Driving in France

  • Driving guides
  • France
  • 10 min read
Driving in France

Find out all the requirements for driving in France you need to enjoy your road trip across the Channel.

With stunning scenery to discover there's no better way to explore France than behind the wheel of a car – or a campervan, motorbike or whatever your vehicle of choice. Driving in France allows you to choose your A to B, and even take a detour on the spur of the moment, so you have total freedom to go wherever you want. 

But there are certain requirements for driving in France. If this is your first time on the road in mainland Europe, make sure you know the rules for your vehicle, have insurance in place and are carrying the essentials. 

To ensure a safe and smooth journey while in France, LeShuttle has compiled this list of simple tips to remember.

What do British drivers need to bring to France?

  • A full, valid UK driving licence is required. Due to new updates from the DVLA the paper counterpart is no longer required and this includes when travelling on the Continent. You must be 18 or over to drive in France.
  • A UK sticker to display in the rear windscreen and your motor insurance certificate(1)
  • A warning triangle and reflective hi-vis jacket for use in a breakdown. Without these you risk being fined up to €135 for each item(2)
  • Headlamp converters (for driving on the right) are compulsory to prevent dazzling drivers coming the other way(3)

A reflective jacket and warning triangle are mandatory items to be carried in cars in France

What NOT to bring

Radar detectors are illegal in France. If you are caught with one you risk fines of up to €1,500. Satnav and GPS systems which show where speed cameras are located are also illegal so make sure this function is disabled or removed completely from your device.

Be fully prepared. Call into the AA Travelshop at our Folkestone Passenger Terminal Building for all compulsory and recommended items for your vehicle whilst driving in France.

We also have maps and satnavs to will help you choose the quickest, non-motorway or most scenic route to your destination.

There are strict rules on transporting foodstuffs into France. You are not allowed to take meat or meat products, milk or dairy products. The following items are also banned – unless you pay to have them inspected before you leave France:

  • fresh fruit (apart from bananas, coconuts, dates, pineapples and durians)
  • vegetables, plants or plant products

Driving requirements for France: are you ready?

Fasten your seatbelts because, as in the UK, wearing front and rear seatbelts is compulsory when fitted.

It's illegal for children under 10 to ride in the front of the vehicle but this should help settle arguments about who gets the front seat! Children under 10 must be in the back seat and in a child seat if they weigh less than 15kg. Over this weight they can use a seat belt with a booster seat.

Now that you're all buckled in and ready to go, the main thing to remember is that people drive on the right-hand side of the road in France.

It's important to be alert when driving, so try to minimise distractions in the car until you feel comfortable in your new environment.

Tolls: you can beat the queues

If heading south, it's best to avoid driving via Paris as traffic can be heavy, unless of course the capital city is part of your trip.

The quickest way to travel between regions and cities when driving in France is via motorways. Take plenty of change with you as you might have to pay motorway tolls at automated barriers. Alternatively, you can buy an Emovis Tag, which enables you to use the automated lanes without the hassle of manually paying with Euros. The fee is exactly the same but payment will automatically be taken from your chosen bank account in GBP.

Buying an Emovis tag enables you to use the automated toll lanes on French motorways

Exclusive LeShuttle offer

Buy an Emovis Tag and beat the queues at the French motorway tolls:

  • Apply for free - no fee (save €10)
  • Save 50% on the annual fee, only €4 (normally €8) from the second year of subscription
  • €20* refundable security deposit on the tag
  • €5* active usage fee - only for the months in which the tag is used and capped at €10 in any subscription year

*subject to French VAT

                        Apply for your Emovis tag

Rules of the road

Don't be intimidated by roundabouts. The rules are the same as in the UK except you drive in the opposite direction. When approaching a roundabout, give way to traffic on your left already on the roundabout.


Driving on the right and overtaking on the left is the general rule in France. However, overtaking on the right is allowed in lane traffic when there are slow moving lanes. On steep hills, vehicles travelling downhill must give way to those coming uphill. Vehicles may overtake trams in motion on the right only; only on one way streets is it permitted on the left if there is not enough space on the right.

