What to Know Before Renting a Car in France

Renting a car in a country like France can be the perfect way to explore new landscapes from a different perspective and to experience both the countryside with total freedom. 

I was very cautious during my first few visits to France and opted for public transportation. However, when visiting Provence I realized that without a car it wouldn’t have been the same.

Driving in France turned out to be easier than expected (maybe not in Nice, haha!) and I’ve done it a bunch of times every since: solo, with my husband, with a baby. 

Here are some basic things to know about renting a car in France that will help make your experience as smooth and convenient as possible. 

Renting a Car in France

Renting a Car in France
Visiting lavender fields in Valensole – a car is a must!

Is it a Good Idea to Rent a Car in France?

It’s almost always a good idea to rent a car when traveling because it allows you to visit places at your own pace and following your own timetable. It’s always good to have the freedom to avoid busy bus or train times and to be able to travel in the early hours of the morning or late at night if that suits you better.

This, of course, depends on where you are in the country. While you can get to some castles in Loire Valley without a car (I’ve done it myself), visit Giverny or Auvers sur Oise, or really anywhere with close proximity to Paris without any issues, when it comes to southern France things are slightly different.

Colorado Provencal
Colorado Provencal – one of many spots only reachable by car.

France has a very good public transport system, with an efficient high-speed rail network but these only run at specific times and may not go to smaller remote areas that may be on your list.
This includes famous lavender fields in Valensole and other fantastic spots in the South of France. Check out my proposed itineraries for Provence & French Riviera road trip.

Having your own wheels can also often work out much cheaper than taking a busy organized tour or getting a taxi – like for instance to Mont St-Michel.

The roads themselves vary from place to place but are mostly well kept. The thing you may want to be wary of is driving in busy city areas like Paris. The roads in the city can be quite narrow, busy and confusing and could increase the risk of scratching the car if you aren’t used to them which can be quite frustrating and costly. It’s also difficult and expensive to find parking in cities, but it’s manageable.

Essentially, you’ll be better of walking or cycling around the city and most central areas (the ‘centre ville’) are pedestrian-only areas anyway. However, it’s definitely a good idea to rent a car when traveling out of the city and into smaller towns and countryside areas.


Driving a Car in France with a Foreign License

It’s generally recommended to get an international driving license translated from your native language if it’s not French. These are not difficult to obtain and usually cost around $20.

If you’re from the US, and you’ll be in the country for less than 90 days (basically the length you’re allowed to stay in the Schengen zone anyway), you can use your US license. 

For non-EU citizens, an international permit or an official French translation of a national permit normally needs to be accompanied by a national permit in order to be accepted. 

Do remember that although the legal driving age is 18 in France, you do have to be at least 21 years old in order to be able to rent a car. Some places may ask you that you’ve had your license for at least a year.

Driving a Car in France
Typical road in Provence, France.

Car Rental Insurance in France

When driving in France, you’ll need to be internationally insured beforehand and you will have to carry show proof of insurance identification, license, and vehicle registration when on the roads, in case you get stopped.

Insurance is generally included in rental prices in the form of unlimited third party liability insurance which covers damage and injury incurred by a third party and their vehicle, even if you are responsible for it.

However, this insurance does not cover damage or injury to the driver of the rented car or their car, so this may come at extra cost.

When you rent a car you will have the option of purchasing what’s known as collision damage waiver (CWD) or deductable insurance but you may want to compare some prices first because these could work out to be very expensive.


How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in France?

Prices can vary from depending on the company, season and the car, but most places will offer a discount if you reserve the car a while in advance of your arrival in France. It usually costs about $15-40 per day for the cheapest automatic car.

Bigger cars can be more expensive because they will require more fuel so you may want to opt for a smaller vehicle which will also benefit you on smaller roads.

You may want to check out the Discover Cars to compare the different prices for your dates and find the best deals. You can get some good deals from world-renown rental companies like Avis, Sixt Car Hire, Europcar and others.

I personally rented from different providers at Marseille Airport, Nice downtown, Nice Airport and Paris CDG Airport that booked through Discover Cars. I also use them all the time when I’m in Italy (and as I lived there I must have rented about 30 times if not more).

(!) That said, avoid Rhodium at Nice Airport at all costs. It may seem cheaper and therefore attractive, but last time I rented from them they literally tried to scam every customer they had, refusing already purchase coverage, denying a particular car you booked unless you pay extra and other things an unreliable operator would do. 

The more costly aspect comes in when considering fuel and highway tolls, but that’s to be expected of any more developed area.

car keys return
Quite often in France you just need to leave your car rental keys in a box when returning the car.

Southern France: Crossing Borders from France to Monaco & Italy with a Rental Car

You’ll have to double-check with your rental company beforehand if they allow you to take the vehicle into another country, to ensure that your insurance remains valid wherever you go. 

Usually, traveling to Monaco and Italy in a car rented in France should not be a problem, as long as you have valid insurance.

The only thing I had to show was my passport, as I was stopped by the police. They frequently do these checks to make sure that non-EU tourists don’t overstay their 90-day Schengen visas. 

Crossing Borders from France to Monaco


 DON’T FORGET ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t forget to arrange health insurance before heading to France. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to skip unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!


Why Should You Rent a Car in France?

Renting a car in France will give you the unique chance to see all of the smaller towns away from the busy cities and crowded tours and public transport, that you may otherwise not be able to see otherwise.

Explore this beautiful European country at your own pace and your own timetable. Make your way through the South of France and the picturesque areas like Provence and the French Riviera. 

Any questions? Don’t be afraid to ask me!

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