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Being American and not having a reciprocal drivers license, what is the cheapest or easiest route to obtaining a drivers license here? I live in Lyon and have heard many horror stories. Any feedback or advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.
 

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I can't help, sorry, but I can sympathise!
I am European, so an exchange should be relatively easy, except when up against certain fonctionnaires in certain prefectures! I have never had a problem with individuals of The Administration here, but these are seriously testing my Pollyanna disposition!

Someone with some knowledge will be along shortly!

Good luck!
Gypsycob x
 

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hth

If you are sure you are staying longer than you can drive on the US licence for, and are properly resident then the only option is to speak to an auto-ecole and go though the process as a new driver i.e. prepare for and take the test. Most instructors will, or should, run an express course aimed at someone such as you. I can't help as I'm not Lyon based but remember a guy running out of Macon who was an American. 5 or 6 years ago i met him but don't have info sorry.

Which exact state is your US licence? Some states DO have an agreement and as long as you are within 1 year of the commencement of permanent residency here you can exchange as with an EU licence.

HTH
 

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Given that the OP has posted "San Francisco" as her location, I'm assuming she has a California license. And California is well known as NOT having reciprocal arrangements with anyone. (New York is the other big state like that, but there are plenty of them.)

Basically, you're going to need to find an auto école somewhere in your area and ask about a class for licensed foreign drivers. It won't be particular cheap - and given the chronic shortage of driving examiners, it will take several months to get an appointment for the test(s).

You can get the Code de la Route book in English from Fehrenbach's (multi-lingual driving school in Paris), but it may be easier in the long run to use this as an opportunity to improve your French with "driving terms." I believe Fehrenbach's runs a "crash course" (unfortunate pun) you can complete in just a couple of days in Paris, but I don't know how quickly even they can get you an appointment to sit the exam and then take the driving test.

When I lived in Germany, I missed the deadline for a simple exchange of my US license and had to take the classes. Despite the expense, I'm still glad I did take the training. There are some significant differences in how driving works here - particularly this "priorité à droit" stuff - that I think you really need to know to avoid problems. Plus, a good instructor can point out "tricks" that the examiners tend to pull or take you to the areas the examiners use for the tests.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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It's best to apply for the test via the instructor/ecole as they have pre-booked slots held. There is no priority for the prefecture. I could get an adult driver who already has a licence though before end of May if everything was in order, and a capable learner. Cost wise it's is around 600€ with a pass guarantee for people who's first language is English. This is quite a bit lower than a new driver and your licence must be valid and you must have been driving for 5 years minimum in you home country without any bans.
We don't offer this to people who can't speak reasonable French (you WILL fail the test if you don't speak French). People who don't speak French get referred to a language school!

Remember you'll need a medical certificate. This will cost 40€ from your local doctor and valid for 1 year. The instructor should help with making sure you have all the right documents and the Cerfa.
 

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I remember that you used to be able to go to the Paris Prefecture and get your license as a "free candidate" if you license was still valid, which meant no driving lessons. But I'm not sure if that has changed or not. Maybe the prefecture in Lyon would know more about that.
 

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I never got around to doing that, so I'm also looking into having to take those lessons, which I don't mind, but the cost I do mind.
 

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I remember that you used to be able to go to the Paris Prefecture and get your license as a "free candidate" if you license was still valid, which meant no driving lessons. But I'm not sure if that has changed or not. Maybe the prefecture in Lyon would know more about that.
There is still the option to go for the tests as an independent candidate - however the waiting times have grown longer in recent years. At this point, there is even a proposal out there to allow the Postal carriers to give driving tests (though I'm not sure either the driving school owners or the Postal carriers are thrilled with the idea - for all the obvious reasons).
Cheers,
Bev
 

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There is still the option to go for the tests as an independent candidate - however the waiting times have grown longer in recent years. At this point, there is even a proposal out there to allow the Postal carriers to give driving tests (though I'm not sure either the driving school owners or the Postal carriers are thrilled with the idea - for all the obvious reasons).
Cheers,
Bev
As I understand it, this proposal will definitely go ahead. They're talking about some specific group/s of La Poste staff and retired staff. Existing staff will not have to participate, it will be extra work that they can take on if they wish. The driving schools are particularly incensed about it, however the govt is aware that the schools are making huge profits and not necessarily doing the write thing by those who have enrolled for lessons. BUT it's anyone's guess when this might actually be impleneted :D
 

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I never got around to doing that, so I'm also looking into having to take those lessons, which I don't mind, but the cost I do mind.
It's a real shame when people don't 'get around to' exchanging licences when they can - it makes life much easier if you make the effort to make the application within the 12 month timeframe (less a couple of months processing), which to me seems very reasonable. I would definitely advise those with exchangeable licences to make the effort and exchange their licences, rather than ending up with the inconvenience, stress and expense of not being allowed to drive in France, having to take lessons (at a not inconsequential cost) and then having to sit a test in French.
 

