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Driving and Public Transport for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2013


Driving in France is on the right. If you are from a country in the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), you can drive in France for as long as your licence is valid. If you are from outside the EEA, you can drive with your existing licence for up to twelve months. The licence must be valid and must have an officially sanctioned translation into French.

Depending on which country you are from, you may be asked to take a driving test before the 12 months expires. Once you have passed the test, you will be granted a probationary French driving licence.

Road safety in France has improved greatly in recent years. Nevertheless, in Paris and other large cities, the traffic congestion and, at times, severely limited parking might make you want to think twice about driving. In some cases, you may find that public transport is more suitable.

The French motorways, the autoroutes (‘A’), have a maximum speed limit of 130 kph (80 mph) when the weather is fine, and 110 kph in bad weather. Many of these roads are tolled; most of the toll booths are at entrances or exits. The webpage below gives information on autoroutes, including which ones are tolled:


Enter the start and finish points of your journey and the page will calculate the total payable in tolls.

The ‘N’ national routes are toll-free, though their speed limits are lower, at 110 kph (68 mph.) Speeding in France is a risky thing to do. If you are caught, you may be heavily fined, and might also have your driving licence and even your vehicle confiscated.

The French go on holiday in droves in August, and traffic on main roads is very trying. It may be best not to make any long journeys during this month.


France has one of the world’s best railway services. The fastest train in the world, the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), can travel at speeds of up to 200 mph. This means that you can travel from Paris to Marseille in around  3¼ hours, making the TGV faster than a plane, once you factor in check-in times.

There are around 450 TGV services every day, connecting over 200 cities in France. Fares are generally reasonable, and greatly reduced fares are available if you pre-book some time in advance (e.g. around €50 for Paris-Marseille.) Reserving your seat before travelling on a TGV or other long-distance trains is compulsory.

You may prefer to take a slower train so you can enjoy the scenery. The other train types, the intercité and local trains, are also run to a high standard, though more rural areas are not served so well. Note that, in all cases, you must validate your train ticket by putting it in a punching machine at the platform entrance.

Six French cities have metro lines: Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes and Toulouse. Trains run every two to eight minutes between 5:30am to 1:30am.

Buses and Coaches

Buses are a popular form in transport in the smaller towns and cities, with most départements running their own service. Medium-distance coach services often help to connect places that are not on train lines, though travel on coaches between the regions is limited.


Flights run frequently between all the major French cities and many minor ones. The national airline, Air France, runs the majority or services. Like with the trains, tickets are considerably cheaper if you book a long time in advance – in this case, more than three weeks.



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