Auto insurance is legally required in France
Auto insurance is a legal requirement in France, as it is in Britain. Make no mistake about this, because not having Auto insurance is an offence punishable by six months in prison, and that is not the ideal way to spend your holiday or new life in France! However, although there is a lot of conflicting information out there about Auto insurance in France, it isn't as complicated as it may at first appear, and you can take heart from the fact that millions of Brits have already managed to sort it out satisfactorily.
Auto insurance options
There are a number of options open to the British driver who wishes to drive in France. The best way forward depends very much on individual circumstances and requirements, and depends to some considerable degree on whether or not you are a resident of France, of another European Union country, or of a non EU country.
Auto hire in France
If you are a short term visitor only, then you may find that a simple Auto hire agreement is the most straightforward solution for you. Auto hire firms may offer special deals, and rates are usually competitive and reasonable. The advantage of doing this is that the Auto is easily available from your point of arrival in France, and can be dropped off at your point of departure, and you do not have to worry about insurance or “controle techniques” or complex registration processes! Auto insurance through Auto hire firms in France differs as it does in the UK. It would always be best to hire the Auto through a reputable company, check what fully comprehensive insurance actually covers, and look into the costs of paying extra for collision damage waiver which may not be included initially.
Long-term solution for your Auto insurance in France
If, however, you are going to be in France for long periods of time, or on a very regular or permanent basis you will need to take the bull by the horns and finds a long term solution.
Auto insurance for residents of Non European Union Countries
If you are resident of a non EU country such as Canada or the USA, you can take advantage of a great system known as the TT scheme. Citroën run one such scheme, in which you receive a Auto under temporary ownership at a very low price. Tax, insurance etc. is all taken care of for you, and you can use the Auto for a minimum of 17 days and a maximum of 180. The Autos are fitted with easily recognisable plates, so you are unlikely to get any hassle from the police.
Auto insurance in France using your existing Auto insurance company
The easiest way to insure your Auto in France if you are still resident in the UK, is to contact your existing Auto insurance company, to extend your UK policy to cover France. Usually Autos are covered for third party in EU countries, but it would be advisable to increase cover to fully comprehensive. It would be well worth looking into the breakdown insurance that is offered too, as many offer an excellent package with English speaking assistance provided. Check the options on offer as some Auto insurance companies include everything in one package, while others offer a cheaper initial deal but leave out important cover. It would be worth making sure that the cover includes road-side assistance, replacement parts cover and providing over-night accommodation when necessary. Some will get your Auto back to the UK, others won’t.
Green card system
If you have an English registered vehicle which you wish to drive in France, you may wish to take out a Green Card .This is not an insurance policy in itself, but simply an internationally recognised card which guarantees that you have suitable legal insurance from your own country. It is not, strictly necessary for EU drivers in France, but it can be a useful item should you be stopped or, involved in any accident. Your insurer in England should be able to issue this card on request, and there should be no extra cost although some agents charge a small administrative fee. This option, however, is only suitable for those who are UK residents. If you are resident in France the rules are quite different. Please note also, that this is only suitable for those who only need to drive the vehicle in France for less than 90 days per year.
Auto insurance for a second Auto in France
One option which you may consider is that of keeping a second Auto in France for use when you are in the country. This is feasible, but you must understand that the legal requirement for insuring such a vehicle is different from the requirement in Britain. In the UK, once you have filled in a SORN form you can legally withdraw insurance payments until such time as you wish to re-use the Auto. In France, although you must notify your insurer that your Auto is off the road, as in the UK, you are legally bound to maintain third party insurance on the vehicle at all times. Another factor to consider is the cost of second hand Autos in France... if cost is an issue, which it is for many of us! Second hand Autos in France are much more expensive, as a rule, than they are in Britain, so this needs to be built in to the planning if you are considering this option.
