If you’re visiting France and plan to do some road-tripping, then there are some things you should learn before you jump in the car and put the pedal to the metal.
Of course, it’s always possible to get around France by bus, train, or even plane, but sometimes renting a car and getting out on the road is easier and faster, and the drive itself can be a lot of fun.
However, there is always a learning curve when you’re driving in a new place, so keep reading to learn some helpful tips for driving in France.
Here is what you’ll need to know before setting out on your journey in France. It’s best to learn ahead of time than to be surprised while you’re already out on the road.
9 Driving Tips for France
Tip #1 Using the right Driver’s License
First of all, one benefit of driving in France is that it does not require an IDP (International Driver’s Permit).
You can get your IDP for pretty cheap, but all you need is your American Driver’s license to drive in France.
If you will be driving in other countries as well, be sure to make sure the IDP isn’t required as it is in some countries. So go ahead and rent a car only using your US Driver’s License.
Tip #2 Know how to drive a manual car
Another thing to remember is that manual cars are much more common in Europe than in the United States.
If you’re not comfortable with manual, there are automatic cars, but they will likely cost more money because they’re harder to come by.
So you might want to brush up on your manual driving, especially if you are looking to save some money.
Sometimes automatic cars can cost up to double the price of manual, OUCH! You will want to make sure that someone in your party knows how to drive a manual can.
Tip #3 Driving on the right side of the road
The French drive on the right side of the road, just like the United States, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out how to drive the opposite way.
This is a huge plus side to driving in France. Opposed to driving in England.
Actually, a fun fact America actually developed its road system after the French. Driving on the right hand side goes all the way back to Napoleon and the fact that he was left-handed.
Tip #4 Learn some French Words
Learn some French words related to driving. For example, you should learn the following words:
To yield = céder
Gas = essence
To stop = arrêter
Also, don’t forget signs will be in kilometers and not miles.
If you see a speed limit of 50 km, this is equivalent to about 30 miles per hour.
Another phrase you’ll want to learn is “priorité à droite,” which means yield to those on the right.
This means if you’re driving down the road and there is a car perpendicular to you waiting to get on the road, you must stop and let them cut in front of you.
In the US, this car would wait for an opening, but in France, you allow them to cut in. This is a major driving difference between France and the US.
Driving in a foreign country can be daunting, especially if you’re from the United States and French is not your first language.
Luckily for you, you will see a lot of English signage under the French signs but don’t always count on this.
That’s why it’s good to learn a few words ahead of time or have your translator ready in a pinch.
Tip #5 Know the difference in roads
There are various roads you can take to get to any destination. It’s important to pay attention to the color of the signage on the road and the letter on the map that corresponds with the road.
The color of the sign indicates the type of road that will take you where you’re going.
For instance, you may see several signs for Nice, France, and in different colors.
This means that there are several routes you can take to get to Nice. The white sign corresponds to the “D” roads which stand for Départementales, which are small roads.
This is likely not the fastest route to your destination, but it often has the most picturesque views. If you see Nice written on a Green sign, these are the roads that start with an “N,” which stands for Nationales.
This is another more picturesque but slower route, like D roads.
The blue signs are indicative of the French highways. They can start with either an “A” or an “E” on the map. The highways are the fastest and most direct route, but you often won’t have nice views to enjoy, and it will be an expensive option.
So when you’re driving to Nice, you may see three different color signs directing you towards Nice, and you may see A, E, N, or D on the map.
It’s best to plan your trip ahead of time, so you know which roads you want to take. Then you won’t need to stress out about your options.
If you want a fast but less scenic and more expensive route, or you want to take a long way and enjoy the ride, the choice is yours.
Tip # 6 Know your tolls
The toll roads aka the A roads with the blue signs can cost a lot of money.
A roads are almost always toll roads. The way they work is that when you get on the highway, you’ll stop at a booth and grab a ticket, and once you get off the highway, you will pay your fare.
You can pay with a credit card if it has a chip, but it’s always a good idea to bring cash just in case.
