Renting a Car in France

car-hire-franceFrance is one of the largest countries in Western Europe, home to a variety of terrain and climates. It’s also one of the most visited in Europe and for good reason. France has a fascinating history, providing dozens of landmarks and historical points of interest for domestic and international travelers. France is bordered by the English Channel to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. France encompasses more than 640,000 km², offering a variety of terrain, climates, and geography for visitors to the country.

France is rich in history since the Neolithic ages, with evidence of Celtic and Greek inhabitants, as well as Roman occupation. Kings were crowned in Reims Cathedral and King Louis XIV expanded her borders. From ancient times to the present, France has fascinated and been a leading influence in the arts, culinary cuisine, and architecture.

Popular Destinations

Because of her size and diversity, France is home to numerous popular destinations. Of course, one of the favorites is Paris, with her wealth of sightseeing attractions and landmarks that include the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. The wine region of Bordeaux is also a favorite, as are the nearby Pyrenees Mountains. Lyon is classified as a heritage city, offering a variety of not only historical interest but culture, museums, and vibrant nightlife. Marseille is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and located along the Mediterranean coastline attracts year-round visitors because of its temperate weather and numerous shopping and restaurant options.

Other popular destinations in France include but are not limited to:

  • Notre Dame Cathedral – located in Paris, made famous by Victor Hugo
  • The Invasion Beaches of the Normandy coast line, famous for the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of France
  • The French Riviera, home to the Cannes Film Festival and of course, exotic Monaco
  • Lourdes – located in the Pyrenees Mountains and forever associated with the “Miracle of Lourdes”

These are just a few of the many delights and wonderful sights you’ll see when driving through France.

Driving in France

With over 25,000 miles of highway, driving in France is a unique experience for many, providing access to every corner of different and equally beautiful regions throughout the country. When in France, remember to drive on the right side of the road. To rent a car in France, you need to be at least 21 years of age. In addition, you are required to have had a driver’s license for at least one year. Do be aware that if you’re under 25 years of age, you may have to pay a young driver surcharge, but that depends on rental car providers as well as region. Don’t drive and talk on your mobile phone unless you have a headset or a hands-free device.

Visitors from the United States can drive with their valid U.S. driver’s license if you’re in France for less than 90 days, but that license must be accompanied by a notarized French translation. It is recommended that even U.S. drivers carry an International Driving Permit to be on the safe side.

Be aware that visibility vests and warning triangles are compulsory in France, as are a spare set of replacement bulbs. Make sure your rental car has these items before you hit the road. If you’re traveling in the mountainous areas of France in the wintertime, snow chains are also compulsory.

Rules of the Road

Speed limits

Speed limits in France vary and may also be reduced due to rain or adverse weather conditions. Here’s a brief breakdown:

Town limits – 50 kilometers per hour (kph)

Dual carriageway – 110 kph an hour (100 kph when the road is wet)

Open road – 90 kph (80 kph when the road is wet)

Motorway – 130 kph (110 when the road is wet)

Seatbelt Laws

Seatbelts for all passengers are mandatory in France. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted to sit in the front seat, and child seats are mandatory for children up to three years of age, regardless of their weight or height.

Fuel Costs

Gasoline or petrol stations are available throughout France, many of them open 24 hours a day. Gasoline costs are cheaper in the city than out on the open highway, but again, this may differ depending on region. Fuel costs in France average €1.53.

Avoiding Fines and Penalties

When driving in France, always have your driving license, certificate of motor insurance, and vehicle registration documents with you. If the license does not provide a photograph, you must carry your passport or other official documentation to validate the license.

When in France, be aware of rules and regulations regarding parking. You’re likely to find parking meters, as well as blue zones, where you’re permitted to park in urban areas.  You will also be expected to display a parking ticket or disk on your dashboard, which are available at most tourist offices as well as local police stations.

Be aware that France has very strict laws and regulations regarding drunk driving, and you can be considered driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.5 mg.  Breathalyzer kits are mandatory carry in all vehicles in France.

Observe speed limits or you may be pulled over and required to pay on-the-spot fines for speeding or for not following other traffic and driving regulations. Speed limit signs are usually designated by white circles or squares with red borders. If you are pulled over and required to pay an on-the-spot fine, make sure you get an official receipt from the police officer that collects the fine.

Be aware that cars rented in French regions are not allowed into a number of countries, including Poland, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Croatia. Check with the rental car company for their rules and guidelines regarding border restrictions. You are, however, able to drive your rental car throughout most Western European countries without any restrictions. Again, always verify before you head out on your road trip.

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