Nearly two years ago, I went on at length about the process of exchanging a driver’s license from one of the US states to a country in the European Union. I focused specifically on Croatia as, given you can’t exchange a license from the US to a Spanish one but you can in Croatia, where I’m a citizen, it seemed the easiest option. Go back and thoroughly read that post to answer all the initial questions.

Naturally, in putting this information out there, I was then sent many emails asking about specific instances in specific countries. To answer all of these questions here and now: I simply can’t as I don’t have nearly enough time in the day and even if I did, I don’t know your specific instance. Mine was transferring a California license to Croatia and then to Spain. Honestly, even if you are in a situation exactly like mine, the route may be a great deal difference. This kind of bureaucracy is like nuclear fusion: we don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s theoretically possible.

I seem to get more questions from people residing in France than anywhere else, which is bizarre given that they seem to accept exchanges with more than half the countries in the world and a great number of US states. So, if you want to know about France, I’m really of no help, but what I can do is outline a few aspects of EU life to help you understand and formulate your plan of attack.

You can only reside in one place at a time

If you’re an American in France and you decide to go to Croatia to do this exchange, it won’t work. You must be a resident of Croatia in order to exchange your license. This makes sense as the idea is that you’ll be driving in Croatia if you’re living in Croatia, thus the stipulation.

If you think you can just pop down to register, you can’t. Well, let me rephrase that as you might be able to, but it will catch up with you later. I know this as once I did the exchange (see below) it sent a red flag to Croatia that I wasn’t residing there. While I had had the intention to actually stay for awhile, it didn’t work out and I should have renounced my residence there, which I’ve now had to do after the fact.

Trying to be a resident in two countries within the EU can cause you potential tax, insurance, and legal status problems. Don’t do it and honestly in this day and age with everything linked up, I doubt that you’d be able to.

You can only have one EU driver’s license

This makes sense as the EU is an interlinked body wherein what you do in one country is considered to be something you do in the entire EU. For some stupid reason, I still have to register a tax filing number for pan-European business instead of just using my Spanish one as-is, but when it comes to the driver’s license, you can only have one.

After the fact, I understand this. In the middle of things, I didn’t which is why it took me so long to deal with exchanging my license and in getting a ticket from an traffic cop on one of Madrid’s confusing as hell ring roads where I was using the GPS, he informed me that Spanish law had changed and you needed to exchange an EU license from one country to that of where you reside within six months of being there. Don’t quote me on this as it could have changed.

All along I’d thought, sure I’ll just go and get the Spanish one, then I’ll have two EU licenses and if I have some problem in Spain, I can just show the Croatian one and try to weasel out of a ticket as if I was a tourist. It doesn’t work like this. When you submit the license to exchange, they send it back to the original country both to validate that it’s a real license and also to destroy it. Once everything is confirmed, then the new country issues you a license and, to quote Highlander, “there can be only one”. If at some point I were to move to live 100% in Croatia, I’d have to exchange my Spanish license back to a Croatian one.

Tread lightly

But that’s pretty much it. The system is well in place now and there really aren’t too many loopholes. All told, this has been a bit of a pain in the ass for me to do, but doing the entire test would have been much the same and probably then some. Ultimately, I’m very happy to have the correct license for the country I live though as I don’t have to worry about fudging it with the cops if I’m pulled over (like many expats I know who live in Spain) or then if I lose it or my wallet gets stolen, it’s just a matter of going to nearest police office to get another one.

I wish you luck in this and again, it’s purely idiotic there is no official exchange system in place between the US and the EU. Maybe once ID laws get together in the US this can change, but my guess is that we won’t see any movement on this front until at least January, 2021.