To get or not get a driver’s license

One of many driving schools in town

Miles of sandy beaches. Warm, sunny days much of the year. Citrus trees in your backyard. No snow. Sailing, swimming, diving and all sorts of water activities on your doorstep. Lots of theme parks and other pastimes for the whole family. These are just some of the many advantages of living in Florida. When you’re about to leave all of that behind to move overseas, however, some other positive points move to the forefront. For example, no state income taxes. A French consulate in Miami. A driver’s license exchange treaty between the state and France. With bright news like that, no wonder it’s called the Sunshine State.

Since we lived in Florida when we applied for our first visa to stay for more than 90 days in France, we were able to use the consulate in Miami where we were could schedule an interview appointment only two weeks after we contacted them rather than the months of waiting we had read about at other locations around the country. Although US citizens worldwide are required to pay federal income taxes to the IRS no matter where they live, the state of Florida imposes no income tax so the retirement pensions that we live on day-to-day shrink a little bit less. Another advantage of the home of the Everglades is its agreement with France that its respective citizens can exchange driver’s licenses upon moving from one to the other in either direction. That’s exactly what we had hoped to do upon arriving in Carcassonne.

The accord that Florida and France have says that the exchange of licenses must occur within 12 months of moving but allows each office of the Préfecture, the local representative of the federal government, some leeway on what documents they need to complete the transfer. We went in to what might be called the “federal building” in the US to find out what documents we would need to return with. The list included most of what we expected: the application form, your birth certificate, a photocopy of your passport, a photocopy of your valid driver’s license with a translation into French, proof of your address in France, a printout of your driving record showing no outstanding violations on your current license, and 4 passport-style photos. What we didn’t anticipate was the need to obtain proof of when we passed our first driving test. Considering that I’ve had a license for nearly 50 years and the state where I got that keeps those records for only 11 years, we had a new challenge. Bill is in a similar situation so it was time to explore some other options.

Cool looking micro truck from the Ligier website

Blog reader Mike told us of the process that he and his wife went through to get their driver’s licenses the same as most French citizens do: study the Rules of the Road manual including first aid knowledge, pass the exam on those rules, take and pass the driving test, possibly take and pass a medical exam, and pay a driving school anywhere from 1500 to 2000 euros/dollars per person to shepherd you through the process. If you don’t happen to speak French well then add in the cost of a translator to go with you for the various exams. Other choices?

We don’t really need a car, but it’s possible to buy one that doesn’t require a driver’s license. Known as “microcars” these 2-seaters that won’t go any faster than 45 kilometers per hour (28 mph) can generally be driven by anyone age 14 and older. The car itself has to be registered but there are no exams or other fees to pay for the operator. A friend of our neighbor owns one of these and he calls it a sewing machine on wheels, referring to the sound it makes coming down our street. New models start at 8600 euros/dollars and there’s even a pickup truck version. Another option?

How about doing without a driver’s license? We currently walk to everything including the market, supermarket, shops, department stores, doctor, dentist, concerts, restaurants, bus stop, train station, even the airport. City buses are 1 euro as are many trains in our region. We get great senior rates on the trains all over the country and flights from here to the UK, Ireland, Portugal, and Belgium start at 19 euros.

We have since discovered that the proof of successfully passing that first driving test “probably” refers to your current license and not to the one you might have received when you first started to drive. Someone also told us that to become a driver in Amsterdam you must prove that you can escape from a sinking car in the event that you veer into a canal. Hmm, the Canal-du-Midi does flow right through Carcassonne so that might contribute to our decision about obtaining a driver’s license here.

4 thoughts on “To get or not get a driver’s license

  1. Oh my … les sans permis! I threaten my husband with one regularly when he thinks he’s being ‘too cool for school’. People who don’t live in France cannot get their heads round the concept and in truth, having been at the effect of many, neither can I!

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  2. I can only remember taking one drivers test…in HIGH SCHOOL! The thought of taking a written drivers test again makes me so nervous!

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  3. The French must not want you to really drive in France! It seems very expensive and complicated! How will you drive your guests around when they come visit? Maybe you won’t have to…our US drivers licenses will work right? Then we can drive you around if we rent a car…something that could be a positive or negative in making your decisions!

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