Thursday, March 14, 2013

License to Drive

How to exchange an Australian NSW Driver’s Licence for a French Licence.

This information is valid for applicants residing in Paris in 2013 to obtain a licence that must be exchanged in 2014 for a new EU plastic licence, which is no longer “for life”. Application must be initiated within the first year of French residency.

0) Make sure you have a valid carte de séjour (titre de séjour) or visa. If your residency application is still being processed, obtain a récépissé de demande de titre de séjour from the appropriate Préfecture de Police. Your original NSW driver’s licence must be valid as of the date of application AND for the next few months just to be safe (you’ll be shit out of luck if anything expires while your application is being processed, and they won’t bother to tell you not to bother). Your NSW licence will NOT be returned to you.

1) Request a certified driving record from the NSW Roads and Maritime Services. You need to do this because the current NSW licence does not list the first date of issuance. Send an email to along with:

  • a request letter indicating your information and Paris mailing address
  • a scan of the front and back of your NSW licence
  • a scan of the identity page of your current Aussie passport
  • a scan of a filled-out credit card authority form found on their website. This scan should be an image file, e.g. a JPEG, as PDFs are analyzed for credit card information and your email will be automatically rejected. Your credit card will be charged the processing fee of $28 AUD, which includes postage to Paris.

2) Have your NSW licence (front and back) and your Australian-certified driving record translated into French by a Paris-certified translator. I used the services of Anne-Cécile Bourget and Davron Translations.

3) Make 2 colour copies each of the front and back of your original NSW driver’s licence, the front and back of your carte de séjour (and récépissé if need be) or visa, the identity page of the passport you used to enter France, and the identity pages for your Australian passport.

Make 2 copies each of your driver’s licence record (originals AND French translations), and a utility bill showing your Parisian address (I used my internet bill).

4) Obtain at least 4 French passport-sized photos at a Photomaton photobooth (I suggest the more modern ones, like the one at Châtelet - Les Halles, which allows you to preview your picture and if I recall correctly, pay by bank card).

Village of the Damned (1960)

5) Obtain random Australian documentation to satisfy whichever administrator happens to be in that day. Translate a few of them.

I submitted my first Australian postdoc agreement from 2007 and my last Australian paycheque from 2012, along with official translations and 2 copies of each. I also brought along my Australian citizenship certificate, my certificate of completion for a beginner’s Spanish class I took at UNSW in Sydney, and … well, actually I brought every official document I had with me. They ended up taking them all to a supervisor before final approval was given. I still am not sure what they were after. I think they gave it to me because I looked like I was about to cry. I was about to cry.

A word of advice: don’t submit everything at once. No matter what you show them, they will ask for something more. So let them ask for something before you present it.

6) Bring all original documents and copies to the Préfecture de Police located at 92, boulevard Ney 75018 Paris. It’s easily reachable by métro line 4, last stop at Porte de Clignancourt, assuming the line 4 metro is running that day and for the entire duration of your trip - which happened only once the many times I made the journey. I advise you to verify online that the office is actually open that day, and that it’s best day to arrive early Tuesday morning, around 8 am. Line up outside at the sign that says “étudiants étrangers” and NOT at the sign that says “échange d’un permis de conduire” because, you know, that would make too much sense. Seriously - do not wait at the wrong sign. It’s an entrance for employees only. The student line is the only line that goes in, and there is a security check that everyone has to go through before you can enter the rest of the building.

After this, head to the 4th floor, take a number, sit and wait. Present your complete dossier, and if everything is approved, you will be given an official paper to come pick up your licence at a later date. My pick-up date was one month from the date of approval. My carte de séjour expired within that month. Oh joy.

7) You may pick up your licence at any point after your assigned pick-up date. Again, I suggest going early on a Tuesday morning. You must bring your official pick-up paper, your valid carte de séjour or previous carte de séjour with a valid récépissé, your Australian passport, and your NSW licence. They will keep your NSW licence. To be safe, however, I suggest bringing all your official documents with you. Enter the building as before, but this time go to the 2nd floor. There will be a queue at the entrance of the room - get into it and if the official behind the counter verifies you have everything you need, you will be given a number. You will wait anywhere between 5 minutes (my first attempt) and 6.5 hours (my second attempt - I nearly passed out. No kidding. BRING FOOD AND DRINK. Make sure to eat a good hearty breakfast that day. And pray. Even if you are an atheist, find someone or something to whom you can pray).

