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US driver’s license in France

This FAQ answers questions about using a US driver’s license in France.

Can I drive in France with a U.S. driver’s license?

When you relocate to France, your US driver’s license is valid for one year, starting the day your permanent residency starts. If you hold a VLS-TS visa, the countdown starts the day you validate your visa. For a VLS visa with Carte de Séjour à Solliciter à l’Arrivée en France, the countdown starts on the carte de séjour’s validity start date.

When you stay in France less than 185 days, you can legally drive in France with your U.S. license. Get an international driving permit to use as a translated version of your license.

Once your first year is up, you need a French driver’s license to drive in France. The only two options are:

– exchange your US driver’s license for a French driver’s license
– obtain a French driver’s license. Read Get a French driver’s license in 4 steps if you can’t exchange your U.S. license.

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Can I exchange my US driver’s license in France?

Some U.S. states have reciprocity agreements with France. In order to be exchangeable for a French license, your US driver’s license must be:

1. from one of the reprocity states
2. issued from your last place of residence right before your move to France
3. has to be valid at your date of entry in France and on the date you apply for the exchange
4. issued before the begining of your permanent residency
5. translated in French

Do I need to translate my US driver’s license?

Yes, you must carry a French translation of your U.S. license with you. As a translation, you can either use an international driving permit or get your driver’s license translated by a certified translator.

The easiest solution is to get an international driver permit from AAA for $20. An international driving permit is not sufficient on its own but it has to be presented along with your US driver’s license. Don’t get your international driving license too early as it’s only valid for one year.

If you’re already in France, you can find a certified translator on the cour de cassation website.

I’m a student, can I drive in France with my US driver’s license?

As a student with a carte de séjour étudiant (student permanent residency), you can use your U.S. license to drive in France for the whole duration of your studies. Get an international driving permit to use as a French translation and keep it with your valid US driver’s license.

If you wish to remain in France after the end of your studies, your U.S. license is still valid for one year. After one year, you need a French driver’s license to legally drive in France.

Can I drive in Europe with an American driver’s license?

The same rule applies in Europe and in France. Your U.S. license is valid all around Europe during your first year.

Les Furets

How long does it take to exchange a US driver’s license for a French one?

Since 2017, driver’s license exchange applications are processed in Nantes, except for the ones from Paris. A large volume of licenses being processed in one single place means longer delays. Exchanging a U.S. license takes between six months and a year.

Don’t delay and apply for the exchange as soon as you obtain permanent residency in France. I’ve heard about applications being rejected because the timing was a little too tight.

Do I have to give away my US driver’s license to exchange it?

Yes, you have to give away your U.S. license to exchange it for a French driver’s license. Even though you give it at the very end of the exchange process, you will be without a driving license for a short while.

A good solution to avoid being without driver’s license, is to get an extra one before leaving the United States. Report your U.S. license lost to your local DMV to get a new one. Your extra US driver’s license will be very convenient as well when you visit the U.S.

Which US states have driver’s licence reciprocity with France?

The following U.S. states have a driver’s license reciprocity with France: Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Florida and Connecticut.

Can you switch to an exchangeable U.S. state?

After one year in France, you are only allowed to drive with a French driver’s license. If you plan on staying in France longer than a year, switching to a reciprocity state before leaving the United States is worth considering.

Since every DMV has its own requirements regarding proof of address, some U.S. states might be easier to switch to than others. Some Americans in France reported that having mail sent to an address was sufficient to get a driver’s license, while others had to provide a utility bill.

If you have friends or family in one of the exchangeable states, using their address with their permission should be quite easy. Changing your last state of residence in the United States has consequences for taxes and voting from abroad though. Do your research before switching state.

If you don’t find a way to switch to a reciprocity state, don’t sweat it and get a French driver’s license. Look at the bright side. I’m sure that you will learn a lot of French in the process and you’ll probably be more confident driving as well. You might even learn a thing or two about stick shift driving along the way.
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What driving documents do I need to exchange a US driver’s license?

