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LIVING IN FRANCE

‘Be prepared to be patient’ – Registering your British car in France after Brexit

One of the many changes ushered in by Brexit concerns bringing a UK-registered car to France. The new process is considerably more complicated, but possible - as motorist Mark Pyman found out.

'Be prepared to be patient' - Registering your British car in France after Brexit
Cars on the A7 motorway between Marseille and Orange. (Photo Boris Horvat / AFP)

It’s been quite a common practice among Brits moving to France to bring their car with them and re-register it as French, as cars – especially second-hand ones – have historically been cheaper in the UK.

However since Brexit what was a relatively simple process has become a lot more complicated.

This does not apply to people who are merely visiting France, but those who are moving to live here full time.

Plenty of people have given up and bought a French car instead, but if you prefer to keep your British vehicle there is a length re-registration process to go through.

READ ALSO Reader question: How can I import a car from the UK to France?

Mark Pyman, who lives in the south of France, has successfully re-registered his British car as French.

He said: “It has been a lengthy process – it has taken several months – and it has been complicated and frustrating. But if you are patient, resourceful and prepared to submit endless copies of various documents, then you do get there in the end.”

He took us through the process required.

Seven stages

My wife and I rented an apartment in Aix-en-Provence in September 2020, shortly before the Brexit deadline of December 2020. After spending summer 2021 in the UK we decided to bring our beloved but aged Volvo S60 to France, and to see if it was practical to re-register it in the French system. 

There was plenty of guidance on first-port-of-call websites – but all the advice referred to registrations before Brexit. Since about 2018 the process started to change and French officials were said to be unsure of the procedure. 

The process, as I now understand it, consists of seven steps:

  • Bring the car to France
  • Formally register the car as having been imported into France  – Dédouanement
  • Obtain a Certificate of conformity, that your car adheres to EU rules
  • Have your car pass the French version of the MoT, the Contrôle Technique
  • Obtain the car registration document (Certificat d’Immatriculation, which used to be called the Carte Grise)
  • Obtain insurance
  • Change the British number plates for French plates

Bringing the car to France

We drove to France from the UK without making any declarations of importation, and without obtaining any UK export documents. The car was still UK registered, UK taxed and insured. Some months later, we obtained the certificate of importation.

Dedouanement

Before Brexit, Britons needed a ‘Quitus Fiscal’, a tax document to show that importing their car from another EU country did not lead to any need to pay extra VAT. 

You now need a Certificat from the Douanes Francaises to prove the car has been imported. This is then added to the documents required for immatriculation.

You start by going to the Customs site (here). They also have information post Brexit, here, which includes contact phone numbers. 

I found the douane officials helpful, and it was they who told me the nearest place is to get the certificate. 

It’s normally in a port or an airport; ours was in the Port of Marseille. 

Then you have to keep emailing and phoning the contact point to get an appointment. This can take a while. When you go, take every document you have on the car; including, if possible, the date and cost at which you have purchased it and proof of where you are living in France. Because our car was not new, there was no customs charge or VAT charge. There is a small administrative cost, of about €40.

Certificate of Conformity

This is a very standard two-page document. So long as your car is a reasonably ordinary one by EU standards, then there are lots of websites that offer to provide you with one. 

I went to a UK-based one – they charged £168 and took a month to send it. If I had phoned Volvo in the UK, as I did, they provided one free of charge within a few days.

If your car does not have a certificate of conformity, expect to go through a messy, slow, expensive procedure to get the car physically tested for the various necessary points of conformity. I don’t have any experience of this, but people we know locally do and this was their experience.

Contrôle Technique

This test is required every two years in France once your car is four years old.

Garages will do a pre-contrôle for you to tell you how much will have to be done before you can expect to pass it. 

Very nervously, I put the Volvo straight in for the test. To my surprise, our car passed with no issues at all, despite being 12 years old and having done 120,000 miles. 

Handily, this Volvo was the first to have electronic headlights, so they can be switched from being angled to the left (for the UK) to being angled to the right (for France) with just an electronic toggle. The test cost €69. 

Note that the garage expects to be given the Certificat d’Immatriculation, as they normally stamp that document once the Contrôle is done. 

