France is a very popular holiday destination for UK tourists and particularly for driving holidays.
But unlike the UK, France has a lot of toll roads. Cue unexpected expenses, long waits at toll booths, and the hassle of trying to use a left hand side toll booth in a right hand drive car.
Don’t you wish it was all a bit simpler?
It can be – if you’re well prepared. In this article we’ll tell you how you can solve some the problems, calculate how much you’ll need to pay in tolls, and have a trouble-free experience on French toll roads.
Table of Contents
French toll roads explained
Most French motorways have long stretches of toll road. Very few are completely free.
French motorways are generally run by private companies. Often the company was involved in building the motorway, and the tolls are the way that they get a return on that investment.
Most road atlases will show the sections of toll road. Motorway direction signs will also be labelled ‘péage’ if a toll applies. Use a French toll road map to plan your journey as assess where you’ll need to pay charges.
French toll roads charges are collected at toll booths at the start of a toll section, or on the slip road.
Free motorways do exist. The A16/A28 from Calais to Rouen, and A20 from Chateauroux to Brive-la-Gaillarde, have long stretches of cost-free road. The A75 from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers is free, but you’ll have to pay to use the Millau viaduct which is on this stretch of motorway.
How do I pay the French tolls road?
You will need to pay at the toll station, either by card, cash, or electronic remote payment. If you have a toll tag, you can drive through certain lanes without stopping and the tag will operate automatically.
Most toll booths are now automatic. Generally, when you enter the motorway you take a ticket from the machine; when you exit, you insert this ticket to find out how much to pay, then use cash or credit card to settle the bill. There’s no mystery to how to pay French road tolls – it’s just like using the automated pay system in most car parks.
For French toll roads, credit card payment using Mastercard or Visa is easy. However, French toll road payment methods might not include all UK issued debit cards.
More than 5 million drivers now use the télépéage system to pay French road tolls as they drive through. A French toll road tag is charged automatically so there’s no need to stop.
British drivers can buy an ‘Emovis’ tag – but it does have administration charges attached, so it’s unlikely to cost in unless you’re making a number of trips. On the other hand, it will stop you paying extra currency conversion charges on your credit card. And it’s a real boon being able to drive straight through when you have a right-hand-drive car and the toll booths are all on the other side!
Note that French toll roads are owned by different operators so some methods of payment may not be available on all roads.
The secret to a stress-free trip is knowing how to find the right lane at the toll station. Look for a pictogram of coins if you’re paying in cash. And if you have a French toll road tag, look for a télépéage lane which doesn’t also have the credit card sign – that way you won’t get stuck behind someone paying by card. A green arrow indicates a lane that accepts both cash and cards.
How much do French toll roads cost?
French toll road prices depend on the size and type of vehicle you’re driving, and how far you’ve gone on the toll road. In a few cases, such as the motorways bypassing Rouen (EUR 2.10) or the Millau Viaduct (shown in the table below), there’s a single one-off charge.
Car charges also include a small trailer, as long as it’s under 2m in height. On French toll roads, motorcycle tolls are less, and vans and campervans with an overall height over 2 metres will also pay higher charges. HGVs and coaches have separate scale charges.
We’ve given some examples for routes often taken by British drivers in the table below but you’re better off using the France toll road calculator to find out exactly how much you’ll have to pay.
The Grenoble route will get you to the French Alps, and the Calais-Bordeaux route will get you to the south-west; meanwhile Calais to Limoges gets you most of the way to Perigord and the eastern Dordogne and is a great ‘saver’ route if you don’t mind some slower stretches of road. We’ve given some examples for routes often taken by British drivers in the table below but you’re better off using the France toll road calculator to find out exactly how much you’ll have to pay.
|Calais – Paris||21€|
|Calais to Marseille, total||92€|
|Calais – Toulouse||59€|
|Gorges du Tarn viaduct at Millau||10.80€ in summer|
8.60€ in winter
5.30€ for motorbiles
|Calais to Bordeaux – via Le Mans (faster)||78€|
|Calais to Bordeaux – via Chartres/Orleans (slower)||60€|
As you can see, the cost of French toll roads can add significantly to the cost of a trip – if you’re headed to the Mediterranean coast you’ll be forking out nearly EUR 200 in French road tolls.
French road tolls prices have to be approved by the government. They have generally risen by less than inflation. For 2020, the annual increase in French toll roads prices took effect in February and was an average 0.85%.
Alternatives to French tolls road
If French toll road prices are too high for your liking you can always decide to drive on toll-free roads. However, your journey will take significantly more time.
Remember that you can drive faster on the motorway (130 Km/h instead of 110 Km/h). In many cases motorways are the most effective way to bypass big cities; if you choose non-toll roads you could be stuck in traffic, particularly at rush hour. You’re also going to spend much more time direction finding, and your risk of an accident on smaller rural roads could be higher.
Perhaps the best approach is to minimise your French toll road costs by planning your journey to use the stretches of toll road that will save you the most time, while maximising your use of free motorway stretches and non-motorway dual carriageway roads. Use a good French toll road map and a French toll road calculator to plan ahead and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
You might also want to use our mileage calculator (that should probably be a kilometrage calculator for France!) to check how much your alternative route adds to your total mileage. French country roads often wind and wander while motorways tend to be more direct. To complete the equation use our fuel cost calculator to check whether you’re saving more in tolls than you’re paying out in extra fuel!
