General regulations for car hire in France
To be able to rent a car in France, the age limit is 21 to 25 years, depending on the car rental agency. Many of the agencies either charge a young driver fee if you are under this age or do not allow for the car to be rented at all. The reason for this is that they consider drivers of this age to be an additional risk due to lack of experience. Don't be surprised if they also insist that you take additional insurance because of it! We know that being young is great, but it can also bring along additional responsibilities and complications at times. There is also a senior driver limit, usually at 70 years, with rental companies charging a senior driver fee if you are above 65.
Born to be wild is a great name for a song, but we don't advise that you translate that to your driving as well. At least if you want to avoid getting a speeding ticket that is. The speed limit in the cities is 50 km/h (31 mph), on major roads its 80 km/h (50 mph), when you are on a motorway without tolls the limit is 110 km/h (68 mph) and on toll motorways its 130 km/h (80 mph).
In case you accidentally press on the gas pedal a bit too much, and manage to get yourself a speeding ticket as an unexpected souvenir, the car rental agency will pay the ticket at first and then send you the fine as well as the administrative cost for paying it, after you return the car back.
International driving license
If you are a citizen of European Union, you do not need to have an international driving license. The same applies if you are coming from the USA. If you are from a country not mentioned an international driving license is highly recommended and in case that your original license is not written in Latin letters (examples: Russia, China, Middle East) it is mandatory to have it. Due note that just an international license is not enough, as you will need to present it together with your original, valid driving license, provided by your country of residence.
Road signs in France to keep in mind
Road signs are a critical part of any traffic situation as they describe how the drivers should behave on the road and which regulations they should keep in mind.
Unusual road signs in France
An unusual road sign that you might encounter is a square one, with a blue edge and black center and big yellow letter T in the middle. That means that there is a toll booth payment ahead for drivers with season tickets.
Another road sign that you might not be used to is a green/brown square with a spiral in the middle. No, it doesn't mean its It means there is a conservation area ahead.
You could also see road signs that is shaped as a black and white rectangle road with a silhouette of a church in the background and a big letter e in the middle with a mark on it. It means Village étape (a stepped village in French) which marks a small village located next to a motorway that has certain infrastructure established for travelers. Among them are population under 5000 people, a classified hotel, tourist information center, a range of »basic« shops such as grocery, butcher, and baker). If you want to read more about this kind of villages, check here >>
In cities, you can come across road signs that look like a normal sign marking a no parking zone, but what does the number 16.31 on it mean? Does it mean no parking after 16.31 pm every day? If you think that, you are close, but not quite right. It actually means that parking is not allowed in the zone with this sign from the 16th of the month until the 31st.
France specific signs
Sometimes you will see road signs that doesn't have a graphical presentation of what they mean and only have a French phrase written. Example of this kind of signs are:
A sign with the name of a town and Prochaine sortie written underneath which means next exit.
Or you could see road signs marking the speed limit and another road sign underneath saying Rappel. That simply means reminder, so that the drivers know that the speed limit still applies and they need to be careful.
A sign that says »allumez vos feux« means that you have entered a zone where headlights need to be turned on at all times. When you will see that says »fin d’allumage des feux« it means that this zone has ended and you can turn on the lights (be mindful that if its night or fog/rain that you should still keep them up to increase visibility).
On a highway you will see a red and white circle with »Halte Peage« written on it, warning you that there will be a toll service up ahead.
Sometimes you can see a road sign that looks like STOP sign in color and shape but has Arret written on it. Don't worry, you are not getting arrested, it's just the equivalent of the word stop in French.
When you arrive at a crossroads, you might see a few road signs of different colors. For ease of reference, all road signs in France are color-marked so they are easier to recognize while driving:
- The blue road signs indicate highways.
- The green ones show where the major roads that lead to bigger cities are. This also means international European roads that go through multiple countries.
- If you see a yellow one it means that there is a temporary road there, usually as a detour if the main road is not in use at the moment.
- White road sign indicates local roads.
Toll roads and tunnels
If you are planning to car hire in France with your rent a car, you will probably use the highway a lot as well. If you do, you need to keep in mind that there is a toll fee for using the highways. They do not use vignettes but instead, have toll gates set up along the road and you pay according to the length of time spent on the highway as well as the section of the road that you go through. There are road signs marking payable highways at the drive-on as well as road signs notifying you of the toll gate while already on the highway itself.
The French government has an official website where you can calculate how much you will need to pay for the toll, based on where you will drive. That is great if you are traveling on a budget and want to know in advance all the costs that you will have during the trip, or if you just want to avoid unnecessary surprises. You can find the website here >>
The payment of the toll can be done in several ways, as you can pay it with cash or credit card. In case you want to pay with cash they accept Euro, British Pound, Swiss franc or American dollar. If you instead prefer to use a credit card, you can use Visa, Mastercard, and Cofinoga.
Taking the car outside of France
If you are planning to take your rent a car to England, that is allowed with certain rental agencies, but you will need to request a border crossing permission from them in advance as they need to prepare the documentation for you by the time you collect the car. In that case, be ready to also pay something extra for the administration expenses, also called Border Crossing Fee in most cases. With England preparing to leave European Union, the regulations for car hire will also be changing, so if you want to be prepared, you can find out more here >>
Now to actually reach England, you will need to go through the Eurotunnel. It is a 50 km long tunnel, running between Calais in France and Folkestone in England. You can also use a ferry, but this is the preferred method for most as its a lot faster and less complicated. Depending on how long you are planning to stay abroad, the price for the ticket for the tunnel will also change. If you are only going for 1-2 days the fee will be £30,00 (34€), if you go for up to 5 days it will be £66,00 (76€) and if you are going for longer than that the ticket each way will cost £85,00 (98€). If you want to read up more on how the traveling across the tunnel works, you can find more information here >>