Driving Guide France, Paris

Driving in France

Explore France by driving with International Driving Permit.

2023-12-19 · 9min read

Get an International Driving Permit to experience France's famous cuisine and charming landscapes.


Famed as the home of the "City of Love," France's allure extends beyond the iconic Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and Notre Dame Cathedral. This country is rich in cultural and historical gems, found not only in major cities such as Lyon, Marseille, and Lille but also in its numerous charming, lesser-known locales.

These smaller cities have been gaining recognition for their exquisite cuisine, lively art, deep-rooted culture, and distinctive architecture, making them well worth a visit.

When you’re driving in France, it’s important to remember why. This might help calm your nerves. Our experience in France would have been completely different had we not rented a car. We’d have seen a lot less of this gorgeous country had we just used public transportation and missed out on some amazing experiences.

So don’t panic! You’re in for a real treat when driving in France!

Darah and Garrett, a traveler-couple, share in their post 9 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR AMERICANS DRIVING IN FRANCE, published on Where Food Takes Us.

While car rental may be a bit pricier, we strongly recommend driving as the best way to immerse yourself fully in the French experience. That's why we've put together this guide – to make your exploration of France easier, more enjoyable, and unforgettable.

Let's Take a Closer Look at France

Before diving deeper into France's driving culture and etiquette, here are some interesting facts about this beloved European destination:

Geographic Setting

France is encircled predominantly by two of the world's major saltwater expanses - the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a pivotal geographical, cultural, and linguistic link between Northern and Southern Europe.

The geographical diversity of France plays a crucial role in shaping its climate and weather patterns, which in turn impacts the ideal times to visit various parts of the country. When deciding on the best time to visit France, consider the weather conditions of the specific regions you wish to explore and the periods of high tourist activity.


French is the official language of France, predominantly used in government and education. The country also hosts a diverse linguistic landscape with five primary language families: Vasconic, Italo-Dalmatian, Germanic, Celtic, and Gallo-Romance, the latter having the most regional dialects and widespread use.

In addition to these regional tongues, France has many immigrant languages, including German, English, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, and Vietnamese. Recognizing the importance of linguistic diversity, President Emmanuel Macron, in his October 2020 address, advocated for Arabic language education in French schools. Maghrebi or Western Arabic speakers constitute about 2% of France's urban populace.


France's history and culture have profoundly influenced international affairs, particularly in its former colonies. France is among the world's oldest nations, emerging as a unified nation under a single ruler in the Medieval period.

The French state has traditionally provided various liberal benefits like free education, healthcare, and pension schemes. While playing a unifying role in parts of Europe, France's core ethos has always prioritized individual rights, aligning with the pro homine principle, making it an attractive destination for travel and living.

Government Structure

Amid political upheavals, General Charles de Gaulle established the modern French government with the June 1958 Constitutional Law, transitioning from the unstable Third and Fourth Republics.

The 1958 Constitution combined parliamentary and presidential systems, leading to a bicameral legislature comprising the National Assembly and the Senate.


In the early 2000s, around five percent of France's population was non-European and non-white, accounting for approximately three million individuals. This demographic shift brought ethnic and racial diversity to the forefront of French policy. The largest immigrant groups in France include those from Africa (30% Maghrebi and 12% Sub-Saharan), Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Asia, alongside a majority of French descent.

International Driving Permit FAQs

This guide will provide essential information about driving in France, including details on the International Driver's Permit (IDP). An IDP translates the information from your valid local driver's license into 12 languages, facilitating smoother communication while you're on the road in France:

Do You Need an IDP in France?

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not strictly required in France for drivers with a license issued by a country within the European Union. However, an IDP is recommended for drivers outside the E.U., such as those from the United States or the United Kingdom. It serves as a translation of your national driving license and is most useful during interactions with authorities or in case of an accident.

Why Carry An IDP in France?

Carrying an IDP in France is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Language Barrier: It provides a French translation of your driving license, which is helpful during checks by local police or in the event of an accident.
  • Legal Compliance: Some car rental companies may require it for their records.
  • Ease of Identification: An IDP can facilitate emergency communication and identification processes.

Who Can Apply for an IDP?

Generally, anyone with a valid driving license from their home country can apply for an IDP. The requirements for obtaining an IDP include:

  • Being of legal driving age in your home country.
  • Holding a valid driver's license (an IDP is not a stand-alone document and must accompany your national driving license).

