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Updated 30 January 2023 by Leyla Alyanak
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This article tells you everything you need to know about renting a car in France: if you should, what to look for, where to rent from, how much France car rentals cost, how tolls and highways work, and safety issues to look out for, as well as plenty of tips on how to do this right the first time.
Do you actually need to rent a car in France?
Pros and cons of renting a car
How safe is it to rent a car in France?
How to rent a car in France: the mechanics
Where should you rent your car?
How French tolls and motorways work
Best tips for car rentals in France
Picture those winding roads and hilltop villages, those 1950s films with crimson convertibles racing along the corniche on the French Riviera or climbing narrow mountain roads inching towards abandoned fortresses.
Can't you just see yourself on a French road trip? Slipping behind the wheel of your France car rental and heading for a hilltop village or lavender field?
🚗 NO TIME TO READ EVERYTHING?
🏷️ JUST WANT THE BEST PRICES FOR FRANCE CARS?
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 prices with Discovercars, because they compare all major companies, check availability, and come up with the best bargains.
Before you sign up for that snazzy little hire car, there are a few things you should know about a car rental in France: should you even be renting?
The answer is: it depends.
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, spaces are tiny, prices are sky-high.
The excellent train network (here's what you need to know about train travel in France) will reach most cities and towns.
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 driving, places like the Alps, its villages linked by narrow mountain roads, or wild places, like the Ardèche, with its rushing rivers and not a train station in sight.
Here's a list of regions to help you decide where to go.
If you're visiting cities and the countryside, you can do both: use public transport in the city, and a car to visit the countryside. France does have a magnificent road network, after all.
First, know that France is a lot more than the sum of its cities, and much as these are stunning, there are many underrated and lesser known parts of France you should explore.
Here are some examples of when you might need a car － and when you should avoid renting at all costs.
No. Never. Not. Renting a car in Paris is a bad idea. If you need convincing, this YouTube video might do the trick.
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.
Not in summer, when roads are bloated with traffic and driving is crazy.
The one exception might be to drive into the interior for a day of village-hopping, in which case you could rent a car on the edge of town, head off into the mountains, and return it, painlessly.
Along the coast, just use the train.
Provence is one of those iconic regions whose tiniest corners beg to be visited, but which cannot be seen without a car. Public transportation is non-existent in some parts, with few trains and buses running only on market days.
Like the hilltop villages of the Luberon: the best way to reach these is by car, along the romantic roads bordered by lavender fields.
If you're headed for Provence, this totally free ten-day south of France itinerary will help you plan a fabulous trip!
If you're sticking to the towns − Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz − then no, you don't need a car hire. Public transport is frequent and excellent. But you'd miss the interior, which is beautiful and unusual, and for this you'll need a car, as I did on this intriguing Basque country road trip.
It depends. A few of the chateaux can easily be reached on a day trip from Paris. But if you want to see several scattered chateaux, you'll need a car.
On my latest visit to the Loire Valley, fewer than half of the 10 castles I visited could be reached by train, so a car was essential for those. Without a car, I would have had to drastically cut my number of chateau visits.
Yes, you'll need a car. You can catch the train to one of the main cities, but Brittany is so much more than pretty villages.
THE BEST GUIDEBOOKS TO ROAD TRIP WITH YOUR FRANCE RENTAL CAR
Getting some of this knowledge ahead of time will help! If you wait till you get here, you might find most available guidebooks are in French.
➽ Lonely Planet's Best Road Trips France
➽ DK Witness Road Trips France
➽ Any of the Green Guides series - they all have excellent regional itineraries, which I use
If you're still undecided about whether you need to rent a car for part or all of your trip to France, here are some more points to think about.
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.
Like everywhere, 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. Scan the page for car rental deals which are often available.
Prices are higher than they used to be, unfortunately, with inflation and the scarcity that developed during Covid. Cheap rental cars in France are becoming scarcer.
If you'd like to keep costs down, keep these points in mind.
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 IN FRANCE
This next tip isn't about saving, but it is about money... Be mindful when paying. Some gas pumps may not take a foreign credit card, or will only take one with a smart chip.
Car rental companies will often 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 a car in France.
➽ 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. 🚗
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.
You'll need pretty much the same documents as you would in most countries:
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 one, but if you run into trouble, have an accident or be 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.
➽ Get your IDP licence!
Your licence must be valid for at least one year from the rental date, and in many cases, you must have had a licence for at least a year before renting.
There is usually a minimum age, most agencies won't rent you a car if you're under 25 years old (some do from 21-25 but not everywhere, so check).
If you're over a certain age (usually 65 or 69 but this too can vary), you may be charged extra, or some agencies might not rent to you at all.
