“Papa!” “Nicole!” Ah, perhaps entirely thanks to a series of Renault ads on the telly back in the 90s, somehow the idea of motoring in France still has an air of sophistication and style about it that is completely absent in the UK. But the experience of buying your dream vintage Citroen is rather less va va voom, thanks to all la paperasserie (French red tape). Better for you to know before you get into first gear …


Certificat d’immatriculation, more commonly known as the carte grise (grey card) The vehicle’s registration document
Controle technique (CT) Roadworthiness test – the equivalent of the UK’s MOT
Certificat de cession Certificate of transfer of ownership from seller to buyer
Certificat de situation administrative (formerly certificat de non-gage) Declaration that the car is free of any legal or financial restrictions on being sold
Certificat qualité de l’air A sticker declaring the emissions properties of your car (compulsory if you want to drive in Paris)

What make of car should I buy?

The French are still pretty loyal to their home brands: Renault, Citroen and Peugeot. Consequently, there are plenty of dealers and service centres specialising in them, and parts are easy to come by.

Buying a new car in France

The average price of a new car in 2016 (the latest figures available was €26,000 in France compared with €30,000 in the UK. These figures include taxes. If you’re in the bottom right hand corner of France, you could perhaps get a cheaper car by hopping across the border to Italy.

Buying a new car takes a lot of the hassle and risk out of the process, especially if your fluency in the French language is less than excellent. It also removes a lot of the administration, and what’s left will mostly be handled by the dealer. The only thing you will have to do is organise your insurance.

The French second-hand car market

French car

The second-hand car market is tiny compared with what we’re used to in the UK. It’s difficult to find a car in good condition with less than 100,000 km on the clock. This is perhaps because the French tend to develop long-term relationships with their cars – or at least, they are immune to the social point-scoring that car ownership in the UK seems to involve. The condition of second-hand cars can be pretty dire. There’s a good reason why the ‘pre-loved’ euphemism will never take off in the French second-hand car market.

Many ex-pats give up and settle for buying a new car. Another option is to buy a left-hand drive car in the UK (where they are relatively cheap), drive it to France and get it re-registered.

While second-hand cars in France seem expensive to Brits, the other side of the coin is that they tend to lose their value more slowly.

Buying a second-hand car privately

If you do decide to go for a second-hand car, it’s perfectly possible to buy one privately. You can look for ads online, in the local newspaper’s classified ads (les petites annonces), or just keep your eyes open for ‘a vendre’ signs in car windows. But be prepared for your treks to see the actual car end in disappointment either thanks to the poor condition or the overinflated price – or both. It seems that after years of ownership, the French not only grow to value their cars, but to over-value them. Use a website such as L’argus to get an objective value of a vehicle when it comes to haggling over the price.

The other problem with buying a second-hand car privately is that you get no warranty and have little comeback if the car turns out to be a dud.

Buying a second-hand car from a dealer in France

Finding a suitable second-hand car through a dealer is usually a less protracted process, although sometimes only mildly so. Unless you’re in a hurry, find dealers which are recommended by people you trust, and tell them what you’re looking for. When something comes up, they’ll let you know, which is far less hassle then constantly trawling dealerships on the off-chance.

Buying from a dealer also provides you with some security should the car prove troublesome once you’ve driven it off the forecourt.

Note that there’s no point trying to effect a discount for cash as money-laundering laws mean cash transactions by consumers are limited to a maximum of €1,000 in France.

There are plenty of online sites listing second-hand cars. Try AutoScout24, LaCentrale, and ParVendu.

Buying a second-hard car at auction in France

Given the scarcity of good pre-owned cars, it’s well worth looking into vehicle auctions. Not only is it a far more exciting way to buy a car, but you’re accessing vehicles from leasing companies, fleets and car hire firms which tend to keep scrupulous records regarding a vehicle’s maintenance history.

Buying a second-hand car: the admin

Another benefit of buying form a dealer or at auction is that they will handle most of the paperwork, of which there is plenty.

The seller must do the following:

  • Complete a certificat de cession (certificate of transfer) which must be signed by the person whose name is on the carte grise and forward a copy to the Préfecture within 15 days
  • The carte grise (technically: certificat d’immatriculation) must be struck through diagonally in indelible ink and the person named on it must write ‘Vendu le [date and time]’ and sign it
  • Provide you with a controle technique (CT) less than six months old
  • If requested, the seller must also give you a certificat de situation administrative (formerly certificat de non-gage) to certify that the car is not being held as security against a loan and that there is no legal impediment to the sale

You as the buyer need to complete your part of the certificat de cession. Until recently, the process of sorting out a new carte grise involved a visit to the local town hall to do it in person. Now, however, it can only be done online or through an ‘authorised professional’. Visit service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F1050 for more information.

