France has an excellent road network, with most thoroughfares built with the motorist in mind; this has resulted in sweeping views of the countryside, and otherwise unreachable places. Traffic like you get in the UK is uncommon – France is roughly twice the size but with around the same population, so traffic is only really a problem in the larger cities or during peak holiday weekends.
There are three important areas that must be looked at before you begin driving around France – you must acquaint yourself with the basic driving principles of the country, the road network and the administrative requirements relating to Driving Licences.
The French road network is made up of motorways or Autoroutes (known as A followed by a number), trunk roads or routes nationales (N followed by a number) and local roads or route départmentales (D followed by a number). Most motorways are toll roads, with entrances marked with the word ‘Péage’; tolls will either be a flat rate, or are based on the distance you travel on them. Distance tolls are calculated through a ticket system – you will receive a ticket from a kiosk attendant as you enter the road and then pass the ticket to the attendant at the kiosk as you leave the road; your toll rate will. These can be expensive, but are generally the only way to cover large distances in a single day. The French motorway network is the fourth largest in the world, behind the US, Canada and Germany.
The most important rule to remember when driving is that in France you drive on the right – and if your car is right-hand drive, you will have to adjust the direction of your headlamp beams for driving on the right, especially at night. If you are driving a vehicle registered in the UK, a sticker showing the country of origin must be attached to the vehicle.
The main driving law for you to be aware of is priorité à droite which means that those on the right have right of way. Motorists turning onto the road you are on, from the right and in the direction you are travelling have priority. This however is not the case at roundabouts (when those on the left have the right of way) or at a junction marked by a stop sign, traffic light or solid white line.
You must ensure you have your driving licence, car registration papers and insurance documents with you at all times. You must carry a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest inside your car (not in the trunk) at all times. If you do not have these items, the standard fine is €90 per item.
Standard speed limits are: Autoroute: 130Km/h (110Km/h when raining), dual carriage ways or single land road separated by an island: 110Km/h (100Km/h when raining), regional roads: 90Km/h (80Km/h when raining), built up areas: 50Km/h. These are implemented rigorously, and there is instant licence confiscation for anyone caught traveling at more than 25Km/h above the speed limit.
As in the UK, it is compulsory for passengers to wear seat belts wherever in the car they are sitting, and mobile telephones must not be used whilst driving. The drink drive limit in France in lower than in the UK, and the best advice is to not drink alcohol at all if you are driving.
If you have a UK registered car, you are able to drive within the EU without a green card. Your national car insurer should be able to provide you with a ‘European accident statement form’, which can be used if you are involved in an accident. You will usually have to obtain extra insurance cover for driving abroad.
If you are staying in France for less than 90 days and carry a valid EU driving license, you do not need anything further to drive in France. If you are moving to France permanently, you may choose to exchange your license for an international driving licence without having to take a test. This is recommended and will not replace an original licence; rather it acts as an official certificate of validity of the licence as an internationally recognised document.
Click here for more information about owning and keeping a car in France.
What may surprise you is the sheer number of airports there are in France – 170 in total across the country, the highest density in Europe. For every airport in France there are 358,000 inhabitants, versus 1.2 million inhabitants per airport in the UK. Carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet have made it much easier, and much cheaper, to pop across the Channel between the two.
There are at least five airports in mostof the major expat places in France; Normandy for example is served by Caen, Deauville, Rouen, Le Havre and Cherbourg, whilst Languedoc-Roussillon has Carcassonne, Beziers, Montpellier, Perpignan and Toulouse. With new routes between the UK and France opening up all the time, prospective movers really are spoilt for choice when it comes to flying anywhere in the country.
The French train system is also highly efficient. This is mostly operated by the SNCF, the French national railway company. There are over 31,000 kilometres of railway across France but the system still only accounts for a small portion of total travel, meaning that trains are rarely overcrowded. In 1981 the high speed TGV was put in operation, and 1994 saw the opening of the Channel Tunnel to connect France and the UK by rail. Connections between towns are well considered and a trip down to the South of France, for example, can be a stress free journey via Paris on Eurostar and then on to Narbonne or Montpellier direct, some 4 hours away.
For those that prefer to travel by water, France has a large number of natural and man-made waterways. Canal trips and holidays are hugely popular, and many towns are built around these places. Rivers abound of course and many are navigable.
Once in France, it is often tempting to explore a little further and many other countries are easily accessible, including Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The borders are used often, so you will often find you simply sail through without being stopped at all. There is something very pleasant about driving an hour or two and getting out in another country, and living in France does afford one a greater appreciation of Europe.
Public transport costs in general are now similar to those in the UK, aside from trains which are cheaper; the cost of petrol and diesel is about the same. Most motorways have a toll system but the upside to this is that not only are the roads far better maintained and less congested but also there is no road tax. Car insurance is cheaper and remember, it is the car which is insured in France, not the person.