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Just a thought: will it be cheaper to buy a 'sans permis' car or do you still need to take some sort of course to drive these?
 

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A "sans permit" car is, apparently just that - so no need to take driving classes. However, a "sans permit" car won't do more than about 40 or 50 kph and they get even slower going up hill. (She said, having been stuck behind someone in a "sans permit" vehicle on the main road into the next town on more than one occasion!)
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Yes EverHopeful, I'm one of those that didn't "get around to" exchanging my license for a French one (my State allowed this), but I never thought I would be here that long, duh lol. I do agree with you, if one can exchange your license within the one-year time frame, please do.

Does anyone know if Fehrenbach has an office in Paris. They are listed in Suresnes, but everyone keeps saying it is in Paris, including their web site. For me, Suresnes is not Paris, and it is quite difficult to get to if you live in the south of Paris.
 

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I think they used to be located in Paris - but Suresnes is just the other side of La Defense, so people tend to think of it as "as good as" in Paris. Probably easiest to use the RER A to get there.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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If/when you decide on a driving school, ask around first! Ask friends or go online and see if there are any reviews. The one I chose right down the street from me was small but excellent. The instructor cared and worked hard. She ran a dvd at 6pm every evening that us students would watch (do a fake exam actually). And then she would come in and go over every question, explaining in detail why the law/answer was as it is. However, I have a few friends (french) who went to other driving schools and the instructors were terrible. Basically threw a dvd in and let the students fend for themselves.

I ended up paying 800€ for the course plus 20 hours of driving. The driving was important to me because of the rond point. We didn't have those where I lived in the US, so they confused me at first. Plus I had a dvd at home with 40 practice tests to use also. It really helped me get a handle on all the french route words and understanding, although I had driving in the states for over 15 years. And I went with the regular exam (you do have the option of hiring a translator for the exam, at least you used to I'm not sure about today) and did fine. I think I missed one question because a word popped up I never heard of before.

Also, I did buy the english version of the code and found it really useless. It didn't really have much info in it to be honest and it was quite expensive. when you sign up for a school they give you the code book, which is easy to translate really and very helpful.
 

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getting a license in Lyon

This is a bit late, perhaps, for you, but I recently passed my épreuve théorique, and am preparing to take the driving part of the test.

In Lyon, Auto-école des Brotteaux on Cours Vitton has an English-speaking manager who is quite friendly (though busy) and whose English is very good as well. If you've signed up for a library card, the main Bibliothèque on Boulevard Vivier Merle near Part Dieu has DVD sets you can check out for practice tests.

Get ready to learn an insane amount of trivia, such as:

- How many recognized shades of sunglasses are there and which ones can be worn legally while driving?

- How many kilograms of CO2 does the average car produce over a five-year period?

- What type of infraction and how many points do you have taken off your license if you're caught without wearing a seatbelt?

- What percentage of additional fuel do you burn when driving a car with a roof rack on it?

There's an insane focus on specifically which lights, or combination of lights, one must (or must not) illuminate under different circumstances.

And, when you read car reviews about how common electrical problems are with French automobiles, the weird focus on what to do in a tunnel when your car, or someone else's car, catches fire, might start to make sense.

On the positive side, though, I found practice tests to be more difficult than the real thing.

I should add: how I found the auto école was by doing an Internet search and sending emails to schools that were convenient either to work or home, asking (in French) if they offered a reduced price plan for experienced drivers with foreign licenses, if they had an automatic transmission car available (you need a car with a passenger seat brake pedal for the test -- you can't use your own), and if they had an English-speaking staff person with whom I could work. You won't get many responses, but you may see one or two.
 

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You can get the Code de la Route book in English from Fehrenbach's (multi-lingual driving school in Paris), but it may be easier in the long run to use this as an opportunity to improve your French with "driving terms."
I definitely would get the Code de la Route in French as it will make the test far easier to understand. You can buy one at most bookstores, but if you go through an auto école you'll get one as part of the package. Can't hurt to have more than one, I suppose, as they'll explain things slightly differently and it may help you understand some of the finer points of French idiosyncratic driving rules.

Of course, I've read you can arrange for an official translator to take the test with you, but it comes at an additional cost and will take longer to arrange. Best to dive in and learn the distinction between a ralentisseur and a dos-d'ane avec cassis.
 
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