Guide to Driving in France


  1. Driving Offences and Penalties
  2. Importing and Registering a Vehicle
  3. Vehicle Registration Process & Transfer of Ownership
  4. Vehicle Registration Taxes
  5. MOT Vehicle Tests
  6. Obtaining a French Driving Licence
  7. Use of Vehicle Accident Forms in France
  8. Crit'Air Emissions Sticker

2. Importing and Registering a Vehicle in France


2.1. Who Must Register a Vehicle?

French law requires that if you are staying in France for longer than six months (in any twelve months), then the vehicle must be formally registered in France and plated with a French registration number.

The fact that some expatriates drive around in France on foreign plates that they should have changed is a failure of enforcement, not of law. To do so is a huge risk, as if the vehicle is involved in an accident it is possible the insurer will refuse any claim.

The only exceptions to this rule are commuting cross-border workers and students from the EU studying in France.

However, unless you are permanently resident in France, or you can clearly show you are becoming resident, you are not entitled to register the vehicle. Your tax office will be unwilling to issue you with a tax certificate for the importation of a foreign registered car.

So those with a holiday home in France who wish to import their UK registered car and keep it in France are unlikely to be able to do so.

The process can only be done once you have arrived in the country, when you will need to arrange for production of the following documentation.

2.2. Certificate of Conformity

One of the most important documents you will need is a certificate of conformity (attestation d'identification) that the car complies with technical standards in France.

On older cars you will need to obtain this certificate from the manufacturer. The rightful place to get such a certificate is from the manufacturer’s base in France. Expect to pay around €100, although prices do vary.

The address of their office in France will be on-line or obtainable on the database from your local prefecture or, more specifically, your DREAL (Direction Régionale de l'Environnement, de l'Aménagement et du Logement).

Indeed, you may well find that your local prefecture is able to provide you with the confirmation themselves, as they have access to the vehicle model records that indicates whether or not it does conform. It may simply depend on how cooperative they want to be, and the type and age of car you own. However, do not hold your breath you will get assistance from them.

We do occasionally hear of problems owners have with obtaining such a certificate, particularly from older or modified cars, so you may wish to do some research before you move to France, particularly if you want to bring an older or modified vehicle into the country.

Modified vehicles, in particular, may well be required to go through an inspection by the registration authorities in France, and you will need to produce supporting documentation from the manufacturer that it is still within their specification limits.

In addition, those importing a car from outside of the EU will find that it will need to be inspected in France, for which your prefecture will provide you with forms to complete.

On newer cars from within Europe it should be EC certified to be valid in France and elsewhere in Europe. If the prefecture refuses to accept the EC certificate, then you may wish to politely draw their attention to EU Directive 1999/37/EC, which provides for the harmonisation of practice throughout the EU. However, we cannot guarantee they will have ever heard of it or respect it!

You may also find that on a newer car the manufacturer's certificate is included in the service manual.

2.3. Proof of Ownership

The vehicle registration document in your name will suffice, but if you have only recently purchased the vehicle, and it has yet to be registered in your name, you will need an invoice with the details of the seller on it.

2.4. VAT/Customs

No VAT is payable or customs declaration necessary if you are bringing your existing car into France from within the EU.

Only where it is a new car (defined as being owned less than six months or under 6,000km), being imported is there a potential VAT implication in France:

  • If you are non-resident (but becoming resident) and you import a new car on which no VAT has been paid (you purchased tax-free with a view to registration in France) then you will need to pay VAT in France.

  • If you are already resident in France you will pay VAT in France on new car purchased elsewhere in the EU. You need to ensure you buy 'tax-free' in the country of origin.

Nevertheless, in ALL cases you will need to obtain a certificate (quitus fiscal) from your local tax office in France (Centre Des Impôts) confirming VAT tax clearance for the vehicle.

You will need to produce:

  • your existing vehicle registration certificate,
  • passport,
  • proof of address (such as utility bill) in France, and
  • purchase invoice (or similar evidence).

Some tax offices have put the process on-line, and do not receive members of the public to obtain them, so you will need to check with them. There is no charge for this document.

In relation to the importation of a vehicle from outside of the EU, then a customs declaration is necessary, although VAT is not necessarily payable.

2.5. Certificate of Road Worthiness

If the car is under four years old, no MOT test of road-worthiness is necessary.

Otherwise, you will need to take the car to a registered garage for a contrôle technique, which must have taken place within six months of registration.

You will also need to change the headlights for right hand dipping, although some garages do accept stickers.

2.6. Proof of Identity

You will need to produce:

  • your passport;
  • a utility bill giving proof of your address.

2.7. Insurance Certificate

You will need proof of insurance.

2.8. Fiscal Rating

In order to obtain registration you need to calculate the 'fiscal rating' of the vehicle as this needs to be entered on the application. This information is not on a foreign registration card, although it is possible it might be included on the certificate of conformity.

The fiscal rating of the vehicle is derived from the fiscal engine capacity of the vehicle, called the 'puissance fiscal' (PF), when it is then expressed as the administrative chevaux fiscaux/cheval fiscal. It is calculated using the following formula:

PF = (CO₂/45) + (P/40)^1.6.