To exchange your U.S. license, you need to prove that your U.S. license has not been suspended or revoked. Request your driving record from your local DMV and make sure it states the date you were first licensed (original exam date). To be accepted by ANTS, your driving record should be less than three month old at the time of the exchange application, so plan accordingly.

How to exchange an American driver’s license in France?

ANTS (Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés) is the French official website to exchange a US driver license.

1. Go to the ANTS website

ANTS is the French official website to exchange your US driver's license
2. Click on Echanger un permis étranger pour un permis français

If you're from one of the reciprocity US states, you can exchange your US driver's license for a French one
3. Click Commencer votre démarche en ligne to start the application

If you're from one of the reciprocity US states, you can exchange your US driver's license for a French one

How much does it cost to exchange a US driver’s license?

Exchanging a US license in France is free.

Can I rent a car in France with a US driver’s license?

Yes, you can rent a car with your US driver’s license. Be aware that you can drive a rented car with a U.S. license only during your first twelve months in France.

Should I bring my previous US driver’s licenses to France?

Bring your previous driver’s licenses to France and show them to your car insurance company in France. Use previous licenses as proof of your driving experience to avoid paying high insurance rates for new drivers. You need to show more than three years of driving to avoid being charged new driver’s rates.

What should I do if I notice an error on my exchanged license?

If there’s an error on your French driver’s license, report the error to ANTS within six months of the exchange.

Can I get car insurance with a US driver’s license?

You are legally allowed to get a car insurance with a US driver’s license during your first year in France.

What are the risks if I drive with my US driver’s license after one year?

If you are caught driving in France without a French driver’s license after one year, you get the same sanction as anyone driving without a driver license. You can get as much as one year jail time and a €15,000 fine (traffic law Article L.221-2).

Another issue is that, if you get into a car accident, your car insurer does not have to cover any of the damage once he finds out your driver’s license was not valid at the time of the accident.

To stay on the safe side, learn the differences between driving in France and driving in the U.S.

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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17 thoughts on “US driver’s license in France”

  1. Hi. Do you know what year Wisconsin was added to the list. I have read that it dropped off in 2013. So when did it get added again? Anyone know?

    • Hi Germaine!
      I researched but I was not able to find this information. All I know is that Wisconsin was removed from the list of reciprocal states in March 2013 but that’s it.
      I’m really curious about this. I’ll get back to you if I find anything.
      Thanks for reaching out!

  2. Hi, I am from the United States and been living in Bordeaux for 1 month . I have a B license and want to buy a Piaggio MP3 – 3 wheel motorbike. I need to do the 7 hour training coarse to be able to get insurance for the motorbike. It is said that with a B license you can drive the 3 wheel bike with 7 hour training. I have been to the closest driving school and they said I will not be able to pass the 7 hour training if I can not speak French. Is the theory test for the 7 hour training the same as for the actual drivers license. Do I need a NEPH number to do the exam and then go for the practical training?

    • The 7-hour course is a training class that you have to attend at a driving school. This is not a test like the regular driver’s license that you can prepare on your own. You could maybe try to look for an English speaking driving school that would offer this course? When you say you have a B license, are you talking about a French driver’s license? How recently did you get it?

  3. My comment is a bit off topic, so ignore if not okay. I moved to France a year ago after living in Albania for a year, I left US in 2021. I have not owned a car here in France and had to take the code and driving tests, which I just passed. Therefore, I do not have a driving history in France. How do I go about getting auto insurance when I buy a car? Will I face penalties or outright refusals? Will I need any records from USA or Albania? Help, because most of the information available online is for UK expats. thanks.

    • Hi Jay,
      Congrats on passing the driving test! Try getting your driver history record (translated in French) from your previous car insurance company in Albania.
      You’ll certainly have to try a few car insurances but keep going until you found one that takes into account your driving history.
      Without it, you’ll probably have to pay a higher rate as you’ll be considered a new driver.
      Hope this helps, good luck!

