France Driving Guide 2021
France is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.
French fries may not be from France but this magnificent country still is a home of rich cuisine, along with affluent art, culture, and architecture. Most of its lesser-known cities have been getting a lot of attention lately, but Paris still secures a spot in the list of most visited cities in the world. Enjoy its capital traveling along the Seine, around the Arc de Triomphe, or ride out to Versailles.
If you have always dreamed of visiting the most romantic city in the world, driving would be the most liberating way for you to do so. You can manage your own time and be more flexible with how you want to explore France without the inconvenience of commuting. Whether you will be having a short vacation or a long-stay visit to this magnificent country, having an international driving permit along with your U.S. license or any native license when driving in France would enable you to maximize your experience.
How Ready Are You to Go Driving in France?
With basic knowledge of traffic rules, signs, and general driving standards in France, you can enjoy driving across the country with nothing to worry about. Learn about places to go, things to do, and all essential tips and guides about driving in France in this article. Read on and find out more things to know about driving in France to make your trip to the City of Love - and all its other beautiful cities, more lovely.
Known as the country with the “City of Love” worldwide, France is more than just the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. France is a country with lots more to offer. That’s why before you travel to the country, you need to prepare yourself with some knowledge about getting into the country and what to know about it. Develop the habit of researching about the country before traveling to make your trip worthwhile.
Border Status and Updates
With the onslaught of patients in hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, France once closed its borders from tourists in the efforts to curb the spread of the virus. If you are looking into which countries can enter France without Covid-19 restrictions, these are the following:
- Member States of the European Union
- The Holy See
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
For travelers not coming from the enlisted countries above, you are exempted from the restrictions only if:
- A French national (can be accompanied by spouse and child)
- An E.U. citizen or nationals coming in from the abovementioned list of countries
- A traveler who holds a valid French or European residence permit or long-term visa
- Travelers transiting in less than 24 hours in the International zone
- Official passport holders
- Diplomatic or Consular missions in France
- A foreign health professional or trainee recruited to combat COVID-19
- A crew or personnel of cargo flights or traveling to reach the intended departure base
- International goods transporter
- Member crew or personnel of an operating merchant or fishing vessel
- A student with a long-term or short-term stay visa
- Passenger coach, train driver, or crew member
- Professor or researcher invited by French of a higher education establishment
- A Talent Passport or ICT posted worker with a long-term stay visa
- Traveling to France for treatment at a public or private hospital
Entry Requirements to France
As France is protecting both the health and safety of travelers and its citizens, entry requirements in the midst of this pandemic, have also added up. These are the following documents to prepare to avoid delay at the airport:
- An exempted international travel movement certificate for travel
- A sworn declaration that you don’t have COVID 19 symptoms
You need to present the documents as mentioned above to the boarding authorities to avoid delay.
Quarantine Protocols in France
Every traveler must take responsibility for adhering to the confinement rules in France. If you do not carry a negative COVID 19 PCR test along and your airport test comes out positive, you will be required by authorities to isolate.
Health precautions are expected to be followed by every foreign national traveling into the country.
General Knowledge About France
What Is the Geographical Background of France?
With a total land area of 547,556.992 square kilometers, France is considered to be Europe’s most important agricultural producer and one of the leading powers in the automotive, aerospace, and luxury economic sectors. It is laterally bounded by two of the world’s largest bodies of saline water - the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has always been a bridge connecting northern and southern Europe in terms of geography, culture, and language.
What Is Their Historical and Political Background?
France has played a very significant role in the history and culture of international affairs having countries across the globe as its previous colonies. It is one of the oldest nations in the world which was brought forth by an alliance between monarchies under a single ruler during the Medieval period. Today, the principal autonomy is still placed in the state with its people expecting it to safeguard their freedom.
The state had given liberal provisions for the people, including but not limited to free educational and health services, as well as pension plans. Even though France looks like it unifies parts of Europe, its long-standing national theme revolves around the demand to give paramount importance to the individual. It seeks to give the highest level of protection to a person, as stated in the pro homine principle. Sounds like a great place to travel to or even live in, right?
What Are the Languages Spoken in France?
Being the official language, French is the primary way of communication among the government and education system in France. However, there are regional languages subdivided into five language families, namely: Vasconic, Italo-Dalmatian, Germanic, Celtic, and Gallo-Romance. The Gallo-Romance is then further subdivided into the highest number of regional dialects and is the most widely spoken across France.
Along with the substantial number of regional languages spoken in France, an expansive range of immigrant languages, including German, English, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, and Vietnamese, has also become an integral part of its communication system. President Emmanuel Macron implored French schools in his October 2020 speech to teach the Arabic language to end separatism, given that Maghrebi or Western Arabic speakers comprise approximately 2% of the urban population of France.
Which Races Generally Make Up the French Population?
It was since the end of World War II that France had become a multi-ethnic country. In early 2000, five percent of the French population is estimated to be non-European and non-white. This sums into at least three million people thus forcing ethnic or race diversity issues onto the French policy. While most citizens are of French descent, the largest immigrant groups residing in France were from Africa (30% Maghrebi and 12% Sub-Saharan), Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Asia.
