Complete Guide: Buying a Car in France
If you’re moving to France permanently or have a holiday home there, chances are you’ll be needing a car to get around. Luckily, driving in France is normally a good experience even for non-residents, with plenty of open roads and good motorways. The main challenge is finding a car that you’re happy to drive since the French car market is quite different to the UK. Luckily, we’re here to help; in this handy guide, we explain exactly how to purchase a car in France including where to search for the right car, the taxes you’ll need to pay, and more. Let’s get started.
Option 1: Buying a new car in France
Buying a new car takes a lot of hassle out of the buying process. However, new cars are typically more expensive in France than in most other countries in Europe; the average cost of a new car in France in 2019 was €27,754 including taxes.
Some popular car brands in France include their home brands Peugeot, Renault, and Citroen. If you choose any one of these brands, then not only will most garages be able to service your car, but spare parts will be easy to acquire.
All new cars sold in France are required to be labelled with their energy efficiency. Each car is labelled with colour codes ranging from dark green to red, for the least (emissions of >100g/km) to most environmentally friendly models (emissions of >100g/km) to red for the most (emissions of 250g/km+) polluting. There’s also a surcharge on the cost of a registration document for high-emission cars. To drive in a low emission zone of France, you’ll need to have an air quality certificate sticker that displays information about the vehicle’s environmental class from your carte grise.
Option 2: Buying a second-hand car in France
If you don’t want to purchase a new car, your other option is to buy a used car. The second-hand car market in France is quite small compared to the UK, and it can be challenging to pick up a car in good condition with less than 100,000 km on the clock. Prices for second-hand cars also tend to be more expensive in France than in the UK. This is mostly because there is far less turnover of second-hand vehicles and the standards for inspection on used cars is also high. It is possible to find a bargain, however, particularly on older vehicles or if you opt to go through a private seller.
Because it can be a struggle to find a good quality second-hand car in France, you could consider buying a left-hand drive car in the UK (where they are cheaper and better quality) and then drive it to France to get it re-registered.
Where to buy a second-hand car in France
You can find private sellers of second-hand cars online, however, it’s easiest and safest to go through a garage or dealership. This will ensure that the car you’re buying is being sold with an up-to-date controle technique and will make the paperwork and transaction processes quicker. Also, a used-car dealer will usually offer a warranty of 3-12 months.
Some reputable French car dealers include:
- La Centrale
- Le bon coin
- Par Vendu
If you don’t want to go through a dealer, you could consider buying a car at auction. Not only can this be a great way to get a good deal, but you will have the chance to buy vehicles from leasing companies, fleets and car hire firms who typically keep scrupulous records regarding a vehicle’s maintenance history.
Purchasing a used car in France – the admin
If you buy a used car from a dealer or at auction, they will handle most of the paperwork. When purchasing a used car in France, there are a few documents that both parties will need to provide. The seller will need to provide:
- The certificat d’immatriculation (car registration certificate) also known as the Carte Grise
- The controle technique (MOT in the UK)
- A complete certificat de cession (certificate of transfer)
- The seller must also provide a certificat de situation administrative (also known as certificat de non-gage) if you request one
A certificat de non-opposition is valid for two months and a certificat de non-gage for one month only and you must re-register the car within this period. Never buy a car without a registration document, as it could be stolen. As the buyer, you will need to complete part of the certificat de cession to make the purchase complete.
Option 3: Importing a car from abroad
It’s quite common for French citizens to buy their cars in other European countries such as Belgium or Portugal, where most new cars cost around 20% less than in France. If you’re thinking of purchasing a car from abroad and importing it, you should make sure that the local French dealer will agree to service it under the terms of the warranty. Make sure that it’s also manufactured to French specifications, or it may not be approved by the DRIRE. Remember to research the VAT on car shipping since this can be very expensive.
Re-registering your vehicle
Some UK expats think it’s a better option to buy a second-hand left-hand drive car in the UK and drive it over to France to get it re-registered, since doing this can often be cheaper and a more convenient option. You will, however, need to get your car re-registered in France to be able to drive it in the country. Fees for registration vary depending on the vehicle’s horsepower. On average, the cost of vehicle registration is around €300.
You can register your vehicle in a few steps:
- When you purchase your car in the UK, you will need to get a certificate of conformity from the UK car manufacturer or dealer to confirm that the car conforms to French standards.
- When you get the car to France, you need to take the car’s original registration documents and receipt of sale to the Centre des Impots to check that you do not need to pay any import duty.
- Depending on the make and model of your car, you may need to get the direction of the headlights changed and take the car for a controle technique (the French roadworthiness test).
- Finally, to get your car registered, you need to take all your documents to the local town hall and get your carte grise.
You will need the following documents for the vehicle registration:
- Identification (your passport or identity card)
- Proof of residence (typically a utility bill or rental receipt)
- A copy of your driving licence
- Proof of insurance cover
- A copy of the Certificat d’immatriculation/Carte Grise with the appropriate section filled in.
- Te contrôle technique (CT) certificate.
Controle technique test
A Controle Technique (CT) is the French equivalent of an MOT test. Controle technique inspections can be carried out at any test centre in France and an inspection is valid for two years. When selling a car that is over four years old, dealers must provide a CT which is no more than six months old, or two if a retest is required.
Paying for your car in France
Once you’ve found the perfect car, you’ll need to pay for it. If you’re purchasing a car in France, you’ll want to transfer money overseas to your French bank account. At Halo Financial, our currency specialists will use specialist techniques to provide the best exchange rates on all your international transfers. Register for a free account today to start getting more from your overseas payments.
Re-plating your car
If you have imported a car to France from overseas, then you will have to go through a specific process to re-plate the vehicle. The process should cost no more than €500 and having the new number plates affixed by your local garage should cost no more than €20.
You will need:
- A Certificate of Conformity (you can get this from your car manufacturer)
- A “demande d’identification” (you can get this from the local DREAL via the French government‘s website)
- You need to take these two documents to the local Prefecture who will assign you a new French number plate.
What French driving laws do I need to know about?
French driving laws differ slightly to driving laws in the UK, so it’s important to be aware of them before motoring in France.
- Traffic – In France, traffic travels on the right-hand side of the road.
- Fines – In France, driving fines are collected on the spot, so be ready to pay if you get pulled over.
- Alcohol – The blood alcohol limit is 0.05% in France, which is lower than it is in the US or UK.
- Car insurance – In France, it is the car, which is insured, not the driver which means anyone with your permission may drive your car.
- Warning triangle – In France, it is the law to keep a warning triangle and high visibility jacket in your car.
Buying a car in France – FAQs
Can a foreigner buy a car in France?
Yes, a foreigner can buy a new or used car in France. Buying a new car is typically less hassle although more expensive than buying a second-hand car. In France, it is popular to buy second-hand cars from dealers, garages, or auctions.
What is the best way to buy a car in France?
In France, it is popular to buy cars second-hand from dealers, garages, or auctions. However, since the French used car market is quite small, you might find it easier to buy a left-hand drive car in the UK, import it to France, and re-register it there.
Is it cheaper to buy a car in France?
Cars in France tend to be more expensive than abroad. As a cheaper alternative, you could look into buying a second-hand car or buying a left-hand drive car in your home country and importing it to France.
What are the taxes on buying a car in France?
There is no annual road tax in France like there is in the UK. However, you will have to pay tax when you change ownership.