- How to rent a car?
- Is it easy to drive?
- Tips for renting
- Price for a rental car
- Where to rent a car?
How to rent a car in France
While romantic Paris with its famed Eiffel Tower and the French Riviera are mostly sought out by tourists, there are many other gems all over the country. France has a good interrail system and offers many tours to neighboring areas from the bigger cities. However, renting a car is the best way to go off the beaten path and explore France at your own pace. Drive on coastal roads and through the countryside, passing vineyards and discovering purple lavender fields. This guide will tell you exactly how to rent a car in France and what it’s like to drive there.
What do you need to rent a car in France?
When you rent a car in France, you’ll need the following documents on hand.
- Your driver’s license from your home country
- Your ID (passport)
- Credit Card in your name
- International Driver’s Permit (recommended)
The legal driving age in France is 18 years old. In order to be able to rent a car, however, most rental car companies in France require you to be at least 21 years old. Some might also ask you if you’ve had your license for at least one year. All drivers must present a valid driver’s license, an ID as proof of their identity, and a credit card to make the payment.
Note: Most car rentals in France charge an extra fee if you’re under 25 years old.
It is not required by law to have an International Driver’s Permit if you’re a non-EU citizen driving in France. However, if you plan on driving into other countries in Europe, it might be a good idea to arrange one. In some countries, such as Italy, it is necessary that you have one. An International Driver’s Permit costs just 15 USD and is valid for one year. You can arrange yours here.
Rental car insurance in France
When renting a car in France, it is required by law that you have third-party liability insurance. With most companies, this is automatically included in the price of your car rental.
A Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or theft cover is recommended but not mandatory. When you decide to add additional coverage, make sure to arrange that in your initial booking, as the prices are best when booked like this. You can also check if your credit card policy covers car rental insurance in France.
If you’re thinking of visiting multiple countries with your rental car, check with the rental company beforehand if they allow you to do so. Usually, traveling to other countries, such as Monaco and Italy, in a rental car from France should not be a problem, as long as you’ve got valid insurance.
First, there are the autoroutes, all roads starting with an A, which are motorways typically with tolls (péages). The speed limit for these roads is 130 km/h, and 110 km/h when it rains. France is one of the few countries that has different speed limits for different weather conditions. It is important that you’re aware of this when driving in France.
On dual carriageways, the routes nationales (N or RN), the speed limit is 110 km/h and 100 km/h during wet weather. These roads typically don’t have any tolls. On the routes départementales (D), which are single carriageways outside urban areas, you’re allowed to drive 80 km/h and 70 when it rains. When you’re driving in an urban area, called routes communales (C or V), the speed limit is no more than 50 km/h.
Speeding in France
You often won’t see a speed sign when entering an urban area, especially at the entrance to smaller villages. The name sign to the village or town, however, automatically indicates that there’s a speed limit of 50 km/h. It’s good to know that speed cameras are often set up on all types of roads, so always be mindful of how fast you’re driving, even in rural areas.
Tip: You can use the local Sociétés d’Autoroutes website as a source of traffic information, rest stops, and service stations.
Traffic in France
It is not uncommon to experience traffic jams in larger cities such as Paris, Marseille, or Bordeaux. It is, therefore, not recommended to drive there during rush hours. Paris also has a low emission zone, meaning that cars registered before 1997 are not allowed to enter it on working days between 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM. To enter some other urban areas, cars are required to have a clean air sticker (Crit’Air vignette).
Next to beautiful cities and old towns, France also has two of Europe’s most impressive mountains, the Alps and the Pyrenees. Most of the mountain roads are in good condition but driving cautiously is always a good idea. If you’re visiting France’s mountains in the winter, your car might require snow chains. When picking up your rental car in France, make sure to ask the agency about it.
Top tips for renting a car in France
1. Do a walk around and check the car
When you pick up your car rental in France, make sure to do a walk around and check if everything’s there. If you’re traveling in winter, see if there are snow tires on the car or snow chains in the trunk. Many areas, especially in the mountainous regions, require these between November and April.
You will have to sign a document called the check-out form. If your rental car has any scratches or other types of damage, check if they are listed on the form. If they’re not, make sure to point them out to the employee and have them noted down before signing the check-out form.
This form will also list the mileage and the amount of fuel the car has upon pickup time. If you want to be absolutely certain that everything is logged, take some photos of the rental car’s noted damages, the amount of fuel in the tank, and the previous mileage on the car.