What Currency Does France Use?
As one of the founding members of the European Union, France was one of the first countries to use the Euro as its national currency in January 1999. France used Franc before this and had finished the exchange to Euros for coins and bills until February 2005 and 2012, respectively. Today, 1 Euro is equal to 1.175 US dollars. The euro is the official currency for 19 of the countries that are part of the European Union. Among the 27 member countries, 7 countries have not yet adopted it but will do so after meeting the necessary conditions, while Denmark has opted out of the EU currency policy.
What Are the Facts About the Tourism and Population of France?
According to the demographic reports by the Statista Research Department in Jun 2020, the population of France has been increasing throughout the years and reached 67 million residents. France seems to have a stable fertility rate of 1.9 children per woman, ranking it as the most fertile country in all of Europe. The country also has one of the highest life expectancy rates in Europe.
Paris, the country’s capital, is significantly its most popular and important city. It is one of the world’s distinguished centers of culture, commerce, and arts. It has been reconstructed a couple of times, and during the mid-19th century, Emperor Napoleon III commissioned Georges-Eugene Haussmann to redesign the city with a vast urbanization program of new broad avenues, boulevards, and public works that contributed to how Metropolitan France is seen today.
Other major cities such as Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Lille, Cannes, and Bordeaux all have multiple world-renowned spots rich in culture and history.
International Driver’s Permit in France
Although driving with your native driver’s license is considered valid in any country, the issue is if the local authorities understand your information. The main language understood by the locals here is French, although there are quite many who now understand English due to the demand and tourism. Regardless, it is better to procure an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) since you need it for three purposes:
- Car rental
- Communication to authorities
- To avoid the risk of getting fined by law officials
- Car insurance
If you want to know more about how beneficial an IDP for France is, you can read more about it below.
What Is An International Driving Permit?
It is a United Nations regulated travel document that is translated into many other languages, which allows the bearer to drive legally through international territories. Some countries require tourists to carry an International Driving Permit at all times, so it is highly recommended to get one if you are planning to go on an international trip or if you are traveling a lot.
Is an International Driving Permit Required in France?
No, an International Driving Permit is not required in France though it is highly recommended to have one when traveling there since a lot of its neighboring countries do, like Spain and Italy. Having an International Driving Permit for France can prevent a lot of potential problems such as language barriers and in dealing with French traffic enforcers. This permit is also required by some rental car agencies when renting a car overseas.
Is A Native Driver’s License Enough to Drive Legally in France?
Valid European license holders may drive in France without having to exchange their license. You may use your original driver’s license for driving in France. All European states have been issuing a European driver’s license that is valid in all affiliate states of the European Union and European Economic Area since 2013.
A non-European license is valid in France provided that it does not have any restrictions or suspensions. It should have been issued in the country you have lived in for at least six (6) months. An International Driving Permit is required in France to accompany your native driver’s license, or an official translated document of your license into French.
Does an International Driver’s Permit Replace A Native Driver’s License?
An International Driver’s Permit is an internationally acknowledged complementary document to your native driver's license and therefore does not replace it. Your IDP should be presented along with your valid, native driver’s license. It certifies the validity of your national license and translates your license information into the language local traffic officers would understand.
Which Countries Allow the Native Driver’s License To Be Exchanged for a French Driver’s License?
France has made arrangements with some countries allowing citizens to stay in France for less than a year to exchange their native licenses for a French equivalent without the need to pass the driving test in France and vise versa. Here is a list of countries with which France has made arrangements with. You can check the French consul in your country to verify if you can exchange your native license with a French driving license.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cap Vert
- South Korea
- Costa Rica
- Côte d’Ivoire
- United Arab Emirates
- Guinea Bissau
- Hong Kong
- Anglo Islands
- Liberia Macao
- North Macedonia
- New Zealand
- Saint Christophe and Nieves
- Saint Vincent
- El Salvador
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
Which American States Allow the Native Driver’s License to be Exchanged for a French Driver’s License?
France has also made similar arrangements as above with the following American states. Driving in France with a U.S. driver’s license is allowed, given that you also have a notarized translation of it in French. This is dependent on the state in which the driver resides and the type of vehicle they use. These states also offer reciprocal privileges for people with a valid French driver’s license:
Motorcycle or motor tricycle
Motor vehicles with 3500 kg or less maximum authorized mass, designed for carrying 9 people
Any motor vehicle
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
France has made arrangements with countries for their native licenses to be exchanged with a French license.
Who Can Apply For An International Driving Permit?
Holders of a full, valid driver's license from their home country may apply for an international driver's permit online. Provisional licenses are not eligible to apply for a permit. You must be 18 years old or above and carry a full, valid driving license from your home country to apply for an IDP. Motorcyclists must be 16 years old and above.
When Can You Apply For An International Driving Permit?
If you fit all the descriptions above who can apply for an IDP, you can already start your application to get an IDP from the International Drivers Association. All nationalities are eligible to apply for urgent 20-minute processing and receive your IDP within 2 hours.
How Long Is An International Drivers’ Permit Valid?