  4. This article was super helpful!! I have a small question if you have the time. I’ve been living in France full time for nearly seven years now, however I’ve always been on a student visa so I’ve been able to use my US driver’s licence. I’ve just transitioned to a Carte de Séjour Profession Libérale and so as I understand it, my one year countdown to get a French licence starts now. Would it be accepted if I changed my licence to a reciprocity state year and exchanged the licence within this year, since I’ve been on a temporary residency student visa here for so long? Thanks for this article and your advice!

    • Hi Zoe!
      I can’t give you a definite answer because your situation is a little tricky and you have only one year to get a French license. I recommend that you try to find someone who’s recently been through the same situation (ask the FB group “Americans driving in France”). Do you think you could get a DL from a reciprocity state pretty fast? I don’t believe there’s any requirement regarding the date of delivery of a US license in order to exchange it but again, it’s better to find someone who’s done it before to be sure. Hope this helps!

  5. Hi Brad,

    I’ve just tried South Carolina and Massachusetts in the service-public simulator and they are both reciprocal states. I’m not sure why you’re getting an error on the Ants web site but Ants is still the official website to exchange driver licences. I’m afraid you won’t have much luck exchanging DL anyway since you’re way past your first year of residency…sorry.

  6. Hello,
    I am just having a try at switching my license over online even though I have lived here for many years and h1ve been turned away from the préfé for not having done this in my first year of residence. Surprisingly, I cannot even get past where I enter the state of SC as the state which issued my license. I get an error message saying la response n’est pas renseignée, as if SC is no longer a state with reciprocity. Would you happen to know if something has changed in this regard?
    Thank you

  7. Hi,

    Question about timing of the 1 year deadline to convert a US DL from a reciprocity state. When do you think my 1 year deadline would be?

    I have a VTS-LT as a spouse to a french national.

    – Nov 2021: VTS-LT valid (received in US)
    – Jan 2022: entered France and Validated VTS (3.5 mo stay)
    – May – August 2022: returned to US
    – May 2022 convert California DL to Massachusetts DL
    – August 2022: return to France (start 2-3 year stay)
    – November 2022: extend VTS-LT and convert to CdS

    I guess my big question is when am I considered a “resident”?
    Thank you

    • Your situation is quite tricky since you first validated your VLS-TS in January 2022 and that’s when the countdown is supposed to start. At the same time, you only stayed 3 months. I don’t have an answer for sure but I would definitely try to exchange your Massachusetts DL showing your more recent carte de séjour. It’s worth the try in my opinion even though I don’t guarantee the outcome.
      Please, let us know how it went if you go for the DL exchange!

  8. This is very helpful. Here is a story that may help readers decide whether to exchange licenses or not: My husband and I arrived in France expecting to stay only a few years so we never got French licenses. Then we decided to stay. I went to huge lengths to set up a “residence” in a reciprocal state, in this case New Hampshire. I went there several times, I had mail, including from a Realtor, sent to the friends’ address I was using, I registered to vote (not a bad thing anyway!). I even got a new passport so when my new work visa was issued so it looked as if I had just arrived.
    This worked, I switched with no problem. My husband didn’t want to be bothered so he did none of the above. After I threatened to take away his car keys because he wasn’t insured under the license he had, he took driving lessons, which cost a fortune since he did them with Ferenbach, and got his French license.
    However, as he has pointed out to me ever since, he actually knows how to drive in France — who has priority when, what the various icons mean and so on. So there are tradeoffs to both choices.

    • Thanks for your feedback Anne!
      I agree that it looks like a pain to switch state but taking the French driving test is not so easy and can be expensive like you said.
      It’s possible to take the French test without taking driving lessons if you have a foreign license but you still need to practice on your own.
      Thanks again for sharing your experience Anne!

    • Hello Anne,
      My husband and I are moving to France from Arizona (a non-reciprocal state) in the next six months. We are keen to get driver’s licenses from a reciprocal state beforehand. Would you be willing to answer a few questions about exactly what you did to establish “residency” in NH? We have a nephew in Texas and hope to do it there.
      My email is Many thanks.


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