Renting a car in France is the best way to explore this magnificent country.
Below is my complete guide on how to rent a car in France (and Paris or anywhere else), covering:
- which type of car is best,
- tips on best rental companies and reducing costs,
- insurance recommendations,
- essentials to avoid any scam,
- rules and regulations,
I have tried listing everything you may need to know to enjoy a worry-free car hire experience.
In this article, no ads, no sponsored posts. Just some affiliate links.
If you purchase through them I get a commission at no extra cost to you (Disclosure).
Renting a car in Corsica - Overview
Do you need a car in France?
It depends what kind of holiday you want.
If you just want to explore Paris, then you can used the intensive public transportation network.
Howver, if you want to be able:
- To discover charming villages
- Visit castle
- Go to vineyards
- Explore the regions
Then renting a car is the best option.
Below are a few locations that you could discover with your car, for example in Normandy:
Absolutely essential tips when renting a car in France - from my personal experiences
If you don't want to read the entire article with the step-by-step to renting a car in France, here is a short summary of my top tips:
- Size car - Don't rent a car that is too wide. There are a few narrower roads, especially in old villages and old town center. Plus it is easier to park (traveler from the States, Canada or Australia are often surprised of where French people are able to park!).
- Size car - If road tripping, choose a car with a trunk big enough to hold all your luggage hidden.
- Motor - If visiting the mountainous regions (Alps and Pyrénnées), choose a car with enough power for the steep roads.
- Tolls - Make sure to check how to pay for tolls (motorways and many bridges require paiement)
- Book early to get the best prices and the choice of cars.
- Always check the car upon arrival and take pictures of anything you see (don't forget the roof and under the bumper)
Is it difficult to drive in France? Is it safe?
Overall, it is quite easy to drive in France.
The roads are in good conditions. There is a vast network.
However, be conscious of the following difficulties:
- Driving in Paris car feel like a nightmare, especially the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe
- Some streets in old town centers and old villages can be narrow
- Most foreigners will find that parking is the most difficult part of driving in France
The booking platform I personally use
You will see a lot of mentions of Discovercars.com throughout this article.
This is the platform I personally use and one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
As soon as I decide on a destination and dates, I go check their deals and car types.
I have often found some really great deals.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
#1 to 3 - How to rent a car in France - required elements
Tip 1 - License to rent a car in France
It is always better to have you International Driving Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in France (for a short stay), you can use a standard International driver’s license. It means a license that has:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date,
- and is in Latin letters,
A valid US license works.
A valid Canadian License works.
A valid UK License works.
Tip 2 - Extra age requirements / years of driving
Official driving age in France is 18.
However, most car rental companies in France:
- will require you to be 21
- will require you to have held a license in your home country for a year or more,
- may add charges, if you are under 25,
- may add charges, if you are over a certain age.
It’s best to make sure to read all the fine print.
On the platform Discovercars.com you can enter your age, to see any limitation in rental cars available and any additional fee.
Tip 3 - A credit card that can handle the hold charge
Remember that unless you have decided to purchase a full coverage insurance directly with the rental company, you will be asked for your credit card to hold a charge a.k.a. a deposit.
This amount is blocked on your account via your credit card (and unblocked upon return without damage). As it is on top of the payment, you may be hitting the limit of your credit card daily/weekly or monthly protection limit.
So be prepared! Your options are:
- Use a different credit card for the hold charge,
- Contact your bank prior to traveling to change your limits,
- Purchase a full coverage insurance with a 0 excess charge.
On the platform Discovercars.com:
- once you open one option, you can click on Rental Conditions, and you will see the Security Deposit amount.
- And if this is an issue for you, you can pre-select the amount you are willing to have blocked as security deposit in the filters
#4 & 5 - When and where to hire a car in France
Tip 4 - Best period
France is a very popular destination, especially in Summer.
So, if you want the choice of your vehicle types and good prices, it is better to rent your car as early as possible.
You won't find last-minute deals in Summer. As soon as you have picked your dates, book the car!
Tip 5 - When and where
You can rent cars at the Paris airports, regional airports, train stations, in the main towns and at the ferry ports.
You don't really need a car to explore Paris. Therefore, I recommend you finish your rental before heading to town or start your rental after visiting Paris.