8) If everything is good, they will call your number, take your carte de séjour, and make you wait again. About waiting: sometimes your number will appear on the ticket machine - but there is no discernible order, e.g. “C61, C62, A95, B12, C61, C56, …”, and of course your number will appear twice, for the first waiting period and then after for the second waiting period. No, wait, I’m lying. Sometimes your number will not appear, but you will hear someone calling it out, softly, in some corner of the office somewhere. Other times, they will drop your number altogether and simply call your name, e.g. “monsieur fhanzzzzzz?” which roughly translates to “foolish Mr. Ferns”. Go check it out. If you miss your turn for whatever reason, you will randomly be thrown back into the queue.

Finally, they will make your licence on the spot, sticking your photo onto a piece of pink cardboard. And voilà - you have a French driving licence.

The numbers:
Duration of process from first request to obtaining licence: just over 3 months
Cost: about 350€
Trips to the police station: 4
Number of officials who flat-out lied: 1


How to exchange a Quebec Driver’s Licence for an Australian NSW Driver’s Licence.

This information was valid in 2008 for applicants residing in Sydney, New South Wales.

0) Make sure you have a valid Australian permanent residency visa, current valid Canadian passport, a utility bill showing your full name and current New South Wales address (I used a Telstra bill), your current valid Quebec driver’s licence, and your previous Quebec driver’s licence. I recommend bringing both your current and previous licence, as NSW will only issue a probationary licence (P1 or P2) if your current licence has been valid for less than three years. My Quebec licence at the time had been valid since 2006 (only 2 years). My previous licence established that I had a driving history with a full licence for more than three years. I had ordered a certified Quebec driving record to establish the date my full licence was first granted. Unfortunately, the official Quebec driving record at the time only listed the total amount of days one had a full licence on the date the record was requested, e.g. “Emeric Belasco has had a full Quebec driver’s licence for passenger vehicles for 365 days as of 13/03/2013” instead of “Emeric Belasco’s Quebec driver’s licence was first issued on 13/03/2012”; and the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (at the time known as the RTA) would only accept an official letter that listed the date of issuance. I was oh so happy to learn this as I went along. Oh so happy. Anyway, trust me, if you want to drive on an unrestricted NSW licence, bring both licences. You will be able to retain both.

1) Obtain an official English translation of both driver’s licences from the NSW Community Relations Commission For a Multi-Cultural NSW. I paid $96 each for the two licences to be processed within 7 working days. VERIFY THE TRANSLATIONS. The official French translator changed my driving class (stating that I could drive big trucks), listed glasses as a required condition of driving, and put down the wrong driver’s licence number; in reality, I could only drive passenger vehicles and had “none” listed under conditions on my licence. When I notified the official about the errors, he had me write down the correct translation myself, had someone type it up in front of me, and that was it. So I essentially paid $200 for the honour of translating my own documents. Go me.

2) Go to an RTA outlet (there are many) along with original ID documents, original licences, and translations. Take a ticket from the ticket machine, wait approximately 5-20 minutes for your number to appear on the L.E.D. display, go up to the counter, and present your documents; if the person behind the counter is in a bad mood, smile politely, thank them for their time, and go home. If not, you’re in luck. Pass the quick eye test, and then have your digital photo taken by the official. Pay the licence fee; you have a choice of paying for 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years. I paid $142 at the time for a 5-year licence. The licence will be issued on the spot, and then you can shoot hookers and steal cars and drive yourself home.

The numbers:
Duration of process from first request to obtaining licence: just over 2 months
Cost: about $340 AUD
Trips to the RTA: 5
Number of officials who yelled at me: 1
Number of officials who flat-out lied: 1


More efficient, modern system: Australia
Nicer officials overall: France
Better experience: France (by a hair)

The funny thing is I don’t even like driving (except for road trips). 
Walking is where it’s at.

1 comment:

PJ said...

I gotta give it to Ontario on this one. They had the most efficient driver's license exchange process (the only drawback: my full baptismal name on the license). Moving back to Québec was more of a pain on that front. At least you didn't have a vehicle change plates as well.