Driving a motorhome in France (under 3.5 tonne) can be tricky if you aren’t used to driving larger vehicles. If this is the first time driving a left-hand-drive vehicle on the other side of the road and in a foreign country, then the level of complexity increases.
Planning for this part of your journey ahead of time can improve your confidence, get your head in the right space, and alleviate many of the anxieties, frustrations and even fear that you might otherwise feel.
We have written this guide to allay these concerns as much as possible by providing the facts and some of our tips, gathered through over 25 years of driving large motorhomes “on the opposite side of the road”.
As we travel around in our motorhome, we often meet many people who tell us they would love to do a motorhome road trip but are too terrified to drive. Others have been frightened by people’s overzealous stories in online forums about how difficult it is to drive in France and in Europe in general.
It’s true. There can be times when driving a motorhome in France can be a bit interesting, to say the least, and there have been times we’ve found ourselves on some roads and in some locations we’d have preferred to avoid. But these are the exceptions. Most of the time, our driving in the motorhome is a breeze.
Important paperwork for motorhome travel
While we generically refer to this section as relating to paperwork, items can now be kept and shown using a smartphone or email. Whichever way you carry your paperwork, be it in physical form or digital, just be sure to have it and be able to access it when required.
- Passports and visas- these go without saying. You need them to travel, and you need them to prove your identity in other countries either to the police, to hotels, campgrounds etc. Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to enter France either immediately or if you are staying longer term. In the post-Brexit era, there may also be a further requirement of UK residents to carry additional paperwork. This is still a work in progress.
- Emergency contact details – Have this handy somewhere should someone else need to contact you. If you are travelling in a motorhome, it’s a good idea to have a note written and placed either in a conspicuous place in the cabin or in the glove box.
- Travel Insurance – we always recommend having travel insurance to cover a range of incidents that could occur while you travel.
- Driver’s licence – Generally your own driver’s licence is enough but many people still advocate having an International Driver’s Licence. Some rental companies still require it as part of their hire conditions. The internet is full of opinions on these, and we have our own, but we will say here, do your homework and be satisfied with your decision and the risk (or lack thereof) it might involve. You must be over 18 and hold a full open driver’s licence.
- Medical paperwork as it is relevant to you and your travel. Once again, in an emergency, this could be very helpful. Take note of any current (or changing) requirements relating to medical situations in the countries you are travelling in.
- Crit air sticker – if you plan on driving through any of the low-emission zones in France, you may need a sticker. Read our comprehensive guide on everything yo need to know about crit air stickers in France.
- Relevant vehicle paperwork – If hiring a motorhome, ensure that you have roadside assistance included in your hire; know where the paperwork is and how you can contact them if required. The same goes for insurance (carte verte), registration papers (carte grise in France) and if coming from the UK V5Cs and green cards. It’s also a good idea to have the contact details for the hiring company too. If you own your motorhome, you should have all your own paperwork relating to ownership and registration of your vehicle as well as details on your roadside assistance company.
- If you plan on using the France Passion network, ensure you are a paid-up member and have the sticker on the windscreen. If you are a member of any camping associations, have your membership details with you.
We highly recommend having a mobile phone with access to data and voice calls in the event of an emergency. If you have a smartphone much of the above information can also be saved to it. We use and recommend Maya Mobile eSims.
When people are away from home for a period of time, it’s fairly usual to remember to pay certain bills in advance or do what many of us do these days and have our bills on direct debit. This makes travelling very easy.
Often, when we travel we always seem to have some important business going on at home. Many times it’s been important property transactions that just seem to always settle when we are away. As such, we do some planning before we leave to ensure that we will have access to everything we need.
This includes access to online banking, having e-signatures ready for anything that needs signing and appropriate instructions in place at home (e.g. banks, lawyers).
If you are planning on transacting when overseas as a minimum you should ensure the following is possible.
- Ability to send outbound emails from another country. While this might sound completely ridiculous, we have had this issue in the past. Many years ago, our Australian email would only allow us to receive emails and not send them. We didn’t even think to check this and it caused enormous issues. This same company still has the same process, which defies belief in this digital age. Needless to say, we changed providers.
- If you are not using your usual mobile sim overseas (more of an issue with non-European, non-UK residents), be aware that any two-factor authentication messages normally sent to your mobile won’t be received unless you turn on global roaming or have access to wifi for wifi messages like iMessage. Failure to be able to get these verification codes could mean you can’t access your cash. We also recommend having an authenticator app on your phone – like Google – so that all you need it wifi, not your phone number, to get your codes.
