Around France

Buying a Car in France

Nothing’s easy about living in France, especially for an ex-pat like me. I’m not good with details. By that, I mean I don’t let facts interfere with what I must do, like buying a car in France.

Remember Lucy? She’s a 1997 red Citroen. I bought her five years ago.

Buying a car in France

“Lucy” (female “Lucifer”)

I haven’t driven Lucy very much. I was either traveling or spending time in the States. She was an expensive convenience. It cost more to park and maintain her yearly than she was worth. So when I moved to my new apartment, I decided to economize. I took away Lucy’s underground parking privileges.

There are perfectly good open air parking lots only steps away from the apartment at half the cost.

Apparently, Lucy took offense. Almost immediately, she decided to prove her red paint job only hinted at her fiery temper. She began to act up. Long story short, Lucy fell into a ditch, damaged her underside, and became a worthless heap of metal.

This brings me to “buying a car in France.”

Buying a car in France

I will tell you now an excellent example of “do what I say, not what I do.” This is primarily meant for Americans relocating to France but could apply to more. 

Get your French drivers license your first year.

From my understanding,  Americans have two ways to get a French driver’s license: the “easy” way or the stressful, complex, complicated, and frustrating way. To take advantage of the easy way, you have to move here from a state that has reciprocity with France or a “reciprocal” state. Check here for your condition.

If your state is listed, you’re one of the lucky ones. You “simply” exchange your US license for a French one. I notate “simply” because nothing’s simple in France, especially dealing with French bureaucracy. Most important: You must apply for the exchange within the first year you are in France with a visa. The simple exchange took eight months for one friend. 

Those without reciprocity must earn our driver’s licenses the hard way. That means we must study the French driver’s code, take a test, then pass a practical driving test with a dual-control car … and a French instructor. Did I mention the code test is in French? The good news is that people my age can pay for a translator for the code test. The whole process takes months. First example: I ordered a copy of the driver’s codebook translated into English. It took 2 weeks to arrive.

Believe me, you’ll be hearing more about the driver’s license.

Back to buying a new car in France

Before I was confronted with the driver’s license problem, I was in full swing trying to buy a new car. With much thought, I decided to buy a Citroen 3 from my neighborhood Citroen dealer. The mechanics and front desk staff were always kind to me on the few occasions I’d taken Lucy to be serviced there. In particular, one lady at the front desk could speak English. Before I went to the dealership, I called and asked her to join me for my appointment with the salesman.

While discussing my car needs with the Citroen salesman, I choose a 3-year lease option. It was not the cheapest choice but the most practical for me.

You see, I know or care very little about cars. I just want transportation.

The idea of a 3-year lease, with no bother for maintenance, and the garage within walking distance of my apartment, was a no-brainer. It was a done deal. I signed up. 

The waiting game

If you’re used to the US way of life, you can often drive home in the new car when you buy or lease a new vehicle. It’s not so here. After two weeks and many phone calls to the salesman, I had no car. Finally, when I received the call that I could pick up my car in a couple of days, I contacted my insurance agent so that he would switch the insurance from Lucy to the new vehicle. I reminded him that I had no French driver’s license.

“No French drivers license? ” he said. “Then, no insurance. “

What??? Did I hear that right? He could no longer insure me after writing insurance for Lucy for six years? 

Yes, I heard it correctly. It seems the agent recently read up on policy requirements for Americans.

“It’s a good thing for both of us that I never had a wreck!”

He agreed.

No comment.

Now what? I had signed for the car. The deal was sealed. I was supposed to pick up the car in two days.

Guess what? Dealerships don’t care if you have a license. The car was mine.

Freak out!

Buying a car in France

When I calmed down, I called on my most reliable problem-solver friend for help. She’s not French, but she’s been an estate agent in France for years. That should say it all.

Speaking in French, she made a few calls to the car salesman and the Citroen district office. Then she sent letters recommandées (registered letters) to those she’d expressed with canceling the order. Fortunately, the car people were considerate. I was out of the deal. Thank goodness my friend knows the French ropes. 

Now I’m back to square one. No car, no license, no traveling on my own. No crowds, no tours, Safe outings only. It’s a COVID world.

Guess it’s time to paint all the furniture in my apartment.






Categories: Around France

21 replies »

  1. By some miracle, we were aware of the regulation of having to make an exchange within the first year of living in France of your driver’s license. However, we’re from NY, no reciprocal agreement with France. But Maryland has one. My daughter lives there! Exchanged our NY license for a Md. one when we were there for a visit without any problem. Exchanged the Md. one for the French one and received our permis de conduis in 2 weeks! I know we were among the lucky ones.

    • You lucky dogs! I went to the trouble of changing licenses to a reciprocal state, then learned I’d waited too long. One year is the magic number. Congratulations!

  2. Deborah, I noted one comment you made about public transportation, “I no longer feel safe taking a train or bus”. In the readings I do about traveling there seems to be more comments about only couples traveling. Is there increased risk for solo travelers? Hopefully in the near future, when everything seems brighter you could mention this. I’m still planning on traveling when COVID is only a memory.

    • Hi Caroline! By “safe” I mean safe during Covid. I use the bus and, especially, the train while traveling in France. Never had a problem feeling threatened or unsafe. Even during Covid the transportation requires masks, but I’m still not feeling safe traveling in groups.

  3. Great Blog Deborah….. thank you for the info as usual…..
    But at least you are in France Madam! Can’t wait to get back….
    Greetings from Sunny Southern California…..
    XO withdrawals of France🌻

  4. Actually, the US has the same rules. I don’t think you can register a car in a US state without that state’s drivers license. And a foreign drivers license is only valid for 3 months, so you may need both.

    • Good to know. I’d imagine the “reciprocal” states have different rules like in France. Thanks, Beth!

  5. Oh my, I can hear the frustration in your voice, Deborah. Add in the Covid virus and everything becomes even more difficult. Is hiring a private driver an option? I know you’ll still be getting in someone else’s car, but at least it wouldn’t be a public transportation crowd scene. When the day comes that I lose my driving confidence as a result of my age I think private drivers will become my way out to the sites that are not on train or bus routes. We were spoiled when we lived in England with fabulous rail and bus lines and never owned a car, but we weren’t worried about a pandemic, either. At least you have time to study the driver’s code book, if that’s a bright spot in all this. Best of luck, friend!

    • Lol, you know me well!!Yes, it looks like there’s plenty of time on my hands, but I would have enjoyed some solo explorations. Yes, I have the name of a private driver. Sounds expensive, but an option. Hope you’re enjoying you time away. Bises

  6. You friend who exchanged licenses in 8 months is unbelievably lucky. It took me 14 months with no communication until the 13th month. My temporary license expired at month 12, and insurance company said no driving. Luckily, the great Facebook group “Applying for a French Driving License” had a post saying all licenses in process were extended….and then suddenly one day, it showed up in the mail! Vive La France!

    • Wish I could. If I’d have a problem with a rental car, my residence ID is French, so I’d have to have a French license. I wish it wasn’t so.

  7. I feel your pain. However being without a car isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you and you know that it’s only for a time. I sold my car two years ago for two reasons: I was just using it to go to the big supermarkets maybe twice a month and also my vision was not perfect . I admit having a car is a huge convenience however we are lucky in Uzes to have buses and a good taxi service. You will survive. 😉

    • Thanks for the reassurance. I guess my frustration comes from the fact that I no longer feel safe taking a bus or train. I was looking forward to some solo road trips to entertain myself and to write about. Not that I don’t have many adventures untold. Yes, I’ll survive. Some days better than others, like the rest of us. Thanks for your understanding.

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