The largest car rental hubs in France are:
- Roissy Charles de Gaules airport - see car rental deals
- Orly airport - see car rental deals
- Paris Gare de Lyon train station - see car rental deals
- Nice airport - see car rental deals
- Lyon St Exupery airport - see car rental deals
- Marseille airport - see car rental deals
- Toulouse Blagnac airport - see car rental deals
Note: if you are heading to Corsica, check out my article about renting a car in Corsica, as it is slightly different.
#6 to 10 - What type of car to choose
Tip 6 - Recommendations for size of car / power
I know it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you are traveling with.
But here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in France:
- There are narrow roads in the countryside, villages and old town centers. Plus, parking spaces can feel narrow for travelers.
Therefore, I recommend choosing a car that is not too big, to reduce the stress of some situations
- If you are heading to the mountains (Pyrénées or Alps), there can be steep roads
Therefore, it is more comfortable to have enough power. I recommend not choosing the smallest engine
- Otherwise, no special recommendations
Tip 7 - Transmission type - Manual vs Automatic
Most cars to rent in France have a manual transmission.
Rental companies have automatic cars, but they are often more expensive. And there are less of them, so book early.
On Discovercars.com, you can use the filter "Automatic transmission" on the left, if this is a must have for you.
Tip 8 - Fuel choice - Diesel, Gas or electric
- Petrol is called "Essence sans plomb"
- Diesel is called "Diesel" or "Gazole"
- Petrol station is "Station service"
- LGP is GPL
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in France on this website
Tip 9 - Is it useful to have a 4WD?
No. There is really no point in renting a 4WD in France
And know that even if you have a 4WD, the insurance protection associated with the rental probably does not cover use of the car out of paved roads.
This is frequent in many countries. Read the fine print.
Tip 10 - Consider vehicles with sleeping options
Another idea is to rent a vehicle in which you can sleep.
Overall, this could save you money compared to booking extra accommodations.
- Wild camping in France is a bit of a grey area
- For local regulations, it depends on local authorities - check for signs that forbid it
- For special land to park on check out such as farms or vineyards, check out France Passion
- There are camping sites all around France
I would avoid renting a large motorhome, as it could become difficult on some roads.
#11 to 17 - Best rental car companies in France
Tip 11 - Cost of car rental in France
To give you an idea, based on data from Discovercars.com, prices are around:
- There are big variations throughout the year - The average prices vary from 40 to 80 USD per day
- The cheapest prices are generally for when you travel in March
It is very easy to compare prices online on platforms - but if comparing between sites, remember to check all hidden fees.
Tip 12 - Things to consider when choosing your car rental company
- First, of course, the company must have the type of car you need
- Then, check out the cancellation fees, free cancellation is always better...
- Authorized milage - depending on what you are planning, have a look at unlimited or defined daily milage allowance
- The pickup location - some require a shuttle to the get to the rental area
Tip 13 - Best rated car rental companies in France
First, Don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company.
On the platform Discovercars.com, each rental company has a mark on 10 points.
This is an average of the marks given by actual customers - On the search page, you can select only the best rated ones:
Some of the best rated rental car companies in Paris are:
- Sixt in Orly airport
- Keddy in Roissy CDG airport
- National in Orly airport
- Enterprise in Paris Gare de Lyon train station
Tip 14 - How to save money - cheap car rental in France
If keeping the cost down is your main concern, you should:
- Book very early
- Return the car where you picked it up
- Book a smaller car
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times - Car hire is typically charged per 24-hour period
- Choose a rental without cancellation or with limited cancellation
- If renting for 6 days, check the price for 7 days - sometimes companies have a discount for 1 week rentals.
- Book with limited milage
Tip 15 - Check opening hours if picking a company not at an airport
If you are picking up your car at the airport, the companies are normally open as long as flights are arriving.
However, if you are renting a car from a town, especially a smaller one, they will have shorter opening hours (especially on weekends).
This may mean that you have to rent for an extra day if you can't drop off the car.
Tip 16 - Car rental scams in France
There is no specific scam in France, that I am aware of.
As in most country, if the price is very very low, then there must be conditions and tricks behind it.
And some companies do try to charge more for damages. My advice is to always take the time to check the car and take dated pictures at pick-up and drop-off.
Tip 17 - Be careful if taking a ferry or abroad
From France, you can:
- Take a ferry to Corsica
- Take a ferry to smaller islands
- Cross into Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco and Spain
Make sure to read the rules to see if it is allowed and the check if there are fees.
