Driving in France – everything you need to know for your road trip

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

  1. Requirements for driving in France
  2. Renting a car
  3. Road rules and driving safety
  4. Navigating in France
  5. Costs of driving a rental car in France
  6. Plan your trip – top tips for travel to France

Let your sense of adventure take you to France’s picturesque villages, gorgeous natural landscapes, and spectacular coasts with this essential guide to driving in France. Here’s everything you need from renting a car in France, navigating in style, to planning the ultimate road trip.

What do I need to 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 or United States driver’s license to rent a car and drive in France. If your driving license is from a country outside the EU or the US, 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 for any damages.

How do I rent a car in France?

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.

What do I need to know when driving in France?

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
  • Open roads – 80 km/hr (50 miles/hr)
  • City – 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr)

Watch out for speed cameras in motorways as well as in villages and always follow the speed limit signs.

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.

Children – Children under 10 years old must stay in the back seat using an appropriate child seat or booster seat. Babies can travel in the front passenger seat, but only when placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat and with the airbag turned off.

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 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. France’s emergency telephone number is 112, which connects to police, fire, and ambulance services.

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 (maximum legal concentration is 0.05% Blood Alcohol Level), don’t drive on bus lanes, don’t cross a solid white line, do not enter where there is a flashing red light, don’t park illegally.

How do I get around France while driving?

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.

How much does it cost to drive in France?

Here’s how much it costs to go on a 3-day road trip in France based on 2018 prices and estimates.

Rental car – A 5-seat sedan ranges from EUR 130-180 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 40.

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.

Ready to go on a French road trip? Plan your trip!

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 to 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 the Paris and other major cities. 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-bookGet a mobile internet so you 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 there’s plenty to see when exploring France by car. Here are a couple of ideas to get you excited for 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.

Planning a road trip to France? Here’s everything you need to know about driving in France. Make sure you have all the necessary documents, understand the most important road and safety rules, choose the best car rentals in France, and get a ballpark figure on how much your road trip will cost. Here’s your essential guide to driving in France.

2 Replies to “Driving in France – everything you need to know for your road trip”

  1. Hi!
    My english is a bit rusty, so sorry for the mistakes (I’m French!)
    There’s a major mistake in your post : speed limit on open road is only 80km/hrs!
    It’s allowed to 110 km/hrs only on roads with double lanes and a middle gate.
    Due to the crazy frequency of speed controls, not knowing that could be very pricy!
    Have fun!

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