A EU citizen with a EU driving license settling in France
When a EU citizen settles in France and has a driving license delivered by another European Economic Area (EEA), he may ask to exchange his driving license under conditions. This is not compulsory except if he commit an infraction with a measure of restriction, suspension, or cancelation of the license or if he loses points on his license. The European may drive in France, but if he commits an infraction, he will have to apply to an exchange.
A non-UE citizen has a license from his home country
A non EU citizen with a non-European license will have to exchange it with a French license. According to his nationality, he will apply six months after he obtained his residence card, but not later than 12 months: he has 6 months to process. If there is a reciprocal agreement between France and the emitting country, and if he fulfills the conditions, a French license will be emitted after an administrative process.
If there is no reciprocal agreement between France and the emitting country, the expatriate will have to pass the French driving license exam. This is still the case with China: French expats in China must take the Chinese exam, as well as Chinese expats in France must take (and pass) the French exam. If the practical test is not really a problem to experienced drivers, the theoretical part may be a burden, as it needs a good comprehension of the local language. However, in the case of China, an agreement between France and China was signed on February 21, 2017. The Embassy will rapidly give more information about the process.
The specific situation of expatriates with a double nationality
An expat with a double nationality, European and extra-European, may arrive to France without any visa process, thanks to the EU passport. He avoids the time and cost of an immigration process. However, if he holds an extra-European driving license (same than his extra-European nationality), he will not be allowed to exchange his no EU license- even if there is a reciprocal agreement between his extra EU country and France.
Eduardo holds a Brazilian license, and there is a reciprocal agreement between France and Brazil. However, he arrived to France without immigration process, thanks to his double nationality (Spanish). The problem is that the French authorities demand a proof of residence proving that he lived six months in Brazil when he passed his license. This is Eduardo’s situation, but when he passed the driving license, he was still living at his parents’ residence, and cannot prove it with bills under his name. We had a similar situation several years ago and the French authorities refused to exchange the license, telling that the proof of residence of the holder was not sufficient.
Eduardo seems to be cool with the situation, and accepts with philosophy to enroll to a driving school, learn the French traffic rules: this is not so easy for a foreigner who is not comfortable with French. He will have to spend time and money. It is thus advised to evoke this question before he arrives, and choose between the immigration process (if there is an reciprocal agreemnt between his extra EU country and France), or the simple transfer as a EU citizen – but he will have the burden of taking the French license.