The Ultimate Guide to Driving in France: Tips for European and International Travelers

Last Updated on 27/02/2024 by secretmoona

Everything you need to know about driving in France if you’re planning a road trip around the country or Europe.

Street of Paris - Driving in France

Driving in France can be an exhilarating and convenient way to explore this diverse and picturesque country. With its scenic routes, charming villages, and iconic landmarks, driving allows you to discover France at your own pace. Indeed, from Paris to the beaches of the Cote d’Azur and the small villages of Brittany, France truly has a wide range of excellent destinations, whether for a city break or a seaside getaway. 

However, being well-prepared and aware of the rules and regulations before hitting the road is essential. Whether you’re a European traveller familiar with driving in neighbouring countries or an international visitor embarking on a French adventure, this comprehensive guide will help you confidently navigate the roads of France and discover France by car.

Driving in France rules, tips and advice

Who can drive in France? Requirements for driving in France / France entry rules and requirements

There are some rules that people must follow when driving in France.

Age requirement: The legal driving age is 18 years, but you must be 21 to rent a car (or 25 for some companies). If you are under 25, it is possible that you will have to pay a young driver surcharge.

European Travellers: As an EU resident, your valid national driver’s licence is sufficient to drive in France. However, it’s always a good idea to carry your passport and proof of insurance at all times.

International Travellers: Non-EU residents will need both a valid driver’s license from their home country and an International Driving Permit (IDP), especially for those who don’t have a driver’s license written in the Roman alphabet. The IDP translates your licence into French and is mandatory for driving in France. You can check whether you need the IDP here. Remember to carry your passport and proof of insurance as well.

French driver's licence and vehicle registration certificate
Photo by Gwengoat from Getty Images Signature

Driving in France checklist

What items must I carry in my car when driving in France? There are several driving-related regulations that people may need to become more familiar with. If you are going to drive in France, having specific equipment in your car is essential.

Driving in France checklist:

  • Documentation: Your ID card (EU citizen) or passport, as well as vehicle documents (registration certificate, vehicle insurance certificate etc.)
  • Headlamp beam deflectors: Depending on your car, you must either need deflector stickers or adjust the beam manually.
  • Breathalyser kit: Carrying a breathalyser kit for safety is recommended. 
  • Spare set of bulbs for your lights: It is recommended but not mandatory to carry spare bulbs. 
  • Hazard warning triangle (breakdown/safety triangle): This is compulsory for four-wheel vehicles.
  • High-visibility waistcoats / reflective jackets: Drivers must have reflective jacks in case of breakdown or emergency.  Ideally, there should be one for each occupant and kept in the car within easy reach. That means not carrying them in the boot.
  • Snow chains: In “snow zones” of France, within the Alpes, Massif Central, Jura, Pyrenees, and Vosges regions, the new mountain law requires winter tires or chains during winter. Alternatively, you can carry at least two snow chains or socks in the vehicle
  • Insurance: It is mandatory to have a vehicle and third-party insurance cover (compulsory), which is automatically included in the price of all car rentals. If you are using your car, bring proof of insurance with you.

Please note that these should come with your rental car. If travelling in your own car, this Europe travel kit includes all necessary safety equipment for driving legally in France.

We recommend that you have travel insurance when visiting France.

Helmets: Bike riders and their passengers must wear a helmet.

France road - driving in France

Things to take when driving in France

Driving in France Rules of the Road

Familiarise yourself with the following rules and regulations before driving in France:

Using a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited unless with a hands-free system.

Seat belt:

Seat belts are mandatory for both the driver and passengers in the vehicle. The driver has the responsibility to ensure that everyone has their seatbelts on. 

France child car seats:

Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to sit in the car’s front seat without a particular child restraint unless there are no car seats, and the rear seats are all occupied by children under the age of 10. Children must use the appropriate car seat when possible. This page on the RAC website provides guidance on the types of child seats or restraints needed for children under 10 when travelling.

Overtaking and passing:

Drive on the right and overtake on the left. However, when traffic is in lanes, cars can overtake on the right if they are on the slower-moving lanes. When overtaking cyclists, you must leave a 1-meter distance in urban areas and 1.5 meters outside urban areas. Vehicles travelling downhill must give way to those travelling uphill. 

Arc de Triomphe - Driving in France - roundabout
Photo by Neirfy – Arc de Triomphe, France’s most famous roundabout

Roundabouts (intersections):

Roundabouts are common in France and are an efficient way to manage traffic. When you arrive at a junction with no traffic signs indicating the priority, cars already on the roundabout have the right of way. When entering a roundabout, yield to circulating traffic from the left. You must also give priority to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens. 

Warning of approach:

The use of the horn is only permitted in cases of immediate danger, although French drivers sometimes forget this rule. Between sunset and sunrise, flashing passing lights must give a warning. 

Alcohol Limit:

The legal blood alcohol limit for driving in France is 0.5 g/l (0.05%). However, for young drivers (less than three years of driving experience) and drivers under 21 years old, the limit is stricter at 0.2 g/l (0.02%). It’s always best to avoid drinking alcohol before driving.