You can choose the validity period of your international driver’s permit. Select if you want your IDP to be valid for one year only, two years, or even up to three years. Provided that your native driver’s license is also valid within that duration, you can use your international driver’s permit to drive in France. Remember that your IDP’s validity is only as good as your native driver’s license.
How Do You Get an International Driver's License in France?
You can start your application here to get an IDP for your trip to France. All you need to do is follow the guided steps of application, starting with choosing your IDP validity and fill out the online form with your license credentials. Then, you can enter your delivery and payment details. Uploading the necessary files and a copy of your native driver’s license is also needed for verification.
Getting an IDP through the International Drivers Association system is very easy and guarantees fast transactions.
Renting A Car in France
If you want your trip to be as smooth as possible and you can’t bring your own, renting a car is a viable option. Finding where to rent a car and figuring out everything about renting one in France can be tricky, but lucky for you, some car rental guidelines are written below.
Where Can You Rent A Car?
You can book a rental online ahead of your departure date or check out car rental agencies personally when you arrive in France. A lot of these companies are readily accessible from the airport, and you can also arrange your preferred pick-up spot. Some car rental agencies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Europcar, Hertz, National, and Sixt.
What Documents Are Needed?
Car rental agencies would have their own terms and conditions, so you should always check them before anything else. There may be slight differences in the legal requirements for driving in France using rental cars, but some usual requirements include:
- A full, valid local driver’s license
- Your passport
- For advanced booking, an international debit or credit card
- For pick-ups, you’ll need a receipt or voucher to verify your payment for the rental
Do You Need An International Driver's Permit For A Rental Car in France?
You may or may not need an international driving permit to hire a rental car in France, depending on the rental company you will be hiring from. But as mentioned, it will be best to secure an IDP to pick a car from any rental agencies and drive hassle-free in France.
What Vehicle Types Can You Rent?
You can choose from a wide variety of rental cars to fit your style and vacation vibe. You can rent mini cars and economy cars if you are aiming for a more agile and economical drive. Compact and family cars are great for family or group vacations to accommodate more people and luggage. Even luxury cars can be rented in France.
Here are some rental car types with respective car models to give you an idea of what you can choose to rent for your trip:
- Mini Car Rental Models: Renault Twingo, Fiat 500, Ford Ka, Smart For Two, Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107.
- Economy Car Rental Models: Ford Fiesta, Opel Corsa, Peugeot 208, Smart For Four, Citroen C3, Fiat Punto, Renault Clio.
- Compact Car Rental Models: Fiat 500L, Fiat Tipo, Ford Focus, Opel Astra, Toyota Auris, Peugeot 308, Opel Mokka, Renault Megane.
- Mid-size Car Rental Models: Renault Scenic, Fiat 500X, Citroen C4 Picasso, Ford C-Max, Peugeot 3008, VW Touran, Opel Zafira.
- Family Car Rental Models: Peugeot 508, Toyota Avensis, Citroen C5, VW Passat, Renault Talisman, BMW 3 Series.
- Luxury Car Rental Models: Volvo s90, BMW 5 Series, BMW 4 Series, Mercedes E Class, Mercedes S Class, Audi A5, Mercedes E Class, Audi A6, Mercedes GLC.
- SUV Rental Models: BMW X3, BMW X5, BMW X4, Renault Kadjar, and others.
- Van Rental Models in France: Renault Trafic 9 passengers, V Class 8 passengers, VW Sharan 7 passengers, Mercedes Vito 9, Ford Turnero, and others.
You can also check out different rental agencies for their own pool of car types and models you can rent out.
How Old Do You Have To Be To Rent A car?
Age requirements for renting a car is determined independently based on the policy terms of different car rental agencies. The age limit in renting a car in France is 18 years old minimum, but some companies may set it at 21 to 23 years old.
If you are under 25, driving in France may cost extra fees ranging from €30 - €40 per day, which will probably not be included in your virtual booking payment rate. You will have to pay for it personally during the pick-up day but may also be restricted from renting some vehicle types.
How Does Car Rental Insurance Work in France?
French law requires drivers to carry third-party insurance, so most car rental companies offer inclusive rates for car rental insurance in France, especially for younger drivers aged 18 - 21. If you have current car insurance, you may have to check if your policy extends to other countries, specifically in France.
You may want to avoid rate increase or high deductible in using your own insurance, so it would be better for you to avail of inclusive car rental insurance. This ensures maximum coverage if your current plan does not.
What Items Are Covered by Insurance?
Insurance coverage rates include Value Added Tax (VAT), Liability Insurance, Fire Insurance Collision Damage, Theft Protection, Personal Accident Insurance, and Roadside Assistance. Be aware that there may be rental premiums for driving in France under 25 years old. Using major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, and AMEX when booking rental cars may offer some form of insurance coverage for your rental car.
If you opt to utilize that, you should verify your coverage and bring the necessary documents with you to show the rental agency during pick-up.
The Road Rules in France
Now that you know about the documents needed and how to rent a vehicle for your trip to France let’s move on to the most important part of this driving guide. In this part, you’ll learn about the road regulations they follow in France so that you can blend in and drive like the French in no time. Find out more rules and other things to know about driving in France.