- If you have a local sim, update any of the important online profiles you use with the temporary number. Advise friends and family back home of your new number as well.
- Be aware of transfer limits for online banking and payments and have any changes made ahead of your travel. Also, remember that most online banking and other website access relies on two-factor authentication (2FA) these days. If you know that you need to get a code before you can access your information, ensure you have access to that device (either email, phone or 2FA number off an authenticator app). If you don’t use your normal phone number, the codes will go to your phone and you won’t be able to access them. If you have iMessage on an iPhone and have wifi connection, then you will be able to get your codes. It’s worthwhile checking all of this thoroughly before you leave.
- If you are using a money card or a new credit or debit card, ensure it is activated before you leave. We use and recommend Wise for all of our international currency and debit card that works easily in other countries.
- Download any apps you might want to use while you are at home and have access to good internet.
- Download any movies, games etc from providers such as Netflix. They are a great way of keeping yourself amused without requiring data.
These days, much of this can be overcome with complete access to data connections, but it just pays to think all of this through carefully. In a worst-case scenario, have someone at home that you trust who can transact on your behalf where possible.
Equipment required by law
There’s a lot of equipment to carry when you are doing a trip in a motorhome and much of it is at your discretion. However, there are several items that are mandatory, as required by European law.
- Warning triangle– Must be used in the event of a breakdown.
- Reflective vests – Have one onboard for every traveller. If you are standing out on the road working on your vehicle or waiting for roadside assistance to arrive, you need to be able to be seen.
- First aid kit
- Fire extinguisher
- Headlamp converters – May be required for UK registered vehicles
- Snow chains are compulsory in some European countries in winter
- In some European countries, like France, a signal board is required when carrying bicycles on a rear bicycle rack
Note – it is NOT mandatory to carry a breathalyser kit in France any longer. The relevant law was scrapped in late 2019.
More reading >> Read our comprehensive list of equipment for your motorhome?
Crit air stickers for low emission zones in France
Do I need a crit air sticker to drive in France? This has become a common question asked by all travellers who are planning to drive their own vehicle or one they’ve hired.
We won’t go into all the detail here; it would take too long. But you can read our comprehensive guide on crit air stickers here. This guide gives you all the specific details about what crit air stickers are, whether you actually need one, where to buy it and how to use the French government website. There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet, so use this as your up-to-date guide.
Tolls in France
If there’s one thing that can easily raise the heart rate of a motorhome traveller in France (or further afield in Europe) it is tolls. More specifically, it’s getting stuck on a toll road and having to pay when you had no idea they even existed, or that you were on a toll road. The anxiety rises if you get to the payment zone and don’t have any money or a toll transponder.
Taking a toll road is great for expediency, and there have been times when we have used them for this purpose. The cost of the toll also cancels out, sometimes, the cost of it taking longer to drive on the smaller, less efficient roads.
However, be mindful that driving a motorhome puts you into one of the higher classes, meaning that tolls can be upwards of €50 depending on where you are driving.
France has many autoroutes, the name given to the main arterial highways linking the major cities all over the country. As far as a piece of infrastructure goes, they are magnificent pieces of work, allowing for the mass transit of vehicles, often at a very fast pace.
Most of them are privately owned, hence the toll. So how do you know what is and isn’t a toll road? These days, most of the online mapping tools and apps we use will tell us where the toll roads are and allow us to change settings to avoid them.
In France, as a general rule, it will be those roads with an “A” prefix. Note however that some of the A roads in the north of France remain government-owned and as such currently do not attract tolls.
On the roads themselves, the toll roads are designated by blue signs. Other main roads have green road signs.
Along the autoroutes or as you are about to enter one, the word péage will be visible. This is another clear indication that the road you are about to drive on or enter is a toll road. In French, péage means toll.
Upon entry to most toll roads, machines generate a ticket that indicates the date and time you entered but most importantly, where you entered. This is important because you will be paying for the distance driven. The longer you stay on an autoroute, the more you pay.
If you don’t get a ticket, this can still be completely normal. Certain toll roads don’t charge for the distance and have a fixed rate for the journey.
When you get your ticket, put it somewhere safe. I know this sounds a little weird but it’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard of people either throwing it away, or losing it in a very short space of time.
You need to be able to find the ticket when you reach the pay station at the end of your trip on the autoroute. Failure to produce it will see you paying the maximum amount,
How to pay for tolls in France
Locals use electronic transponders called télépéage. These are by far the most efficient way of using the French toll roads. Each trip is recorded, you can sail through the toll gates without having to stop and worry about making a payment and there are various payment methods you can use to settle the account.
