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Taking Root in Provence

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE MOVING HERE

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If you are thinking of moving here permanently, or at least for an extended period of time and you plan to buy a car, it would be worth your while to find out beforehand whether or not you need to get a French driver’s license. There are international agreements that govern this sort of thing and we discovered that an arrangement exists between France and the U.S. which allows France to accept a valid US driver’s license as the basis for issuing its own in exchange, except in the case of about half a dozen US States that do not recognize a French driver’s license there. People from those States will have to take out a French driver’s license. The District of Columbia turned out to be one of those States, so we were stuck.

Of course, there is the International Driver’s License which is easy to obtain and which is valid for one year in a long list of countries, among them France. However, we found out that this international license is not accepted here for long-term foreign residents and insurance companies reject it because it is too short-term. You either have to get a French license in exchange for a recognized valid American one or you have to qualify for the French license with all that entails.

Since our valid driver’s license from Washington, DC, was not recognized as worthy of reciprocity, we had to start from scratch to get a French driver’s license. What this meant was that we had to go to driving school and take a minimum of 20 classes of Theory, take a written test, and only after we had passed that Theory test we would be allowed to sign up for a driving test (several weeks later). You should know that the Driving test is a zero-tolerance test where even one mistake will do you in. It took Oscar, who had been driving for 45 years, three times before he passed this test. Not only was this an expensive exercise (more than €1,000) but each time there was a waiting period before the next test. You should also know that these tests are given only in stick-shift cars.

Frankly, it was quite an ordeal but we got through it and we both have a French driver’s license today which, by the way, is valid for life! We found out too late that there is a way around this, so for those of you with an American license from a “non-recognized” State and who want to settle in France for the long term, here is some advice:

– First of all, determine, via the French embassy, whether your State’s driver’s license would qualify for reciprocity in France (rules change, agreements get renegotiated). Then, if needed:

– Establish residency, even briefly, in a “recognized” State and obtain a driver’s license there. [Rumor has it that a P.O. Box would suffice, but I cannot vouch for this].

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