On the platform Discovercars, once you have clicked on a deal, click on "Rental conditions" and then again "Rental conditions" or "Additional conditions" to find the "geographical restrictions".
If it is not documented, you can add the question for customer support to answer.
#18 to 20 - Understanding Insurances
Tip 18 - Choose the types of insurance you need + requirements in France
Many levels of insurances are available. And their wording is often not very clear.
Here is a high-level overview of the different types of insurances - which are not really insurances, but waivers to limit your liability:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - It limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay in case of damages -
- Theft Protection (TP) - this waiver limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen (proof required are a police report and the car keys). TP is frequently included in the car rental price.
- Third Party Liability (TPL) - also known as Supplemental Liability Insurance, Extended protection, liability protection... - it covers personal and material damages caused to other people’s cars, property and even medical expenses. They have different limits.
- and many others...
The mandatory insurance in France are:
- Third Party liability is mandatory - it is included in car rental agreements.
Tip 19 - 4 ways to purchase extra insurance
- Option no insurance - apart from the mandatory one, you don't have to take extras. Just know that in case something happen, you can be liable for your entire deposit.
- Option 1 - Use your credit card insurance/ or your own car insurance
Many credit cards have some kind of coverage for rental cars. They all differ.
Similarly, your home car insurance can be covering you as well when renting a car.
You need to read all the fine prints to clearly understand what is covered or not.
- Option 2 - Purchase upon booking your rental car
When you book your rental car, you normally have the option to select the insurances you want.
The deals are most of the time better than at the counter (I have seen 3 times less, once).
On direct websites, you get the dealer's insurance, but on platforms, you get a special insurance created by the platform.
However, this means you will have to make a deposit for the car at the counter.
For example, on Discovercars.com, they have their own Full Coverage Waiver Insurance Option
Personally, this is what I used. I know I may already be covered by my credit card and all, but this just seems the easier route, more straightforward in case of an issue. Personal feeling.
- Option 3 - At car rental
This is the more expensive option, but if you have not done it before, you could purchase it as you are paying.
In that case, there is often a reduction of the deposit to leave with your credit car.
- Option 4 - Travel Insurance
Get a travel insurance that include comprehensive car rental insurance with one of the classic insurance companies.
Tip 20 - Consider taking roadside assistance
Technically, it is not an insurance, but it is offered at the same time, if not already included in your agreement.
Conditions of coverage vary but they normally include:
- Loss or damage of car keys
- Keys locked inside the car
- Flat tire
- Rental car not starting
- Car out of fuel
If you are in a country you don't know, traveling alone and not good at changing tires, this could be a great option.
This is something you can get at the counter when getting the car.
#21 to 23 - Extras
Tip 21 - Do I need GPS?
To navigate, you can consider renting a GPS.
- Option 1 - Bring your own GPS
This is my favorite options. I know well how it works, plus I can pre-enter all my destinations which saves me a lot of time.
On my travel guide eBook you get the GPS coordinates of the carparks of all my favorite locations
- Option 2 - Use your phone
If you have a phone, don't forget that the roaming charges abroad can be very expensive.
However, you can download a map beforehand, when you are connected to wifi, so that you can navigate without spending money.
Don't forget the charger and your phone holder so that it is comfortable!
- Option 3 - Take the GPS extra
I don't recommend it. I think this is a last resort if you don't have your own or a good phone. I always find it very expensive.
Tip 22 - Additional driver charges
Decide beforehand whether or not you will need more than one driver.
If so, take this into account when comparing rental deals between companies.
Some companies have deals that has a free extra driver.
On the platform Discovercars.com, if there are any, it can be selected on the filters:
Tip 23 - Child safety seats rules in France
Children under 10 years old must be seated in a special seat at the rear of the car.
#24 to 31 - How to pick up and drop of the car to avoid issues
Tip 24 - Check your vehicle at pick-up
For a worry-free exchange with the rental car company, I recommend you do a thorough check of the car before leaving the carpark.
Sometimes it is done with an agent. Sometimes they just give you a form with the state of the car before renting. Sometimes they tell you nothing...
Make sure all dents and scratches are noted, if not, make sure they add it.
Plus, for peace of mind, you can take pictures before leaving (like in every country).
