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
  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.

However, unless you are permanently resident in France, or you can clearly show you are becoming resident, your tax office is unlikely to be willing to issue you with a tax certificate for the importation of a foreign registered car. We are aware of many cases where the tax certificate has been refused to non-residents.

So those with a holiday home in France who wish to import their foreign registered car and keep it in France are unlikely to be able to do so. You can of course own and register a France registered vehicle.

The process of registration can only be done once you have arrived in the country, when you will need to arrange for production of the documentation set out below for submission on-line.

The following guidance applies to the importation of a vehicle; if you are merely seeking to register an existing France registered vehicle you should refer to our Guide to Vehicle Registration in France.

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 from your local tax office in France confirming VAT tax clearance for the vehicle. The certificate is called a 'quitus fiscal'.

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).

If the vehicle is already registered in your name you should be able to get away with not having to produce a sales invoice to obtain a tax certificate. It depends on how the local official wishes to interpret the regulations.

If your tax office is insisting on a sales invoice, and you do not have one, you should draw their attention to clause 1.E.1, of Arrêté du 9 février 2009 relatif aux modalités d'immatriculation des véhicules, which states that a sales invoice is only required where there has been a change of ownership:

'Le justificatif de vente n'est réclamé que s'il y a eu changement de titulaire du certificat d'immatriculation.'

The relevant decree can be found at: Arrêté du 9 février 2009

The clause is open to interpretation, but if you are merely relocating with a vehicle you have had in your ownership for several years a cooperative tax office should issue a tax certificate stating 'Déménagement' (Relocation).

If they still refuse, you should contest any refusal with the Conciliateur Fiscal, based in the tax office, quoting the above, but not before you have put your own case in writing to the tax office and you have received a written refusal.

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.

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.

This process can only be undertaken on-line at Agence nationale des titres sécurisés via prior registration with France Connect.

This relatively new government website has suffered major technical failures and shortcomings, with many hundreds of thousands of vehicle owners either unable to access the system or finding that their application cannot be processed.

Even the government have admitted in a parliamentary answer given in December 2019 that it does not work properly for vehicles being imported, stating: 'Dans le cas d'importations ou de modifications, le système n'est pas adapté'.

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.

There is also a very particular problem for those who have recently relocated to France, in that the ANTs system is only available if you have a 'secured identity' in France. That is to say, for instance, that you have made an income tax declaration or you have a social security number.

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 on a change of ownership or importation to France by using several key elements of information contained on the existing registration document, which is then entered into an automatic calculator.

However, in tests we carried out with these calculators the results were not always consistent. With 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.

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.

The company have now done hundreds of these registrations and, although some readers have been confused and anxious about the process, your feedback indicates that it appears to be working well.

You can use this service at Demande Carte-Grise.

If you wish to use their English language speaking service you need to use this dedicated link, and not make an application through their main portal. The company processes around 20,000 applications a month, and only applications made through this link are routed to their English language speaking advisor. If you start the process, but end it before completion, you will need to restart it again via the link.

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.
  • Be careful with 'fiscal power', which is not the horsepower of the vehicle but the puissance fiscal, not shown on a foreign registration document.

Once all the information has been entered a screen display will show you a complete breakdown of the taxes and the fee payable.

If you are having problems, the company say on the relevant page that:

For a vehicle imported from abroad, the fiscal power and/or the CO2 are not always known. Specify the values that you think are correct. Once the amount of the tax precisely determined by the Administration, an adjustment will be made with you if necessary.

You will need to produce all of the documents necessary for registration, as set out above; the company are not able to obtain these documents for you.

Prior to commencing the process there is also a telephone number you can ring during working hours - 0892882300 - but it is at a premium rate so be careful of the charges you may incur. In order to get transferred to an English language speaking advisor state you are ringing as a French-Property.com reader. An elementary understanding of French is required to get transferred.

Once the application is submitted you will receive an e-mail confirmation from their English speaking advisor, which will also contain on it their free direct line telephone number. Any further queries you have, or errors that may have been made with the application, can be dealt with at this stage, including any refund if you have miscalculated the fiscal rating.

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.

Do continue to let us have your feedback on this service. You can contact us at editor@french-property.com.







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