Renting a car in France can give you the flexibility and freedom to explore the country at your own pace, be it the French Riviera, the sunflower fields of Provence, or the iconic chateaus of the Loire Valley.
For renting a car in France, know everything that there is to know – pros and cons, requirements to rent a car in France, which one to choose.
However, the process can be daunting, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the country’s rules and regulations. This guide aims to simplify your car rental experience in France with handy tips and tricks.
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Pros and Cons of Driving a Car in France for Non-Europeans
Pros of Renting a Car in France
- Freedom and Flexibility: Renting a car in France gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and schedule. Unlike relying on public transportation, you have the flexibility to depart when you want, stop where you want, and reach rural areas that might be challenging to access otherwise.
- Scenic Drives: France boasts some of the world’s most beautiful drives, from the stunning coastline of the French Riviera to the rolling hills of Provence. Driving allows you to fully appreciate these scenic routes.
- Comfort: With a rental car, you enjoy the comfort of traveling with your luggage securely stored, the ability to control the air-conditioning or heating, and the freedom to listen to your choice of music.
Cons of Renting a Car in France
- Navigating: Navigating French roads, especially in busy cities like Paris or Lyon, can be challenging. It can be overwhelming to handle the local driving etiquette, road signs in French, and unfamiliar GPS systems.
- Parking: Parking in French cities can be scarce and expensive. Many city centers also have restricted access zones, making it even more challenging to find parking.
- Costs: Owning a car comes with several additional costs, such as toll charges, fuel, parking fees, and possibly high rental insurance costs. Depending on your travel itinerary, public transportation might be a more cost-effective option.
- International Driving Permit: Non-EU drivers will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside their domestic driving license, which adds to the planning process.
- Traffic Rules: Understanding new traffic rules can be challenging for non-European drivers. This includes everything from knowing who has the right of way to understanding specific regulations like priority from the right (‘priorité à droite’).
Renting a car in France as a non-European can be a fantastic experience, provided you are prepared and understand the potential challenges. Consider your itinerary, budget, and comfort with driving in a foreign country before making a decision.
Choosing the Right Rental Company
Finding the right car rental company can make or break your road trip. Global brands like Avis, Hertz, and Europcar are well-established, offer a wide selection of vehicles, and have rental offices across France. These companies typically offer competitive rates and come with certain guarantees and standards of service.
However, don’t discount local French car rental companies. They can offer competitive prices, personal customer service, and a unique fleet of cars. Furthermore, these companies may have more flexible policies, particularly regarding one-way rentals or specific drop-off locations. Do remember to check customer reviews before booking to ensure you have a good understanding of their service.
Understanding Rental Requirements
Renting a car in France comes with a set of requirements. While these may vary slightly depending on the rental company, some general requirements include:
- Age: The minimum age to rent a car is usually 21, and you must have held a driving license for at least a year. Some companies may charge an additional fee for drivers under 25.
- International Driving Permit (IDP): While EU residents can use their domestic driving license, non-EU residents should obtain an IDP. This document, which translates your license details into several languages, is easy to obtain in your home country and is accepted alongside your domestic license.
Booking Your Car
The best practice is to book your car rental well in advance. This is particularly crucial if you’re traveling in peak tourist season (June to August) or want a specific type of car. Websites like Expedia, Kayak, and Auto Europe let you compare prices from various rental companies and include filters for specific car types, rental companies, and more.
When you’ve chosen a car and are ready to book, be sure to read the fine print of your rental agreement. Check the fuel policy, understand the mileage limit, and check whether additional drivers are allowed without extra costs.
Rental Car Companies in France: Compared
Our recommended way for renting a car in France is through Discover Cars.
As a leading platform for online car rental bookings, DiscoverCars.com presents an excellent option for renting a vehicle in France. They work by comparing car rental deals from a multitude of companies, enabling customers to choose the most suitable option for their trip. One of their key features is transparency in pricing.
Unlike many other websites, Discover Cars include all mandatory fees, taxes, and extras in the quoted price. This way, you can be sure there won’t be any unexpected costs when you arrive at the rental desk. Their vast network and comprehensive comparison make it easier to find a deal that fits your needs, be it a compact city car or a comfortable family vehicle.
Prices vary depending on the type of car and rental duration, but you can expect competitive rates due to their broad comparison system.
Europcar is a car rental company that originated in Paris, making it an excellent choice for those wanting to support a French business. They offer a wide range of vehicles to choose from, including luxury, convertible, and electric cars. There are various pick-up and drop-off points throughout France, including airports, train stations, and city locations. The average cost per day can range from 30 to 100 euros, depending on the type of car and time of year.
