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This is related to my previous question.

Assume the following (for the moment hypothetical) situation:

  • I do not have any valid driver's license at the moment, but I do know how to drive
  • I just moved to France, and I am a non-French EU citizen
  • I do not speak French

What would I need to be able to get a driver's license? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Are lessons mandatory or can I go directly for the test? I believe it is possible to take a test in English, though likely there are difficulties in arranging this.

EDIT: I'd like to clarify that getting an (international) driver's license in any other country is not an option at this moment.

  • Are you used to driving on the right, with French style road rules, or will you need to adjust to that before you take the test? (i.e. are you ready for a French test, or do you still need some lessons and practice in France to adjust) – Gagravarr Feb 27 '15 at 4:08
  • @Gagravarr Let's assume I'm ready, for the sake of this question. – Kuruma Feb 27 '15 at 15:27
  • @Gagravarr I would like to know if it is possible to practice a bit without going to a driving school, but I didn't want to overburden this question. – Kuruma Feb 28 '15 at 2:31
  • @Kuruma Is an international driving permit a viable option from your home country? – dearN Mar 3 '15 at 8:43
  • @drN Unfortunately no, because I never had a driver's license there, and I won't be spending time there for quite a while. – Kuruma Mar 8 '15 at 5:49
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For driving schools, a common package includes unlimited self-study sessions for the theoretical exam, 20 one-hour driving lessons and the right to take the practical exam with the school's instructor. Between the driving lessons and the practical exam itself, you have to drive a certain number of kilometers with a friend or relative, in a regular car (that's called “conduite accompagnée” for youngsters or “conduite supervisée” for adults). That's how I learned to drive many years ago and it still seems to work that way.

To give you an idea of current prices, such a package can typically be had for about €800 to €1000 but it can apparently cost up to €1500 in Paris. It's less common nowadays but you can also get a “traditional training” with more time with an instructor and no accompanied driving but the price is higher. Some schools also have an “express training” offer if you need a license ASAP, at a premium (importantly, they can give you an exam spot they already booked a long time ago, thus going around the waiting list).

Also, it seems that 20 hours of training with an instructor is a legal minimum to start the accompanied driving phase and/or register for the exam. Some people actually need more (especially if they fail the practical exam the first time) and then you pay by the hour. But since you already know how to drive, you probably don't need all that. It does seem possible to get a waiver from this requirement (presumably from the préfecture) but it's not completely clear to me how you should go about that.

Because the prices are quite steep, some “low-cost driving school” made the news a few years ago like permispascher.fr. The same website mentions a “pack candidat libre” (to assist you in taking the exam independently) for €350. This includes training material for the theoretical exam and two lessons but you have to take care of the paperwork. You also have to pay €99 if you want to get an exam car from them and probably bring a qualified experienced driver to the exam (see below for more on that). There are also exam packages for about €250 each for the theoretical and the practical exam. As far as I can tell, the difference is that in this case an instructor from the school comes along for the exam and they take care of registering you, possibly quicker than if you had to do it yourself (but there is only one evaluation lesson instead of two hours, go figure). Doing something like that with a local driving school could be the best solution for you but you will have to contact a few to see exactly what they are prepared to offer.


Now, here is what I could piece together about taking the exam independently from the (usually excellent and trustworthy) official website vosdroits.service-public.fr:

  • You can technically register for the exam directly without going through a driving school (that's called being a “candidat libre”). But you need to have an experienced driver (“accompagnateur”) with you and a car with “double commands” (i.e. a brake and clutch pedal for the front passenger and a few other special features), which you might be able to rent from a school as mentioned above. The supervising driver is not allowed to receive any reward (presumably to prevent people from running unofficial driving schools).
  • The website also mentions something about a mandatory 7-hour training for experienced drivers who want to supervise learners for the exam. Some unofficial websites imply that a court decision voided this requirement but the page linked above explicitly says that it's not true (or possibly not true anymore). As far as I understand, the whole thing is intended to allow charitable organizations to help people with low income get a license without paying a for-profit school (as it's difficult to get a job if you can't drive and difficult to pay for a license if you don't have a job). It's definitely not as simple as showing up with a friend's car and passing a short driving test.
  • There are “special sessions” to the theoretical exam for people with special needs, including those who do not speak French well. Usually that means one session a month, in the chef-lieu of your department (whereas regular sessions are regularly organized in every place larger than a village, typically in town halls and the like). Some unofficial sources also mention something about coming with something like a “court translator” but I have not been able to ascertain this from any official source.

School or no school, an acquaintance who is involved in one of the charities I mentioned earlier just told me that there is a 7-month waiting time simply to get an exam spot in the département where I come from so brace yourself for some major inconvenience either way.

Also note that practicing the theory exam is probably useful, it has some quirks and is not merely about knowing a few well-known road signs or the like.

  • Thank you, you gathered a lot of useful information! Can you elaborate on this please? “pack candidat libre” ... for €350 and exam packages for about €250. Does this mean that I need EUR 350 + 250 = 600 even in the best-case scenario? It wasn't clear if these two things are both needed or whether they're alternatives. – Kuruma Mar 8 '15 at 23:28
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    @Kuruma No the €350 package also includes the theoretical exam but there are other costs as well. So you need either €350 + €99 (and a trained friend) or €250 + €260 (and possibly a waiver for the 20-hours requirement). In all cases, around €500 it seems. I will try to elaborate on that in the answer but if you go for something like that, you will have to ask local driving schools what they are offering. – Gala Mar 9 '15 at 0:18
  • @Kuruma Another odd thing is that for the pracical exam, you are the driver, the examiner seats besides you on the passenger seat with the extra pedals but it seems you still need a third person (a driving school instructor or a friend who took the 7-hour training mentioned in the second part of the answer) who will seat in the back and do absolutely nothing (that's also the way I passed the exam but since I took a package and used my instructor's car, I did not realize how silly it was to pay someone to seat in the back doing nothing). – Gala Mar 9 '15 at 0:31
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Partial answer : the driving license exam in France is made of two different parts, a theoretical one, and a practical one (actually driving under the instructions of an official examiner). You must succeed to the first one before being allowed to submit to the second one.

The first part (called le code in french) is to check your knowledge of road signs, usages and rules. Here's how it works : you face a screen and are submitted to several dozens of slides showing a driving situation, with several assertions written, among which you must select the correct one(s). This can be quite tricky and difficult to correctly answer to if you are not at ease with french language.

Here's an example :

example of French driving license exam slide

So the first issue in my opinion will be at this stage as to my knowledge there's no option to pass this part in another language than French.

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    Here it says, "Special sessions are organized for those who do not speak French. You may additionally ask to be assisted by a translator, who may be a friend or relative." So this is not my main concern. But I do not trust that this website is 100% accurate ... – Kuruma Feb 27 '15 at 23:28
  • What I'd like to find out is: can I go for the test without taking lessons first? The same site seems to say yes ("There is no minimum lesson-hour requirement.") but as I said I do not fully trust it. Second question: How much does it cost? – Kuruma Feb 27 '15 at 23:30
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    @Kuruma In light of the info presented in my answer, I think the French embassy to the US painted a rosy picture of the situation ;-) – Gala Mar 8 '15 at 22:46

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