Getting a driver’s license in France in 4 steps

This handbook gives precise instructions for getting a driver’s license in France as an American. Follow these 4 steps to get a French driver’s license.

Do you need a French driver’s license?

If you have a valid U.S. driver’s license, you can use it to drive in France during one year. After one year, you need a French driver’s license to legally drive in France.

There’s a possibility to exchange your U.S. driver’s license for a French one if your license was issued by one of the following states:

Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Florida and Connecticut.

If your U.S. driver’s license is from one of the exchanging states, head directly to How to Exchange an American’s Driver’s License in France.

When you are not eligible to exchange your US driver’s license, the only option left is to take the French driving test.

What kind of French driver’s license should you get?

The B category (“Permis B”) allows you to drive vehicles under 3.5 tons with a maximum number of 8 passengers. If you have no intention of driving a stick shift, you can get a driver’s license for automatic vehicles only called “permis boîte de vitesses automatique”.

Once you have a French driver license for automatic cars, you can later convert it to include stick shift cars by taking a 7-hour training course.

Getting a driver’s license in France – When should you start?

To start the process of getting a driver’s license in France, you need:

  • to have been living in France for at least 6 months. If you entered France with a VLS visa, the count starts the same day as your first residence permit (“carte de séjour”). For a VLS-TS visa, the counts starts the day OFII validated your VLS-TS visa.
  • proof of your legal residency in France. Any valid residence permit (“titre de séjour”) can serve as proof.

Since your US driver’s license is only valid for a year, don’t delay and apply for a French driver’s license at the six-month mark.

Do you need a driving school?

Both the theoretical test and the practical test can be taken as an independent candidate (“candidat libre”).

If you’ve been driving in the US, the ideal solution in my opinion is to take the written test on your own but pick a driving school and take a few driving lessons before taking the behind-the-wheel test.

Did you know?
“J’ai passé le code.” means “I took the written test.” whereas “j’ai réussi le code.” means “I passed the written test.”.

Getting a driver’s license in France

If you’re preparing the written test with a driving school (“auto-école”), you don’t need to do the paperwork yourself. The school takes care of the paperwork for you.

When you take the written test as an independent candidate, you need to start the process by getting a NEPH number.

Step 1 – Get a registration number (NEPH)

Documents required to get a NEPH number

  • ID (valid passport)
  • proof of your legal residency in France (“titre de séjour”) – You can use your “carte de séjour”, your VLS visa stamped by OFII or a certificate that you applied for your visa renewal (“récépissé de la demande de renouvellement du titre de séjour”).
  • proof of address (“justificatif de domicile”) less than 6 months old
  • a photo or a digital picture with a code (“photo-signature”). If you can’t find a service to get a digital picture, you can download a form at the end of the application to send your photo via regular mail.
  • if you are under 21, an ASSR 2 or an ASR certificate. This is a test that French children take in school. If you never took the ASSR test and you are under 21, you have to take the ASR test. Contact one of the GRETA centers to take the ASR test.

Apply for a NEPH number

Go to the France Titres website (previously called ANTS) and click on S’inscrire à l’examen du permis de conduire (Driving test registration)

Apply for a French Driver License on the government's ANTS website
Apply for a French driver’s license on France Titres (ANTS)

On the next page, click on Commencer votre démarche en ligne (Start your application online).

Start your application for a French driver's license on ANTS
Order your NEPH on France Titres (ANTS)

You have to create an account on France Titres (ANTS) or use your global ID from France Connect. Follow the instructions on the next pages.

It can take up to 2 months to receive a NEPH number. Use that time wisely and practice.

The NEPH is your application number and it’s also your future French driver’s license’s number.

Step 2 – Take the written test

To learn all the details about the written test, read French driving test to find out the answers to the following questions: What is the test like? Can you take the test in English? How difficult is it for non-French speakers? How many points do you need to pass?

Once you feel ready to take the written test, book your theoretical test session. You need your NEPH number to sign up for the written test.

Schedule a regular written test session

Since 2016, written test sessions are managed by authorized private centers. Registering online is simple and you can use any of the following authorized centers: ExacodeLa PosteSGSDekraPearson VueBureau Veritas (Code’nGo) and France Code.

Feel free to pick the test center that is the most convenient for you. No matter which center you pick, it’s usually possible to reserve a seat for the next day and the cost is €30. The test questions come from the interior ministry and there is not one center with questions easier than other centers (in case you wondered).

I will show you next how to schedule a written test with La Poste.

How to schedule a written test with La Poste

Go to Le code avec La Poste website. Enter the day and the location where you want to take the test. Click on the search icon.

Schedule your driving written session with La Poste
Book a written test with La Poste

On the next page, select a center in the list of centers available near your place.