The application can be made through automobile associations or relevant government departments in many countries.

To apply online, visit the International Drivers Association's website and select an appropriate IDP package. Required documentation includes:

  • A valid government-issued driver's license.
  • A passport-sized photo of yourself.
  • A copy of your passport, if necessary.

Is Driving In France With a U.S. or U.K. License Valid?

U.S. License: Yes. Drivers with a U.S. license can drive in France briefly, usually during their tourist visit. However, carrying an IDP is highly recommended for the reasons mentioned above.

U.K. License: On the other hand, post-Brexit, UK drivers are advised to carry an IDP when driving in France, especially for more extended stays or if their license does not have information in French. This is to ensure smooth interactions with authorities and rental agencies.

Renting a Car in France

For a hassle-free journey, consider renting a car. Navigating the car rental process in France can be complex, but fortunately, comprehensive guidelines are available to assist you.

Check out our How to Rent a Car in France guide for a more comprehensive read.

Choosing a Rental Company

Before your trip, check the available car rentals in France and reserve online or visit a rental agency upon arriving in France. These agencies are conveniently located at airports, and you can select your preferred pickup location. Some notable rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Europcar, Hertz, National, and Sixt.

For online reservations, use your smartphone to explore various options, ensuring you access only authentic websites. Be cautious during transactions to protect your personal information from potential scams. Alternatively, you can opt for a walk-in booking at the airport.

Required Documentation

Each car rental company has specific terms and conditions. Generally, the following documents are needed:

Vehicle Options

There's a wide array of vehicles to suit your needs and preferences, from mini and economy cars for efficient travel, compact and family cars for group trips, and even luxury vehicles for a more upscale experience.

Here's an overview of available models:

  • Mini Car Rentals: Options like Renault Twingo, Fiat 500, and others.
  • Economy Cars: Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 208, among others.
  • Compact Cars: Includes Fiat 500L, Ford Focus, Toyota Auris, etc.
  • Mid-size Cars: Renault Scenic, Fiat 500X, Citroen C4 Picasso, and more.
  • Family Cars: Models like the Peugeot 508, Toyota Avensis, and V.W. Passat.
  • Luxury Cars: Volvo S90, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E Class, etc.
  • SUVs: BMW X3, X5, Renault Kadjar, and more.
  • Vans: Renault Trafic, Mercedes Vito, Ford Turnero, etc.

Car Rental Cost

Renting a car in France is relatively affordable compared to other countries, with prices starting from $12/day. Costs vary based on vehicle type. Determining the number of passengers beforehand is advisable to ease the selection process. Payment is typically made via credit card.

Estimated Rental Prices:

  • Mini: $12/day
  • Economy: $13/day
  • Compact: $17/day
  • Intermediate: $23/day
  • SUV: $40/day
  • Passenger Van: $42/day
  • Luxury: $43/day

Age Restrictions

The minimum age for car rental varies by company, typically starting from 18 but sometimes 21-23 years old. Drivers under 25 might incur additional fees (€30 - €40 per day) and face restrictions on specific vehicle types.

Car Insurance

French law requires third-party insurance. Rental companies usually include insurance in their rates, particularly for drivers aged 18-21. If you have existing insurance, check if it covers international rentals, specifically in France.

Alternatively, explore the best car insurance in France to select the most comprehensive coverage for your needs. Major credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and AMEX may offer rental car insurance, so verify your coverage and bring the necessary documentation to the rental agency.

Driving Regulations in France

Understanding the local driving regulations is crucial for a seamless experience as you rent a vehicle for your French adventure. This guide covers essential rules and practices to navigate French roads like a local.

Driving Orientation

In France, like in many countries, you'll be driving on the right side of the road. If you're new to this orientation, consider practicing with your rental vehicle before setting off on your road trip.

Minimum Driving Age

The legal driving age in France is 18. Most agencies require drivers to be at least 21 for car rentals, though some may rent to 18-year-olds. Ensure you meet these age requirements for a hassle-free rental experience.

Alcohol Limits for Drivers

Heed the strict drunk-driving laws in France. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05% for private drivers and 0.02% for bus, coach, and new drivers with less than three years of driving experience. Police may conduct random breathalyzer tests, especially following accidents or serious traffic violations.

Parking Regulations

Parking is generally allowed on the right side of two-lane roads and both sides on wider one-way streets. Look out for yellow lines and signage for restrictions; broken yellow lines indicate no parking. Paid parking areas are marked, with meters often accepting card payments. Illegal parking can lead to vehicle towing and fines.