If you are planning on spending a long period of time in France or using the toll roads a lot, or both, definitely investigate this option.
Note however that to set up a Télépéage account you need to have a European Union bank account which will possibly rule many people out.
Otherwise, the options are either cash or card. As a non-cash user, I would actually say here that sometimes having cash on hand for tolls can be useful. Whilst credit cards can be used, they should be the chip and pin variety. Even so, there are still many stories of cards failing at a toll gate, with a line of traffic behind you. This can cause great frustration and anxiety for travellers.
As you are approaching the toll gates, look ahead to decide as early as possible which lane you need to be in. This can be a bit tricky at peak times, but it is imminently painful if you get into the wrong lane in thick traffic. The French don’t take too kindly to visitors trying to wriggle their way out across multiple lanes.
As a guide, the following indicators exist at the toll gates. If a lane has a red cross above it, it’s closed. Green, it’s open. A blue sign with coins being tipped into a container means that cash is accepted but it’s an auto-pay gate. Change is not given.
A blue sign with a man means that the booth is operated by a real person and therefore change is possible. A blue sign with CB means credit cards only and the orange sign is for those with e-transponders.
Cost of tolls in France
The cost of the tolls vary depending on the type of vehicle you are driving, the autoroute and the distance.
For toll charges by autoroute, refer to the official Autoroutes France website.
Road Rules in France
Drive on the right
Driving in France means you drive on the right-hand side of the road. When entering a roundabout you approach it in an anti-clockwise fashion. When on the autoroutes or highways, the “fast” lane is the left-hand side in the direction of your travel. Overtaking is therefore done via the left-hand side.
Don’t drive in the fast lane if you aren’t prepared to do the speed limit (or faster) as you will aggravate the drivers and even though the horn is infrequently used, you might get a good dose of honking. At the very least, they will flash their headlights.
Driving on a side that is different to what you are used to at home can be challenging. We’ve always been ok with driving in Europe, but there are a few tricks to make sure you don’t forget.
Whenever you have been parked for a while, or stopped overnight, it’s always a good idea to remind yourself when you sit in the driver’s seat for the first time of where you need to drive.
Coming out of a supermarket or shopping centre can break your concentration, and driving out of a carpark can sometimes make you forget where you are. Again, remind yourself where you are.
Driver’s tip: We always refer to a small saying “as long as the driver’s bottom is on the centre line”, you are driving the correct way. So left-hand drive, right-hand side of the road, bottom is on the centre line, tick!
Speed Limits in France
Generally, the speed limits in France are as follows, but be mindful that in some areas, different limits may be signed separately.
- 130 kph (80 mph) on toll roads (autoroutes)
- 110 kph (68 mph) on highways with dual lanes each way and highways without tolls
- 90 kph (56 mph) on all other roads
- 50 kph(31 mph) in towns
Traffic lights are used in France. Following green (go) a yellow light appears (slow down and get ready to stop) and then red (stop). After red, it goes straight back to green once more.
Some speed limits also change when the weather conditions are poor. For example, on the autoroutes, in wet weather the speed limit falls to 110 km/h (68 mph)
Speed cameras, both fixed and mobile, are used extensively throughout France. Speed radars used by individuals in vehicles are prohibited by law.
Priorité à Droite. This is the rule that can cause confusion, even to locals. This old road rule means that at any intersection, all vehicles are required to give way to the right. Sounds simple enough, especially as most intersections are anchored by traffic signs to advise which vehicle must give way.
However, in the absence of any traffic sign, this old rule comes into force, and all vehicles must give way to their right. Sounds logical, and sounds easy enough to remember, however, there are two locations where it is more likely to slip your mind, and the consequences, if you do so, could be dangerous.
The two locations are on roundabouts and on country roads. Let’s talk about roundabouts first.
Usually, once you are on a roundabout, the approaching traffic must give way to those on the roundabout and you only enter when it is safe to do so. However, on roundabouts in France that are not signed, vehicles that are already on the roundabout must also still give way to those entering it from their right.
It means you really can’t just get on the roundabout and whiz around and get off where you want. You need to watch out for those on your right. This can be a bit tricky when you are also looking for your exit.
The roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a very good example of the Priorité à Droite rule in action.
The second area where you are likely to need to remember this rule is in rural areas and small villages.
Many of us would be used to driving on a major road where smaller roads come in from the sides and meet with the larger one. In many circumstances, vehicles on the small road joining the major one would be required to give way. In France, this is the case only if it is signed.