2. Opt for a smaller car and avoid driving in cities
Unless you’re going to need a lot of space or are planning on driving in the mountains, it is best to opt for a small car when you rent a car in France. This is because many streets are narrow, parking spots are often small, and gas is relatively expensive. So, if the rental agency proposes to upgrade to a bigger car, it’s best to decline this.
What makes France’s cities and towns so charming is that most of them are at least a few hundred years old. Similar to the neighboring countries Italy and Spain, France has kept the historic atmosphere alive, meaning that you’ll find many narrow, cobblestoned, and often steep roads in towns and cities. Navigating these roads can be quite a challenge. Making sure you have an up-to-date navigation system and following the road signs is definitely recommended.
In addition to the narrow and sometimes confusing roads, larger cities such as Paris are also rather busy. Lots of areas are pedestrian-only and, like mentioned before, it is sometimes better to park the car outside the central area (centre ville) and walk or cycle instead.
3. Be prepared for toll booths
There are many toll booths along France’s major roads and highways—the Autoroutes, for example, are toll roads. When you enter the Autoroutes, you’ll receive a ticket and pay the toll once you exit, which is usually around 30 – 50 euros per journey. Tolls are cheaper for motorcyclists, and typically more expensive for cars towing a caravan.
Toll booths are marked on your map app. If you have problems at the entrance or exits of the Autoroutes, you can push on the ‘help’ button. However, learning some French phrases can go a long way, as most of the assistants won’t speak English.
Note: You can avoid toll roads if you want. These are often more scenic routes but do take much longer.
4. Fill your car with the right gas
In France, you can find gas stations everywhere. Google Maps and other navigation services typically show you which one is nearest to you. The average price of gas in France is 1,76 EUR per liter (6,65 EUR per gallon), and you can either get diesel (diesel or gazole) or unleaded (sans plomb). If you’re ever in doubt about which type of fuel you need, try to find the sticker in your rental car that provides that information. This can usually be found on the car key, on the dashboard, or on the fuel door. Gas stations can be found in the country, in small towns and big cities, and on the autoroutes.
Good to know: Avoiding big gas stations on the autoroutes can save you some money. Supermarket chains like Auchan, Intermarché, Carrefour, and Leclerc are known to often have cheaper rates.
How much does a car rental in France cost?
France is overall fairly priced when it comes down to car rentals. The price typically depends on a few things; the time of the year that you’re visiting, the duration of your trip, and the type of car that you want to rent.
During the summer months, there’s always an increased demand to rent a car in France, which drives up the prices. If you’re visiting in the other seasons, including winter, the prices are considerably lower. The time you decide to rent a car also influences the total price. Renting a car for a longer period of time usually brings down the daily price, meaning that 5 days of rental might just be slightly more than 3 days, for example. If you can, consider exploring France for at least a week!
Prices for a rental car
The general rule in France is that the smaller the car, the lower the price. Bigger cars are more expensive because they require more fuel. Opting for a smaller car will also benefit you on the many small roads. If you’re thinking of getting an automatic car, it’s important to notice that these are still relatively uncommon in France. This also means that there’s a higher price tag on renting an automatic instead of a manual car.
Browse your options online via a comparison site to make sure you get the best deal. If you book in advance, it’ll also be much more affordable than stepping into the office and arranging it there.
Tip: Try to look at the rental conditions before booking a car. Differences in items such as the mileage policy can also influence the final price of your car rental.
Where do I rent a car in France?
There are numerous reputable car rentals in France to choose from. If you’re planning on renting a car in France in the summer, try to arrange this in advance. Reserving in advance ensures that you secure the type of car that you want and possibly at a lower price.
If it makes sense on your route, pick up and drop off the car in different cities. Many car rental companies in France offer one-way rentals which give you the freedom to travel around the country without the need to travel all the way back to where you picked up the car. It might be a bit more expensive, but can be worth it if you consider the tolls, gas, and time. When you return the car, make sure you know if it’s necessary to fill up the gas and have someone check the car for damage when you’re still there.
Want to explore a bit more of Europe with the same car? Some car rental companies also allow you to travel one way internationally. This way you have the opportunity to see other countries such as Belgium or Spain without the need to travel back to France. Check with the company if this is possible and what the requirements are to drive in the other countries you would like to visit.