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Getting Around France

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and Supporters Direct merged to become the FSA in 2019 – so this page may contain hyperlinks that do not work and/or have missing files. Our archived pages are not maintained and will not be updated.

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First Things First

In France, they drive on the right, and give way to traffic from the right, unless otherwise indicated. That’s pretty key.

In all other respects, the rules of the road are broadly similar to the UK (all drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts, don’t use a horn at night in a built up area, a red traffic light means stop, and so on).

Driving licence

It stands to reason that you must have a valid driving licence in your home country to legally drive in France – you must be at least 18 years of age, however, regardless of the minimum age requirement at home. You should carry both the paper and photocard portions of your driving licence, along with proof of ownership (V5C) and insurance. Valid ID, such as a passport, is also required.

Safety equipment

It is required by French law that all cars are equipped with the following:

– Reflective/hi-vis jackets, to be used in the case of emergencies. These are to be kept within the car, not the boot, as they must be worn if getting out of the car when broken down on the motorway or on a main road.

– A red warning triangle

– Headlamp beam deflectors

Motorcyclists must also carry hi-vis vests, and are required by law to wear a helmet.

You will also see plenty of places online telling you of a requirement to carry a breathalyser. This is something of a hot-topic, and you’ll see a lot of conflicting advice. While it is on the statute book in France, there is no penalty for not carrying one. The fine proposed (€11) still hasn’t been implemented, due to French bureaucracy, and is less than the cost of buying the breathalyser in the first place.

Travelling with children

Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to travel on the front seats of vehicles without using a special child restraint, unless there is no rear seat in the vehicle, or the rear seat is already occupied with children under 10, or there are no seat belts.  

Unlike in the UK, the use of child car seats is dependent on weight rather than height – below 13kg and children must be in a rear-facing car seat (if in the front of the car, the airbag must be deactivated). Up to 18kg they must be in a child seat with a harness, and up to 36kg they must use a booster seat with a seat-belt.

Distance tables for driving between cities, also driving times, can be found here –

Speed limits




Urban motorway or dual carriageway with a central reservation

Other roads

Built up areas

Normal traffic conditions

130 km/h

110 km/h

90 km/h

50 km/h

Rain or other precipitation

110 km/h

100 km/h

80 km/h

50 km/h

Visibility less than 50m

50 km/h

50 km/h

50 km/h

50 km/h

Motorway breakdown

Motorists who break down on the motorway should not call their breakdown provider; they are instead required to use the emergency phones that are stationed every 2km along the motorway network. You will be towed to a safe area from where you can contact your breakdown provider. There is a charge for this, which is fixed by the government.

Other do’s and don’t’s

It is forbidden for drivers to use a headset or headphones while driving (eg to listen to music or most hands-free devices), which makes it illegal to make or receive any phonecalls while driving. The only exception to this is a wireless bluetooth headset, or an in-car speaker-phone, the use of which is permitted.

Drink driving limits

The general picture in France is that the limit is lower than in the UK, especially so for young or newly qualified drivers.

New legislation means that the limit for drivers who have less than 3 years of driving experience is 0.02mg/ml of blood.

For all other drivers, the limit is 0.05mg/ml, which is still below the UK’s limit of 0.08mg/ml.

Motorways and Toll Roads

The majority of the French motorway network (Autoroutes) are toll roads, so if you’re covering a long distance on the road it’s worth bearing in mind this additional cost. The roads themselves are usually in very good condition, and traffic, outside of major cities, is often light.

Autoroutes are denoted with an A before the road number, and are signposted by white writing on blue signs. Tolls are specifically highlighted by ‘peage’ signs.

Signs for non-motorway routes are displayed in white writing on green signs.

The cost of using the toll roads is roughly €1 per 15km. Some examples of typical prices from January 2016 are below. For cars towing caravans, or for motorhomes, add approximately 50%:

Calais to Paris (via A16) – €20.60

Paris to Nice (via Beaune) – €75

Paris to Bordeaux (via A10) – €54.40

You can pay the tolls with either cash or a credit/debit card; signs at the toll-booths will direct you to the appropriate lane.

There are cases where avoiding the Autoroutes and taking some more minor roads (N-Roads, or Routes Nationales) may be advisable – large stretches of these, such as the N10 from Poitiers to Bordeaux, are dual carriageways and not much below motorway standard – but it is generally accepted that the best and quickest way is by paying the toll.

Travelling by train

Getting around France by train is relatively quick and painless, although the services during the

Euros are likely to be heavily over-subscribed, so the need to book in advance is even greater than usual.

All intercity TGV trains require a reservation before allowing you to board, and the pricing structure works much like a budget airline – the more the train fills up and the closer to departure you get, the more it’ll cost you. There are broadly three types of fare for TGV services:

Pro– Full-priced but flexible fares which are refundable/changeable.

Loisir– Lower cost fares which are usually refundable/changeable, within reason. These are valid only on your specific train.

Prems– The cheapest fares, sold only in advance. Typically they disappear a couple of weeks before departure (if they haven’t sold out) and are best bought a couple of months in advance. They are only valid on your specific train, and are non-refundable or transferable.

You can make your reservation at the station, or online through SNCF’s own English-language website

Local trains, such as the TER (Trains Exprès Regionaux) which run routes such as Grenoble to Lyon, and Paris’s RER suburban trains do not require reservations, however. They work to fixed fares and can be used as and when you like.

Some of the shorter intercity (intercité) routes, like Paris to Amiens or Rouen for example, also operate on a non-reservation basis, although advance purchase of a ticket for a specific train can save you some money on occasion. As ever, our advice is to book early wherever possible for the best deals.

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