Which driving license do I need to drive in Europe?
Driving licenses allowed in the Schengen Area
Are you allowed to drive with a foreign driving license in Europe ? Do you have to apply for a local driving license? Here, we answer all your questions about driving in Europe.
If the Schengen Area is the biggest in the world allowing freedom of movement, does it mean it is possible to drive with any kind of driving license? Well, as usual, it depends! Here’s what you need to know about driving lawfully on the European roads.
Your driving license has been issued by a European country ? You are not required to exchange it. If your driving license has been issued by one of the 30 EEA countries (EU countries + AELE except Switzerland), you can drive in all these countries, no matter the duration of your stay. You won’t have to exchange it for a local driving license (except in certain circumstances) if you meet some conditions :
- You’re the holder of a valid driving license.
- Your driving license must comply with the rules of the country you are staying in (e.g. the period of validity might change according to the country).
- An interim document (interim driving license, temporary driving license, driving test certificate, declaration of loss or theft of your driving license) delivered in your country of origin is not always recognized in all the European countries.
Ask the local authorities.
RELATED ARTICLE : What do I need to know about driving in the Schengen Area ?
Did you know ?
A new and unique European driving license was launched in 2013. It is valid in all European countries. It is the size of a debit card and plasticized, secured against fraud (with an electronic chip), and renewable. The period of validity varies according to each EU country.
France, for example, has a validity period of 15 years for categories A and B, and five years for the heavy ones (C and D) or subject to medical advice. The renewal is only administrative, without a medical visit nor practical test (except in specific situations according to traffic regulations).
In France, all the driving licenses issued before the 19th January 2013 are valid until the 19th January 2033.
In which case do you have to exchange your driving license in another EEA country? If you want to: you can have only one European driving license at the same time. If you relocate to another EEA country, you don’t have to exchange it but you are allowed to if you are willing to.
Mandatory: if your driving license has been stolen, lost, or damaged, if you are the holder of a driving license for life, issued in your country of origin, and the authorities from your country of residence require a driving license with limited validity and yours is, according to their regulations, soon to be expired.
How do I ask for an exchange ?
You have to apply to the authorities in your country of residence. You won’t have to pass the driving test nor the exam. Traffic regulation authorities will check with your former country of residence if your driving license is in good standing (no restrictions, no driver’s license suspension nor withdrawal) before delivering the European one, available since 2013.
You are subject to the traffic regulations of this country if you exchange your original driving license for one in your country of residence.
If your driving license was issued in a country outside the EEA
Unfortunately, there is not just one rule that applies to all cases. The possibility to drive in an EEA country with a foreign driving license (one not issued in a European country) depends on several criteria, i.e. the duration of your stay and the current regulations in the country you wish to travel to.
Therefore, you should contact the traffic regulation services in the country where you plan to travel or reside to find out the conditions for exchanging and recognizing a driving license. The official European Union website (https://europa.eu/) has listed these rules according to the countries.
Which driving license do you need in France ?
You can drive in France with a foreign driving license (issued by a non-European country) in these cases
- For a short stay (less than 185 days): if you are the holder of a valid driving license and if your driving license is written in French or with an official translation or an international driving license (PCI).
- During your studies: you have a “titre de séjour étudiant” (student permit residence), if you are the holder of a valid driving license, delivered in your country of residence before moving to France and written in French or with an official translation.
If you want to stay in France after your studies with a permit residence different from the student one, you have to apply for an exchange to a French driving license.
You are not allowed to drive in France with a foreign driving license (issued in a non-European country) if your country of residence is France (for a long stay relocation).
You have to follow these steps to apply for a driving license exchange :
- Respect the deadline to make your request: apply less than 1 year after your 1st “carte de séjour”/long-stay visa (VLS-TS) has been issued; the date of delivery of the receipt establishing the recognition of international protection.
- Your driving license has to be valid, delivered by your country of residence before you relocate to France, written in French or with an official translation, and be issued by a country with a reciprocating jurisdiction. France Diplomatie’s website offers a list (https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/liste_permis_de_conduire_valables_a_l_echange_20200331_cle89bfda.pdf).
- You have to meet certain conditions, including being the holder of a valid “titre de séjour” (permit residence).
- You have to apply for a driving license exchange on the ANTS (Angence nationale des titres sécurisés) website (https://permisdeconduire.ants.gouv.fr/).
- This application is free.
Which driving license do you need in Switzerland ?
Driving temporarily in Switzerland
Drivers from a foreign country (EEA and outside EEA) and not residing in Switzerland can drive if they hold a valid national driving license or an international driving license submitted mandatorily with the corresponding national driving license (matching the vehicle they’re driving).
Foreign drivers residing in Switzerland (for more than 12 months without staying more than three months in a row in another country)
You have to exchange your foreign driving license for a Swiss driving license. Check the conditions with the “Service des automobiles” (https://asa.ch/fr/Services-des-automobiles/) of your place of residence.
FYI: The international driving license is the translation of the national driving license and allows you to drive abroad the same category of vehicles as that indicated on the national license. The international driving license has to always be submitted with the national driving license. It does not replace the latter.
Frequently asked questions about the driving license in Europe
I have a former version of a driving license issued in an EU country. Is it still valid or do I have to exchange it for a new one ?
It is still valid and you can use it in all the European countries. You have until 2033 to exchange it for the standard European driving license.
I’m studying for six months in France and I have a Brazilian driving license. Am I allowed to drive in France with it ?
Students with a foreign driving license (issued outside the EU) are allowed to drive in France with this document, for the duration of their studies, provided it is valid, with an official translation and if you have a student visa.
How can you apply to exchange your foreign driving license for a French one ?
If your situation meets the conditions (being granted a “titre de séjour” – permit residence – in France, a valid foreign driving license and issued by a country with a reciprocating jurisdiction), you can apply online on the ANTS website. The application is free.