What Do You Need to Remember Before Driving in France?
Driving in France can be easy as pie or as hard as the Arc-de-Triomphe depending on your comfortability in driving on foreign territory. You would have to plan your route ahead of time since French road signs and its autoroute numbering system can be quite confusing. Various regional and national authorities take responsibility for different route sections and designate them in different ways. Roundabouts can be different,, and parking in big cities may be particularly tricky.
Road laws include carrying specific items required when driving in France. Drivers must always be aware of the side of the road to drive on, speed limits, and other regulations so research about the specific requirements for you and do maintenance checks on your car before driving in France. You should also remember to take along a few road trip essentials like a first aid kit, back-up engine oil and water, phone charger, and if you are traveling with children.
What Are Some Important Rules When Driving in France?
First of the few tips about driving in France, your car must display a Crit’Air vignette which identifies the emission your vehicle produces. They are categorized into six color-coded stickers from the cleanest, Crit’Air 1 for electric vehicles, to Crit’Air 6, which is highly polluting. Certain cities require sticking these clean air identifiers on your windshield.
Starting in March 2017, it was prohibited to use headphones or earphones while driving in France. The use of cellphones including a “hands-free” or voice access is also illegal though the use of voice assistance may warrant lesser punishment. For more specific concerns about the legal requirements for driving in France, keep reading below.
What Is the Speed Limit?
Keep in mind that the French use kilometers and meters for their national speed limits. They use the metric system for all traffic signs and road markings. The standard speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour. The speed limit on main roads outside of built-up areas is 80 kilometers per hour and 50 kilometers per hour for build-up areas.
EU licenses of drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will be promptly confiscated. A recent development in GPS systems and devices warns drivers about the locations of speed cameras so the law prohibits drivers from using such devices. Transgressors can be fined up to €1,500 while confiscating their device and vehicle.
What Are Private Radar Cars?
Aside from speed cameras and speed guns, the French government plans to use unmarked radar-enabled cars operated by private companies. A 12-month trial in 2018 turned out to be successful when these radar cars recorded approximately more than 12,000 speeding violations in northern Normandy.
Yes, everyone should always follow French speed limits. Still, the existence of these additional speeding detectors is worth being aware of, so be extra careful to observe speed limits during your trip.
,What Are the Seatbelt Laws?
Seatbelts must always be worn by both the drivers and passengers at all times. It is the driver’s responsibility to make sure that all passengers wear seatbelts especially for those below 18, to be properly restrained in the vehicle. A €135 fine is placed on the driver if a 10-year old child and below sits in the front seat without a seatbelt or child seat. Another €135 is fined for not wearing a crash helmet or seatbelt for which adult passengers may be fined too.
How Do the Traffic Lights in France Work?
France uses the international, 3-color light system. Traffic lights are generally smaller, a different shape, and hangs from a wire so it is easy to overlook them. A smaller set of traffic lights can usually be found on a post to your right within head height at the stop line. This lets you see the lights even when you’ve driven past the overhead light that's far off from your windshield view.
The light-up sequence of French traffic lights can suddenly switch from red to green precariously without switching to amber first. A continuously flashing amber light indicates that you can continue cautiously if the road is clear, while still giving other vehicles or pedestrians the right of way. Sometimes having a green light would still mean that you have to give way.
A flashing red light indicates no entry, and if accompanied by a yellow arrow, you may proceed in the direction of the arrow but still give way to vehicles and pedestrians traveling in that direction.
What Can Be Used As A Warning of Approach?
Horns should be used only to give essential caution to other road users for a specific duration within a day. Flashing passing lights must be used as a warning of approach when driving in France from sunset to sunrise. The use of horns in all built-up areas is prohibited except in total emergency cases. It is also forbidden to use multi-tone horns, sirens, and whistles.
What Is the Right of Way in France?
Priorité à Droite is a longstanding French driving rule valid up to this day. Vehicles approaching from your right have the right of way at intersections unless indicated differently by present traffic regulators. Cédez le passage is a standard to give way in most roundabouts. Drivers approaching these roundabouts must give way to vehicles that are already in them or about to enter from your left. But sometimes, you will still have to give way to vehicles that are about to enter the roundabout even if you are already in it.
Main roads marked with yellow diamond signs such as N and D roads are priority roads. Priority ends when the diamond has a black strike-through. Being on a priority road gives you priority over all traffic entering from a side road up until your priority ends. Entrance to urban areas with a different road system or a junction may end your priority. You must yield to traffic coming in from the right for non-priority roads unless it has a stop or give-way sign. Vehicles traveling downhill must give way to ones traveling uphill.
What Are the Rules For Overtaking on French Roads?
The general rule for overtaking is driving on the right while overtaking is done on the left. But in some cases, when heavy traffic affects specific lanes, you may overtake on the right of other cars on slow-moving lanes.
Which Is the Correct Side Of the Road For Driving in France?
Like most countries, the French drive on the right side of the road. But if you're hiring a car and haven't driven on the right, you may want to practice driving on your rental car before going on your road trip.
