Brexit Bureaucracy Could See Thousands Of British Expats In France Lose Their Driving Licences And Even Their Livelyhoods.
Thousands of British citizens in France have been left ‘high-and-dry without a valid driving licence, or face losing theirs within months, because of bureaucratic overload and the failure of the Uk and French governments to sign a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement.
“I’d say there are 3,000 who are seriously worried – for whom this has really become nightmarish,” said Kim Cranstoun, who moved permanently to France three years ago and whose Facebook group for Britons affected has now more than 6,000 members.
“Commuters risk losing their jobs, tradespeople can’t work, elderly people have missed medical appointments. Many British people in France live in quite remote, rural areas, with little or no public transport. Some are thinking of moving back to the UK. It’s quite desperate.”
British photocard licences must be renewed every 10 years, while drivers turning 70 must also renew their driving licences. People with “notifiable” conditions, such as diabetes or epilepsy, must renew their licences more often, every one to five years.
The French government announced late last year that, as a consequence of Brexit, British residents of France would need to exchange their UK licences for French ones, and would have until 31 December 2021 to apply to do so.
Under current rules, short-term visitors and tourists in France can continue to use their British licences. British drivers who move to France will only be able to drive for a year on their UK licence before being obliged to swap it for a French licence. It is important to bear this in mind because if the exchange is not done within the year then a French driving test is required.
However, those applying to exchange their licences since January have had their requests systematically rejected by a new French online system, known as ANTS, on the grounds that no reciprocal licence agreement is yet in place between the UK and France.
How much are the fines?
Driving in France without a valid licence can result in a fine of up to €15,000, while taking the French driving test instead of swapping licences entails mandatory lessons and a daunting French-language theory exam, at a cost of about €1,800.
Government sources suggest a UK-France reciprocity agreement is “close to being sealed”, but could not give a firm date as to when the deal will be done.
The problem has been further compounded by administrative overloads at the centres in Nantes and Paris that processed earlier paper exchanges but became swamped by more than 100,000 applications during 2018 as a possible no-deal Brexit loomed.
That prompted France to drastically limit applications by decreeing, in April 2019, that UK driving licences were valid for as long as Britain was an EU member, and requesting holders not to try to exchange their licences unless they were expiring or lost.
Punished through no fault of their own
Many Britons duly waited until after the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 to begin the process – and now find themselves with licences that either expire soon or already have, and unable even to start exchanging them.
“People followed both governments’ instructions, and are now being punished through no fault of their own,” said Cranstoun. “This is having a massive impact, on working people and pensioners. Unless it’s sorted, we’ll have to take French tests.”
The Living in France section of the British Foreign Office website advises that UK licences “will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021”, but adds: “The rules for exchanging your licence have not been confirmed”.
Is it the same situation in Spain?
British residents in Spain have until 30 June to start exchanging their licences, although talks are under way to extend the deadline. In Italy, if holders did not apply to an exchange before 31 December last year, they must take the Italian driving test before being allowed back on the roads.
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