Driving in France: what should I know?
In the 21th century, going abroad becomes more and more seamless, whether we travel by plane, boat or car. However, there can still be some challenges. With solid information, they can be, however, easily overcomed. What do I need to drive in France? What are the requirements? Driving license, green card for the insurance, road rules, LEZ (Crit’air)… Here is everything you should know when driving in France.
Driving in France: generic infos
France has approximately 40,000 km of national roads, of which 9,600 km are motorways. The conditions are therefore ideal for exploration by car. Most highways are paid. They were built from the sixties by private companies. The government also decided at that time to maintain a good network of national roads, the famous « N + number » also written “RN” for “Route Nationale”. Traffic jams are frequent on French highways in summer and particularly between the end of July/beginning of August and the end of August/beginning of September. That period is known as the “chassé-croisé”, when people go back home from holiday while many others leave.
Who can drive in France?
Any person aged 18 or more holding a valid driving license can drive in France. If the driving license is European, it is accepted as is. When the driving license has been issued by a country not belonging to the EU, you will need an international driving permit, or a certified translation in French. If your driving license is from the UK, you don’t need any of those, it is enough alone. This is due to the fact that both countries recognize driving licenses of the other. Brexit has not impacted this agreement.
Driving in France: rules and speed limits
In France, cars drive on the right side of the road. The steering wheel is placed on the left side of the vehicle. In the event of a violation of the highway code, the payment of fines is made on the spot, by card. Wearing a seat belt is compulsory. Children are allowed to sit in the front of the vehicle if they are over 10 years old. Child seats are compulsory for all children up to the age of 12 (front or behind). French speed limits are the following, unless stated otherwise via road panels:
- Schools and special low speed areas: 30 km/h
- Built-up areas and cities: 50 km/h
- Outside urban areas: 80 km/h
- Motorways: 110-130 km/h
In large French cities, you will find many service stations open 24 hours a day. They sell a wide range of fuels: standard gas, diesel, E85, LPG. Charging stations for electric cars are also commonplace now. As everywhere, fuel tends to be more expensive at service stations located on the motorways. Read our tips on how to find the cheapest petrol in France.
In France, highways are not free. The price depends on the distance. On road signs, highways are represented in blue and by the letter « A » followed by the number of the corresponding highway, or E if it’s a European one.
In many small or medium-sized French towns, parking is paid and regulated by means of parking meters. Most major cities have adopted the parking disc system which you simply place on the dashboard of the parked vehicle. These discs are available in police stations, tourist offices, etc. Many French parking fees can be paid via apps.
Driving in France with a UK licence or any other foreign permit
Yes, you can legally drive in France with a valid UK driver’s licence for up to 12 months from the date you last entered the country. If you own an old pink or green driving license, you must also hold an IDP (international driving permit). If you own the recent permit, it is not required.
In general you can drive as a tourist with your local driving license, together with an IDP if the driving license is not in French.
For people taking residency in the country, their local license will have to be exchanged for a French license after 1 year (non EU) or 18 months (EU).
Driving in France: requirements & checklist
You wonder what do I need to drive in France? Well, you need at least all the documents that are required at home. Driving license, proof of insurance, MOT, car registration certificate, to be more specific. Here are what you will need on top of those basic documents.
Crit’air sticker for driving in LEZ in Paris, Marseilles…
A growing number of French cities have implemented a Low Emission Zone, known as LEZ or ZFE in French. To avoid a ban, cars must have a Crit’air sticker on the windshield. Its color depends on the car rating. Each city determines which cars can enter or not the zone. Different rules can apply:
- Total ban based on Critair classification: in Marseilles, for example
- Partial ban, during daytime and weekdays: Paris, for example
- Total ban in case of pollution alert: Avignon
Foreign cars are also concerned by this rule. If you plan to travel in France, it’s better to automatically order your Crit’air sticker (online only). If you own a recent vehicle, e.g. eligible to a Crit’air 1 or 2 sticker, you don’t have to worry, you can drive in any city. Do you own an older car? Then you’ll have to check the local rules each time you drive in a big French city.