What Should You Have in Your Car When Driving in France?
Several things must be in your “Driving in France Starter-pack” if you are planning to go on a road trip in the country. A full, valid UK driving license should always be with you along with your passport, car insurance certificate, and V5 registration or car rental documents. If you do not have a UK license, driving in France with your US license is allowed but be sure to have a translation or, better yet, get an international driving permit or an international driver’s license for France.
The law requires drivers to have some gears or items in the car at all times. These include reflective jackets, headlamp beam deflectors, breathalyzer, snow chains, and 2 warning triangles. Having spare bulbs or wheels are not required but recommended for emergency purposes. Always check your vehicle’s parts to make sure. Safety helmets are among the items required for driving in France with motorcycles. It may also be worthwhile to carry a camping card for additional proof of identity.
What Is France’s Drinking-Driving Law?
A maximum legal blood alcohol level of 0.05% is the limit for private vehicle drivers. At the same time, 0.02% is the limit for bus, coach, and new drivers with less than three years of experience. The police can do random breath tests, and such tests, including a drug test, are compulsory either after a driver caused an accident or committed a serious violation.
What Are the Parking Rules in France?
Parking can only be allowed on the right side of two-lane roads and both sides for wide one-way streets. Yellow lines or road signs may both indicate restrictions, while broken yellow lines mean parking is not allowed. Road signs indicate paid parking areas with parking meters and machines that sometimes accept credit/debit card payments.
Illegal parking will result in towing and impoundment of your car. You will have to go to the local police station to pay a fine for the violation, and the vehicle released separately.
What Are the Fine and Confiscation Rules in France?
On-the-spot fines of up to €750 can be collected from drivers who break road rules. The police may hold your vehicle until you settle your payment. It can be settled by cash in euros, by French bank or traveler’s checks. Confiscation of vehicles may happen in some cases, as well as your license. If you don’t want your license for driving in France to be confiscated, take note of these main violations where this can happen:
- If you do not stop during a police contrôle (being stopped or checked by police)
- When driving without a license or insurance
- Exceeding the speed limit by over 50 km/h
- Multiple offenses of driving under the influence of alcohol
- During hit and run situations
- When driving a vehicle with the wrong license category which does not cover that vehicle
In these cases mentioned, your car can already become the property of the French government.
How Much Are Tolls in France?
Different companies own autoroutes in France, so the cost of toll fees will depend on the type of vehicle you are driving and the distance you’ve traveled. The type of vehicles is subdivided into 5 classes depending on the car’s height and weight.
How Do You Pay For Toll Roads in France?
Toll gates in France are paid like any other toll roads. Take a ticket upon entering the motorway and pay the fee at a booth upon exiting. Simply insert your ticket into the machine, and it will show you how much you need to pay. You can pay by cash, but toll gates also accept most international banking cards.
How Do Roundabouts Work in France?
Traffic flows around a roundabout in a counter-clockwise direction. Drivers approaching a roundabout indicated by a triangular sign with a red border and three arrows forming a circle in the center must give way to traffic already on the roundabout. In the absence of a sign, the rule of priority for vehicles coming from the right applies.
A priority-junction sign, which is a triangle with an X in the middle, indicates that there is an up ahead and that you don’t have priority, so you should slow down and be prepared to give way to vehicles joining the roundabout. Don't worry; these old-style roundabouts are quite rare, and once you have one under your belt, they'll be like second nature. You must also give way to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens.
How Is Traveling With Children in France?
All passengers under 18 must be wearing a seat belt or any appropriate restraint. Children below ten years old cannot travel in the front seats without a special child seat or restraint. Kids up to the age of 10 must travel in a child seat or restraint, adapted to their age and size.
European regulations classify child restraints into five different groups according to the child's weight. Vehicles except taxis will be fined if a child passenger travels without restraint.
Driving Etiquette in France
In every country or city, there are proper etiquettes that are needed to be observed to follow through the norms of a city. These protocols are essential to remember to keep yourself from panicking if trouble arises while you’re on a road trip through the country. Read on to know more about what to do in different scenarios.
What If A Car Breaks Down?
If your car breaks down in the middle of the road, you cannot request your own assistance company to help you because motorways in France are privately managed. If this happens, orange emergency telephone lines are placed every two kilometers along main roads and motorways for emergency calls to the police or the official breakdown service within the area.
You may dial 112 if no emergency road telephone is accessible. You will be towed and charged accordingly.
What Are the Possible Reasons For Police to Randomly Stop You?
The police or gendarme (a subunit of the military) can perform a contrôle (police stop or compliance check) and ask for a vehicle or personal identification documents at any given time. So, you have to keep all necessary documents with you when driving in France, including a US driver’s license or any native license with an international driving permit for France, French driver’s license if you have one, car registration, or insurance certificate.
Recognition cameras for vehicle plates let the police know if your car is insured or not. You have seven days to show an up-to-date insurance certificate from the day of a police check, and it should be valid at the time of the check. A few other offenses include straddling or crossing an unbroken white line, changing direction without warning, parking or driving in a bus lane, or driving on the wrong side of the road.
What Should You Do in Case the Police Stops You?
