If you have just arrived in France, for a short or long-term stay, you can drive for one year with your valid foreign driver’s license and a certified translation of it, or even better an international driver’s license. If you have a valid European driver’s license, you are all set and can drive with it as long as you are in France.
If this is not your case, and you are planning on staying longer than one year in France, you are going to need to get a French driver’s license, as your foreign license has a limited validity in France.
The French administration has reciprocity agreements with many countries in the world, like Japan and Australia, and the majority of states in the United States (but not all of them unfortunately for some of you!) For example, there is no reciprocity agreement with California, however there is one with Massachusetts.
What does that mean for you?
If your current license was issued in a country or state with a reciprocity agreement, you can get your foreign license exchanged for a French one. Be careful as this needs to be requested before your first year is up. We recommend you start the procedure 4-6 months after your entry in France, as the process can take time. There is even often a delay to obtain your appointment with the authorities. You cannot just walk-in to the Sous-Prefecture and stand in line to get this done, like in other countries.
If you do not apply in time, you will have to retake your French license! There are driving schools all over France, and some who offer classes in English.
If you fail to apply on time or if there is no reciprocity agreement, your Foreign driver’s license becomes invalid in France, one year after the date of reference. If you choose to drive, you commit an offence. You could be fined, or in extreme cases you could even risk a prison sentence or a seizure of your vehicle!!
So be sure to take care of making sure your license is valid in France!