Sunday, December 13, 2009

I just want le permis de conduire

France has a driver's license exchange program with some countries meaning that you can exchange your driver's license from your home country for a French driver's license.  For the United States, they only have the exchange agreement with certain states, and Ohio just happens to be one of them.  This is great because it means that I can just exchange my Ohio driver's license for a French one, for free (getting a French driver's license costs A LOT of money, usually around 1,000 euros).  Though I don't have a car, I still thought it would be a great idea to do the exchange since I am living here.  One never knows what will happen in the future, and while I don't want to drive in Paris, driving en province doesn't bother me.  I also can't imagine never being able to drive again because I love to drive.

On my last trip to the stupid Sous-Prefécture (to pick up my carte de séjour), I decided I would start the process.  They told me I needed to fill out a request form and mail it back and I would receive a letter in the mail one to two months later with a date and time for a rendez-vous to complete the process.  Sounded easy enough to me, so as soon as I got home I filled out the form and sent it out.  That was in August.  I finally got the response last week (4 months later!).  And it was not what I had hoped.  They said I could not do the exchange because it has to be done within the first year of the first carte de séjour.  Now, I already knew this, but I also know of people who have managed to get around it, so I was hoping for the best.  But of course, in true French fashion, that didn't happen.

I know that my first year in France isn't supposed to count against me because it was on a student carte de séjour and students are not required to do the exchange in order to be able to drive in France; they can drive on their home country's driver's license for their entire stay.  The rest of us are only "allowed" to use our driver's license for the first year, and then we must have a French one (in theory).  I really wanted to get a French one just to avoid any problems in case I ever plan to drive in this country.  So, my year as a student shouldn't count.  But what makes me angry is that the only other carte de séjour I have had before my current one was as a language assistant.

I don't think that this should count, for many reasons.  First of all, it wasn't even a year-long card (only 7 months), meaning I didn't even have a year to try to do the exchange.  If you are supposed to do it within the first year of your first card, why does a card that isn't valid a year count?  Secondly, by the time I got my assistant's card (in February of my assistant's year), I wouldn't have even had the time to wait for their response before it expired meaning I probably wouldn't have been able to do it.  Not to mention the fact that I left the country when it expired since I was hoping to do the assistantship again the following year, and I wasn't expecting to get married at the time.  The exchange rendez-vous would have certainly been while I was gone.  Thirdly, assistants don't make a lot of money, and therefore could never actually afford to have a car making it pointless in most cases to get a French license.  Fourthly, the assistantship is in theory a temporary situation, much like being a student, that allows young people to come experience the life and culture of France, without moving here permanently.  In some cases it does lead to a permanent move to France (from meeting a French boy/girl friend, etc) but this is not generally what happens.  So it seems pointless for France to spend the money on giving someone a license who is not really going to stay here and therefore does not really need it.

But even this is not what angers me the most.  What really makes me want to go and kick some fonctionnaire ass is the fact that when I applied for my current card, (carte de séjour vie privée et familiale), they treated it as a première demande (as a first application), meaning that I had to pay 300 euros to have it.  But now, when that could benefit me, it of course cannot be counted as being my first card.  When I have to pay, they are fine with it, but when they have to give me something, it just doesn't work.  This seems extremely unfair to me.  So, it looks like I am going to have to go and fight with the sous-préfecture when I get back from the States to see if I can get them to change their minds.  I'm also going to have to do a lot of research into the actual laws and see if I can find any loopholes that might allow me to get around this stupidity.  And if all else fails, I will just keep going until I find that one fonctionnaire who says yes and is willing to give me what I want (if you ask enough people, you are almost always bound to find someone who tells you what you want to hear).  Otherwise, I have a Tunisian student who told me that if I change my address to Paris and convince one of Lionel's friends to say that we live with them, I should be able to do the exchange no problem.  Apparently in Paris you go in with your license and they give you a French one while you are standing there (and thus must not spend much time researching your carte de séjour history).  And if even that doesn't work I guess that I will drive with my American license and if I ever get pulled over, I'll just tell them I'm a tourist or that I have just arrived and never show them my residency card.  I have to get a new passport soon, so it won't have any visas in it, and there should be no reason for them not to believe me.

Has anyone else found themselves in this situation?  Any ideas on how to get around this problem?  I would appreciate any suggestions!


  1. I hate to incriminate myself, but i've been here since 2006 in one way or another, and i've never even tried to do the exchange.

    First I was a student, then I was a teaching assistant, and now i'm vie privée/familiale. When we were living in Normandy during my "first" year here, I didn't drive. I've always thought that the exchange wasn't a fair one anyway because technically, you can only use the french license in those partner states, not all 50. When we got to Lille though I decided that I wanted to start driving and I bought a car.

    For insurance, it's no problem. I got my american insurance report and passed it off to my insurance agent who gave me a plan, and then we registered the car under both of our names. I got an international permit from AAA that lasts for one year, and when it expires, i'll renew it. If anybody asks in the mean time, I don't have my carte de sejour on me to check the dates, or I'm just visiting. They have no way of checking up on me to know whether i'm here for six days or six years.

    I know it's not good to do it the illegal way, but as far as I can see, the police don't even know the proper laws.
    For example, I had a car accident back in April. The pompiers, gendarmes, CRS and the police stopped. The only people who knew the law? One of the CRS man, and he only said it in passing -- "you need to change your permit if you plan to stay." Well, "planning to stay" is a matter of perspective.
    Then, a month later I was driving my new car and I was stopped by a normal cop. He didn't say anything about it, as long as I had the international permit to go with the American one. Then on Friday, I got stopped for a routine papers check. I was really nervous because I know better, but the guy simply looked at my license, looked at the international permit, checked out my insurance and my carte grise, and let me go without ever even asking to see my passport or carte de sejour.

    I know i'm kind of rambling and that i've gotten really lucky, but as far as I can see, if you follow the law (no speeding, reckless driving, etc) and if you are polite, you can get yourself out of any situation. I just try my best not to look guilty of anything and to have a clear mind for any questions they might ask, and hope for the best.

  2. Yes, I've been thinking that I might just have to go the "illegal" route, but France doesn't always leave us much of a choice, does it? When I go to the sous-prefecture to start the long, miserable process of renewing my carte de sejour I'm going to ask directly at the window and see what they say and what can be done. Otherwise, I will just continue using my American license. It's not like I drive that often since we don't have a car and I'm afraid to drive in Paris! I just wish they weren't always so ridiculous with their bureaucracy in this country! They "want" people to follow the laws, but they sure don't encourage people to do it when they make the entire process so long and miserable!