Hertz is one of the largest car rental companies globally and operates in over 150 countries. They offer a range of vehicle types, from compact and economy cars to luxury vehicles and SUVs. They also provide services such as one-way rentals and long-term rentals. In France, Hertz’s daily rates typically range from 40 to 120 euros, depending on the vehicle and season.
Avis is known for its quality service and extensive fleet of cars, including eco-friendly hybrid cars. They also offer additional features like GPS and Wi-Fi service in their vehicles. Avis has various pick-up locations throughout France, and their prices generally range from 35 to 115 euros per day.
Sixt is a German company with a strong presence in France. They offer a variety of vehicles, including economy cars, SUVs, and luxury cars from brands like BMW and Mercedes. Their prices are competitive, with daily rates starting as low as 30 euros for an economy car and going up to 100 euros for a luxury vehicle.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car is known for its excellent customer service. They offer a wide range of vehicles, from compact and economy cars to SUVs and vans. They also provide additional services like roadside assistance. Prices at Enterprise vary but expect to pay between 40 and 130 euros per day.
Alamo is part of the same global network as Enterprise, and it’s known for its competitive pricing. They offer a variety of vehicles, from compact and economy cars to SUVs and minivans. Their prices are comparable to Enterprise’s, ranging from 40 to 120 euros per day.
Auto Europe is a car rental broker, meaning they negotiate rental prices with major brands to provide the best deals. They offer a range of cars, from compact to luxury vehicles, and have a Best Price Guarantee, promising to match or beat any competitive rental rates. Prices vary widely depending on the vehicle and rental duration, but expect to find deals starting as low as 15 euros per day for an economy car.
Navigating the French Roads
Driving in France is generally a pleasant experience, with well-maintained roads and beautiful scenery. However, being aware of some essential aspects can make your journey even smoother.
Traffic rules: Familiarize yourself with the French rules of the road, which include driving on the right-hand side, mandatory use of seatbelts for all passengers, and strict drink-driving laws.
Tolls: Many French motorways, known as autoroutes, charge tolls. These are usually payable by cash or credit/debit card. Some rental cars are equipped with an automatic toll transponder, which can be convenient but may incur additional fees.
Fuel: While you’ll find fuel stations along the autoroutes and in towns, bear in mind that in rural areas, they may close for lunch (usually between 12 pm and 2 pm) and in the evenings.
Car Insurance and Additional Protection
When renting a car, it’s crucial to understand what type of insurance coverage is included and what additional protections are available. Rental companies generally offer two types of basic coverage: Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Theft Protection.
However, these coverages often come with high deductibles. For peace of mind, consider additional protections, such as Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW), which lowers or removes the deductible, or Personal Accident Insurance (PAI).
Driving in the City vs. the Countryside – Renting a Car in France
Driving in the French countryside is generally a tranquil experience, with open roads and charming scenery. However, you should be prepared for narrow roads and occasional agricultural traffic.
In contrast, cities like Paris, Lyon, and Marseille can be challenging, with high volumes of traffic, numerous pedestrian zones, and expensive parking. When in cities, consider using well-connected public transportation and save your car for venturing into the countryside.
Understanding French Road Signs – Renting a Car in France Tips
Before setting off, familiarize yourself with French road signs. They might be slightly different from what you’re used to. Here are a few key signs:
- “Sortie” means exit, often seen on highways.
- “Rappel” means ‘reminder’, often seen under speed limit signs.
- “Péage” indicates a toll road.
- “Aire de repos” means rest area.
By taking these tips into account, you’ll be well prepared for a fantastic journey through the French countryside or cities. So buckle up, start the engine, and set off on your French adventure!
Adapting to the Local Driving Culture
Every country has its driving culture, and France is no exception. French drivers are known for their aggressive driving style, especially in large cities. They often tailgate, change lanes without signaling, and ignore speed limits. Be cautious, keep your cool, and don’t let this intimidate you.
Final Thoughts on Renting a Car in France
Armed with these tips, renting a car and driving in France can be an enjoyable experience. It gives you the freedom to explore the country at your own pace, venture off the beaten path, and discover hidden gems that are often missed when relying on public transportation.
Happy driving and let us know if you have any questions!
About the Author: Ruben, co-founder of Gamintraveler.com since 2014, is a seasoned traveler from Spain who has explored over 100 countries since 2009. Known for his extensive travel adventures across South America, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, Ruben combines his passion for adventurous yet sustainable living with his love for cycling, highlighted by his remarkable 5-month bicycle journey from Spain to Norway. He currently resides in Spain, where he continues to share his travel experiences alongside his partner, Rachel, and their son, Han.