Driving in France

Camping in France is a fantastic experience. Not only do they have a plentiful supply of incredible campsites (Camping Bel is our favourite!) but there is a wide choice of locations to choose from, depending on what kind of camping holiday you are after.

If the thought of travelling to France by car overwhelms you, read on for your essential driving in France requirements. As long as you are fully prepared then you can enjoy the journey as  a part of the adventure! Hopefully the only memorable parts of your holiday will be the sights and the people you meet - not the side of the motorway waiting for a pick up truck!


Preparation - Before You Go

I know it's obvious, but the first thing that you will need is full driving licence. This will need to be taken with you on your trip along with a number of other documents that I will list later.

What Will You Be Driving?

Hire Cars

Hire cars are an option, but if you are hiring a car from the UK then check with the hire company that you are allowed to take the car abroad before you take it as not all companies allow this.​

If you plan on travelling to France and getting a hire car when you arrive then be aware that the price that you see advertised online is normally just a basic price. Additional costs like insurance, breakdown cover, excess charges, child seats, Sat Navs or car deposits need to be allowed for.

Taking Your Own Car

France is a big country so driving across it will eat up the miles. If you are taking your own car, make sure you do all the usual pre checks before embarking on a long journey. Ideally, make sure it has been serviced recently. At the very least check the following;

  • Oil levels
  • Breaks
  • Lights
  • Tyres


Remember that when you hire a car the fee very rarely includes the insurance cost which will be added to your final hire charge so be prepared for that. They normally offer a basic rate where you are still liable for some of the costs or another rate that covers everything but this is normally quite a bit more expensive. Try and see if you can get an estimate of the costs when you book it.

If you plan to take your own car then make sure that your insurance covers you to be able to drive it in a foreign country. ​

Breakdown Cover

Do you have breakdown cover? Breaking down in England is stressful enough so imagine what it would be like on a French road, especially if your grasp on the French language is a little ropey! I would suggest that you look into at least basic European cover which you should be able to find on sites like here. In some cases it might even be worthwhile getting an annual cover policy if you plan more than one trip in the year.

Maps & GPS Devices

We will be doing a full review of our favourite maps, apps and GPS devices soon, but until then, consider these options:

TomTom Start 25 Sat Nav with Western Europe Maps and Lifetime Map Updates - 5 inch

Garmin Nuvi 55LM 5-inch Satelite Navigation with UK, Ireland and Western Europe Maps and Free Lifetime Map Updates

What You Need In The Car

  •  Full Driving Licence - must be taken with you
  • Passport or other accepted form of ID.
  • You might be asked to produce your car's registration document (VC5)
  • Car Insurance paperwork can also be requested.
  • Reflective hi-visibility jackets/vests for car occupants.
  • Headlight beam adjusters - these need to be fitted before you drive on the road, even if it is in the daylight. If the police stop you without them, you can be fined.
  • A warning triangle.
  • Breathalysers.
  • Spare bulbs for your car.
  • If your license plate doesn't display it then you will also need a GB sticker for your car.

Most of the items above can be purchased as driving packs on ferries across the channel, or on the internet before you go.


Where do you want to go?

Having a rough plan of the journey before you go will help to reduce any stress on the road later. You can use online products like Google Maps to plan your journey and work out roughly how long it will take to get from A to B. These can then be printed off in advance so that you have a rough idea of where you are going and how long it will take. A Sat Nav with updated French maps would be a real help on the road to help to navigate accurately, otherwise try and get an updated road atlas.

A word of caution when using a  Sat Nav. It is now illegal to have a device that shows/warns you about speed cameras in France. If you have that feature on it you will need to disable it otherwise you could be liable for a fine from the police.

Pricing Up Your Journey

I would always recommend doing this before you go and allow a contingency on top of that.

Consider the following costs;

  • Insurance & breakdown cover
  • Petrol costs - you can estimate this by using this site.
  • Toll roads are used a lot on the continent. You need to factor that into the costs of any journey as though it is possible to get around without using them it often takes longer. Use this site to give yourself an approximation of the toll costs.  ​

Arriving in France

The main points of entry to France in a car from the UK are via train or ferry.

  • Caen
  • Calais
  • Cherbourg
  • Dieppe
  • Dunkirk
  • Le Havre
  • Roscoff
  • St Malo
  • Bilbao (Spain, but close enough to drive over to France)
  • Santander (Spain, but close enough to drive over to France)

Some things to bear in mind on ferry/trains. If you are pulling a trailer and/or have a roof box, then remember to include these when booking a space. Your car may have to use larger/taller spaces that might be restricted in number.

