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Moving to France: Buying a car — #3

While there is nothing I love more than taking a good, long walk and taking advantage of public transportation, I needed to purchase a car to fully experience all that Brittany has to offer. Especially as I started work in January. It was my first month in France… and as I would begin working in January, I needed to purchase a vehicle in December. While I love taking public transportation – the trains in particular – living in a rural community means that a 10-minute car trip can sometimes take an hour by bus (with stops and changes).

Moving to France: buying a car - Cap Frehel

Research, research, research

Before I left the United States, I researched how much it would cost to ship my car to France. From what I read, and the feedback from numerous group members online, there were too many restrictions and costs associated with shipment and import taxes, and therefore it was recommended to sell the car and buy something here (ditto furniture, etc.)

As with most places in the world, there are a few different avenues one can take when buying a car: through a dealer or individual sale.

I used Le Bon Coin to search for a vehicle using the requirements I had (automatic, under 125,000 kilometers, price range, etc.). I looked at about a dozen cars fitting my criteria.

I found one that checked almost every box (minus a GPS and camera). This particular seller listed all of the details about the car including features, last check-up, etc. With my friends’ help, we contacted the seller to make an appointment to see the vehicle. He lived about 15 minutes away and was willing to bring the car to my apartment.

The test drive

In the United States, the seller allows the potential buyer to test drive the vehicle without the seller’s presence – always a bit risky – but here, the seller rode along with us.

My friend drove the car first – as he is much more car-savvy than me – then I took a turn behind the wheel. We both posed some questions relating to the car including the last controle technique, or full check. Once finished with our test drive, we discussed whether he would be willing to negotiate on the price. After some reflection, I determined that this was a good price for a fine vehicle, and my friend called to ask him to hold the car.

Off to the bank

As it was a Sunday, I had to wait until the following day to go to the bank and ask for a cheque bancaire for the full amount. I listed the seller’s name and the amount that I was to purchase the car for, my name and contact information, showed my passport and bank card, and that was it. The woman behind the guichet indicated that it would take about 48 hours for the check to be ready. We then contacted the seller to give him an update and shortly after the car was mine.

Easy, right? Yes and no. The purchase of the car was relatively easy. Then came the fun part …

Car Insurance

Before I could pick up my new vehicle, I needed to purchase car insurance. In several online groups, I had read that it is important to get a letter from the insurance company indicating there have been no accidents or the like (if that is the case) before leaving the United States. I did not, and I would HIGHLY recommend doing that before you leave. As I need insurance before picking up the car, and as things were already in motion, the lack of a letter proved to be a bit stressful. The insurance company denied my request at first as there was no proof that I was a good and reliable driver. Further discussions ensued; my ex-husband was kind enough to secure an email from the insurance company indicating no claims had been filed. Once that was received and accepted by the insurance company, I was good to go. The following day, my friend Isabelle and I went to the insurance office, agreed on the policy, and signed the paperwork.

Carte Grise

The next step was to apply online for a carte grise, a document to have in the car that is, as Isabelle puts it, “the passport for the car”. This proved to be a bit tricky, as I did not, as of yet, have an international driving license nor a French driving license. After a few trips to the local Cartaplac, we sent in the paperwork and crossed our fingers. A month later, I do not have the carte grise or know where I am in the process. This is, as anyone who lives here knows, not uncommon and it is a wonderful way to practice the art of patience.

Moving to France: buying a car - L Carte Grise

A French Driving License

For the French driving license, I needed a copy of my driving record that showed how many – if any – points I currently had on my license. My fellow Americans can get this through the Secretary of State website for about $11.00. I printed off my copy indicating a 0-point balance and took that to my insurance office along with my passport, a current bill, and my rental contract. I also needed a photo for my license, which I acquired at a little booth in my local Intermarche. I selected the photos specifically for a driving permit and paid about 5 euros.

But what I did not realize about getting a French driving license is that I have to give my U.S. driving license to French officials once I receive my Permis de conduire français. While Michigan has a formal agreement with France – and therefore I can drive in Michigan with my French license for a short period of time – I am unsure how that works with those states that do not have such an agreement.

Still some learning to do…

In addition to the administrative challenges, having a car also means learning the rules of the road, the signage, the vitesse, and of course, the traffic circles.

I can’t say that I have ever seen so many ronds-points as I have seen here in Brittany and after a few months I can say that I have almost mastered them.

That, and parallel parking maybe some of my greatest achievements to date.

In all seriousness though, having a car is a big responsibility but it also allows for more freedom. I recently visited two chateaux nearby and would not have been able to see them without a car.

moving to France: buying a car - Chateau de la Hunaudaye



Do you rent a car when visiting France? Do you feel comfortable driving abroad? Share your experiences and thoughts with us in the comments below.


Further reading:
1. French Driver’s License
2. The Carte Grise Explained
3. Questions on Registration of vehicles in France (carte grise)

Terms and additional information:
What is a carte grise in France?
The term “carte grise (gray card)” means in France the registration certificate. The French registration certificate (carte grise) is mandatory for French and foreign drivers domiciled in France wishing to travel on public roads in France or resell their vehicles.

Who must register his vehicle in France?
The French registration certificate (carte grise) is mandatory for French and foreign drivers domiciled in France wishing to travel on public roads in France or resell their vehicles.

Deadline for registering a vehicle in France
The French registration certificate must be requested by the new owner, within less than a month after the vehicle purchase date. Beyond the period of 1 month, the vehicle can not be driven on French public roads as the new owner does not rectify its situation. If police control, the driver faces a fine of the fourth class of up to 750 euros.

Image credits:
1. Cap Frehel – copyright Amy Gruber
2. Carte Gris
3. Chateau de la Hunaudaye – copyright Amy Gruber

Follow this mini-series Moving to France
1. Taking the plunge #1
2. The first month #2
3. Buying a car #3
4. L’Assurance Maladie #4



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