Your car rental comparison engine lists the age requirements for each car under "Rental Conditions".
It's always a tough decision: insurance or no insurance?
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 provide the option to buy full insurance coverage but that said, you may not need the full package.
Credit cards often provide car insurance coverage if you use their card for your rental, so that would be the first place to check. 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.
You CAN hire a car long term in France, but leasing a French car isn't exactly straightforward.
Your rental agency can already tell you whether they handle long-term leasing, but if they do not, then you can approach the car manufacturers directly.
You'll find most cars available for rental in France, from tiny budget cars to luxury vehicles. Here are some of the things you should consider:
Most rental cars come with the necessary equipment but double-check, just to be sure:
Additionally, if you plan to go into 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 the 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. However, better safe than sorry.
If you're driving in winter, some parts of France require you by law to have either snow tires or chains. Make sure your car is equipped if you're in any of these departments between 1 November and 31 March. This also applies if you are simply driving through.
DEPARTMENTS REQUIRING SNOW TIRES
Ain (01), Allier (03), Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), Hautes-Alpes (05), Alpes-Maritimes (06), Ardèche (07), Ariège (09), Aude (11), Aveyron (12), Cantal (15), Corrèze (19), Corse-du-Sud (2A), Haute-Corse (2B), Côte-d’Or (21), Creuse (23), Doubs (25), Drôme (26), Gard (30), Haute-Garonne (31), Hérault (34), Isère (38), Jura (39), Loire (42), Haute-Loire (43), Lot (46), Lozère (48), Meurthe-et-Moselle (54), Moselle (57), Nièvre (58), Puy-de- Dôme (63), Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), Pyrénées-Orientales (66), Bas-Rhin (67), Haut-Rhin (68), Rhône (69), Haute-Saône (70), Saône-et-Loire (71), Savoie (73), Haute-Savoie (74), Tarn (81), Tarn-et-Garonne (82), Var (83), Vaucluse (84), Haute-Vienne (87), Vosges (88), Yonne (89), Territoire de Belfort (90).
Before you drive off with your car from the rental agency, make sure you...
Where you actually pick up your rental can make a difference.
How much are French toll roads? It should be an easy question to answer but it is not.
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 your entire journey.
Usually, you'll get a ticket and use it to pay when you're getting off (this is the most common). However, some motorways now charge a flat fee for some stretches. You'll know once you're on it.
The word for toll in French? PÉAGE.
When you reach a toll station, you might be intimidated by all the signs. (Hint: you're looking for a green downward arrow.)
A lane or two – often at the extreme left – will have a speed limit sign that says 30: this is NOT for you but for those who get a little electronic widget because they pay by the month.
This orange "t" sign is for monthly subscribers. Do NOT enter here.
A white smudge that is supposed to look like two superimposed credit cards will also be visible above a few rows. 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.
THIS IS IT. The arrow means this machine will take either cash or credit cards, so pull out your Euro bills or coins and you'll sail right through. Otherwise, depending on how you plan to pay, head for the credit card signs or for a sign that shows coins being plopped into a machine.
Make sure you do have cash. If you're wondering about the cost of a journey and how much cash you'll need, the Via Michelin or French autoroutes sites will cost out the tolls for you.
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.
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.
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.
I think I've covered most things you need to know about renting a car in France BUT... here are some driving in France tips you'll be happy to know.
More driving tips for France: if you can avoid night driving, so much the better.
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.
Can you rent a car in France with a US licence?
Americans driving in France should have an IDP, or International Driving Permit, available from your AAA.
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? At what age can you rent a car in France?
The driving age in France is 18 but not the age for renting a car. Usually, the rental car age limit is 25, although some agencies may let you rent a car at 21.
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.
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.
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 it scare you! It's no more complicated than renting a car anywhere else.
I've tried to cover all the related topics here but frankly, all you need to do is confirm your dates, comparison shop for the best price, rent your car, make sure you have the right papers (which you would for travel anyway!) and get ready to experience one of the most stunning countries in the world!
Travel in France by car is the best way to go off the beaten path and truly experience what the country has to offer.
Don't leave home without it – your car rental insurance covers certain things but may not cover your health or accident needs. Book your insurance 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.
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.
AND DON'T FORGET YOUR GUIDEBOOKS!
➽ Lonely Planet's Best Road Trips France
➽ DK Witness Road Trips France
➽ Any of the Green Guides series
➽ And, while you're at it, why not a map of France?
A FEW WORDS ABOUT SAFETY
France is as safe as any European country but you WILL find pickpockets in Paris and other major cities. I keep them at bay by using a comfy anti-theft purse or a Sholdit infinity scarf to hide my cards and money.