You do not have to be worried all the time when you are stopped by the police because random compliance checks are normally done around France. However, you may also encounter police stops for minor road violations that you did not notice if you have no idea why you are being stopped. It is best to comply and communicate with the police officers to avoid misunderstandings. Here are the things you have to do:
- Slow down towards the side of the road, then stop your car.
- Turn on your hazard lights.
- Communicate with the police officer who stopped you from knowing what it is about.
- Present your identification documents, whether it’s an ID check or a violation.
- Wait for further instructions.
- Cooperate with the authorities when asked to be spoken with at the precinct.
What If There Are Checkpoints?
You can observe the same standard practice for police stops during a checkpoint. You have to slowly pull over and present your identification documents or legal requirements for driving in France. You have to cooperate and communicate with the local authorities and comply with their instructions to not get on the wrong side of the road, not to mention the law.
What Are Some Fraud Activities To Be Wary Of?
No one would want to be scammed on a dream vacation, but it pays to be aware of these possibilities.
A few fraud scams are happening in Europe that affects innocent motorists, especially oblivious tourists, sometimes by making it seem like an accident is their fault. According to Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers. “Insurance fraud ends up being paid for by honest customers through higher insurance premiums.”
“Crash” or “Flash for cash” are terms used when scammers induce crashes or accidents by directly crashing or flashing their lights to signal concession before crashing into the victim’s car to make fraudulent insurance claims for damaged vehicles. Those who are targeted unknowingly settle payments for deliberate car crashes. Ghost Broking is when insurance policies are bought from legitimate companies by a ghost broker, and then doctored or fake policy documents are fabricated before selling to customers.
What To Do If You Were Hit by An Uninsured Driver?
In the event that you got involved in a car accident, always remember to exchange car insurance details with the other driver. But if the other driver is not insured or refuses to give out their details, you should report them immediately. The police would know if a car is insured since they have the database for registered insurances.
What If You Fall Asleep At the Wheel?
Falling asleep at the wheel can cause accidents, and it is considered “dangerous driving.” If this happens to you, it means that you do not meet the expected standard of competence when driving in France, makings you liable for any mishaps or accidents that would occur. Dangerous driving includes driving when unfit, having an injury, or being visually impaired and will be dealt with accordingly.
If you are found guilty of this, you can be fined and banned or, worse, end up in prison.
What Do You Do in the Case of Rental Car Accidents?
In case of any vehicular accidents, you have to stop immediately and pull over to the side of the road. Switch your hazard lights on and leave your vehicle safely. If two or more cars are involved, it is standard practice that you will be asked by the French driver involved to fill a “constat amiable” or an amiable declaration, which is an accident report sheet. Call your insurance company at once so they may get you in touch with a local representative.
If there are injuries inflicted on anyone involved, it is a legal requirement when driving in France to call the police and remain in the area even if you are not at fault. You must set up a red warning triangle at 50 & 150 meters behind your car to warn approaching vehicles. You should personally document all vehicle damage with your phone or digital camera. No matter how small an accident is, it is required to have a valid police report.
What Are Useful Phrases That May Be Seen or Used While Driving in France?
The following are useful phrases you can take note of when driving in France as a tourist.
- Allumez vos lanterns - Switch on headlight
- Attention travaux - Roadworks ahead
- Bouchon - Traffic Jam
- Chaussée déformée - Poor road surface
- Déviation - Diversion
- Gravillons - Loose chippings
- Parking payant - Charge for parking
- Péage - Road toll
- Ralentissez - Slow down
- Rappel - Restriction (such as Speed limit) continues
- Route barrée - Road closed
- Sens interdit - No entry
- Stationnement interdit - No parking
How Can You Ask For Directions in France?
You may start by saying “Excusez-moi” to sound more polite and don’t come off as rude to French nationals. Then, you can ask for directions to anywhere in France by memorizing just one phrase, which is: “Est-ce que vous savez où est..” or you can shorten it to “où est” and “où sont”, if plural. All you have to do next is to add the place you want to go to:
- Est-ce que vous savez où est le musée d’Orsay ? (do you know where the Orsay museum is?)
- Où est le métro le plus proche ? (where is the nearest subway station?)
- Où est la gare ? (where is the train station?)
- Où sont les toilettes ? (where are the toilets?)
- Est-ce que vous savez où sont les champs Elysées ? (do you know where the champs Elysées are?)
- Où est-ce que je peux trouver un distributeur de billets ? (where can I find an ATM?)
How Can You Understand Directions in France?
Asking questions and directions is one thing, and understanding the answers is another. Here are some French phrases to indicate directions.
- A droite: on the right
- A gauche: on the left
- Tout droit: straight
- La première à droite: the first (street) on the right
- La rue suivante: the next street
- En face de: in front of
- A côté de: next to
- Au bout de la rue: at the end of the street
Driving Situations and Conditions
Knowing all the technicalities in road rules are extremely important but may not be enough in preparing for your road trip. Below are some general ideas you may want to know and serve as you guide when driving in France.
What Is the Difficulty Level of Driving in France?
