Thousands of British citizens in France have been left without a valid driving license, or are facing losing theirs within months, due to bureaucratic overload and the failure of the governments of the two countries to sign a reciprocal post-Brexit agreement. .
“I would say there are 3,000 who are seriously concerned, for whom this has really turned into a nightmare,” said Kim Cranstoun, who moved permanently to France three years ago and whose Facebook group for affected Britons has more than 6,000 members.
“Travelers are at risk of losing their jobs, merchants cannot work, older people have not kept their medical appointments. Many Britons in France live in fairly remote rural areas, with little to no public transportation. Some are thinking of returning to the UK. It’s pretty desperate. “
British photo card licenses must be renewed every 10 years, while drivers turning 70 must also renew their driver’s licenses. People with “reportable” conditions, such as diabetes or epilepsy, must renew their licenses more frequently, every one to five years.
The French government announced late last year that as a result of Brexit, British residents of France would need to exchange their UK licenses for French ones, and would have until December 31, 2021 to apply.
Short-term visitors and tourists in France can continue to use British licenses.
However, those who applied to redeem their licenses since January have seen their applications systematically rejected by a new French online system, known as ANTS, on the grounds that there is still no reciprocal license agreement between the UK and France.
Driving in France without a valid license can result in a fine of up to € 15,000 (£ 12,808), while taking the French driving test instead of exchanging licenses can cost holders up to € 1,800 each, which involves an exam discouraging French theoretical. .
Government sources suggest that a reciprocity agreement between the UK and France is “close to being sealed” but has yet to arrive.
The problem has been compounded by administrative overloads at the Nantes and Paris hubs processing previous paper exchanges, but were overwhelmed by more than 100,000 requests during 2018 as a potential no-deal Brexit loomed.
That led France to drastically limit applications by decreeing, in April 2019, that UK driver’s licenses were valid as long as the UK was a member of the EU, and asking holders not to attempt to exchange their licenses unless that were expired or lost.
Many Britons duly waited until after the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020 to begin the process, and now they find themselves with licenses that are expiring soon or that have already expired, and cannot even begin to exchange them.
“People followed the instructions of both governments and now they are being punished through no fault of their own,” Cranstoun said. “This is having a huge impact, on workers and retirees. Unless it is solved, we will have to take French tests. “
The Living in France section of the UK Foreign Office website advise that UK licenses “will continue to be recognized in France until December 31, 2021”, but adds: “The rules for exchanging your license have not been confirmed.”
British residents in Spain have until June 30 to start exchanging their licenses, although conversations are ongoing to extend the term. In Italy, if the holders did not request an exchange before December 31 of last year, must take the Italian driving test.
Some British drivers are already running out of patience. Glen Rodger, a 57-year-old self-employed builder, moved to west-central France two years ago and applied to trade in his three-year restricted license (he has diabetes) in November.
“I waited up to six weeks before it expired, like they told me,” Rodger said. “It was supposed to take three weeks. And now it has expired, January 20, and there are no new apps. I have been told that I cannot drive and obviously I am not insured. “
Rodger estimates that the delay has cost him at least € 3,000 in lost work. “And a real inconvenience,” he said. “We are 6 or 7 km from the closest stores; one hour from the hospital. My wife has to drive and has been ill. It feels like we’ve been sacrificed. “
Vanessa Parsons, a former elementary school principal who now lives in the Limousin region, has been receiving treatment for breast cancer for the past year. Despite multiple attempts, the French authorities did not change her husband Terry’s British driving license before his 70th birthday last July and, at the moment, they cannot.
“We did absolutely everything right,” Parsons said. “I sent the right documentation at the right time. We are in rural France; It is 3 km from the store and 50 km from the hospital. That’s a € 120 taxi ride. I have side effects after my treatment that mean I can’t always drive. We really need your license. It is a great concern. “
Joshua Opie’s situation is even more Kafkaesque. Now 28, he moved to France with his British parents in 2003 and passed his French driving test in 2014, swapping his license for a UK one when he later spent a year in Britain.
Back in France, he applied for a job at the large local Angouleme bus station, was accepted and passed his Category D training course, for public transport drivers, with great success. You have been waiting for your French driver’s license since last August.
“Now I lost the job they promised me,” Opie said. “I had to move to social housing with my partner and our son, who is almost two years old. You may have to reimburse a training course that cost the company € 15,000. This has ruined my life for the past year. It just makes me really mad. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism