If you have your own car, great! But if you're thinking of renting a car in France, please read on and I'll try to answer every one of your questions.
🚗 NO TIME TO READ EVERYTHING? 🏷️ JUST WANT THE BEST CAR RENTAL FRANCE PRICES?
I live in France and I have a car – but France is a large country so I don't always drive. Sometimes I take the train to the nearest city and rent a car there. I always check rental prices with Discovercars, because they compare all major companies and availability, and come up with the best bargains.
12 Essential tips to find the best car rental in France
The following tips will ensure your France car trip is exciting, glorious, and trouble-free!
Some of France's most scenic spots can only be accessed by car
1. Know the costs and availability of your car rental
Cost is a major factor in the decision to rent a car and the cost of hiring a car in France per day will vary. Compare car prices in France if you already know where you're going, and scan the page for car rental – France deals – which are often available.
There has been price creep and cheap rental cars in France are becoming scarcer. That said, you can still help keep costs down:
If you're offered an upgrade when you rent your car, think twice: a larger car will use more gas and cost more than a small car (not to mention those tiny roads and streets where you might get stuck).
If you can, visit on the off-season or shoulder season. Car prices in France are much higher during the peak tourist season, and cars are scarcer then. Prices may also climb during French holidays, around Christmas, or in summer.
Examine different locations, because rental car prices change depending on the city and even the specific agency you rent from. Airports can be more expensive than downtown, which might be more expensive than a suburb, so compare prices before you decide.
PRO TIP➽ Reserve your car early. Prices are usually lower when there is plenty of supply. The closer you get to holiday season, the scarcer – and more expensive – the car, especially if you want an automatic transmission. 🚗 CLICK HERE FOR YOUR CHEAP CAR RENTAL FRANCE
Car rental companies will usually require a credit rather than a debit card, so make sure you have one, or check that the rental agency accepts debit cards.
One thing to watch for are hidden or additional costs when renting cars in France.
Equipment: cars are usually fully equipped but make sure it has everything you need – like GPS or baby or child seats – and if not, whether there's a cost.
Unlimited mileage (kilométrage illimité): if you plan on driving relatively long distances, make sure your rental offers this option.
Tax: expect to pay VAT tax of 20% above and beyond the cost of your rental.
You may want some extra insurance, which can be as expensive as the cost of the rental itself. Check if you're already covered by a policy at home.
If paying for your rental on site (as opposed to online), make sure you check your currency conversions so that you don't get overcharged
2. Book early, especially if you want an automatic transmission
Most car rental transmissions are manual, although the number of automatic cars available for rental in France is increasing.
Automatics usually cost more to rent, and they are scarcer.
Also, be aware that if you have a licence that only allows you to drive an automatic car, you won't be able to rent a stick shift car.
3. Cover the essentials
Each French car rental agency will have its own conditions and add-ons, which you'll have to check. They also have different age policies, fuel policies or driver requirements.
But what they all share is the list of basic documents you'll need for your rental:
a valid ID, usually a passport
a credit card with your name on it (remember, many car rental agencies don't accept debit cards for deposits, although this is slowly changing)
a driver's licence of course – see below
proof of insurance (or you'll have to buy some)
Driving in France requirements are relatively straightforward and similar to those of other European countries.
If you're from Europe or the EEA, your national driver's licence is all you'll need.
Beyond that, however, the situation is a bit more nuanced. You CAN sometimes walk into an agency and rent a car with your national licence from the USA or Canada, for example, but it's not a given.
The law says you need an official French translation of your licence (time consuming, difficulties in finding an accredited translator, and expensive) or an international driver's permit (IDP), which you must get before you leave home. You may never be asked for it, but the law says you need it.
Americans driving in France (or any non-Europeans) might be able to rent a car without an IDP, but if you run into trouble, have an accident or are checked by police, they need to be able to read your licence, and many do not read English.
Do yourself a favor and get the right paperwork before you come.
4. Pre-buy some paper maps of France and guidebook
This may sound silly in this electronic day and age but you'll see the wisdom of it when the GPS takes you into a wheat field or down a street that has been pedestrianized for a couple of years.
GPS systems in cars are notoriously antiquated and rarely updated.
Also, there are often comprehension issues: street names will be mispronounced, and you'll be looking for a road number while the GPS gives you a name.
Avoid all this hassle and get a physical map or road atlas. I have the French edition of the Michelin Road Atlas and I also use this Michelin map (along with plenty of regional and local maps).
5. Check you're booking the right car type and equipment
You'll find most any car available for rental in France, from tiny budget cars to luxury vehicles. Whatever you choose, there are a number of things to consider when renting your car in France.
Most rental cars come with the necessary equipment but double-check, just to be sure:
each car must be equipped with one fluorescent yellow vest for each person in the car
a red emergency triangle to signal a breakdown
spare brake lights (I've never understood this one but... it's the law) in a box in the trunk
If you plan to drive in cities, your car should have a Crit'Air sticker or vignette. What's that, you say?
In their efforts to reduce pollution, many cities have established a pollution grading system for cars. On particularly polluted days, the city may ban cars that don't meet Crit'Air 1 or 2 from their downtown core. Usually, the ban is up on a bulletin board for all to see, at the entrance of the low-emission zone. Usually, but not always.
If you don't have a Crit'Air sticker on your car at all, or if the number is higher than 2, stay away from city centers, because in some, the ban is year-round.
That said, most rental companies renew their stock regularly so they'll have newer models, all of which meet the pollution criteria – and which should carry a sticker. Ask, because better safe than sorry.
If you're driving in winter, some regions of France require you by law to have either snow tires or chains. Make sure your car is equipped if you're planning to drive in any of these departments between 1 November and 31 March. This also applies if you are simply driving through.
Before you drive off with your car from the rental agency, make sure you...
know the car rental agency or insurance emergency number to call if you encounter a problem
check the condition of your car, take photos or video of any damage or scratches
check that everything works, from the GPS to the windshield wipers to the air conditioner (especially if you're headed to hot climates)
find out what kind of fuel it uses and how the gas tank opens (you don't want to fumble to open the catch with everyone honking behind you)
make sure you know where everything is, from hazard lights to wipers and defogger – this way you'll be prepared when you need them the most
set your GPS to your first destination (and find it on your paper map, just in case)
locate the nearest gas station to your drop-off point so you can fill up on your way back to return the car
make sure you know where to hand in the keys and whether the gas tank has to be full
have cash on you, in case your card isn't useable, for gas and tolls
6. Choose the right kind of car for France
A larger car may be more comfortable on the motorway but if you plan to visit France's most beautiful villages, many have tiny streets and scraping the wall with your mirror (or worse) isn't unheard of.
I almost didn't make it through this little street in the village of Roussillon in northern Provence
Roads, too, can be narrow, with barely room for two-way traffic (you may even have to stop to let someone by).
Also, parking garages are often tiny, and maneuvering in and out can be a nightmare (I speak from experience).
7. Choose the right kind of car rental insurance France
Insuring a car in France is not optional.
You definitely need insurance, because a shattered windscreen or minor dent can add up. Worse, you can hurt someone and be liable for their medical costs.
Discovercars provides the option to buy full insurance coverage but that said, you may not need the full package, so read the fine print.
Credit cards often provide car insurance coverage if you use their card for your rental, so check that first. If your card does provide insurance, make sure it includes some sort of roadside assistance.
You can also buy insurance directly from an insurance company in many parts of the world. Just beware the deductible, which can be high. In fact, you may already have some coverage through your homeowner's policy or your car insurance back home – or through an automobile association, if you belong to one.
Just know that in France, you MUST be insured to rent and drive a car: it's the law. But where you get your insurance is up to you.
8. Decide where to rent and return your car
Where you actually pick up your rental can make a difference.
A rule of thumb is this: in large cities, rent outside town or in a suburb, and in small towns, rent anywhere. This is because of heavy traffic in cities, where signposting is often poor and drivers impatient with slow-moving foreigners.
Probably the easiest is to rent from an airport car agency, if you're flying in − no need to battle downtown traffic (although, word of warning, airport rentals are sometimes more expensive).
Next in line is a TGV train station, which is often outside town.
If neither of these is possible, then try to rent at a train station in town. Streets around a station are traditionally well-signposted, and this should make your life marginally easier.
If the city has more than one station, pick the one closest to the direction you'll be driving.
Under no circumstance should you rent a car in Paris unless you're familiar with driving in the city. I've been driving in France for decades (including in such driving black zones as Lyon or Nice) and you couldn't pay me enough to drive through central Paris. Not a good idea.
And a few final tips about choosing your car rental agency:
Before you decide, make sure the agency is open at the time you plan to pick up your car, over lunch, for example, or on weekends.
Check car rental in France reviews. These days, no one is shy about signalling a rude receptionist or a dirty car, so find out what people are saying.
Look it up on Google Earth, to get a sense of the traffic and the neighbourhood. This will be helpful as you drive away.
You can rent a car in one city and return it in another, but there will be a cost, and probably not an insignificant one.
9. Some basic French driving rules are key
I have an entire post about driving a rental car in France (or any car, for that matter) and I encourage you to read it to get the fullest picture. Meantime, here are a few essential rules you need to know before you get on our French roads.
The one rule that might confuse you more than others is the "priority on the right": anyone coming from the right has priority – even if they're coming into your road from a small street. The only exception is when your road is clearly marked as a priority road.
Our speed limits are strict: 130kph on the autoroute, 80kph on normal roads, 50kph in town (and sometimes 30kph). For information, 10 kilometers per hour (kph) is 6 miles per hour.
France does love its radars. In recent years, they've been going up like crazy! The only good news is that fixed radars are signalled, so you know they're up ahead. Mobile radars on police cars, on the other hand, are not.
Oh, and don't even think of using a radar detector or GPS warning system. If caught, you might be fined up to 3000 Euros and even risk confiscation of your vehicle. Not a pleasant thought.
If you get a fine, pay it as soon as you can. Don't ignore it! It will be sent to your car rental company, which will simply deduct the amount from the credit card it has on file for you. You may not even know you've been fined until after you've returned home.
Be aware that chatting on your cellphone (or worse, texting) is illegal and also accompanied by a hefty fine.
Welcome to the world of roundabouts. A few years ago there were hardly any. Now, they're everywhere but since they're relatively new, most people on the road don't really know how to use them, so stay alert. There's usually a sign that tells you who has priority – it's usually the person already IN the roundabout. But not always.
These may be obvious, but seat belts are compulsory for everyone, just as drinking and driving is forbidden. The limit is low in France: one drink and you've reached it. The fines are hefty and the risks high, so wait till dinnertime when you can walk back to you accommodations.
PRO TIP ➽ While you should always follow the speed limit signs on any road, be extra careful when you see THIS sign.
It means there's a speed radar nearby, and there's every chance it's active.
10. Road signs and tolls may be a challenge
While driving in France is not radically different from other countries, there are unfamiliar signs and (sometimes illogical) rules, and roads can be narrow and winding. It will help if you familiarize yourself with them.
Road signs in France may be different, but they're usually understandable: red means don't, blue means do, and yellow means be careful
How to use French toll roads
Most motorways are privatized, and each company sets its own price, which also can fluctuate from year to year.
There is an umbrella organization that groups all the highway companies but their website hasn't been updated since 2021. Your best bet is the Via Michelin route planner, which is updated frequently and can help calculate distance and costs for your entire journey.
The word for toll in French? PÉAGE.
To enter the motorway and get your ticket from the machine, press the big fat button that says "Ticket". Put the ticket away somewhere safe, behind your sun visor, for example.
To leave the motorway, drive up to the machine, look for the blinking light and place your ticket in that slot (in the direction of the arrow, if there is one). It will calculate what you owe, and another light will blink, where you're supposed to deposit your cash or insert your credit card. And finally, you'll be asked if you want a receipt.
Many of these machines have English instructions, but they may be hard to decipher for a first-timer (or if the light is shining in your eyes) and it's best to know what to expect before you have to grapple with unfamiliar buttons. If you want your instructions in English, look for the button next to a Union Jack flag.
Make sure you have cash. While French machines are usually excellent, do make sure you have a few NEW crisp bills, because they have been known to reject old crumpled ones.
How to pay for a toll road
Some toll booths are enormous. Don't be intimidated. If you're joining the motorway here, any machine will do. If you're leaving it, then follow the signs below.
A green downward arrow is what you're looking for. This means all payments are accepted – cash, card or pass (you won't have a pass since you don't live here).
An orange "t" sign means you need a pass to enter. Not for you.
Two superimposed white credit cards mean you can pay with a smart card. Unless you have a French or an EU credit card with a smart chip, avoid these. The toll system doesn't take all cards, and if it doesn't like yours, it might swallow it and you may not get it back for weeks.
A red cross means do not enter.
A speed limit sign with an orange "t" is for pass-holders only, and means they can slow down and go through without stopping.
A variety of autoroute toll signs, from left: for orange T-pass only, slow down; very faint credit card sign: pay with card only; green arrow means all methods of payment; red cross: do not enter; green arrow with orange-T means everyone can go through and pay with any method; and again, slow down with orange T-pass. Photo by BlueBreezeWiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
11. Know what to do in an emergency
I mentioned earlier that one of the first things you should do is identify the emergency numbers to call for both your car rental and your insurance.
In an emergency, if it's a serious threat, call the police first. The number (it's the same across Europe) is 112. As soon as you can when things begin to clear, call the insurance and your car rental agency.
It would be good to have a translation app on your phone, one you can use to relay a message in French if needed.
12. Make sure you actually NEED to rent a car in France
I hate to bring it up, but ask yourself whether you really need to rent a car. There are strong arguments for and against, and I'll lay them out here for you.
Renting a car in the city
If you're visiting mostly cities, then no, you don't need a rental car in France. In fact it would be more of a hindrance than a help.
Public transportation is plentiful and parking in French cities is difficult: ceilings are low, parking spots can be tiny, prices are sky-high.
France's large cities - like Lyon - are best seen without a car
Renting a car to visit the countryside
If you plan on visiting the countryside and don't have your own car, then yes, renting a car in France makes perfect sense.
Some regions simply require a car, places like the Alps, its villages filled with narrow streets and linked by winding mountain roads, or wild places, like the Ardèche, with its rushing rivers and not a train station in sight.
Should I rent a car in France? When you need a car in France (and when you don't)
For Paris: No. Never. Not. Renting a car in Paris is a bad idea. If you need convincing, this YouTube video might do the trick.
For Burgundy: For city hops to Dijon or Beaune, no car is needed. But if you plan on driving the Route des Grands Crus and sample Burgundy wines along the way, then most certainly, yes. Or, you could rent a bike for part of the route.
For the French Riviera: Not in summer, when roads are bloated with traffic and driving is crazy. Along the coast, just use the train. Off-season, yes, a car is wonderful, for example if you want to follow trails like the Mimosa Route.
For Provence: Provence is one of those iconic regions whose tiniest corners beg to be visited, but which cannot be seen without a car. So yes, you do need a car in the south of France. Public transportation is scarce, especially to places like the hilltop villages of the Luberon. If you're headed to Provence, here's my ten-day south of France itinerary to help you plan a fabulous trip!
Some of France's most beautiful villages require a car to visit
For the Basque region: No need for a car if you're sticking to towns like Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The gorgeous interior, however, does require a car, especially for if you want to take a Basque country road trip.
For the Loire Valley chateaux: A few of the chateaux can easily be reached on a day trip tour from Paris, or by train if you're headed to Blois or Amboise. But for a longer visit or to see some of the more remote chateaux, a car is needed.
Public transport is not that great outside main cities so if you plan to branch out and explore, you'll need a car.
You'll be able to see things that are less crowded and a little more off-the-beaten track, because most visitors to France do not come by car.
Roads are excellent and well signposted, and driving isn't too different from what you're used to once you master the basics.
Having your own car will give you the freedom to come and go as you please, without being dependent on transport schedules or availability, not to mention avoiding France's frequent transport strikes.
You'll save many hours of waiting in stations and airports – just get into your car and go!
And if you DO decide to rent a car, make sure you get my cheat sheet – it lists the key French driving rules you need to know, and has tips to remind you of the essentials.
You'll go off the beaten path with a car rent in France, much more so than you would if you stayed on the main highways
Cons: Don't rent a car in France because...
The cost of rental and fuel have climbed significantly in recent years.
Cars are almost useless in large cities. Parking is expensive and often scarce, streets can be narrow, and traffic haphazard. Not only that, but many French cities now have pollution controls which ban certain types of car from the city center.
In high season, popular roads can get very crowded and parking near attractions scarce.
➽ I don't always drive my own car around France. When I rent, I use Discover Cars, which scours ALL car rental agencies for the best deals. If you're renting, this article tells you everything you need to know to find the cheapest rental cars in France. 🚗
Best tips for renting a car in France
I think I've covered most things you need to know about renting a car in France BUT... here are even more driving in France tips you'll be happy to know.
On the road
When you're filling up with gas, try to do it far from the motorway, where prices are significantly higher.
Be mindful when paying. Some gas pumps may not take a foreign credit card, or will only take one with a smart chip.
Keep your rental car as clean as possible. While "normal" wear is expected during your rental, you may be charged for cleaning if you hand it back truly messy.
Check the fuel return policy. It is usually cheaper for you to fill up the car with fuel yourself at the end of your trip than to let the rental agency do it.
And finally, tolls and gas. The cost of French toll roads can be extremely high, and on some stretches toll charges are higher than gas. Consider taking side roads for those bits: the Via Michelin website will calculate mileage and costs for you based on which roads you choose. Not to mention that much of France's beauty lies away from the major roads...
Driving at night tips
If you plan to drive at night, try to fill up your gas tank early in the evening to make sure gas stations are fully open.
Be aware that some service stations close or reduce their services at night. This means you'll either have to pay in advance for your gas or use your card in the automatic machine.
Some stations don't have human attendants at night so if your card doesn't work, well...
Some gas stations are closed at night, perhaps they've run out of fuel or for some other reason, but that may mean there's a significant distance between pumps, so don't let your gauge drop below half-full.
Try to stay off the roads on Friday and Saturday nights. Drinking and driving is sadly still common in France and I don't feel very safe on the road once everyone is heading home from a bar or disco on the weekend.
French car rental vocabulary
How do you say car in French? Or automatic transmission?
Here are a few words and terms that might be of use when you rent a car in France.
Renting a car in France as an American usually requires an IDP, or International Driving Permit, available from your AAA. However, a number of agencies will accept an official translation of your licence, and at times will also accept just your licence. (Renting a car in France as a Canadian follows the same process.)
To find out documentation for a hire car in France, go to Discovercars, Search for the car that interests you, and check the "Rental Conditions" section to see what kind of paperwork you need.
Can you rent a car in France and drive to Italy/Switzerland/Germany/Spain?
Yes, but you need permission from your rental agency. You must let rental companies know you plan to cross a border, and there may be an additional border crossing fee to pay.
There might also be rental car rules in the other country, or driving rules. For example, in Switzerland you need to have an autoroute sticker on your car. Otherwise, you have to stay on secondary roads. You can buy the sticker at the post office or any border stop.
Can you rent a car in France at 18? How old do you have to be to rent a car in France? What's the minimum age to rent a car in France?
The driving age is 18 but the car rental age in France is usually 25, although some agencies may let you rent a car at 21.
Can a tourist rent a car in France?
Absolutely, as long as you fulfil the requirements and have the right documents.
How much is a France rental car? Is it expensive to rent a car in France?
Renting a car in France is moderate to expensive when compared to other countries. For example, Paris is more expensive than Madrid or London but less expensive than Rome and much less expensive than New York City or Chicago. You can comparison shop and find reasonable rates here.
Which is the cheapest car rental option in France?
What are the rules for renting a car in France? What documents do I need to rent a car in France?
You need to have a valid driver's licence, be over 25, have a credit card and have insurance.
Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car in France?
Officially, you do, and having one will ensure you a hassle-free rental. However, many agencies will accept an official translation of your driver's licence, and some will also accept a licence. Check the "Rental Conditions" section of rental cars to be sure. A follow-up email or call would be useful to get a confirmation.
Does car rental in France include insurance? Do you need extra insurance to drive in France?
Car rentals in France do not include insurance, but insurance is compulsory. You can buy it directly when you rent, or you can use the insurance that comes with your credit card or home insurance policy.
Can you rent a car in France without a credit card?
Not often − but it's changing. Some of the major car rental companies are slowly beginning to accept debit cards, but check first, because it's still more the exception that the rule.
How safe is it to rent a car in France?
Perfectly safe. Rip-offs are few, and I've found agencies to be honest across the country (there may be a few rotten apples, but that's the case everywhere).
The only challenge in renting a French car is the actual driving. In most parts of the country, driving is quite straightforward, and will probably feel quite familiar. But there are exceptions, such as strange rules and odd behaviour, and my piece on driving in France paints an honest picture of my country's habits behind the wheel.
Enjoy your drive through France, a country whose beauty lies mostly away from its main roads. Here are some sensational French road trips to prove it!
Don't let renting a car in France scare you! It's no more complicated than renting a car anywhere else. And now that you're thinking of going for it, consider taking one of these 9 fabulous French road trips!
Here are some essential resources for your France trip!
TRAVEL INSURANCE Don't leave home without it – your car rental insurance covers certain things but may not cover your health or accident needs, which you can book here.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS I use booking.com, because they include both hotels and holiday rentals like Airbnb or VRBO, so a wider choice and an easy cancellation policy.
DO YOU NEED A SIM CARD FOR FRANCE? If you haven't signed up for a roaming service back home and have an unlocked phone, consider getting an e-SIM for France. Here's the one I use when I travel.
IF YOU'D LIKE TO READ UP ABOUT FRANCE Drop by my long list of books about France, written by French or foreign Francophile authors.
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Bonjour - je m'appelle Leyla! But don't be fooled by my name...
My Turkish father may have won the naming battle but my mother, with 10 centuries of Frenchness behind her, won the education war.
Born in Paris and brought up in Spain and Canada, I now live in the bucolic Alpine foothills of Eastern France, close to the Swiss border.
Offbeat France goes beyond the baguette – together, we'll explore curiosities, oddities and mysteries, with a healthy dose of legends and backstories. (Along with plenty of food stops and many castles – I am French, after all.)