send you a 48SI notification letter by certified mail.
Once you received a 48SI letter, you have 10 days to surrender your French driver’s license to your local préfecture
If you had a full license, you have to re-take the written test. However, drivers on a probationary licenses must re-take the written test as well as the practical test. After a licence revocation, drivers must wait 6 months before re-taking the test.
There is a significant delay (2 to 4 months) between the time you commit a traffic violation and the time you receive the 48SI letter. Therefore, if you know that your point balance is likely going to reach zero, try to get some points back to avoid losing your license.
Once you’ve received the 48SI letter, there is no more option to take a course to gain any point back on your license.
How to regain points on your French driver’s license
You can gain driving points by taking a 2-day traffic school course called “stage de sensibilisation à la sécurité routière” or “stage de récupération de points”.
A course gives you up to 4 points but you can’t take more than one course per year. Contact your local préfecture to get the list of schools that provide traffic school courses.
If you don’t take any course though, your points are reinstated automatically after 2 or 3 years without infractions. The time necessary to get your points credited back depends on the category of the traffic violation you committed.
French driver’s license card
The NEPH number you received when applying for a driver’s license is now your driver’s license ID.
How long is a French driver’s license valid for?
Whereas old style driver’s license were valid for life, this has changed in 2013 with the new license format. Card format driver’s licenses are valid for 15 years and old style pink driver’s licenses are valid until January 19th, 2033.
What does a French driver’s license look like?
Until 2013, French driver’s license were 3-fold cardboard pink booklets that looked like this.
Starting in 2013, French driver’s licenses are now the size of a credit card and they hold an electronic chip.
Incidentally, recent driver’s licenses do not list a postal address and you don’t have to report a change of address.
How to get your full driving record
In order to get your full driving record (relevé d’information intégral), contact your local préfecture and ask them if you should apply in person, online or via mail. Each préfecture has its own process.
A full driving record contains your point balance, your past traffic violations and traffic school courses as well as past driving medical visits.
Why is my French driver’s license under my maiden name?
Since 2013, French driver’s licenses are under a person’s birth name. For married women, only their maiden name appears on their driver’s license. However, married names are recorded in the Fichier National des Permis de Conduire (Driver’s license national file) and the French police have access to this information.
It’s certainly a good idea for married women to carry around a document with both names on it. It will save you some time when you try to rent a car.
Read French naming rules to learn how last names work in France.
How to renew a French driver’s license?
Since French driver’s licenses became renewable in 2013, the first license renewals will occur in 2028. The official way to renew a driver’s license is still unknown. It should only be a matter of entering your basic information though, no medical visit or test needed.
The number of points withdrawn and the fine you get for a traffic violation depend on the category of the offense. Traffic violations do not necessarily change your point balance.
Traffic violation categories
There are 5 traffic violation categories.
- First category – parking tickets
- Second category – no insurance certificate, not using turning lights…
- Third category – speeding less than 20km/h over when speed limit is above 50km/h…
- Fourth category – failure to give priority, driving with no seatbelt, drunk-driving, speeding less than 50km/h over, holding a phone, going the wrong way…
- Fifth category – speeding more than 50km/h over
Here’s a list of a few traffic violations with the number of points withdrawn.
- using your phone while driving (not using the car system) – 3 points
- blood alcohol limit above the authorized limit – 6 points
- speeding more than 20km/h and less than 30kms/h – 2 points
- failure to give priority – 4 points
- failure to give priority to a pedestrian – 6 points
Check out the exhaustive list on the Sécurité routière website.
What is the blood alcohol limit in France?
Even though apéro is a national sport in France, blood alcohol content (BAC) limitation in France is 0.05% (0.5g/l) compare to 0.08% (0.8g/l) in the U.S.
Unlike in the United States, random checks by the police in France are not unusual. French police are allowed to make you take a breath test. Refusing to take a breath test is equivalent to a DUI conviction with a BAC above 0.8g/l. In France, punishments for a DUI are:
- 6 points withdrawn
- €235-€150 for a BAC between 0.5g/l and 0.8g/l
- fine up to €4,500 for a BAC above 0.8g/l
- your vehicle might be impound
- obligation to use a car breathalyzer device on your car for the next 3 years
- possibly a license suspension for up to 3 years
Under French law, driving with a BAC greater than 0.08% is a criminal offense.