Otherwise, any vehicle on the major road needs to give way to the vehicle approaching on the right. This holds even if the vehicle is stationary. The exception to this is if the road is a dirt one. Failure to give way to a vehicle coming out from the right while you are driving at a fast speed is never going to end well.
See what we mean! It’s a simple rule with several variations in how it is applied.
Our best advice is that wherever you are, always keep your eye on the traffic signs and what they are telling you. Also, if you are out of the cities and on roads where your speed might be a bit higher than what you would maintain in the towns and villages, keep an eye out for those roads coming at you from the right. Even if you’ve seen a sign, it’s probably always best to take your foot off the accelerator a little, just in case.
The traffic signs for Priorité à Droite are yellow, white and black. When you see a sign that is a yellow diamond, surrounded by white with a black border, this means you have right of way. If you see the same sign with a black diagonal line through it, you must give way to the right at all times.
Use of headlights
We think it’s good practice to have your lights turned on at all times. It is however only law in France to do so in conditions of poor light or bad weather.
Use of horn
Seatbelts are required to be worn by French law. There are also specific rules governing the use of seat belts for children depending on weight/age.
Use of mobile phones
The use of mobile phones in any way while driving is prohibited in France.
Drivers can still use them in the event of a breakdown if they are on the side of the road,but otherwise they can only be used when parked in an official parking spot.
Drinking and driving
It’s easiest if you just don’t do it at all. The blood alcohol limit in France is 0.05 and is policed.
As part of their environmental strategy, France introduced a new scheme in 2017 whereby an emissions sticker showing the age and the cleanliness of the car with regard to pollutants. More details can be found on this website and in our crit air stickers guide.
In general, the French law covers you as though you were a standard commuter vehicle. If a car is allowed to park in a particular location, so too may motorhomes. The only times this doesn’t apply is where there are signs to the contrary and where it explicitly says motorhomes may not be parked. Or, if there are height barriers – like those sometimes found in supermarket carparks – then clearly you can’t park a larger vehicle there.
Pay attention to where you park, especially in major cities. Look out for any signs noting where you can and can’t park, and coloured lines also. A single yellow line painted on the road or along a curb is an indicator that parking is not allowed. A solid yellow line means no stopping or parking. A broken yellow line means you can stop but not park.
Some small towns even have a local parking system where you need to buy a “parking disc” from the tourist office or newsagent and display on your dashboard.
The solution to not getting towed or fined is to make sure you understand where you are parking every single time. Don’t assume all towns follow the same rules.
Also, just as a general tip, don’t park anywhere that looks unsafe, either for you or your vehicle.
When we are in a motorhome, we are always on the lookout for parking areas where it is easy to park. These are usually large parking lots, sometimes just out of the main city centre. There are of course some towns that make it incredibly difficult to park, but more often than not, you’ll find something. The larger the carpark, usually means better access and a greater opportunity to keep your vehicle safe.
General tips for driving in France
Keep the big vehicles like motorhomes out of the big cities unless you have an insatiable thirst for adventure and want an adrenaline rush. We’ve done it and survived in more major European cities than I care to remember, but it’s not the best way to spend your time and given the choice, it’s something we’d prefer to avoid.
If it’s your first time driving on the right hand side, or it’s been a while, find a quiet area to take the motorhome for a drive first. Give everyone who is going to share the driving a dry run. Confidence behind the wheel is 99% of the solution.
Be prepared if you are driving in small villages to have to re-route, pull your side mirrors in or reverse back out of the small side street you mistakenly went down. This will all happen at some stage. The secret is to keep your cool and take your time correcting the situation.
Share the driving if you can. Being a co-driver is also good for learning and understanding what the driver is going through and makes you a better helper/navigator.
Get your petrol from petrol stations connected to supermarkets (like leClerc and Carrefour) as they will always be the cheapest. Otherwise, get your fuel off the highways. Fuel on autoroutes is always the most expensive.
On the subject of fuel, make sure you have fuel before the weekend hits just in case you find yourself in a town where they aren’t open. Many fuel stations these days are unmanned and you require a chip and pin credit card to buy fuel before you pump it.
We use and recommend Wise debit cards for purchasing of fuel. Most petrol stations will take a pre-authorisation amount from your card before you start pumping fuel, which can be as high as €130-€150. If you have a normal debit card, it’s quiute possible that this amount will stay on your card for some time (sometimes 20-30 days) and will have the impact of reducing your available funds. Wise debit cards have the pre-authorised amount placed on the card, and it is immediately corrected once you have finished the re-fueling process.