Auto insurance for French residents
If you are a permanent resident in France you are bound by French law. French law states that if you are resident in France, insurance on your vehicle is part of your "responsibilité civile". If you are a French resident, to comply fully with French law you must register and insure your vehicles within the French system, which means changing your UK plate to a French plate. It is possible to legally drive an English registered vehicle which is insured with a French insurer, but usually only for six months, and only when you are involved in the process of changing the registration of the vehicle to a French plate. (Although some have been told that as a French resident, you have one month to complete the registration unless there is a valid reason that will take you beyond that time.) It will be necessary to go the local Hotel des Impots and ask them for a quittus fiscal certificate. The certificate is free and incorporates your authority to drive your UK vehicle on its foreign plates for a month (or however long agreed by the authorities), whilst you arrange the registration.
Auto insurance for English number plates
Many French insurance companies are not keen to offer a service of insurance for English plated vehicles, but if you shop around you will find one who can. AGF are a company who are usually amenable to this, and are very reasonably priced as well. Do begin the process of changing to a French plate as soon as possible though... like everything that you do in France you will find it takes for ever, requires more paperwork than you ever thought possible and is inevitably more complicated than you expected!
Auto insurance and tax in France
There is another reason too, for changing to a French plate as soon as possible. If you have an English plated vehicle which is based in France, yet you make trips to the UK in that vehicle, you can run into the problem of tax. In France there is no system of tax discs as there is in the UK. This means that unless you continue to pay to maintain a UK tax disc, when you enter the UK you are immediately driving illegally. A fully French registered vehicle in England does not face this problem, as the differences in the systems are recognised and accepted.
French Auto insurance
French Auto insurance is similar to, but different from the British system in certain ways. It is basically three tier, with the minimum legal requirement being third party insurance (au tiers) only. Remember this is essential on all vehicles even if off road. The next level is third party, fire and theft, (au tiers illimité, or au tiers complet) and the third is the fully comprehensive, (tous risques). After this, bespoke packages can be created to suit, with your agent adding cover as required. Generally the cost is considerably less than the cost of similar insurance in the UK. Your no claims can usually be carried over from your British insurance, but you will need to supply... guess what... lots of paperwork! Your insurer will send you a ticket to place on the windscreen to show that the insurance is in place. He will also send you an accident form (constat amiable), which you should carry in your vehicle at all times.
Driving licences for French residents
And something else to bear in mind is that if you are now a French resident insuring with a French insurer, you may have to get an International driving licence or a French driving licence. It may sound simple but it isn't necessarily so. You have to be resident in France six months before you can apply to change your licence. The form to be filled in is obtainable from the Sous-Prefecture or similar office, and you also need two passport photos, proof of identity (passport) and proof of domicile (EDF or FranceTelecom bill, or better still, a French medical card obtained from a doctor).
UK driving licences for French residents
However, to avoid having to apply for an International driving licence or French one, it is now possible if you are a French resident, to keep your UK driving licence until it's date of expiry, but you must be aware of a few things. Firstly, this used to be a problem and still is with some French insurers, as many wouldn't accept a UK driving licence. As this is now EU law however, this shouldn't be a problem for much longer. Secondly, you must still have a UK address for your UK driving licence, even if it is your previous UK address. Thirdly, you will still need to follow French law regarding driving licences, eg: age restrictions, validity of licences, medical checks. And finally, if you incur penalty points or road traffic offenses on your licence in France, you will need to change to a French licence. This is more likely to occur if stopped in person by the police.
How to get French Auto insurance
There are insurance (assurance) agents in every town... probably several of them. If your French is good enough you could try the straightforward “walk in” approach and see what services they can offer you. (Learning to speak French - Misadventures in a Foreign Tongue). If your French is shaky, however, the tried and tested “word of mouth” system is useful. Talk to other ex-pats in your area, find out what companies they use and what services are offered.
French Auto insurance companies AXA and AGF
Failing this, there are two large Auto insurance companies which are well versed in dealing with British drivers who need to insure vehicles in France. These are AXA and AGF. AXA have UK agents, and both companies have many English speaking staff (although not necessarily in every office). You do not, of course, need to insure with a local agent as everything is done by post, so you can use an English speaking agent from the other end if the country if you can't find one locally. Shop around until you find the package... and the agent... that suits you.
Final Auto insurance advice
Insurance is one of those things in life which can seem an expensive hassle until you need it. Then it magically becomes the wisest and best thing you ever did!