I ‘ll be honest: driving in France is not for the faint of heart. With its busy, condensed streets, cyclists darting from every angle, and few traffic rules, navigating these routes can be challenging even for the most experienced drivers. Add in the fact that many signs are in French, and it’s no wonder that driving in France is one of the biggest concerns for tourists visiting the country!
But don’t worry too much—with a little preparation and know-how, you can survive (and thrive!) while driving in France as a foreigner.
In this article, I’ll share my top tips and tricks for driving in France, from learning the basics of French road etiquette to navigating the country’s notoriously tricky roundabouts. So whether you’re driving to the charming villages of Provence or conquering the steep slopes of the Alps, read on to find out how to make driving in France as seamless (and stress-free) as possible.
6 Tips to Survive Driving in France as a Foreigner
Relax, It’s Just Like Driving Where You’re From… Kinda.
The first (and most important) thing to remember when driving in France is that, despite what you may have heard, it’s really not that different from driving in other Western countries. The same general rules of the road apply, and as long as you stay calm and focused, you’ll be fine.
Of course, there are a few key differences that you should be aware of before hitting the road. France has a few unique driving laws that you may not be familiar with. For example, using your cell phone while driving is illegal, even if you’re using a hands-free device. And if you’re caught speeding, you can expect to pay a hefty fine (or even have your driver’s license suspended).
So before driving in France, make sure to do your research and brush up on the country’s driving laws and regulations. That way, you can avoid any potential trouble on the road.
Get to Know the French Road Signs
One of the most challenging aspects of driving in France is navigating the country’s complex network of roads and highways. But with a little practice, you’ll be driving like a pro in no time.
To start, familiarize yourself with the French road signs. Unlike in the United States, where most signs are written in English, France’s road signs are primarily in French. So unless you’re fluent in the language, it can be tough to know what they mean.
The most common French road signs are:
- Avertissement (warning)
- Attention (caution)
- Danger (danger)
- Défense de stationner (no parking)
- Défense de passer (no entry)
- Fin de limitation (end of speed limit)
- Interdiction de tourner (no turn)
- Limitation de vitesse (speed limit)
- Passage piétons (pedestrian crossing)
- Stop (stop)
Of course, this is just a small sample of the many French road signs you’ll encounter while driving. So before hitting the road, make sure to study up on all of the different signs and what they mean. That way, you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way.
Learn the Basics of French Road Etiquette
The first step to driving in France is understanding the basics of French road etiquette.
In France, drivers must yield to cars coming from the right at intersections—even if they don’t have a stop sign or yield sign. This rule is known as priorité à droite, one of France’s most important (and confusing) driving laws.
If you’re driving on a road with multiple lanes, be sure to stay in the right lane unless you’re passing another car—driving in the left lane is considered rude and can result in a fine.
Also, always use your turn signals when changing lanes or making a turn, and be mindful of your speed limit—speeding is taken very seriously in France and can result in hefty fines!
Get to Know the Roundabouts
Roundabouts are one of the most common features of driving in France, and there are a ton of them here. Seriously, they’re everywhere.
The basic rule of driving in a roundabout is to yield to cars already in the circle and then enter when there’s an opening. Once you’re in the roundabout, stay in your lane and exit at your desired exit.
However, there are a few other things to remember when driving in France’s roundabouts. For one, many of them have multiple lanes—be sure to stay in the correct lane for your desired exit.
Additionally, many roundabouts have a yield sign before you enter—this means that you should only enter the roundabout if there’s no traffic already in it. If cars are in the circle, wait until they clear out before proceeding.
Navigate the Narrow, Winding Roads
One of the most challenging aspects of driving in France is navigating the country’s narrow, winding roads.
In rural areas, the roads are often just one lane in each direction, with little to no shoulder to speak of. And in mountainous regions, the roads can be even more treacherous—think hairpin turns and steep drop-offs.
When driving on these roads, be sure to take it slow and stay in your lane. If you need to pass another car, use your turn signal and do so only when it’s safe.
Also, keep an eye out for cyclists—they’re often found on rural roads and have the right of way.
Be Prepared to Dodge Pedestrians
In France, like in most places, pedestrians always have the right of way—even if they’re not crossing at a crosswalk.
So, when driving in France, be sure to keep an eye out for pedestrians, especially in densely populated areas. And when you see someone walking on the side of the road, slow down and give them plenty of space.
Pedestrians in Paris are notorious for darting out into the street without warning, so use extra caution when driving in the city.
Parking is Tricky (and Expensive)
If you’re driving in France, be prepared to pay for parking. On-street parking is often metered, and rates can be pretty steep—especially in larger cities. In most cases, on-street parking is limited to 2 hours, and you’ll need to display a parking permit or pay a fee.
If you’re planning to park long-term, your best bet is to find a parking garage. Many hotels in France offer on-site parking for guests, so be sure to ask about this when you’re booking a room.
Be Prepared for Tolls When Driving in France
Tolls are common in France and can add up quickly if you’re driving a long distance.
France has two types of tolls: passenger cars and heavy goods vehicles. Passenger cars can either pay by cash or credit card, while heavy goods vehicles must use an electronic toll system called Telepeage.
You’ll also need to pay a fee if you’re driving through a tunnel or over a bridge. These fees are typically collected at the entrance to the tunnel or bridge, and you can pay by cash or credit card.
Trust Me, Driving in France is Easier Than You Think
Enfin, driving in France may be a bit of a challenge initially, but it’s definitely doable. It’s honestly just like driving anywhere else—you just need to be aware of the unique driving laws and regulations. Just be sure to brush up on the rules of the road and take your time—driving in France is all about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. Bon voyage!