Where:

  • PF = Puissance Fiscale
  • CO₂ = Carbon Emission (gr/km)
  • P = Horsepower (1 hp = 0,736 kW)

The calculation method takes into account the CO₂ emission expressed in g/km, and the maximum engine power (P), which is expressed in kilowatts (kW).

If you do not have the kilowatt figure, do a check on-line or convert the horsepower (HP) to kilowatts using the equivalence rule 1HP = 0.736 kW. Thus, if the engine power of your vehicle is 115 HP, the kilowatts is 115 x 0.736 = 84.65 kW (rounded to 85kW).

The French energy agency ADEME also offers an on-line simulator where you can establish the CO₂ emission level of your vehicle.

As an example of calculating the fiscal rating, assuming your car is 75HP, giving a kilowatt rating of 54kW, and the CO₂ ​emission is 127 g/km, the puissance fiscal of the vehicle is: 127/45 + (54/40) 1,6 = 4 CV (chevaux fiscaux).

To do the calculation you can merely paste the formula into Google (or on-screen calculator in Windows) with the values inserted, as follows: (CO₂/45) + (P/40)**1.6

It is also generally possible to find the fiscal rating by a simple Google search of the relevant terms using vehicle type, although be careful of the results you find.

2.9. Costs/Taxes

Several taxes and charges are payable, although some only apply to particular types of vehicles.

The taxes depend on a number of factors, notably engine size and emission rating. They can be very substantial.

The main tax is the taxe régionale.

You can read about the taxes in our section on Vehicle Registration Taxes.

2.10. Registration Process

Once you have all these documents, as well as your existing registration certificate, then you should complete a request for a vehicle registration document - a Demande de certificat d'immatriculation, also known by its former name of carte grise.

Since Nov 2017 this process can only be undertaken on-line at Agence nationale des titres sécurisés via prior registration with France Connect, although as we indicate below it can also be undertaken via accredited professional providers.

The government website has suffered a series of technical failures, with many hundreds of thousands of vehicle owners either unable to access the system or finding that their application cannot be processed.

In other cases the system has demanded documentation be provided before the application can be processed, despite it having already been sent.

Even where it appears to have worked, there often remain substantial delays in the issue of the new registration certificate.

Using the system is no easy matter, even for the French, and we have received many mails from readers who have been completely baffled and frustrated by it.

ANTs have put in place a telephone helpline, but that too can be a steeplechase to use, with numerous automatic messages to which you need to respond before you can finally reach an advisor, and substantial delays in obtaining a response.

Not surprisingly, therefore, many vehicle owners have resorted to using one of several on-line private companies accredited by the government to process their application. These companies have access to a separate but linked registration system that is only available to professionals. There are also accredited local offices around the country that can do the registration.

One of the tasks these companies need to undertake is to calculate the taxes that will be payable on registration of the vehicle with a change of ownership.

This is done by using several key elements of information contained on the existing registration document, which is then entered into an automatic calculator.

Some of the companies allow you to do the calculation yourself, and to then make payment for the registration document. Like the government website, their own processes are completely on-line and so cannot be reached by telephone.

However, in tests we carried out with these calculators the results were not always consistent. Several of the calculators we used the taxes payable were assessed to be higher than the figure provided by the official simulator, which we used to compare results.

Thus, in one case the official taxes payable for registration were €314. However, when the same information was entered into the private on-line calculators we obtained figures ranging from €314 to €730! In another case the official calculation was €204, although the estimate given by one company was €412.

Neither was it always clear whether the figures provided included the administration charge. In some cases the charge seemed to be a percentage of the taxes payable.

As a result of our experiences and the problems readers are facing we approached a reputable and leading professional registration company to provide an English language registration service to our readers.

You can use this service at Demande Carte-Grise.

When you arrive on the page click the 'Select Language' button at the top-left of the page, or use in the French language original. The translation is not 100%, but should be sufficient to complete the process.

Thus, some peculiarities in the translated version are:

  • The term 'carte grise' is translated as 'Card Gray'.
  • 'Mark' is the brand name of the vehicle.
  • 'Kind' refers to private vehicle, utility vehicle, scooter etc
  • 'Release' is the date of first registration expressed as eg, 09/05/2010
  • There is no need to enter the country code of your telephone number.
  • ABOVE ALL, be careful with 'hp' that is shown, which is not the horsepower of the vehicle but the chevaux fiscaux, as calculated as above.

The company offer English language support after completion of the preliminary stages, when any errors made can be corrected. There is also a telephone number you can ring during working hours - 0892882300 - but it is at a premium rate. To ensure you get English language speaking support state you are ringing as a French-Property.com referral.

The process of obtaining registration for an imported vehicle can take several weeks, but the company are able to obtain temporary registration in urgent cases.

The service is only available to those who have an address in France, to take receipt of delivery of the registration document.

IFP Ltd (www.french-property.com) have no commercial relationship with the registration company.

The company have now done scores of these registrations, and although some people have been confused and anxious about the process, we have yet to receive a single complaint. On the contrary. Do continue to let us have your feedback. You can contact us at editor@french-property.com.





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