Of course, some drivers prefer to take longer over their journeys and discover smaller French towns and villages away from the motorways. They can avoid French toll road fees altogether. However, that might limit the areas of France that you can visit in a two week holiday.
If you’re heading to Normandy or the south-west, taking a ferry to Le Havre, Dieppe, Cherbourg or Saint Malo rather than Calais could cut out a lot of motorway driving. But you’d need to balance the saving on French toll road costs against the extra cost of a longer ferry trip.
Am I insured to drive in France?
Many insurance policies include cover for a certain number of days’ driving in Europe. You’ll need to check your policy documentation to ensure you’re covered.
This table highlights the number of days you are allowed to drive in Europe, thus in France, according to the different insurance companies.
|Insurance company||Number of days|
EU regulations say that car insurance policies must offer third party cover for driving in other EU countries. So you’re safe to drive in France even if your policy doesn’t say so explicitly. But you’ll need to check to see if your policy includes more than just third party cover. And that will be particularly important once the Brexit transitional periods ends in December 2020, as no one knows whether insurers will need to continue this cover.
What paperwork will I need to drive in France?
The French love their paperwork, so you’ll need to make sure you have the right papers with you – your licence and your car’s logbook.
If a French police officer asks for your ‘carte grise’ (grey card), it’s the logbook (V5C) that you’ll need.
After the end of 2020 it’s likely that you’ll need two other pieces of paperwork;
- a green card issued by your insurer to prove that you’re insured (they may charge an administration fee for this), and
- an international driving permit, which costs £5.50 and can be obtained from most larger Post Offices.
You’ll also need some compulsory safety gear – a high visibility jacket, a red warning triangle, headlight deflectors to fit while you’re in France, and a spare set of bulbs for your car lights.
Note that the minimum age to drive in France is 18. So if you’re 17, even if you have a full UK licence, you won’t be legal to drive over the Channel.
What should I do if I get into a car accident in France?
If you have an accident in France you’ll need to fill in a ‘constat amiable’ giving the details of the accident for use by the insurers – it’s in French, and French drivers will usually have a few copies in their cars. It’s not compulsory, but your insurance firm will probably want a copy. None the less, if you don’t understand it, don’t feel pressured to sign; wait till you can get someone to translate (and not the other driver, for obvious reasons).
You may also need to phone the police on 17 (112 from a foreign mobile). Always call the police if anyone is injured.
You’ll also need to put out a warning triangle and to put your high-visibility vest on when you get out of the car.
It’s also worth remembering that’s there’s a ‘Good Samaritan’ law in France. If you see someone injured in an accident, it’s your legal responsibility to help. That might mean helping get someone out of a burning car, or just stopping to enquire whether the police have been called and if not, making that call.
You might also want to think about breakdown cover. Some insurers offer you European breakdown cover as part of your fully comprehensive insurance. But if your insurer doesn’t, you might want to buy a separate breakdown policy.
Check out our article on European car insurance.
How do I pay for fuel in France?
Many French service stations are automatic, particularly outside business hours, so it helps to have a debit or credit card.
Be careful as many service stations block as much as EUR 120 from your card, as a pre-authorisation, and it can take three or four days to get it freed. On the other hand if you use a manned station, like those on the motorways, choose “pay at the kiosk” (or in the shop) to ensure your card is only charged for what you use. You could even use cash.
You may recall that in past years many French petrol stations wouldn’t take UK issued cards. That made life difficult if you were trying to fill up out of hours. Now that the UK has Chip & Pin, that problem has largely disappeared – though a few benighted service stations haven’t got up to date yet, so keep a bit of reserve in your tank.
If you want to see how much your trip is going to cost, try our fuel cost calculator.
What are the main French rules of the road?
The biggest rule is of course drive on the right hand side of the road!
Many rules and regulations are similar. Speed limit signs look the same as at home, but the speeds will be shown in Km/h not MPH. However there are a few differences. Speed limits, for instance, which differ according to the type of road – we’ve shown these in the table below.
|Situations||Normal conditions||In rain|
|Built up areas||50||doesn’t change|
|Single lane road||80 (in a few départements, such as Corrèze)||doesn’t change|
|Dual carriageway||110||doesn’t change|
|Motorway||130||reduced to 110|
Although priorité a droite, the rule which gives traffic from the right automatic priority, is no longer observed on major roads, it does apply at unmarked junctions on country roads and in many towns. Watch out for traffic entering the road from your right. It doesn’t apply at roundabouts.
But remember that at roundabouts, you go round anti-clockwise, the other way from the UK!
Some regulations you need to know when driving in France
And remember that the drink/drive limit in France is lower, at 0.5 mg. per ml – just over half the UK limit.
Many Brits have GPS that warns them about speed cameras ahead. That’s illegal in France, so turn it off.
The rules on mobile phones are also slightly different; they must be hands-free, but headsets are also banned.