Things to look for:
- Check all the exterior of the car for dent and scratches
- Don't forget to check the roof!!!! It is often forgotten, but they might check it when you return
- Don't forget under the bumper
- And don't forget the back of the mirrors
- Check the interior for any damage
- Check the state of the tires
- Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels)
- Make sure the spare tire is in place and in good condition
- Check that gas level and milage match the record
Tip 25 - Check the mandatory equipment is in the car
In France, the following pieces of equipment must be available in the car:
- Warning triangle
- Reflective vest or jacket for at least 1 person
- Spare tire (recommended - but not mandatory)
Tip 26 - Management of tolls
There are many tolls in France.
If you want to take the Motorways and some bridges, you will have to pay.
However, you can avoid motorways and take smaller roads through the countryside. It will take longer but cost less.
At the moment, all toll stations still have cash and credit card toll booth. You may have to pay at each. Or ou may have to take a ticket upon entering and pay upon exiting.
Look at the icons at the top:
- if only a t - you can only pay with the tag
- if only a t and cards, you cannot pay cash
Tip 27 - What to do in case of fine or tickets (speed / parking)
You are responsible for any parking tickets or driving fines that you receive during the rental period.
If you are aware of it right away, you can go and pay at the police station or online, as indicated.
But know that it can take up to 3 months for a fine to be reported to the car owner (the rental company). In that case, they will send you proof and charge you for it and maybe add an administrative fee for managing the fine.
Tip 28 - What if there is a problem with the car
Don't lose your rental agreement.
On it, you will find the steps to take if you have a problem with your car.
Most use a breakdown assistance service and the number will be listed on the agreement.
Then you can contact the rental company to see how to car can be replaced.
Tip 29 - Don't forget to manage your tank
More and more company now have a system where you must bring back the car with the same level of fuel (not full to full tank but same to same).
This is very annoying, but it is easier for them to manage.
Therefore, you need to understand how much the car consumes and how many kilometers / miles you still have to do, if you don't want to waste money.
Tip 30 - Drop off
For peace of mind, try dropping off the car during opening hours so that the car checks can all be made and validated.
If not possible, take pictures of the car before leaving it.
It is true that you can read horror stories on the Internet about renting cars in Corsica.
However, keep in mind that the thousands and thousands of people who have no problem don't write that all went well with their rentals...
So don't be stressed. If you have taken a reputable company, are respecting the rules, it should go very smoothly.
Tip 31 - What if you damaged the car
If your rental car gets damaged, the first thing to do is to contact the car rental agency.
- If your rental has only basic insurance, you will have to cover the damages up to your deductible amount.
- If you have purchased a full coverage with the rental company, check with them and it should be covered
- If you have purchased with Discovercars.com, contact them and provide all info (within 28 days of dropping off the car). They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted
- If you are using your own insurance, contact them and provide all info. They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted.
#32 to 36 - Get ready to drive in France
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about driving in France.
Tip 32 - Understand the rules
- Driving is on the right side of the road
- Seatbelts are mandatory for all
- Alcohol limit is 0.05%
- Speed limits are well indicate in red circle. Most of the time you really don't need them because you can't really drive fast on those sinuous roads.
- Most villages have a 30km/h limit and many (way too many) speed bumps
- In France, if a crossroad has no sign or indication, you give way to the person coming from your right
- Traffic that is on the roundabout has priority
- The use of horn is authorized only in case of immediate danger (although French people tend to forget this rule)
Tip 33 - the French "Priorité à droite"
Be careful of one rule that you will not be familiar with.
In the French towns, when coming to a crossing, if there are no signs at all indicating a stop or a priority, then, the vehicle coming from the street to the right of you has priority. And you have priority the to streets on the left.
Tip 34 - Know the potential dangers
You won't see many animals on the roads in France.
I think the main danger when driving in France are the cyclists.
Tip 35 - Plan your itinerary
It can be fun to go an adventure.
But if you want to see many locations on your road trip, better to plan ahead to balance your days and book accommodations.
Find all my favorite locations in Normandy and tips in my travel guide eBook:
Be overwhelmed by the beauty, not the planning!
Plan your perfect trip around Normandy with:
- 8 easy-to-plan Maps
- 160+ pre-selected scenic locations
- Planning tips to make the most of your time
- 315+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
Tip 36 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in France is 112:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
Want to see more of the best France has to offer?
- 45 Most beautiful landscapes in Normandy - read article
- 42 Best things to do in Normandy - read article
- 10 most charming villages in Normandy - read article
- 3 days in Paris, itineraries - read article
- Best day trips from Paris - read article
Planning a trip to Normandy?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
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