Can you drive without your driver’s license on you?
You must carry your driver’s license while driving a vehicle in France. If you’re pulled over and you can’t show your driver’s license, you face a penalty up to €38.
You then have 5 days to get to a police station (gendarmerie or commissariat) and present a valid driver’s license. If you don’t, the fine increases up to €750.
Can you drive in the U.S. or in Europe with a French driver’s license?
Can you drive in Europe with a French driver’s license?
Yes, you can drive in Europe with a valid French driver’s license, as a visitor and as a resident if you decide to relocate.
If you exchanged your U.S. driver’s license for a French one though (not taking the test), your French driver’s license might not be sufficient when you become resident in a European country other than France. Research the law in the destination country ahead of time.
For short stays, you are allowed to drive in Monaco, the UK and Switzerland.
Can you drive in the U.S. with a French driver’s license?
Yes, you can drive in the U.S. with a valid French license as a visitor, but not as a resident. Each U.S. state has their own set of rules about when you’re considered a resident. Check your state DMV beforehand.
How to order a new driver’s license
Order an international driver’s license
The process to order an international driver’s license is almost identical as the one for ordering a regular driver’s license. Select Je demande un permis de conduire international (I apply for an international driver’s permit) on the ANTS application page.
Order a new French driver’s license on ANTS
When you need a new French driver’s license, you can order it online. Follow the instructions if your driver’s license is:
Whereas a French driver’s license is free the first time you order it, it costs €25 to renew it.
Login to your ANTS account and click on Nouvelle demande (new application) in the upper right corner.
Click on Le permis de conduire (driver’s license) on the next screen.
Click on Je commence La demande (I’m starting the application)
Select Je demande la fabrication d’un titre de permis de conduire (I order a new driver’s license).
Indicate if you’re applying for a minor or not and select d’un renouvellement de titre (driver’s license renewal), which opens up a new section under your selection.
Select your reason for ordering a new driver’s license.
Select No to the question Une visite médicale est-elle nécessaire ? (is a medical visit necessary?). A category B driver’s license doesn’t require a medical visit.
The next section is about declaring that you lost your driver’s license in order to get a certificate that you can use while waiting for your new license. Enter your driver’s license details and click on Etape suivante (Next step).
In the next pages, you’ll have to provide your personal information and pay €25 for a new French driver’s license.
French probationary driver’s license
Passing the French driving test gets you a probationary driver’s license even if you already have a U.S. driver’s license.
On top of having to sport an A red sign in the back of your car and paying a higher rate for car insurance, there are a few other specificities to a probationary permit.
- A probationary driver’s license comes with only 6 points.
- The blood alcohol limit is .02% (no apéro for you!).
- Speed limit is 110km/h on highways and 80km/h on regular roads.
The probationary period lasts 3 years and you automatically gain 2 extra points at the end of each year (provided you don’t commit any traffic violation).
Thankfully, there’s a way to reduce the probation period to 2 years by taking a one-day driving course called “stage postpermis”. This course can be taken 6 months after you passed the test but before your first year is up.
Look for a certified driving school displaying the yellow École conduite qualité logo.
A blood alcohol content above .02% costs 6 points. When you’re on your first year after passing the test, losing 6 points means you have no point left and your license is revoked. You have to re-take the driving test (both le code and the practical test) to get a new license.
How to pay a traffic fine
You can pay a traffic fine online on the French government website. The page is available in English.
How to access your traffic offense file
You have access to a traffic violation file on the ANTAI website.
How to contest or appeal a traffic fine
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of claims you can make on the permis de conduire government web site.
- challenge the # of points on your driver’s license
- contest a fine
- ask at which date your points will be restored
French digital driver’s license
There is currently no digital version of a French driver’s license that you can store on a smartphone but it’s coming up. A digital version of your driver’s license should be accessible on the France identité application by 2024.
Starting in Fall 2023, the following 3 French departments will start implementing digital driver’s license: Rhône, Hauts-de-Seine and Eure-et-Loir.
I hope you understand the French driver’s license point system better. If you’re on a probationary license, be aware that 6 points are easily lost and you don’t want to re-take the French driving test (I know you don’t!).
If you want to learn about Crit’Air, read Air quality certificate for driving in France.