Use of the horn

Horns should only be used to provide necessary warnings to other road users. Between sunset and sunrise, flashing lights should only be used to communicate with other drivers. The horn is only to be employed in emergencies. Within urban areas, use of the horn is prohibited except in incidents of imminent danger. Multi-tone horns, sirens, and whistles are strictly forbidden in France.

Priorité à Droite 

Priorité à Droite (give priority to traffic coming from the right) is an old rule which may still apply at some junctions. If you see the yellow diamond with a white border sign then Priorité à Droite does not apply to the road ahead. Although many drivers now realise it's dangerous to pull straight out into a road of oncoming traffic, keep your eyes peeled for vehicles appearing from the right. The rule is usually indicated as you enter or leave an area:

Driving penalties and fines

Fines can be issued immediately by some French police authorities. Each regional force will have different rules. Drivers can get reduced fines if payment is made in less than three days, as long as the offence does not involve license loss, suspension or a custodial sentence. Court hearings must be requested in 30 days if drivers seek to contest any fines.

Drivers from overseas who commit serious offences, and do not have employment within France, may need to provide a deposit as a guarantee. Vehicles can be retained by French police until such payments are made. 

The minimum fine in France is €11, rising to €750. If paid earlier they can be reduced, but can be increased for non-payment (there is usually a 45 day limit).

Speed limits in France

  • Urban areas: 50 km/h
  • Rural areas: 80km/h - 90km/h
  • Dual carriageways: 100 km/h - 110 km/h
  • Autoroute: 110 km/h - 130 km/h

Remember, there are heavy fines for breaking the limits. You will be fined €135 and points added to your licence. If you are over the speed limit by 30km/h you can lose your licence and your vehicle can be confiscated if you are over the limit by 50 km/h.

road sign with 80 speed limitFrance has a range of speed limits that must be observed

Can my car be confiscated in France?

Yes, for some driving offences your vehicle can be impounded. This might be in addition to a fine or custodial sentence. Some of the offences include: 

  • Breaking the speed limit by more than 50 km/h
  • Drink driving (repeat offence)
  • Refusal to stop when requested
  • Driving without insurance or licence
  • Driving with the wrong category of licence

Traffic lights

In France the standard three colour light system operates, but there are some differences with the UK. There is no hard amber light after the red light, but a flashing amber light. This means drivers should be cautious, slow down or proceed but give way to vehicles coming from the right.

A flashing red light indicates no entry. It may also indicate a level crossing or exit used by emergency vehicles.

If a red light is accompanied by a yellow arrow, you may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided you give way to vehicles travelling in that direction, as well as to pedestrians.

Emission Laws in France

If you are planning on driving in France, especially within cities, you should consider getting a Crit’Air sticker for your car. These are Air Quality certificates which indicate the emissions level of your vehicle and are important requirements for driving in France. They are mandatory when driving in low emissions zones in some French cities, including Paris and Lyon. 

It is important to check which cities have these zones and whether your vehicle qualifies for a Crit’Air sticker – some may be too old and so you won’t be able to drive in low emissions zones. It can take up to 6 weeks to apply for a certificate so make sure you factor this in before you travel. 

Overhead motorway sign in FranceCrit'Air stickers are required in several French cities, including Paris

Ready to refuel?

You'll find motorway service stations manned around the clock so you can fill up your tank. Prices are often cheaper at supermarkets petrol stations though so it's worth scheduling in a stop. Many fuel stations have automatic pumps where you can pay using 'chip and PIN' UK credit or debit cards.

When I get to the pumps, how will I know which one I need? Well, you're likely to see these options...

  • Petrol = Essence (super / super 97)
  • Unleaded Petrol = Sans Plomb (98 & 95)
  • Diesel = Gazole ou Gasoil

Parking rules

It is usual practice in French towns to allow parking on one side of the street for half of the month and then on the other side for the second half of the month. Parking may also alternate weekly or daily.

