Picturesque villages, spectacular coasts, and delectable cuisine – these are just a few reasons why France is one of the world’s favorite destinations!
Go beyond the cities and inject joie de vivre to your next French adventure by hitting the road and exploring the country, one amazing stopover at a time. Here’s everything you need to know about driving in France.
Driving in France
- Requirements for driving in France
- Renting a car
- Road rules and driving safety
- Navigating in France
- Costs of driving a rental car in France
- Plan your trip – top tips for travel to France
Here are the requirements to rent a car and drive in France:
Age requirements – To rent a car, you must be at least 21 years old and have held your local license for 1 year. If you’re under 25, rental car companies may add a young driver surcharge.
License requirements – If you’re staying in France for less than 90 days, you can use a valid European Union driver’s license to rent a car and drive in France. If your driving license is from a country outside the EU, getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) is recommended. Take note that the IDP is only valid when used with your local license, so make sure to bring both.
Other documents – Most rental car companies in France would require you to present your passport (or your national identification card if you’re an EU citizen) and a credit card under your name when picking up the rental car. They might authorize a deposit on your credit card to cover any damages.
Documents you need while driving in France – In case of a police check, you must be able to present the following:
- Your identity card (EU citizen) or passport (non-EU citizen)
- Vehicle documents (registration documents, registration certificate) – make sure you get this from the rental car company
- Vehicle insurance certificate
- Roadworthiness test certificate, if necessary
- In restricted traffic areas, a Crit’Air sticker must be affixed to the vehicle
Reserve a car online – For a smooth road trip in France, it’s best to reserve your rental car online in advance. Not only will this assure you that you’ll indeed get a car, it also allows the rental car company to prepare your car and all paperwork involved in advance, which means less waiting time for you.
Take note that Europe mainly drives manual transmission cars, so if you require an automatic transmission car, make sure to reserve at least a month in advance.
Get a comprehensive car hire insurance – Fire and third-party liability insurance is mandatory and included in all car rentals in France. If you want to be fully protected, though, it’s best to avail of a comprehensive personal car hire insurance that will cover for the excess. This means you will get reimbursed for any excess fees the rental company may charge for damages, theft, or vandalism.
Add-ons – A GPS unit, child seats, and winter tires can be added to your rental reservation if needed.
One-way rentals – Many rental car companies in France allow domestic one-way rentals. This means you can pick-up your car from one city and drop it off in another, often with no extra fees. International one-way rentals may incur a fee, though, and are only allowed to select countries.
Here is a list of locations where you can pick and return your rental car in France. You can also plug in your travel destinations and dates below for a quick quote. RentalCars works with France’s leading and most reputable car rental companies, so you’re assured of quality cars and service. Their simple online booking platform also allows you to compare prices, car models, and inclusions easily, plus they give you instant confirmation, free cancellation, and big deals and discounts.
Emergency contacts – what to do in case of a crash:
- Dial 112 for emergencies (crash involving injured people)
- Dial 17 to contact the nearest police service
France drives on the right side of the road.
Speed limits – Here are the normal speed limits for driving in France:
- Motorways – 130 km/hr (80 miles/hr); automatically drops to 110 km/hr (68 miles/hr) when raining and 50 km/hr when visibility is less than 50m
- Single carriageway – 80 km/hr (50 miles/hr), drops to 50 km/hr when visibility is less than 50m
- Built-up areas – 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr)
Local authorities may lower or raise the speed limit.
Priority / right of way – More major roads, or those indicated by a yellow diamond sign, have right of way. A vehicle entering from the right has priority in city and town intersections where it is not clear which is the more major road.
Cyclists and pedestrians – When overtaking cyclists, you must leave a 1 meter distance in urban areas and 1.5 meters outside urban areas. Pedestrians who wish to cross at a pedestrian crossing have priority.
Children – Children up to 10 years old must be in a child seat appropriate to their age.
Seatbelts – Must be worn at all times.