Aim to get to your ferry/train terminal in plenty of time as unexpected traffic jams could in the worse cases lead to you watching your train or ferry leaving without you!

After you have cleared customs and are waiting to board the ferry or train it is probably the best time to ensure that your headlight beam deflectors have been fitted. If possible set your Sat Nav up with European/French maps. On ferries cars tend to be locked away on the car decks and cannot be returned to until they dock at their destination. So make sure that you have any essentials with you when you leave the car. Make sure that you return to your car as soon as possible when you dock as everyone's cars are tightly packed so they need the cars in front to leave before the ones behind can follow.

On the Eurotunnel you tend to stay with your car. It is possible to walk around on the short trip but once again make sure that you are ready to depart when the train stops.

In both cases when you leave the ferry port or train terminal you are usually lead straight out onto the main A roads and motorways, so make sure that you are prepared with your maps/Sat Nav before so that the journey doesn't start off in the wrong direction!

Rules of the Roads

What type of vehicle are you planning to drive in France? If it is a hire car or mobile home then extra care will have to be taken as not only will you be concentrating getting used to the new vehicle, but you will also be constantly reminding yourself that they drive on the right in Europe. 

Some basic rules of driving in France;

  • Drive on the right.
  • At roundabouts they go around them anticlockwise, which is the opposite to the UK.
  • When overtaking in Europe you overtake on the left hand side.
  • You are not allowed to drive with headphones or headsets on which means that Bluetooth headsets could get you in trouble.
  • Seatbelts are compulsory for all occupants of the car and it is considered to be the driver's responsibility to ensure that it is complied with.
  • Eating or applying make-up can also get you in trouble with the law, so be aware.
  • You are not allowed to tow a motor vehicle unless it has broken down. It is illegal to tow on a motorway, where it should be recovered by a designated recovery vehicle.
  • Be aware of the following speed restrictions in France;

Speed Limits in France    

  • In towns and built up areas - 50kph regardless of weather conditions
  • On other roads the speed limit is normally 90kph, or in rain it is reduced to 80kph and in poor visibility conditions it is further reduced to 50kph.
  • On dual carriageways and urban motorways the limits are 110kph, in rain 100kph and in poor visibility, 50kph.
  • On motorways the limits are 130kph, in rain it is reduced to 110kph and in poor visibility 50kph.

Source: RAC

Remember in Europe, speed and distances are given in metric. The speed signs are in kilometres/hour (kph) and distances are in kilometres (km). Most UK cars now display both mph and kph on their speedometers. If you has a digital readout, then there is normally a way to switch it over, just search for it on Google.

As a very basic conversion, if you take 2/3 of the kilometres/hr, then it will give you the approximate mph speed. For example 60Kph x 2/3 = 40mph, (correct conversion = 37.28mph).

It is not exact, but it is in the right ball park. I would however advise to get your speedometer adjusted rather that relying on this. 

Towing a Caravan or Trailer

Additional care should be taken if you are towing a caravan/trailer. If the total weight of your car and caravan are over ​3.5 tonnes, you are restricted to a maximum speed of 90kph on the roads where cars can go 130mph, and 90kph on roads where cars can go 110kph, if you are pulling a large caravan. Keep an eye out for road signs which will tell you about any other restrictions for the road that you are using.

French Motorway Toll Roads

I've already covered the financial side of using toll roads in the previous sections. What you must remember when you are approaching a payment point is to:

  1. Have the money readily available.
  2. Remember that if you are in your car from the UK it will be the passenger who needs to wind down the window to pay.

The main way to pay for your tolls is with cash so make sure that you have enough with you. Some toll booths are unmanned and require cash into a 'bucket' that counts the change. Euro note readers and others are staffed providing you with the opportunity to get change back. There is another option that requires a bit of pre planning by setting up an account with Sanef tolling so that you can use the Liber-t automated payment service. This costs approximately 39.20Euros to set up, (20 Euros refundable with return of tag on account closure), and it then has an annual fee of 6 Euros followed by a maximum 10 Euros a year usage fee. After this you will be able to use the special "t" lanes at the same rates as the cash payers will be charged. This is obviously a more expensive option, but if you are planning multiple long journeys and want to avoid the queues then this might be worth considering. 

French Road Signs

A basic understanding of road signs is also required. If you have a good knowledge of the UK signs then that is a good start, but there are a few others that you might come across. So, it is a good idea to check here to have a look at before you go. 

Enjoy the Journey!

Now that you've got all the serious stuff under control all that's left is to enjoy the journey...ROADTRIP!!!!

We'd love to hear about your driving experiences and road trip adventures through France. Please write in and tell us all about it 🙂


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