You can check out and apply for a Wise debit card here.
In France, it is also a really good idea to keep an eye on truck strikes and industrial action and unrest in general. They can both stuff up your travel arrangements by blocking road access (or severely impacting the time it takes to get to your destination) or fuel can become limited.
Get a GPS. These days having a GPS installed in your motorhome, even if you are hiring, should be a basic inclusion. They really do keep you out of trouble, and with the wonderful screens they have these days, give you fair warning of the exits and roads you need to take well in advance.
Even with a GPS though, you need to keep your wits about you, as sometimes they are not as up to date as they should be. Maintenance on roads and bridges can mean detours and an addition to your schedule in terms of time or distance that you hadn’t factored in to your plans.
Also, unless your GPS is great at advising of routes with no height restrictions, this is another area that can cause you to have to recreate a route. Sometimes, we’ve been led on a certain route, only to find out that the only way across the river in a particular area was by a bridge with a height restriction. There’s no getting around these types of issues, you just need to be prepared for them and find another way.
If you’ve got a nervous passenger, take the time before you start out each day to explain where you’ll be driving and the types of roads or traffic situations you might expect to find. That way you are preparing them as much as you can.
Drive to the conditions. If you are driving a large motorhome, you’ll know that it is a big, heavy rig. Slowing them down quickly is not something you really want to be doing. Maintain good distances between other vehicles, don’t drive in dangerous weather conditions, and when in doubt, slow down. Unless you are happy to match it with the locals doing 180kmh on the autoroutes, stay out of the fast lane.
Don’t ever think it’s ok to drive in bus lanes. These are reserved for buses, taxis and bikes.
If you are able, get some bikes to carry with you. Being able to get into the smaller towns using this mode of transport reduces the pressure on driving in small villages, or large busy ones and also finding a park (usually more frustrating that the driving)
Finally, last but definitely not least, do a quick walkaround your motorhome each day before leaving your overnight location (or any other spot you’ve been parked in for a while). When you are on the road for a while, sometimes the days all blur into one.
When you wake up in the morning, you might forget that the night before you parked yourself really close to a high curb, or a bank of rocks, bollards or near some other immovable object. Refreshing yourself with your surroundings will save you doing something you might wish you didn’t.
When planning your journey be mindful of the distances you are wanting to travel and your planned destination. If driving on the smaller roads, the time that it takes to get to the final location will be increased.
Have a plan for where you are going to stop for the evening (and a backup plan just in case you get help up). Our best advice here is to arrive during daylight. Trying to find the location of a campground, or worse, a France Passion site in the dark can test even those with the best patience.
Also, use this time to check that everything is secure for the drive ahead. Steps are up, vents are down, bikes are locked on and external doors locked in. Do the same check on the inside, making sure drawers and cupboards are locked into place and everything that could be a projectile is put away.
What happens if you have an accident in France? We’d all like to think it won’t happen, but there’s so much that can happen outside of our control when we are on the roads. We’ve even had someone back into a hired motorhome in a carpark while we were actually inside! They caused a lot of damage and we had to call the police.
- Always stop whenever there has been an accident
- Assess the situation – if anyone is injured call the appropriate authorities immediately
- Take photographs of the scene
- Ensure you have all details of the other drivers involved
- Document everything straight away so nothing is forgottten
- Complete an accident form.
This website is a useful resource.
More motorhoming in France resources
We’ve written many guides on motorhoming in France to help those starting out for the first time or those looking for inspiration for their itinerary.
Hire a motorhome in France
We use and recommend Anywhere Campers for motorhome hire in France and Europe. They are professional, have excellent motorhomes, transparent pricing and are also one-way motorhome hire specialists. Read our guide on motorhome hire in Europe.
Buy a motorhome in France
If you are looking to buy your own motorhome in France, it’s important to make sure it’s done legally. We recommend France Motorhome Sales. You can read our comprehensive guide on buying a motorhome in France – legally!- here.
Motorhome how-to guides
- Must-ask questions before hiring a motorhome in France (or Europe)
- Tips for planning a European motorhome itinerary
- What’s inside a campervan?
- Things to pack to make your motorhome life a breeze
- Tips for picking up a hired motorhome
- Tips for motorhome safety
- Comprehensive packing guide for motorhome road trips
Motorhome itineraries in France
- 20 days in south-west France + France Passion stopovers in south-west France
- Lot River and Lot Valley itinerary
- Following the Tour de France in a motorhome
- 10-day itinerary Burgundy France