The toll roads are much faster and more direct, so if you’re on a time crunch, it’s a great option to get you to your destination, but it will cost you more money.
Tolls cost around 30 euros for about a 2-hour trip, depending on where you are in the country and where you’re headed.
The highways will have gas stations and places to stop for a bite to eat, but stopping at one of these places will be more expensive than finding a gas station or food that isn’t right on the highway.
It’s best to bring food with you or plan to eat when you get to your destination if you want to save some money.
Another thing to learn ahead of time about A roads is the process of paying at the toll booth. First, make sure you don’t get in one of the lanes marked with a “T.”
This is designed for drivers with the Télépéage pass who scan their pass and pay for their tolls monthly.
If you get in this lane, you won’t have any way of paying for your toll. So instead, make sure you pick a lane with a green arrow and a credit card sign, and/or a coin sign.
If you see a lane with a T and a credit card sign or a coin sign, you can use this lane, you just want to ensure you’re not in a “T” only lane.
It’s best to pay the tolls in cash because the toll booths can be finicky. Here are words you’ll need to know when paying for the toll:
After putting in your ticket, you’ll see the “Prix” = Price
To put coins in the machine to pay the toll, click on “pièces” = coins. If any coins are rejected, check the “monnaie” area which is the change area, and try reinserting the coin or trying a different one.
If you’re using bills, you can insert them in the “billet” section. If they’re rejected, try them again, it often works the second time.
You can use your credit card as long as it has a chip, but you should always have cash in case your card isn’t accepted.
Lastly, if you want a receipt, you must click “reçu.”
N and D roads are your best bet if you have the time. They aren’t as direct and will take longer to get to your destination. They are more enjoyable with much more interesting scenery than you would on the A roads, which are more like your typical highways.
N and D roads are still maintained very well and allow you to drive at high speeds, so they’re the best option if you aren’t in a rush.
If you have the option to take a back road, you absolutely should. You’ll have the opportunity to drive through small towns and villages, and you’ll get to enjoy the picturesque countryside, it doesn’t get much better.
Who knows, you might even fall in love with a place along the way.
Tip #7 Beware of the size of the roads
Another thing to keep in mind is that the roads are much more narrow in France. If you and a car going the other direction are passing each other, they might get close enough to touch.
You’ll quickly get used to this, but it’s scary at first. Just take it slow while passing. You might even need to drive up on the sidewalk if the roads are tight with two cars.
The plus side is that European cars are smaller than American cars, but it can still be a tight squeeze at times.
The French will also park in tight spots you wouldn’t think they could have fit in. A little bumper touch to the car in front or behind is pretty normal, too, whereas, in the US, people would be fuming if someone hit their car ever so slightly.
Tip #8 Know the speedlimit
In regards to the speed limit, normally, you’ll find that it’s 50 km/hour in the city, which equates to about 31 miles/hr.
You won’t necessarily see many signs that say “50,” but once you pass a city sign, you know that the speed limit is automatically 50.
Outside of the city, on roads without a median line, the speed limit is typically 80 km which is 50 miles/hr.
If there is a median line, the speed limit is 90 km or 55 miles/hr. The highway’s speed limit is 130 km (80 miles/hr).
You might be surprised to hear this, but the French tend to drive faster than Americans. Also, watch out for speed cameras that check your speed. You’ll still get the bill even if you’re driving a rental car.
Tip # 9 Don’t drive in the passing lane
Do not get in the lefthand side lane unless you are passing a car. Do not drive in this lane, you will get run off the road by a much fast car.
Americans are used to driving in the fast lane, but in France, this lane should only be used to pass other cars.
As you can see, driving in France is manageable. In fact, it’s not that different from driving in the United States.
Brush up on your tips for driving in France, be alert, use common sense, and plan your route before you leave.
As long as you do these simple steps and brush up on your French driving knowledge ahead of time, you’ll be on your way to a safe and fun ride throughout France.
If you want to see as much of France as possible, it’s worth renting a car, taking the N or D roads, and exploring all there is to see in this remarkable country.