A license to drive

Last year I spent my time roaming around Canada and the U.S. on a great road trip. Nice. Really, great. The catch, of course, was coming back to France at the end of that road-trippin’ year.

I’m talking about the administrative side of things here. As with anything pertaining to the French administration, it can be… interesting. But I digress. Let me first give you some context.


In order to accomplish that road trip, I had to exchange my French driver’s license for a Canadian one. (No, you are not allowed to ask why, if I am Canadian, I had a French driver’s license. Too complicated for now! :)).

That wasn’t too much of a problem, since both countries have a reciprocal agreement stating that a driver’s license from one country is equal to a driver’s license from the other. Anyway I didn’t have much choice, because that was the only way I could get an insurer to cover me in Canada (actually, in Ontario: I hear it can be easier in other provinces). Auto insurance being mandatory, well, that made the Canadian license mandatory.

But then, coming back to France, I needed to rent a moving van (read: massive truck) in order to get all of my furniture from a storage container in Belgium to here in Toulouse, France. And guess what ? Of course the rental company doesn’t take a non-European drivers’ license…

So off I go to the préfecture, where after a rather short wait I get to explain my situation and my wish to exchange my Canadian license for a new French one. Whereupon I am told that I need to keep my Canadian license for 6 months, and only then will I be able to exchange it. Great, just tell that to the rental company! Why is that everywhere I go, private companies don’t seem inclined to function according to the rules the government has set up? In Canada, I could drive for a full year with a French driver’s license but no insurer would insure me if I bought a car. In France, I could drive for 6 months with a Canadian license but rental companies didn’t want that license… Talk about frustrating !

Well of course, there was no way I was going to wait 6 months before getting my furniture into this empty apartment, so I resorted to plan B. Since I had previously already obtained a French license (still following ?), there had to be some trace of my license somewhere in the system. So I decided I would simply declare that I’d lost my French license, and needed a new one made out for me. Which wasn’t exactly a lie: I had no idea where my license was, since the Canadian authorities had kept it and either destroyed it or shipped it so some obscure location no one could find back).

Off I go then to the police station, to report the loss of my license. No problem there, everything goes smoothly. So back it is to the préfecture, declaration in hand, and I’m hopeful that this time I’ll get my license right away. Such optimism has taken hold of me that I’ve even booked the moving van, all 30 cubic meters of it (which is pretty big), for the following week. I state my case, and ask for a new license to be issued, having readied beforehand all of the paperwork. “No problem”, I am told, “it’ll be posted to you within three weeks”. Heavy sweating and lump in throat ensues… I don’t even have a cancellation clause on that rental van!


But you know what ? In the end, it all worked out. I’m still utterly amazed. I mean, this is the French I am talking about. Not that they aren’t nice or anything, but I mean… the French administration!! If any of you have encountered it, you’ll know what I mean.

Somehow, seeing my panick-stricken face and my stuttering pleas for mercy, the person who was attending to me at the préfecture eventually decided that it was possible after all to, exceptionally, register my case as urgent. What a relief!! Therefore I could come back to get my license… the very next day.

Wait. What ?

I mean, that’s really very extremely nice of you, but didn’t you just say that it took three weeks to get a new license issued ? If you CAN do it in a day, granted by bypassing some of the other people, how can it take THREE WEEKS in the normal timeline ?

Obviously, that is not a question that I asked. I was very happy to come back the following day and, as promised, collect my license. Beautiful. But still, I just can’t help but wonder at the intricate workings of the administrative system. Of course, I’ll get other chances to observe this mysterious system at work: sometime soon I’ll need to register my change of address, and shortly after that I’ll need to renew my carte de séjour (kind of like a green card for the U.S.). Oh joy…


My apologies if this post was a bit of a whirlwind, undoubtedly hard to follow. I simply wanted to vent some of my frustration from administrative hassles. But I’d be interested to hear if anyone has had interesting stories from fighting red tape, especially in other countries. Anything you’d like to share ?



One thought on “A license to drive

  1. Pingback: Sorry Mayans, but I’m calling the whole thing off « sometimetoulouse

If you don't tell me what you're thinking, our world will end. We'll blame the Mayans, though.

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