Parking is free on roads with a dotted white line or no markings. Blue zone parking areas allow free parking for a designated time. You'll need to display a parking disc in your vehicle window showing your arrival time. Look for the parking sign in the area to find out the length of time you're permitted to stay. You can pick up a new parking disc at newsagents or tobacconists and failure to display the new disc could result in a fine. Blue parking zones are shown with a parking sign with the same 'heure d'arrivée' picture from the parking disc in the bottom corner.

Street parking in Paris is limited as many roads are pedestrianised and it's illegal to park your vehicle for longer than 24 hours in the same spot.

You will need to display the time you arrive on your parking sticker in a blue zone

Car insurance and motor breakdown

You must have third party insurance cover (a legal requirement) at the least when driving in France, but it doesn't cover any costs incurred by you as a result of an accident. Make sure your policy is fully comprehensive and that you have your Certificate of Motor Insurance before setting off.

You do not need to carry a green card when you drive in the EU (including Ireland), Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia, and Switzerland. You still need valid vehicle insurance. For more information visit driving abroad on Gov.uk.

Vehicle repatriation from Southern France could cost up to £1,300(4) . With that in mind we recommend that you have sufficient motor breakdown insurance cover in place in case anything happens while you are away. We offer comprehensive travel insurance packages for you and your vehicle.


It is advisable to use dipped headlights at all times outside towns in any weather. Dipped headlights must be used in poor daytime visibility. Motorcycles over 125cc must use dipped headlights during the day at all times. For motorhomes and caravans, lights must be used at all times when travelling in tunnels or in bad weather.

Drink driving

The drink driving in France rules are strict. The limit is 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. It is advisable not to drink and drive at all because if you are caught over the limit, the penalties are severe. You will be fined €135 if you are over the 50mg limit. If you have more than 80mg of alcohol in your blood you could be fined up to €4,500 and banned from driving for three years.

Random breath tests

Don’t be surprised to find yourself being stopped by French police and being asked to take a breath test. Random breathalyser tests are commonplace on French roads, with drivers 20 times more likely to be tested in France as on the UK’s roads. Tests always take place after an accident in which someone has been injured or there has been a serious motoring offence.

Make sure you know the rules for hiring a car in France

Hiring a car

If you’re hiring a car in France, some rules will be different. 

  • You need to be 21 to hire a car, although this may vary depending on the type of vehicle
  • Rental companies will need to see your full, valid UK driving licence (held for a minimum of 12 months) and second proof of ID
  • Provide a credit card as a deposit
  • Check with your hire company which countries you can drive into from France
  • Have car hire excess insurance in place

Emergency phone network

Motorways in France have emergency telephones every 2km along the road. These are part of an SOS phone network.

If you can’t get to one of these phones, or you need immediate assistance in an emergency, dial 112 on your mobile phone and you can speak to the emergency services. Language won’t be a problem, as the operators will be able to speak to you in English.

When driving in France, what do you need? 

Here's your checklist for the requirements for driving in France:

Minimum Legal Driving Age18
National Driving LicenceCompulsory
Original Registration Document (V5)
Motor Vehicle Insurance
Front & Rear Seatbelts
UK Sticker(1)
Warning Triangle
Reflective Jacket(2)
Headlamp Adjustment(3)
Daytime Running Lights - Motorcycles
First Aid Kit
Fire Extinguisher
Daytime Running Lights - Cars
Spare Bulbs and Fuses

Frequently asked questions

How do I use my SatNav in France?
You can use your SatNav, but make sure you disable the functionality that detects and warns of the locations of speed cameras. This is illegal in France, and if you are caught by the police you could face a fine of €1500.
Do I need a breathalyser to drive in France?
Up until 2020 breathalyser kits were mandatory for drivers in France, but this is no longer the case. However, the blood in alcohol limit is lower than in the UK, so it maybe worth carrying one just in case.
What do UK drivers need to drive in France?
The documents you need are a full, valid UK driving licence, proof of ID (passport), your motor insurance certificate and a V5 registration document. In terms of equipment, you should always carry a warning triangle and hi-vis or reflective jacket in the event of an emergency. 
Do I need a UK sticker to drive in France?
Yes. Your number plate can also incorporate the UK identifier with the Union flag.
What side of the road do you drive in France?
You drive on the right in France.