Use of Horns and Lights

In France, horns should be used sparingly and only as a cautionary signal during specific times of the day. From sunset to sunrise, use flashing lights to signal your approach. Horn use is prohibited in built-up areas except in emergencies. Also, always use dipped headlights.

Fines and Vehicle Seizure

Violating road rules can lead to on-the-spot fines of up to €750. Police may detain your vehicle until fines are paid. Vehicle confiscation is possible in cases like failing to stop for police, driving without a license or insurance, excessive speeding, drunk driving, hit-and-runs, or incorrect license category usage.

Speed Limits

France employs the metric system for speed limits. Standard limits are 130 km/h on highways, 80 km/h outside built-up areas, and 50 km/h in built-up areas. Exceeding speed limits by over 40 km/h can lead to license confiscation.

Also, using devices to detect speed cameras is illegal and can result in hefty fines and vehicle confiscation.

Seatbelt and Helmet Laws

Seatbelts are mandatory for all vehicle occupants. Drivers are responsible for ensuring passenger compliance, particularly for those under 18. Non-compliance can result in fines of €135.

Traffic at roundabouts flows counter-clockwise. Yield to traffic already on the roundabout, indicated by triangular signs with red borders. In the absence of signs, give way to vehicles from the right.

Traffic Signs

Understanding French road signs is vital for safety. These include warning signs (hazards), regulatory signs (road rules), informational signs (road status), and directional signs (navigation). Familiarize yourself with these signs to navigate confidently.

Right of Way Rules

The rule of "Priorité à Droite" (priority from the right) is a key principle in France. Vehicles from the right generally possess the right of way at intersections unless otherwise indicated. On priority roads (marked with yellow diamond signs), you have precedence over side road traffic until the priority ends, typically at urban area entrances or junctions.

Overtaking Laws

The default rule is to overtake on the left. In certain situations, such as slow-moving traffic, overtaking on the right is permissible. Always ensure it's safe to overtake without causing accidents.

Driving Etiquette in France

Understanding local driving etiquette is as crucial as knowing the rules of the road, especially when navigating through France. Here's a guide to help you handle various scenarios smoothly:

Vehicle Breakdown

In case of a breakdown on a French motorway, where private companies manage assistance, use the orange emergency phones located every two kilometers for help. Set up your warning triangle at a safe distance to alert other drivers. If there's no roadside phone, call 112 for assistance. A towing service will respond and charge for the service.

Dealing with Police Stops

Police stops for compliance checks or minor violations are common in France. Here's what to do:

  • Slowly move to the side of the road and stop.
  • Activate your hazard lights.
  • Politely interact with the officer and understand the reason for the stop.
  • Present your identification and any relevant documents.
  • Follow any additional instructions and cooperate if asked to visit the police station.

Asking for Directions

While GPS is handy, asking locals for directions can be more effective. Start with a polite “Excusez-moi” and use the phrase “Est-ce que vous savez où est…” or “où est” for singular and “où sont” for plural queries. Add your destination to the phrases:

  • (Do you know where the Orsay museum is?) Est-ce que vous savez où est le musée d’Orsay ?
  • (Where is the nearest subway station?) Où est le métro le plus proche ?
  • (Where is the train station?) Où est la gare?
  • (Where are the toilets?) Où sont les toilettes ?
  • (Do you know where the champs Elysées are?) Est-ce que vous savez où sont les champs Elysées ?
  • (Where can I find an ATM?) Où est-ce que je peux trouver un distributeur de billets ?
  • (On the right) A droite
  • (On the left) A gauche
  • (Straight) Tout droit
  • (the first (street) on the right) La première à droite
  • (the next street) La rue suivante
  • (in front of) En face de
  • (next to) A côté de
  • (at the end of the street) Au bout de la rue

Handling Checkpoints

Approach checkpoints as you would a police stop. Slow down, pull over, and present the following documents:

  • Foreign Passport
  • Local Driver's License
  • International Driver's Permit (IDP)
  • Car Registration Documents

Rental Car Accidents

In an accident:

  • Immediately stop and pull over safely.
  • Turn on hazard lights and exit the vehicle safely.
  • If there are other vehicles involved, fill out a "constat amiable" (amicable declaration) with the other driver(s).
  • Contact your insurance company immediately.
  • If injuries are involved, call the police and stay at the scene.
  • Set up a red warning triangle at 50 & 150 meters behind your vehicle.
  • Document the damage with photos.

