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What to Know Before Renting a Car in France

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. Since then I rented a car on numerous occasions and driven daily when I used to live in France with my family.

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, cat – you name it. Especially since we all got to live in France for a bit…

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 follow 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.

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Unless you’re staying in the outskirts of Paris, I’d say rent your car after you’re done exploring the city of love.

Essentially, you’ll be better off 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

An international driver’s license in France isn’t required by law.

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. 

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 if you’ve had your license for at least a year.

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

Main Requirements for Renting a Car in France

If you plan on driving in France, you need to be aware that there are certain requirements. The following are the documents that you must have with you at all times and other driving requirements for legally driving in France.

  • You need to be over 18 years
  • Valid Driver’s License: issued over a year prior to renting a car
  • Current registration of a rental
  • Valid Passport: It includes everyone in your car, especially when driving near French borders
  • Valid Car Insurance
  • Credit Card to Pay the Deposit (or debit if rental agency agress)

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 an extra cost.

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

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Highways are expensive in France: example from the road leading to Annecy from Paris…

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.

However, a big car can be better on gas sometimes. When we had a big Citroen Space Tour and drove across the country I was impressed by how little gas it used.

Renting a manual car is always significantly cheaper than automatic one. Automatic cars aren’t super common among rental agencies.

You may want to check out 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, Paris downtown, Annecy town 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. Highways are very expensive so keep it in mind!

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

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 Switzerland with a Rental Car

You can drive your French rental car to Switzerland, as long as you purchase “vignette” at the border. It’s a sticker that you need to place on our car’s dashboard to pay for Swiss highways. It costs 40 Swiss Francs and it’s valid for a year.

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While you just drive through the border without stopping you cannot drive to Switzerland without the vignette. Agents are controlling if everyone got one at the border and also on the road – fines in Switzerland aren’t exactly low, so better be safe than sorry.

You cannot return a car rented in France in Switzerland.


 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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Jessica

Sunday 27th of August 2023

Hi Anna! What is your suggestion to get from Paris to Normandy Beaches? What is the best town to stay in for WW2 beach tours? Traveling with 3 kids and wondering if best to take train and then rent car while there to explore some of the area for a few days? Or better to rent car in Paris?

Anna Karsten

Tuesday 29th of August 2023

I would rent a car in Paris, usually around La Defense area is best if you want to avoid driving in Paris city center.

Jamie M

Sunday 13th of August 2023

Hi Anna - Great post, thank you! We are traveling to Paris and want to see Mont Saint Michel while we are there. We would like to go out on Friday morning and return on Saturday, but train schedules appear limiting, so renting a car may give us more flexibility and be able to see more along the road. We are renting from and returning to Paris (likely staying in city center while we are there). Where is the best place to rent from to avoid driving in Paris as much as possible? Should we taxi or train to the airport and rent from there? Or are there a recommended car rental agencies on the outskirts of town that we could get to easily with train/metro and rent early morning Friday and return it Saturday evening before taking train/metro back into Paris? Thanks in advance for any help you can give!

Anna Karsten

Monday 14th of August 2023

You could do La Defense/Nanterre area :)

Leo

Monday 17th of July 2023

Anna, arriving by cruise ship on 09/16/23 at Le Havre Central Terminal. Looking at renting a car for the day from 8am to 4pm to go to the Canadian war cemetery (Juno). Can you help me out

carol

Thursday 29th of June 2023

Do not use SIXT!!! We tried to cancel our reservation 18 hours after making it for a trip in France and we could not get our refund. Look on trip adviser they have 393 Terrible reports. That says it all!

Rob

Wednesday 28th of June 2023

Hi My family inform me that warning signs, hi viz vests and breathalyser are a legal requirement when driving in France. Are these generally included in the hire car?

Anna Karsten

Wednesday 28th of June 2023

Yes they're normally included.

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