Hints and tips for Planning and Enjoying Your Holiday in France

Documents and equipment

  • Valid passport for each member of the party.
  • EHIC card entitles holder to emergency health care as if you were a French citizen. You can apply for it online, by post, or by phone; see this link: NHS UK You do not have to pay for an EHIC card. Remember- an EHIC card will not entitle you to the entire cost of treatment and care and it does not cover repatriement. We recommend you take a holiday insurance package.
  • Your driving licence.
  • Your motor insurance certificate. Make sure that your insurance policy covers you to the level you want while driving abroad - many offer legal requirement only. If you're not sure, contact them a few weeks in advance (see below). You can download and print a European Accident Statement from our website: European Accident Statement (82K)
  • The car registration document and test certificate.
  • Remember, in France you should carry your car licence and documents while driving.
  • A warning triangle and high visibility vest kept in reach of the driver.

Driving

We only propose to cover the main, and most important differences between France and the UK here.

  • Drive on the right, remember to negotiate roundabouts anti-clockwise.
    This is normally not a problem if you are in a flow of traffic as you can just follow everyone else. The following tips from our own experiences may be of use- Put a 'drive on the right' sticker in the middle of your steering wheel and make sure that all your passengers help you to remember. Take great care after stopping on quiet roads. It is very easy to pull onto the left side when you leave your stop if there is no traffic nearby. Likewise from petrol stations and picnic stops, and in particular after you have parked on the left side of the road and when joining short section of dual carriageways at intersections.(You can easily turn onto the wrong carriageway as there's not always an arrow on the central reservation)
  • In the UK you pay particular attention to the right when turning onto a major road, because this is the direction from which the major road traffic is closest to you. When driving on the right, the situation is reversed and you must pay particular attention to traffic coming from the left. Think this through beforehand so that you fully understand this point before driving here for the first time. You are most at risk from this error when creeping into a busy main road from a side road. Similar confusion can also cause an incident when parked on the side of the road - remember which way traffic is coming from before opening a car door onto the road.
  • Always slow down if confused by the traffic system.
  • You must give way to traffic entering from the right unless road markings clearly indicate that you have priority. You will encounter this mostly in suburban areas and in country lanes, such as the crossroads outside our property. Slow down if you're not sure, you'll find many French drivers doing the same.
  • Exit roads from autoroutes and dual carriageways have much tighter bends than in the UK and must be taken more slowly- at 40mph or so. In the winter they are not salted.
  • Although road signs are uniform across France, they vary greatly in their positioning, which can be confusing. Road junction layouts can also be highly individual and our advice is to proceed with care.
  • When you enter and leave a town or village the town name sign indicates the limits of the 50KPH area.
  • There are fixed speed cameras on the Caen, Rennes and Nantes ring roads and all the major roads in the area. Police motorcyclists and unmarked police cars issue on the spot fines.
  • Speed limits are: 50kph (30mph) in built up areas; 90kph (56mph) on single carriageways - 80 (50mph) if raining; 110kph (69mph) on dual carriageways; 130kph (81mph) on autoroutes - 110kph if raining; Lower speed limits may apply in all cases, watch for the signs if you are unsure.
The following observations may also help you prepare for your first drive in France-
French drivers drive much closer to the car in front than in the UK, it's not very safe, and there are road safety campaigns to try and get them to change their ways, but don't let it annoy you - its not seen as agressive and they are generally cautious overtakers.
In some areas (ours for example) the position of a car when entering or negotiating a roundabout may bear no relationship to its eventual exit, so take care.
In towns and cities teenagers ride scooters with little regard to traffic laws or their own safety. Pay particular attention if turning right or left, as they will often ignore your indicator and whiz past.
No matter how good it feels to be driving without holdups on wide, quiet roads, don't forget that France has up to twice the number of annual road deaths that the UK has.

Insurances

Holiday insurance will cover you for eventualities such as theft, cancellation, health, etc; remember that your hotel or cottage owner does not have responsibility for theft of guests' belongings and does not insure them. Although you can arrange your insurance through a travel agent, AA, RAC, or ferry company, the best deal may be to take an annual family holiday insurance package that covers all your holidays and weekends away for the year, often including a wintersports holiday, usually at no more cost than you'll pay for one holiday insurance. Have a look at this Money Saving Expert page .
You should also have breakdown cover for your car - such as AA or RAC cover. Some makes may have European cover as part of their guarantee or servicing guarantee (VW for example)

There is confusion regarding UK car insurance policies and driving abroad. moneysupermarket.com found of 20 big brand motor insurance providers only half offer motorists the same level of cover they have in the UK for driving on the continent. The problem associated with insufficient motor insurance cover came up when a guest's car was damaged while stationary by a passing van. The drivers filled in the accident statement and the fault clearly appeared to be that of the van driver due to innattention. However his employers disagreed and made it plain that they would make a claim on our guest's insurance. Our guest telephoned his insurers who were sympathetic but said that they would be unable to help him in any way as he had not extended his cover for driving in France and his insurance cover was therefore only for the minimum legal requirement. Thus he stood to lose the cost of his own repairs (1000+) and his no claims bonus. We can't emphasise enough the difficulty UK drivers would face in trying to pursue a claim against a French insurance company without the help of their British insurer. Check your policy!

Payments

You can pay for petrol and shopping and most other goods and services with your Visa/MasterCard credit or debit card. Remember that opening hours for shops, banks and petrol stations are shorter than in the UK, often including a lunch break from 12 to 2, closing at 7-9 PM, and halfday or all day closure on Mondays and Sundays. UK credit and debit cards work in French card operated 24H petrol pumps - the usual operation is: insert card, select fuel and validate, enter pin and validate, choose whether you want a receipt issued (A-no V-yes), withdraw card and fill with fuel. On some pumps you are not asked to pre-select the fuel. Pre loaded euro cards do not work in petrol pumps

Few French banks now cash traveller's cheques or change notes, although larger Post Offices still take them, but plastic is easier for everything. You can withdraw cash from French cash machines with either debit or credit cards (Visa or Mastercard) and you'll get a good rate of exchange, but find out before you come how much you'll have to pay in extra charges per transaction. Bank cash machines can be found in most supermarket foyers. Some banks have arrangements to save you money when withdrawing cash, Barclays with BNP Paribas for example. Some cards including some issued by building societies cannot be used. Be warned that most credit cards charge you on the exchange rate plus a fee on purchases and cash withdrawals.

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