Your car must have a valid insurance that covers France. A third-party insurance cover is enough.
Do you need a green card to drive in France when you are from the UK?
No. A simple certificate of motor insurance is enough to drive in France. The requirement to have a green card to drive their vehicles in France was cancelled on August 2, 2021.
What do you need to drive in France in terms of equipment in your car?
There are only 2 mandatory items that you should carry in your car:
- Warning triangle: must be compliant with E 27 R standard
- Retro reflective car safety jacket/vest: must be compliant with CE standard
That’s it. Even a fire extinguisher is not mandatory.
Driving with foreign plates: rules are defined by the Vienna Convention
France has ratified the Vienna Convention on road traffic of November 8, 1968. This validation without interpretative reservations has been integrated into French law via the Decree 77-1040 of 1977. It is therefore this Vienna Convention which governs the circulation of vehicles with foreign license plates on French roads.
What does the Vienna Convention on road traffic say?
In short, the Vienna Convention provides for the authorization of circulation of vehicles registered abroad. There are no different rules for cars registered in the EU or outside the Union. However, 2 conditions must be met in order to benefit from this right:
- The owner must be a natural or legal person who has his main residence outside the country visited
- The vehicle cannot be driven for more than one year without interruption. After this period, it is no longer considered a foreign vehicle by the convention. It must therefore be registered on the spot or leave the French territory
In short, foreigners who are not domiciled in France can drive up to a year with the vehicle registered in their country. Leaving the territory resets the counter. Of course, it is very difficult for the police to know the dates of entry and exit of the vehicle. It is therefore a rule that is hard to enforce.
A person who is sent to work in France for a long period and who does not take up his main residence in the country can therefore continue to drive his vehicle. On the other hand, any foreigner who comes to settle in France will have to complete the registration procedure in France in the 30 days following its registration as a resident.
The case of imported vehicles with foreign plates
For people holding their main residence in France who import a vehicle from abroad, it is possible to drive with foreign plates, but for a maximum period of one month. After which the vehicle must either have a definitive French registration or a temp WW registration certificate.
Driving with foreign license plates in France: attention
If foreign vehicles can circulate freely in France under the conditions listed above, there are of course basic rules to respect:
- The registration must be valid: it is of course out of the question to drive with canceled plates, for example from Germany. Registration must be valid
- The vehicle must be insured for the country visited: you can drive in France with, say, an American gray card in your name. But does your car insurance cover claims in Europe? You must have international insurance in order
Second residence in France: can I drive with foreign plates? Register a car in France?
If you own a second residence in France, you can:
- Drive with your foreign plate: it’s legal as far as the car doesn’t stay more than one year in France. Once you cross the border, the counter restarts
- Register the car in France: even if the law is not clear about it, authorities have confirmed in 2022 that a person holding its main residence abroad and able to provide a proof of address can register legally a car in France. However, you won’t be able to use that car in your home country for more than a month
What do I need to drive in France in 2023 in a nutshell (documents and equipment)?
In short, here is what you need to drive in France:
- Proof of insurance
- Car registration certificate
- Valid driving license
- Crit’air sticker (unless you don’t plan to drive in big cities center)
- Warning triangle
- Retro reflective car safety jacket
- Money to pay tolls if you plan to use French highways
No, you don’t need to carry such device when driving in France.
If your car plate has the identifier UK (which replaced GB), you don’t need a sticker. Otherwise, you’ll have to place a UK sticker behind your car.
No, you don’t need to carry your international driving permit, your UK license is enough.
If you have less than 3 years of driving experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2 gram per liter. If you have more experience the limit is lifted to 0.5 grams.
As a tourist, yes, but you will also need an IDP (international driving permit) if you hold an old UK driving licence (green or pink).
You need a Crit’air sticker, that can be ordered online for a few euros.