Uninsured Drivers

If involved in an accident with an uninsured driver or if they refuse to share their details, report them to the police, who can verify insurance registrations.

Driving Conditions in France

Before setting off on your French road trip, it's vital to understand the road rules and general driving conditions in the country.

Road Safety Statistics

According to Statista, road fatalities in France have been declining. For instance, deaths on toll roads per billion kilometers decreased from 4.8 in 2000 to 1.8 in 2015. France has seen a drop in pedestrian and cyclist deaths and a 13% decrease in road fatalities from 2010 to 2016, making it one of the few European countries with such improvements.

Notably, alcohol was a major factor in road deaths, particularly among young drivers from 2013 to 2015. The French government has implemented measures to address this, including stricter speeding and drunk driving regulations.

Vehicle Preferences

Compact cars and sedans are the most common on French roads, so these are typically what you'll find available for rental. With these types being in high demand, early booking is advisable. Despite a slight decrease in car registrations in 2021 compared to 2020, car sales still increased.

Toll Road System

France's autoroutes are owned by various companies, meaning toll fees vary based on vehicle type and travel distance. Vehicle classes are determined by height and weight.

Toll gates operate traditionally: collect a ticket on entering and pay the fee upon exiting, with both cash and international cards accepted.

Road Conditions

French roads are generally well-maintained, though driving styles and traffic systems differ from those in the U.S. Be prepared for unexpected maneuvers, especially on rural roads. Service stations are frequent on major highways but less so on secondary roads.

Overall, increased safety campaigns have contributed to a reduction in road accidents in France.

Driving Culture

French driving culture has evolved, with standards improving significantly. However, caution is advised in roundabouts and slip roads, where some drivers may not strictly adhere to right-of-way rules.

Road Network

France's road network includes:

  • Autoroutes (Motorways): Identified by 'A' followed by a number; mostly toll roads, ideal for long-distance travel.
  • National Roads (Route Nationale): Marked by 'N' with green signs; main non-toll roads.
  • Departmental Roads: Denoted by 'D' or 'R.D.,' these are former national roads now managed R.D.cally.
  • Routes Communales: Marked by 'C,' these are smaller roads similar to U.K. country lanes.

'Black Saturday' Phenomenon

'BU.K.ck Saturday' refers to the busiest days on French roads, often occurring on Saturdays throughout the year, influenced by holiday patterns in France and neighboring countries.

Private Radar Cars

To enforce speed limits, France has trialed unmarked radar cars operated by private companies, which have successfully recorded numerous speeding violations. This highlights the importance of adhering to speed limits throughout your journey in France.

Top Destinations in France

Discover France's diverse cultural heritage through its iconic landmarks and lesser-known treasures. Here are some of the top destinations to visit in France:

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Located in the heart of Paris on the Île de la Cité, Notre-Dame Cathedral is a Gothic marvel initiated by King Louis IX in 1163. It took 150 years to complete, given the elaborate decorations, including intricate sculptures and striking gargoyles.


Commissioned by King Louis XV and designed by Jacques-German Soufflot, the Panthéon was intended to rival Rome's Saint Peter's Basilica and London's Saint Paul's Cathedral. Completed after over thirty years, it now serves as France's national mausoleum, boasting a classic architectural style.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton, located in the Bois de Boulogne Park, was created by Bernard Arnault. This park used to be a hunting ground for French Kings. The foundation covers an area of 3,500 square meters and features 11 galleries. With its modern architecture and impressive glass panels, it stands out as a captivating attraction.

Mont Saint-Michel

A true marvel of medieval architecture, Mont Saint-Michel is a picturesque island commune located in Normandy. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its stunning abbey, narrow winding streets, and the dramatic changes in tides that surround it.

Château de Chambord

Situated in the Loire Valley, the Château de Chambord is a masterpiece of the French Renaissance. Built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, the château is renowned for its distinctive French defensive architecture and the double helix staircase attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Get an IDP to Explore France

If exploring beyond the world's most romantic city has been on your bucket list, consider driving as the most liberating way to experience it! Whether planning a brief holiday or an extended stay in this beautiful country, having an International Driving Permit will undoubtedly enrich your journey. Wishing you a wonderful trip – Bon Voyage!


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