In case of car breakdown or accidents – Make sure to note down your rental car or insurance company’s emergency number. In case of an accident involving any kind of injury, you must call 112 and wait on the site until the police comes. If your car is immobilized on or on part of the road, you must set up your red warning triangle behind the vehicle to alert approaching traffic. You must wear a high visibility vest when outside your car.
Tolls – Pay or tolled autoroutes are marked “Péage.” To go through them, you’ll need to pick up a ticket from the booth as you enter then pay by cash or credit card when you exit. Note that usually, the left lane is for vehicles with a drive-through remote payment transponder (télépéage; you’ll see a pictogram that looks like the letter ‘t’ in cursive), the middle lane is for télépéage and credit card (a pictogram of cards), while the right lane is for cash and card (depicted by an arrow pointing downwards). Most rental cars won’t have the payment transponder installed, so you’ll need to pass through the cash/credit card lanes.
Parking – Parking is strictly regulated in urban cities. On-street parking is permitted only in spaces painted in white. Paid parking spaces are marked “Payant” and you’ll need to purchase a coupon from ticket machines located along the street and display your ticket through the windshield on the driver’s side. You can also park for free in blue zones indicated by blue street markings, but you must display a parking disc through your windshield and stay within the time limit (usually an hour or as marked). In less busy towns or villages, you can find free on-street parking spaces, usually some distance from the center.
Don’ts when driving –
- Don’t drink and drive – Driving with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.5 g/L is prohibited for all drivers including cyclists and e-scooterists. Drivers with a probationary license and public transport drivers have a BAC level limit of 0.2 g/L
- Don’t drive on bus lanes
- Don’t cross a solid white line
- Don’t drive with a phone in your hand or by your ear
- Don’t drive with headphones or earpieces
- Do not enter where there is a flashing red light
- Don’t park illegally
Check the French Road Safety Observatory page for the latest traffic regulations.
Navigational apps like Waze, Google Maps (internet connection required), and maps.me (offline map should be downloaded in advance) are useful when driving in France. Some rental cars will also have a built-in GPS navigator, or you can purchase it as an add-on.
Here’s how much it costs to go on a 3-day road trip in France based on 2022 prices and estimates.
Rental car – A 5-seat sedan ranges from EUR 200-250 for 3 days. This already includes unlimited mileage, theft protection, and collision damage waiver. Check here for real-time quotes for your travel dates.
Gas – Estimating 600 KM over 3 days, gas could cost you up to EUR 60.
Tolls – Tolls in France are more expensive than other European countries at about EUR 9 / 100 KM. You can check for specific toll costs in France here. If you’re not in much of a rush, you can set Waze (or your navigation app of choice) to avoid toll roads.
Parking – Parking rates vary EUR 0.30-3/hr or EUR 10-20 for 24 hours. Some cities have free parking schemes after hours or during the weekends.
Getting there – You can get into France through its multiple airports (search for the best flight routes here) or by train from neighboring European countries. While rental car pick-up locations in airports and railways may impose a surcharge, its convenience may be worth the extra euros, especially if you’re traveling with a group or heading straight out on a road trip. Take advantage of one-way rentals and check if dropping off your car at a location different than your pick-up can make your itinerary smoother and more convenient.
Where to stay – France is a very popular tourist destination. Even places outside Paris and other major cities can be quite busy. Make sure to book your hotels at least a month in advance to get good options and prices, and look for accommodations with free or reserved parking spaces. Check here for real-time hotel deals in France.
Travel essentials and tickets to pre-book – Get a mobile internet to easily find your way around France. If you’re planning to visit some of the popular sights in the cities, you’d want to get tickets in advance to skip the lines.
Top road trips in France
Check these out for ideas and inspiration:
From lavender fields to castles on cliffs, you’ll find plenty to see when exploring France by car. Here are a couple of ideas to get you excited about your trip!
Love wine, storybook towns, and hearty food? Alsace has all that and more! Follow the historic wine route through lush vineyards and breathtaking mountain roads and find the perfect holiday in the heart of Alsace.
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First published – 15 August 2018
Last updated – 23 November 2022 – updated information and travel-planning tips