Driving in France & Paris

Driving in France

Many people will hire, own, lease or borrow a car or other vehicle at some point during their time in Paris, just to get around or to see some more of France. This page outlines some important aspects of driving in France that you may not be aware of.


Although by some miracle of poor road planning you may find this changes on some very confused bridges and junctions!!

Driving Licence for EU Citizens
You can drive on your EU licence for up to one year after your arrival in France, provided you have an officially translated copy. After one year, this must be exchanged for a French driving licence.

An exchange becomes compulsory if the licence holder commits a driving offence in France - this, so that points can be deducted.

Note: If you exchange your driving licence for a French one, it can simplify things in the case of loss or theft and in the case of obtaining motor insurance.

However, after the French licence has been issued, your original will be withdrawn and returned to the issuing authority.

Driving Licence - Non EU Citizens
Provided you are 18 years or over, you may drive in France on a valid driving licence for one year. It then becomes obligatory that you drive on a French licence.

At one year from the date marked on your Carte de Sejour or residency permit, any foreign driving licence you hold becomes invalid. As a result, you are uninsured to drive and you will be required to pass a French highway code and driving test in order to obtain a French licence.

Note: Citizens from the US states of New Hampshire, Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois or South Carolina may drive for one year on their existing licence and may then exchange it for a French licence directly.

Driving in France
The rumours you heard about driving in France are all true! Being careful is key and remember to watch for road signs - they tend to be limited or hiden and can be confusing. If you are going somewhere for the first time - even on a short journey, it is well worth looking at a detailed map before departing.

Papers to Carry in the Car
Carte Grise (registration document)
Insurance documentation and window sticker (vignette)
Drivers licence (permit)
Constat Aimiable (accident report sheet)
NB: You can be fined for not carrying the first three in the car with you.

Direction Sign Posts
You will find that signs are generally quite small and often appear at the last minute. You will often find yourself in the wrong lane at a junction trying to turn left or right (that is, of course, if there are any lanes indicated in the first place!).

Blue signs indicate the major towns that you can reach via the auto routes (equivilant to Motorways/Freeways), which are usually subject to toll fees, the further you get from Paris.

Green signs indicate major towns en-route via a major national road (N13 for example). White signs indicate the smaller towns and villages in close proximity of the smaller roads (D roads and lanes).

Priority to traffic coming from the right!!!
Unless otherwise stated, you should always give way to traffic approaching from the right - this rule (priorité a droite) is the cause of many accidents and gridlocks on roads in France. There appears to be no order as to when this rule applies.

Priorité a droite mainly applies in the city centre, but when driving through smaller villages and country lanes, be on your guard. You may be travelling along a straight road when suddenly a car shoots out from the right without worrying about whether you have seen them or not.

Generally, a road from the right will have a large white bar painted at the join to the road you are on, which means that traffic approaching from the right does not have priority.

Some roundabouts (for example, Arc de Triomphe, Bastille - mainly in town centres), will require that you stop ON the roundabout to let more traffic coming on (from the right). It may sound strange but that's the law!!!

If you are driving, you may see a sign indicating 'Priorité Pieton' or a flashing image of a person. This means that the pedestrian has 'right of way'.

As a pedestrian, always assume that all drivers are either blind to this sign or will completely ignore it! Always double-check before crossing the road. Look for the 'green man' - but still do not assume that it is safe to cross!

The Flashing Orange Light or Arrow
As in most countries, this means 'proceed with caution'. You will often get a flashing orange light for right turns at junctions. You may continue if there are no on-coming vehicles or pedestrians.

Courtesy on the Road
This is almost non-existent in France! The thought that is running through most peoples minds is: 'THAT IS MY SPACE!!!!' - and it will be filled before you can blink. Horn or hooter blowing is VERY COMMON so please do not let it upset you and potentially cause an accident!

If you show courtesy you will get some very strange or surprised looks but this is my advise! Although you may find that you don't move very far as you could get taken advantage of!

Changing lanes, 'undertaking', hornblowing, tail-gating, light-flashing and hand signals (that you will not find in the highway code!) are all par for the course. Be especially aware of motorcylces, who will weave through traffic at high speed with no care for their own, or others' safety.