Road conditions and safety in France are generally similar to those in the United States, but traffic systems and driving habits may present some risks. Lane markings, road sign placements may not be clearly seen, so you should be prepared to make sudden maneuvers. Driving is typically faster and more aggressive there than in the United States.
Service stations are positioned at least every 25 miles on major highways but are not as accessible for secondary roads when driving in France as they are in the US. Pedestrian accidents may occur, so you should be cautious and aware when making a turn through pedestrian crosswalks. But a lot of prevention campaigns along with redeveloped traffic regulations have caused road deaths in France to decrease.
Are the French Safe Drivers?
French drivers have had a bad reputation for driving aggressively in the past, but it is safe to say that the driving standards have improved a lot over the years. However, two road areas may be noted where caution should be observed. One is in roundabouts where many drivers fail to apply the right of way rules. And another, on slip roads usually on dual carriageways and autoroutes where usually older drivers just briefly slow down then just continues driving faster presumably thinking they have given way long enough.
How Frequent Are Vehicle Accidents in France?
As per Statista, road fatalities in France seem to be decreasing. For example, the death rate on toll roads per billion kilometers went from 4.8 in 2000 down to 1.8 in 2015. France is one of the only European nations that experienced a decrease in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and a 13 percent decrease in road deaths from 2010 to 2016.
In 2016, traffic accidents were the fifth cause of death in the European Union. Road accidents in France have been considered a societal issue for decades. Alcohol influence ranked as the second main cause of road fatalities, which commonly involved young drivers from 2013 to 2015. Fortunately, the French Government has already implemented road safety measures to limit high-speed and establish tighter restrictions for driving under the influence.
What Are the Different French Road Types?
French roads are classified into a wide variety of types since France is the third-largest European country.
- Autoroutes or motorways are denoted with the letter A followed by a number in blue signs with white lettering. Some autoroutes are free, but the majority of them are toll roads and are the best road to travel across large areas of the country quickly.
- National roads or route nationale are denoted by the letter N followed by a number written usually on green signs consisting of white lettering and the number on a red background.
- Departmental roads are denoted either by the letter D or letters RD, followed by a number written in black on a yellow background. These once-national roads overseen by the French government have been transferred to departments that have their own system.
- Routes Communales are denoted by the letter C followed by a number. These single-track roads are linked to French communes and are generally similar to UK countryside lanes.
What Is the Black Saturday Phenomenon on French Roads?
According to the Centre National d'Information Routière (CNIR) or the National Centre for Highway Information of France, ‘Black Saturday’ is a term for the busiest days for French roads. These “black” days usually occur on Saturdays scattered throughout the year linked to the French’s holiday habits but are aggravated by motorists from other EU countries and even the UK.
Here are some of the high-congestion days in the past that have been a basis for this phenomenon. Make sure to consider these in your vacation plans.
Saturday 3rd August 2019
- Extremely heavy traffic - Routes heading south from Paris to the coasts and other major cities
- Very heavy traffic - Routes heading north from the southwest and southeast of France, specifically away from Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
Saturday 10th August 2019
- Extremely heavy traffic - Routes heading towards the southwest and southeast of France, specifically towards Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
- Very heavy traffic - Routes heading south from Paris to the coasts and major cities and on routes heading north from the southwest and southeast of France, specifically away from Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
Saturday 17th August 2019
- Very heavy traffic - Routes heading towards the southwest and southeast of France, specifically towards Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
- Heavy traffic - Routes heading north from the coasts and major cities towards Paris
Saturday 24th August 2019
- Very heavy traffic - Routes heading north from the coasts and major cities towards Paris
Things to Do in France
France is not only a country limited for sightseeing. There are so many opportunities and activities you can venture into this beautiful country, and one of them is being a driver. Learn more about the things you can do in France in the following subheadings.
Can Tourists Drive in France?
Yes, tourists are allowed to drive in France. If you are planning to stay for less than 90 days, driving in France with a U.S. license is allowed. An authorized translation must accompany any valid native license or, better yet, get an international driving permit, a legally translated document. You can get one from the International Drivers Association for express shipping worldwide. This IDP is translated into 12 languages, and you can opt to receive your printable permit within 20 minutes.
Can You Apply As A Driver in France?
If you are planning to live in France permanently or for an extended period of time, you can consider applying for a driver’s license for driving in France. As mentioned earlier, some countries have established an exchange agreement with France about license policies. If your country has no diplomatic agreements with France, then you can organically obtain your French license after 1 year of residence by taking driving and theory tests.
How Long Does It Take to Drive Across France?
Driving in France sounds enticing because it entails going out of your car and visiting and experiencing the places you drive to. But, have you ever wondered how long it would take you to drive across the country? It would take approximately 10 hours to drive across the country under ideal circumstances without leaving the car. A few stops here and there on a summer weekend would take you from northern France to the French Riviera in about 12 hours.
The Top Road Trip Destinations in France
Did you know that you can explore France on a budget by living in your car for about a week or two and spend as low as approximately a thousand euros for two people? This includes expenses for gas, food, and campsites. You can use a parking or car camping app to find amazing places to spend the night for free in cities and even in nature. You can feel comfortable without having lots of luxury and worrying about expenses during your vacation.