Pick a test center near your place for the driving written test.
Pick one of La Poste written test centers

Pick the most convenient time and day.

Pick a time and day for the driving written test.
Schedule your written test with La Poste

If you’re happy with your scheduled appointment, click on Confirmer ma réservation to validate.

Validate your appointment at La Poste center.

At this point, you need to create an account with La Poste to confirm your appointment.

After you’re done, you’ll receive an invitation (“convocation”) email with all the information and instructions you need. Print your “convocation” to bring it to the written test session.

Attend a special session with a translator

Some written test sessions (“séances spécifiques” or “séances aménagées”) are held specifically for people with hearing or other learning disabilities. As a non-French speaker, you can have access to these special sessions and bring a translator with you.

Scheduling a written test in a “séance spécifique” is not straightforward and you’ll probably have to plan ahead because specific sessions are pretty rare.

Special sessions are managed by the state, not private centers. You have to contact your local Direction Départementale en charge des territoires (DDT) (search for “bureau de l’éducation routière”, the service in charge of driving education) or your local préfecture to find out if/when the next special session is scheduled.

Once you scheduled your session, you need to find a translator who’ll come with you to the written test. The translator has to be a sworn translator certified with a French court of appeals (“Cour d’Appel”). You can find a sworn translator on the Cour de cassation website.

As tempted as it may be to take the French driving test in English, you’ll still need to learn the driving French vocabulary to take the behind-the-wheel test. I advise that you bite the bullet and take the regular test.

Documents required for the written test

  • ID (valid passport)
  • your written appointment (“convocation”) to the test

How do you get the results?

Results are emailed less than 48 hours after the test, sometimes as fast as only 2 hours after the test.

What if you fail the written test?

There is no delay to schedule another test. You pay €30 every time you take the written test.

How long is the written test valid for?

You have 5 years to take the practical after you passed the written test.

Step 3 – Take the behind-the-wheel exam

If you took the written test an an independent candidate, you can still use a driving school to take a few lessons before taking the driving test.

If you do, the school will take care of scheduling the driving test for you.

Even experienced drivers will greatly benefit from taking a few lessons with a driving monitor. I bet it will considerably increase your chances to pass the driving test.

Schedule a behind-the-wheel test as an independent candidate

To schedule your behind-the-wheel exam, create an account on RdvPermis. Enter your last name, NEPH number and email address and click on Je m’inscris à rdvPermis.

Create an account on rdvPermis to  book your driving exam as an independent candidate.
Create an account on rdvPermis to book your driving exam

Students who don’t show up at their appointment will have to wait 40 days before they can book a new test on RdvPermis. Double check that you can make it!

What to bring to the practical test as an independent candidate?

When you’re not using a driving school, you need to rent a dual-control car for the day of the exam. You can rent a dual-control car (automatic or manual) from Permis malin.

If you take the driving test as an independent candidate, you also need to bring someone with a valid driver’s license (“accompagnateur”) and a valid ID to the practical exam with you. This person needs to sign the Driver’s guide contract (“Charte de l’accompagnateur”) before getting into the car on the day of the exam.

Did you pass?

You won’t know right away whether you passed or failed. You get the results of the driving test on the sécurité routière website 48 hours after the exam. Your NPEH number is required to check the results. If you passed, download your driver’s license certificate (CEPC), you’ll need it to order your driver’s license card.

What if you failed the driving test?

If you failed the driving test, you cannot take it again right away. Depending on the score you received, you might have to wait between 2 and 45 days (when you scored below 10).

Step 4 – Order your driver’s license card

After the behind-the-wheel test, the last step remaining is ordering your physical French driver’s license.

Documents required to order a driver’s license

Order your license card

Go to the France Titres Order your driver’s license page and click on Réussite à l’examen du permis de conduire (you passed the driving test).

Order your French driver's license on ANTS

On the next page, click on Commencer votre démarche en ligne (Start your application online).

Order your French driver's license card on ANTS.
Order your driver’s license card on France Titres (ANTS)

Login to your France Titres (ANTS) account and follow the instructions.

Can you drive before you receive your driver’s license card?

You can use your driver’s license certificate (CEPC) along with an ID to legally drive in France during 4 months after the day of the practical test. Note that the CEPC is not valid outside France.

Probationary driver’s license

The A sign is mandatory for the first 3 years

Even if you’ve been driving for years, passing the French driving permit will only get you a probationary license (“permis jeune conducteur” or “permis probatoire”).

As a “junior driver”, you have to put a red A disc for apprentice (“apprenti”) on the back left corner of your car (not on the rear window!). Your new probationary license comes with only 6 points instead of 12. You’ll gain the full 12 points over the next 3 years.

Good luck to you if you’re starting the process of getting a French driver’s license!

In the meantime, you can learn about the driving point system in French driver’s license.

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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