Re-registering a foreign vehicle in France

Ironically, it can be easier and cheaper to buy a second-hand left-hand drive car in the UK, drive it to France and get it re-registered. Not surprisingly, it’s a bit of an administrative headache, but it can be done.

  • First you have to take the car’s original registration documents and the receipt of sale to the Centre des Impots which – if satisfied – will certify that no import duty is payable (as should be the case for a private vehicle on which VAT was paid in the UK)
  • Get a certificate of conformity from the UK manufacturer or dealer to prove that the car conforms to French standards
  • If necessary, get the direction of the headlights changed and take the car for a controle technique
  • Take everything to the local town hall to register the car and get your carte grise

Controle technique – the French roadworthiness test

The French equivalent of the MOT is the controle technique (CT). For passenger vehicles, the first roadworthiness inspection must be carried out in the six months leading up to the fourth anniversary of the date the vehicle first entered into service. When selling a car, however, the vendor must provide a CT which is no more than six months old.

Inspections can be carried out at any approved testing centre in France. The cost varies from centre to centre. Each inspection is valid for two years. The rules for utility vehicles are slightly different. See Car registration documents and formalities – France at Europa.eu.

Paying for your car

If you’re transferring money from a UK account to pay for your car, don’t ask your bank to make the payment. They are likely to charge you a fee and use an unfavourable (to you!) exchange rate. Far better to use WorldFirst’s easy-to-use, three step service:

  1. Secure a rate: Once your free account is setup, tell us who to pay and in what currency and we’ll quote you a rate. You can access rates either online or by phone
  2. Send us your money: When you’ve agreed to a rate, we’ll ask you to send us the money by bank transfer before we make your transfer
  3. Make your payment: Once we’ve received your funds we’ll send your onward payment. Depending on the currency and the destination, payments can arrive on the same day

Other things you need to know about driving in France

The costs of driving in France

Happily there is no longer a road tax for private cars in France, so that’s one cost you can forget about.

At the time of writing, fuel in France is no longer the bargain it once was. Indeed, petrol is now dearer than in the UK by about 12 cents per litre while diesel is about the same price.

Most French motorways (autoroutes) charge a toll: watch for the word Péage at the entrance. Although it is possible to get around France without paying tolls, it’s always faster to dig into your pocket. You’ll need to dig deep: the price works out at around one euro per 10 miles.

Getting a French driving licence

It is possible to get a French driving licence but the bureaucracy makes the process unappealing, to say the least. While UK is part of the EU/EEA there’s no point: you are entitled to drive a car in France for an unlimited period of time providing:

  • your licence is valid and does not have any endorsements, restrictions, or suspensions on it
  • you are above the age of 18
  • you comply with any medical requirements such as wearing prescription glasses if needed

Legal alcohol limits

The maximum permitted alcohol level for drivers in France is 0.5mg/ml compared to 0.8mg/ml in the UK.

Air Quality Certificate stickers

To drive in a low emission zone (ZCR) such as Paris (other cities are expected to follow suit) you’ll need an air quality certificate sticker (certificats qualité de l’air) This is based on the information that appears on your carte grise and certifies the vehicle’s environmental class based on its likely pollutant emissions. See the English language version of the official website at certificat-air.gouv.fr/en/

What you must have with you in your car in France

It is compulsory to carry:

  • Full valid driver’s licence
  • The vehicle’s carte grise
  • Proof of Insurance
  • Passport or national ID card
  • Two Government-certified breathalysers (two, so that if you have to use one you aren’t left with none, which would be illegal)
  • Reflective jackets for all passengers
  • Warning triangles
  • If you wear glasses you’re required to have a spare pair of spectacles in the car with you
  • It is illegal to carry a speed camera detector or a sat-nav with access to speed camera locations

Some French motoring rules

  • Seat belts are compulsory front and back. Children under 10 must sit in the back seat unless in a rear-facing child seat
  • Mobile phones: talking on a mobile is illegal, even hands-free
  • Horns: It’s illegal to use your horn in a French city unless you’re about to collide
  • Faulty lights: A faulty light will earn you an on-the-spot fine although this will normally be waived if you can produce a spare bulb set

Find Out More About Moving to and Living in France