Living in a car may not seem like a great idea at first, but you may want to reconsider that. There are so many places you can actually experience better in France if your accommodation alone doesn’t take more than half of your budget you can spend on real, life-altering activities. Live through the essence of France by exploring the different unique spots and hidden gems of France.
Is Paris Still A Top Tourist Destination?
Though Paris has become a metropolis of busy streets and narrow passageways with all the country’s urban vibe getting in the way of a supposedly relaxing vacation for tourists, it continues to be one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. The Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Versailles, and the Arc-de-Triomphe are a few of the most visited spots in Paris and the most constantly mentioned in many tourist guides everywhere.
But if you are looking for a unique getaway, consider going to the places listed below:
Its esteemed Film Festival that celebrities turn up at each spring has become recognized worldwide. But during the offseason, this seaside city in the French Riviera still attracts the elite. Even if you can’t consider yourself one, you can still live like them in this high-class destination.
You will find many luxury boutiques and high-end resorts so you can spend the day living the good life. Then, if you want to chill out after the high, you can gaze at the sea and thank the city for an awesome experience.
Antibes (originally Antipolis) is a town directly located between Cannes and Nice. It was originally established as a Greek colony in the 5th century BC, which is why it has such a rich art and culture with a sense of antiquity. Visiting the Grimaldi château, now Musée Picasso is a must for art lovers. It celebrates the time when Pablo Picasso stayed and painted there.
Another must-visit is the Sophia-Antipolis is one of the largest science parks in France whose growth boosted the city’s development.
Some of the popular activities in Sisteron may need little land and a whole lot of courage. The Aéroclub International Sisteron (ACIS) invites every adventure-enthusiasts to one of the most popular Soaring or Gliding centers in France. After gliding from the edge of the French Alpes, head over to Garges de la Meouge and go canoeing down the water or fly over it in a paraglider.
But if you are not big on extreme activities like that and more of a peace-loving tourist, you can visit the beautiful Citadelle de Sisteron.
As included in song lyrics these days, this luxury hotspot is where the rich and famous fly to when having a vacation in Southern France. Because of being known for its wonderful beaches, it can get very busy in the summer. It might be better to visit in the offseason if you’re looking for a quieter vacation. You can get to most of the beaches by car, so renting one and driving with your International Driving Permit is recommended.
This fortified city situated far west would make you feel like you have gone back to the Middle Ages. This is the largest walled town in Europe, whose center is known as La Cite Medievale. It sits on a hill at the right side of the River Aude, with its fortifications still intact in spite of being as old as the 4th century. Driving in France on motorcycle and bicycle trails through the hills of Carcassonne is an exhilarating experience.
The Moustiers Sainte abbey is the center of this beautiful village and is included in the Les Plus Beaux Villages en France - a collection of France’s most beautiful villages. The valley in which Lagrasse is situated can be reached halfway through the journey between Narbonne and Carcassone. Cobble-stoned streets and medieval brick houses in Lagrasse look like a live setting of a popular children’s fairytale.
Nice La belle translates to “Nice the beautiful,” and this city’s moniker is surely well-deserved. Mixing history, architecture, excellent cuisine, and luxurious pampering makes it one of the most delightfully unique locations in the south of France. With the enticing beaches, Celaya Market’s tempting delicacies, and all the gorgeous museums, parks, and cathedrals, you wouldn’t guess that their 150-year tradition is firing a celebratory cannon.
As a small city situated west of the French Riviera on the Gulf of Lyon, Marseille still has a great impact on French art, food, history, and architecture despite its size. With a population of just slightly over a million, this cultural core of southern France was declared the European Capital of Culture by the European Union’s Ministry of Culture in 2013. Walk along board promenades in the Old Port, visit various stately museums, and marvel at nature’s beauty in Calanques National Park.
This popular seaside resort spot on the Vendee coast was first developed around its castle built in the eleventh century, which was then restored in the 20th century. Oyster farming, agriculture, and maritime trade have long been the anchor of its economic development. You can enjoy the view overlooking River Payre’s firth and the ports protecting the city. You can swim on various beaches in Veillon, La Mine, and La Ragounite or play golf in the Port Bourgenay Golf Course.
A variety of activities can also be experienced in the area around this region, from the vineyard and salt marsh tours and wine-tasting in Domaine Saint Nicolas to go-kart racing in Sables d’Olonne. You can also try to get physical in the adventure-filled Le Grand Défi leisure park that has a lot of amazing attractions that will surely get your adrenaline rushing.
Organizing group vacations for outdoor laser-tag, paintball, and orienteering can be a great way to spend team-building activities here.
The area of Provence encapsulates most of southern France, extending from the left bank of Rhone River to the Italian border with the Mediterranean Sea as its southern border. It portrays a picturesque view of how simple yet peacefully fulfilling life in the countryside is.
Explore the town squares in Aix-en-Provence, then enjoy the refreshing fragrance of the lavender fields and finally head down to one of the many wineries to end your de-stress session with a glass or two. Driving in France on a motorcycle is also enjoyable in Provence.