If you move to France from anyone outside of France and plan to keep your car, whether that be left- or right-hand drive, you are importing a vehicle. There are legal restrictions regarding UK MOTs and insurance criteria meaning that any planning to stay in France for 6 months or more is required to register their car in France. Unless you plan to return to the UK (or another EU country) every 6 months – by car, of course – and also to maintain an address there, this is by far the simplest option. The only downside is that you are required to pay a fee to import the vehicle and it’s almost impossible to find out in advance how much that will be as it varies from vehicle to vehicle and is based on criteria such as engine type and size, usage (business or leisure), and age. It’s complicated and, like everything in France, it generates quite a lot of paperwork. We managed to complete the whole process with a week but it helped that we already had all the documentation we needed and that James’s French was good enough to talk through the process with the various clerks we had to deal with. Needless to say, if you don’t speak French it is likely to by more difficult! Here’s some of the information we used to walk us through the process and some added information that will hopefully be useful.

Getting a certificat d’immatriculation (previously know as the carte gris)

As usual there’s some useful and condensed information on the expat sites. The two sites I used for reference are listed above. Of course there are others. When you’ve got a feel for the process in English, visit the official website. This has to be your starting point as you will need to find the appropriate prefecture (or sous-prefecture) for your postcode and go there to collect the necessary forms and begin the process.

Calculating Carte Gris Costs

Naturally, there are various costs associated with registering your car. These vary depending on factors such as the region of France, as well as the age, engine size, and emissions rating of your car, as well as whether you’re registering it as a passenger or commercial vehicle. You may also have to pay for Control Technique (like an MOT in the UK), replacement headlamps and fitting of said headlights. Again, that will depend on the make and model of your car (some cars are fitted with a switch enabling you to easily change the direction of the lights) and when you last had it MOT’d in the UK. If your current MOT is less than six months old there’s no need for the Control Technique, although the person on the desk at the Prefecture may need reminding of that fact, so if you know in advance of coming to France that you plan to keep your car it’s a job well worth doing.

Working all these things out in advance is pretty complicated so the easiest way we found was to use the simulator, which is on the official service-public.fr website.

This takes you through each of the cost categories, which include:

Y1 – Taxe régionale This is the rate specific to your region, usually between 30 and 50 euros.
Y2 – Taxe formation professionnelle A tax that is applied to company or commercial vehicles.
Y3 – Taxes sur les véhicules polluants An environmental tax to deter you from buying or importing a heavily polluting vehicle.
Y4 – Taxe de gestion Management fee at a flat rate of 4 euros.
Y5 – Redevance d’acheminement The fee for posting the final paperwork to you. For us it was 2.76 euros.
Y6 – Taxes à payer The final amount payable.

However, keep in mind that the number the simulator throws out may not be the figure you’re given once all your details have been entered into the system at the Prefecture. If the figures are much higher than you anticipated, ask to check them and challenge them! There’s a lot of data entry involved and human error is always a possibility. If, on the other hand, the figure you get is much lower, walk quickly and quietly to the cashier’s desk, pay up and go celebrate!