Staff at the garage were surprised not to be handed a Certificate d’Immatriculation, as is usually the case in France – because I didn’t yet have one –  but were still okay to do the test once I explained and gave them the UK registration document.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France’s car inspections

Certificat d’Immatriculation (Carte Grise)

This is the document to which all the above has been leading up to. It used to be not-too-hard to do when the process was run by the Sous-Prefecture of the local Mairie. But, since about 2019, these have all been closed and you must go through the nationwide IT system, ANTS. 

This can be hard work, as the flow is not clear, and you cannot ask to speak to a person to help you. There is no ‘Chat’ function either.

You start here. We’ve discovered that it is best to connect via France Connect if you can.

READ ALSO What is France Connect and how could it make your life simpler?

Then go to:

  • Nouvelle Demande;
  • L’immatriculation;
  • ‘Faire une autre demande’ (this is curious, but just do it);
  • Je Commence la demande (you may not get here first time..repeat the above);
  • ‘Oui’ to Souhaitez vous etre guide dans votre demarche?;
  • ‘Non’ to Je suis un professionel de l’automobile;
  • You need the sub-section a new application for the first-time importation of a vehicle from outside the EU.

We were directed several times back to the beginning of this cycle, then one time it miraculously went to the form we had to fill in.

Be prepared to curse the software the first few times you go through this and get it wrong. You have to add various documents, and they have to be within size and format limits (eg less than 1 Mbyte file size, JPG and PDF). 

Here are the ones I uploaded:

You might need to resubmit the application several times. At least, when they reject it, there is a box where the person dealing with it (who remains anonymous and uncontactable throughout) can tell you what you still need to do. 

Once you are through this, they will give you a provisional Certificate, valid for one month. 

The permanent document arrives in the post. 

The cost depends on the emissions of your vehicle – the higher they are, the larger a ‘malus’ you have to pay. I paid €250.

Be warned: this one-page watermarked document is sent by courier and requires your signature on receipt – not just proof of identity, like with parcels. 

If you are out and it is sent to a La Poste pick-up point, there is a special procedure for collecting the documents that require signature. 

We had to return five times and go via the Poste phone tracking assistance (Tel 3631) before the person behind the counter could be persuaded to find the stored document.

Insurance

Car insurance requirements are different from the UK.  For example, to assess your no claims bonus, your insurer will want to know the date you first contracted with your British insurer, whether you were at fault (responsable) or not (non-responsable) for each and every accident. 

They also require documentary proof of almost everything – eg formal attestations – emails from your insurer are not acceptable. 

READ ALSO Speed cameras in France now detect if your car has insurance

We managed to get some of these from our insurer but not all. Both insurers I dealt with also asked for key documents about your claims experience to be in French. One of them later backed down.

Once you have signed the contract, it is – they say – difficult to change. So if I were to come back later with more proof, my insurer said she would not be able to accept it. I found that the cost of insurance was roughly double the UK cost.

READ ALSO Seven need-to-know tips for cutting the cost of car insurance in France

Changing the plates

I took the car to the local Volvo garage, and they changed the plates from GB to French ones.

You do need to synchronise this. It is an offence in France to have French numberplates and no insurance. Equally, we did not want to let go our British insurance until we were sure that there were no remaining hurdles. 

We kept the UK insurance valid until after the whole procedure was finished. This left us facing a  Kafkaesque moment – our British insurers said that they wouldn’t send the No Claims evidence document (which is, I think, a standard format and procedure across all British insurers) until after you have cancelled the contract. 

Which of course you don’t want to do until you know you’ll reach the end of this process. Our insurer was very helpful and provided me with a ‘for guidance purposes’ version of the No-Claims document.

Finally, UK formalities

There is a tear-off slip from the Car registration document that you have to send back to DVLA if you have exported the car. You can also request on this form how the remaining tax disc value can be refunded to you. I also informed the UK insurers, and they sent me the final no-claims-bonus statement.

Many thanks to Mark for taking us through this process. Have you had a different experience of the new system? Let us know on [email protected]

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For members

DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishjments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Driving is a great way to enjoy scenic European roads. Pictured is a highway in Norway (Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash)

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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