Your American license is exchangeable for a French license if it is from one
of the following states: Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire,
South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Kentucky (Please note this list can change at any
time!). If you think I missed a state, then call your local Prefecture or sous Prefecture
or French embassy/consulate. They will tell you if your license is exchangeable.
If you do have a license from one of the states listed, you have one year from the
date you entered France: the date stamped on your passport or Carte de Sejour, to
make the exchange. If you wait more than a year, all is lost; you will have to obtain
a French driving license 'from scratch', a difficult process. The process, starting
from scratch is expensive and a nuisance. This is the process:
Find a driving school - Not an easy course in and of itself, because so many go out of business. I went with L'Ecole de Conduite Francaise(ECF)a chain, to obtain my license. It was fortunate that I did. The other independently owned school I looked at went out of business. There are some schools in Paris that teach classes in English. Classes taught in English are expensive. When you sign-up with your driving school you pay a flat fee for the written test, in my case about $220 US. Then you pay by the lesson, $35 US per lesson, for the practical.
Written test - The written test is made up of forty multiple choice questions. You have thirty seconds to answer each and must answer 35 or more correctly to pass. What I found the most difficult about the written test, was that more than one answer could be correct on some of the multiple choice questions. This along with the fact that some questions are in two parts makes the written test in reality more than forty questions.
Your driving school will give you a textbook for the written test that explains, if that is possible, the French driving code. All of your in class preparation for the written test consists of taking a practice test and then going over the test question by question, with the instructor. The practice tests have the same type questions, but more difficult, than the actual test. The time constrains are the same.
I spent a little over a month getting ready for the written test. I was not working and went to my school almost every day. The school had self-teaching CD ROMs available during the day and classes at night. Some schools have classes through out the day with no CD ROMs.
I was not able to take the written test when I wanted to. First there was a problem getting back my paperwork from the Prefecture. I was told it would take a month, but because I was outside the norm, a foreigner, it took longer. Then when I finally received the test date, the test was canceled because there was the smell of gas in the examination center. In France, unlike the states, you cannot choose the test location. Your school is given exam dates that it then gives to the students. Sometimes if demand is great, schools only have dates every few weeks.
If you get frustrated at times with studying for the written test, just remember that the actual test is easier than the practice tests. A friend of mine, the day before she took the written test, missed fourteen on a practice test, yet she passed when it counted.
After writing all the above it is possible to study on your own for the written test. No one I know has; but my local Prefecture said I could. There are plenty of CD-ROMs that teach the written test.
Driving test - If this is the part you think will be the easiest, think again. It took me nine one hour lessons before I was "ready" for my driving test. That was with already driving for fifteen years! French driving schools make most of their money from driving lessons, they run about $35 apiece, and so in no time you will have spent a few hundred dollars.
The test lasts twenty minutes: you may be asked to parallel park, go through a few intersections that are yield right, drive on the highway, just about anything that you might do driving. Like the written, the driving test is not as difficult as your instructor will make it out to be. My instructors were very strict; you had to do everything exactly as asked. For example when you change lanes, you need to look in your mirror, look over your shoulder, then look in the mirror again. Also you need to be constantly looking in your mirrors, about every ten seconds, so you know what's behind you, your instructor will nitpick like crazy and it will not be nice. One major frustration: I was told to forget a lot of what I learned in studying for the written test. Another frustration and most French will attest to this, no one drives like they are taught in France.
You are going to spend a few months, my case three, to obtain a French driver's license. Then you will see on a daily basis drivers running red lights, driving way over the speed limit and other infractions.
For more information see: http://www.americansinfrance.net/driving_study_guide
About the Author Jeff Steiner
I'm an American living in France, Reignier (near Geneva) at the moment. Over the last ten years I have learned a lot about living and traveling in France. Which is why I created www.americansinfrance.net I'm originally from Los Angeles and have lived outside the United States before Nicaragua in the early 1990's.
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Your American license is exchangeable for a French license if it is from one of the following states: Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina,...