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This is a follow-up to very similar questions, such as this one: Exchanging an American driving license for a French one Though slightly different as I am a US citizen with a valid US driver's license.

But I have a specific question. I have gathered up most of what I thought I needed to do the exchange, including:

  • All the required forms
  • Copies of all the required identification
  • Copies (front/back) of my current driver's license with the required official translations (again, front/back)

I'm all set to go to the prefecture office and try to do this, but I did a double check online of what I would need, and I noticed something that I hadn't seen mentioned before at https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1460 (under "Pièces à fournir")

1 attestation récente de vos droits à conduire établie par l'État de délivrance de votre permis mentionnant l'origine, l'étendue et la validité de vos droits à conduire et, si besoin, sa traduction officielle

or in English:

1 a recent statement of your driving rights, drawn up by the State issuing your license, stating the origin, scope and validity of your driving rights and, if necessary, its official translation

What? No other site I've looked at or testimonial I've read has specifically mentioned something like this. Not even the embassy (which I know isn't necessarily up-to-date) mentions anything like this: http://franceintheus.org/spip.php?article376

Is this a new law or something, or it just overstated? Has anyone else experienced this directly? I really need to get this done since I only have about 1 month left on my time limit to do it, and horror stories like this one make me wary: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/10028731/Want-a-French-driving-licence-Take-a-deep-breath....html

  • I don't have an answer to my question yet, but it turns out the state where my license is issued (Maryland) let me request and download a certified copy of my driving record online: mva.maryland.gov/drivers/driving-record-information Your state might have the same. For Maryland it cost $12--I went ahead and got it anyways in case I'll needed it. I will have to get it translated as well no doubt :( – Iguananaut Nov 29 '16 at 22:08
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    Apparently, it all stems from the circulaire cited at the very bottom under “Textes de référence”. But it's not that clear-cut, what it says is that the préfecture can ask your country of origin if the license is still valid there and wait for up to six months for a response. You are advised to submit a document like the one you mentioned to make sure that's not needed and speed up the whole process. It does not say whether they check every time but it does not sound like they would reject your request merely because that document is missing. – Gala Nov 29 '16 at 22:26
  • Cf. in particular “De fait, et afin de ne pas saisir systématiquement les autorités étrangères, le demandeur lors de sa demande d’échange pourra présenter un document récent obtenu auprès de l’Etat de délivrance et attestant de la validité de ses droits. ” on page 17 (my emphasis). – Gala Nov 29 '16 at 22:27
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    Note that France does not accept all US licenses for exchange, only those issued by some states (and only some license classes from some of those states). See franceintheus.org/spip.php?article376. You didn't mention the issuing state of your license in the question, but you did mention in a comment that it is Maryland, which is one of the states whose licenses can be exchanged. – phoog Nov 29 '16 at 22:36
  • So it sounds like they don't necessarily require it, but that it's strongly recommended in order to speed up the process. I'll go ahead and see if I can get it translated quickly--can't hurt to have. I'm still curious if anyone has any direct experience with this though. – Iguananaut Nov 30 '16 at 9:19
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Having now successfully gone through the process I think I can self-answer:

Indeed, all of the paperwork listed at https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1460 were required in my case. Any resources on this topic in English should not neglect to mention the required proof of validity of your current license. In fact in my case they asked me specifically for this and scrutinized it probably more than anything else.

(This aside is more for flavor: They scrutinized my Maryland driving record printout and its accompanying translation more than anything, in part, because every state/country's proof of validity probably looks different. At first they weren't even entirely clear what it was I was showing them, and the woman at the front desk even asked a colleague over to help her scan through it. It seemed like they were looking for certain keywords. I pointed them specifically to the part where it says my current status is valid, but they were also looking for some other bits of legalese which they finally found. I wish I could tell you exactly what they were looking for.)

The government website linked above says that some préfectures may ask for a self-addressed and stamped envelope. I brought one just in case but did not put the stamp on the envelope in case they didn't end up asking for it. At my prefecture (Essonne) they did not ask for an envelope. Instead you have to come back in person once your license is ready. This is inconvenient, but has reason: it allows you to keep your current license until the new one is ready. And once you retrieve your new license you have to trade in your old one. You're not allowed to hold both licenses simultaneously.

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