Speed limit and cameras:

Be cautious of speed cameras, as they are widespread in France. Speeding fines can be costly and might be mailed to your home address if you’re a foreign driver. To avoid being caught, be sure to remember the limit. 

Speed limits vary depending on the road type: 50 km/hr in cities (31 miles/hr), 80 km/hr on regional roads (55 miles/hr) or 90km/hr., and 130 km/hr on highways (80 miles/hr). See details on the table below. 

urban roadsother roadsdual carriagewaysmotorways
Normal traffic conditions50 km/hr80 km/hr or 90 km/hr110 km/hr130 km/hr
Rain 50 km/hr70 km/hr100 km/hr 110 km/hr
Visibility less than 50m50 km/hr50 km/hr50 km/hr50 km/hr
Driving in France - road spend limits and signs
Image by SchmitzOlaf from Getty Images Signature

Watch out for speed cameras! In France, speed cameras are a common sight and are connected to a data-sharing agreement between France and the UK/Europe. This means that if you receive a speeding fine, it can be traced back to your home address. Even the rental company will ensure that you receive the penalty at home. There are better ways to end your vacation! It’s important to note that French law prohibits drivers from using speed camera detectors and alerts to warn them of their presence. If caught, you could face a hefty fine of €1,500.

France driving road

Low Emission Zones & laws in France

Several European countries, including France, have emissions laws in place. Therefore, while travelling to certain cities in France, you may be required to have an air pollution certificate called a Crit’Air sticker. 

The cities where the air quality law applies will have designated “low emission zones’ ‘ which are either permanent (ZCR “zone a circulation restreinte”) or temporary (ZPA “zone de la protection de l’air”). This law applies to Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Reims, Strasbourg, Marseille, St-Etienne, Toulouse, Nice and Grenoble. You might consider applying for the certificate if you travel to France with your car and want to explore those cities. You can find out more and apply for the Crit’air here. 

It means vehicles made before 2011 will be restricted from entering these areas. For example, if your car aligns differently from the regulations, you may be unable to drive between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. in Paris on weekdays. You can find out more about France’s emissions rules here. 

French Crit’Air stickers, which cost about €5, must be visible from the windscreen; drivers can face up to £120 if they don’t have one.

Roads and traffic signs in France 

Road types:

In France, you will find different types of roads ranging from the narrow single-track country lanes right through to eight motorway lanes. Driving through small towns and villages will be difficult as some (especially historic villages created centuries ago) will be unsuitable for traffic. If you plan on visiting a small village, be sure to have a relatively compact car as you might not be able to pass through some of the narrow streets.

3 way lane in France highway - Driving in France

Roads come in the following types:

  • Autoroute (motorway or highway) are in blue with letters starting either with “A“. For example, A13 as per the above image.
  • National roads are green and marked with “N”. These roads are alternative to the “autoroutes” or toll roads.
  • White is used for “Départementales” roads and is marked with “D”. These are often the scenic routes however, they are not the fastest.
  • Forestry roads with green later signs
  • You will also see road numbers. French numbers will be marked in white with a red background. European roads are marked with a white “E” on a green background. Municipal roads with white number signs

Roads are generally in good condition, especially the motorways, so you won’t always find road works every kilometre. Be mindful, though, that some roads in the countryside or mountainous regions may not have the same level of maintained roads. 

Understanding Road Signs:

Ensure you understand the common road signs in France, as they might differ from those in your home country. Familiarise yourself with signs for speed limits, priority, no entry, and other essential indicators. You can find a visual list here.

Directions

French road signs usually do not indicate the North, South, East or West directions. Instead, they display the names of cities like ‘Paris’ or ‘Bordeaux’ without specifying the cardinal points. Moreover, the distance to these cities could be either short or long, making it challenging to navigate without proper knowledge of French geography. It is important to note that this is unlike most countries, where road signs display cardinal directions.

French countryside road - Driving in France

Driving securely in France and avoiding road accidents 

Driving in France is generally pleasant. However, when possible, it is best to pay extra attention during weekends and the summer months, as traffic jams can be extreme on major highways. It is always recommended to have some snacks and drinks with you, just in case. 

While driving on smaller countryside roads, be aware of cyclists. It is also worth noting that on those smaller roads, locals tend to drive a little fast. 

Remember that you should not overtake when there is a single continuous white line in the centre of the road. 

If you encounter an accident and people are injured or not, you must contact the emergency services via the number 112. In doubt, follow the local laws and procedures in place and those established by your car insurance company (or rental company). Here are the steps to follow:

  • Stay calm and ensure the safety of those around you.
  • Put on your safety vest
  • Turn on the hazard lights and place the warning triangle at a safe distance to alert oncoming traffic.
  • Contact the Police or emergency services by dialling 112. You must remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive.
  • Make sure to exchange information with any other drivers involved or witnesses. The police will usually provide you with a form to fill out. This form is known as a Constat Amiable D’Accident Automobile. While it is not mandatory to complete this form, your insurance company may request it if you need to file a claim.
  • Inform your insurance provider or car rental company.

In case of a breakdown, be sure to pull onto the shoulder of the road if possible and place the warning triangle. Call 112 so that the road assistance team can tow your car to a safe area.

Street of Paris - Driving in France

Where to park in France

In cities and towns, parking can be challenging, so plan accordingly. Look for designated parking areas, indicated by blue signs with a white “P” symbol. 

Generally, you have to pay to park on city streets. You will find the horodateurs machine nearby, where you input your license plate number and the time needed.  Be sure to play your ticket face-up on your windshield. 

Parking is free on roads with a dotted white line or no markings. Blue zone parking areas allow free parking for a designated time only. Be sure to look out for the time you are permitted to stay. Avoid parking in no-parking zones to avoid fines or towing.

Stopping and parking aren’t allowed when you see a continuous yellow line. A broken yellow line means that parking is prohibited. 

Motorways and toll roads in France (Péages)

France has an extensive network of well-maintained motorways or highways (autoroutes). While they offer quick and efficient travel between regions and cities, be prepared to pay toll fees. If you come across the sign “Péage,” it indicates that there is a toll road ahead.

Peages - toll roads when driving by in France

Motorways

If you want to save time during a long journey, taking the highways is recommended. Although they used to be state-run, they are now privatised hence the toll fee.

Highways offer various services, including gas stations, rest stops and picnic areas. However, the food options on the highways might not be the best choice as they tend to be pricier than those found in supermarkets or grocery stores outside the highway. Eating before you hit the road, pack a picnic, or explore a local restaurant once you exit the highway is best.

Toll roads

Pay or tolled autoroutes are marked “Péage.” The toll charges are calculated based on the distance travelled, the motorway you use and the entry and exit toll station for your trip. You may have to pay several times depending on the distance travelled and the number of toll roads used. Therefore, keep some cash (euros) or a credit card handy to pay the tolls. Take a lane with a green arrow, a credit card sign, or a coins/notes sign above it. You may also use a lane that has both a ‘t’ AND one of the other signs above it.

Alternatively, you can buy an Emovis Tag, enabling you to use the automated lanes, thus removing the hassle of paying manually and the need to physically stop and pay at the barrier. You go through designated routes with a “t” (télépéage), and all payment will be taken from your chosen card. 

As well as toll roads, you may encounter bridges or tunnels which require a toll.  

You can take more smaller roads through the countryside to avoid paying toll fees. It will take longer but cost less, and the scenery will be more beautiful. 

Calculate the overall price of your journey in just two clicks, including tolls and fuel here.

Renting a car in France

If you are looking to rent a vehicle to explore France. Check out DiscoverCars, one of the most highly-rated car rental platforms. It’s user-friendly and allows you to easily filter your search based on your preferences.

Additionally, they offer a cost-effective, comprehensive coverage option that protects in case of any damage to the car’s exterior and covers for excess. It’s a great option, especially if you drive on winding and narrow roads.

When choosing a car, opt for one that is both comfortable for long distances and compact enough to navigate narrow parking lots and villages. When available, opt for one-way rentals that let you pick up and drop off at different cities without extra fees.

When inspecting the rental car for the first time, be sure to look for any damage or scratches, as you don’t want to be held responsible for damage you did not cause. Most rental cars are relatively new but don’t always assume. Taking photos of the vehicle to prove the condition is always a good tip when renting a car.

Hand on steering wheel
Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Explore the most beautiful regions to visit by car

France has beautiful places to visit, from major cities such as Bordeaux or Lyon to the French Riviera and smaller charming villages. Each of France’s regions offers something unique worth exploring. 

If you are exploring France or stopping in France as part of your European road trip, the country has plenty of places easily accessible by car. 

Can’t drive in France? Here are the other alternatives:

If you plan to visit the main tourist attractions in France, you can do so without a car. The country has a well-developed railway network that can take you to various cities, especially from Paris. You can also use the public transport network or sign up for organised day trips offered by different companies, such as historical, gastronomic, and tourist tours. 

BlaBlaCar also allows individuals to offer seats in their cars at reasonable prices.


Driving in France can be an unforgettable experience, allowing you to explore the country’s hidden gems and famous landmarks. Remember to prepare your documentation, familiarise yourself with the rules, and drive responsibly. Embrace the freedom of the open road and prepare to create cherished memories on your French driving adventure!

Have an enjoyable trip to France!

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase through my links!

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

14 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Driving in France: Tips for European and International Travelers

  1. Fantastic guide to driving in France! This comprehensive article covers all the essentials for a safe and enjoyable road trip. I appreciate the detailed tips and reminders – they’ll be invaluable on my upcoming French adventure!

  2. Very informative! I can imagine self-driving would be a great way to see rural France. I’d just have to get used to driving on the other side of the road!

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