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France driving: What must residents and visitors carry in their cars?

If you are stopped in France, there are certain documents and items that you must carry in your vehicle

A number of rules apply for both residents of France and those visiting the country Pic: Alexey Pevnev / Shutterstock

Reader question: What do I need to keep in my car if I live in France? Is it different to what my family will need if they drive over to visit us?

All residents of France, whether French nationals or are from another country, should carry the following documents in case of a police check:

  • A valid driver’s licence
  • Proof of insurance for the vehicle
  • The car’s carte grise (registration certificate)
  • Proof of the contrôle technique (roadworthiness test)

The documents must be in paper form (or the plastic card for modern driving licences) and present in the vehicle.

The rules are potentially changing on this front, however, with an online database of paperless insurance documents expected to be introduced in 2024. 

This may remove the need to have a green insurance label on the windscreen, and have an accompanying insurance document in the car.

If you are driving in a low-emission zone (Zones à faibles émissions or ZFE) you will also need a Crit’Air sticker for your vehicle.

Is it the same for tourists and non-resident second-home owners?

The list of documents for those only visiting, whether for a short holiday or to stay at a second home, is similar, but you must also bring ID and the relevant documents must come from the country you are travelling from.

For example, UK drivers will need:

  • A valid UK driving licence
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Motor insurance certificate
  • V5 registration document

Vehicles from the UK will also need a ‘UK’ identifying sticker on their rear number plates – the ‘GB’ identifier with the golden EU stars is no longer valid. These stickers can be bought online or in a number of shops.

Even drivers only visiting France will need to apply for a Crit’Air sticker if driving through a ZFE – you can read our article here on how non-residents can apply for one.

Cars that have been in France for more than a year must be registered with French plates, officials told The Connexion.

Nevertheless, EU law states those visiting from non-EU countries can only stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days out of any 180-day period, so in most cases you will have to return to your home country long before this rule could apply.

If you have a short-stay visa, it usually only applies for a maximum of six months.

Read more: UK residents CAN legally register a car at their French second home

What items do I need in my car?

All drivers in France, including tourists, also need a number of items in their car, but only two are always mandatory:

  • A reflective vest within easy reach (if the driver is getting out of a vehicle that has broken down in, or beside, the road, they should be able to put this on first, hence it is typically kept in the glove compartment)
  • Warning triangle (this may be placed behind a broken-down car, if it is safe to do so)

Some sources, such as the RAC, say that a reflective vest is necessary for every passenger in the car, but this is not the case – it is recommended, but not mandatory, that you have a reflective jacket for each passenger for safety reasons, i.e. having to get out of the vehicle by the side of the road.

If you are driving in certain mountain areas between November 1 and March 31 you will need winter tyres or snow chains. 

UK cars used in France should be equipped with headlight deflector stickers to compensate for the fact they are built for driving on the left, according to advice from the UK’s AA driving association.

Read more: Where in France do you need snow chains or winter tyres?

Spare bulbs are not mandatory but it is recommended to carry them in your vehicle as you can be fined for driving with a broken bulb.

If you have just moved to France

If you have recently become a French resident and imported your car from a non-EU country, you have up to one month to re-register the car in France.

If you have a UK driving licence that was first issued before January 1, 2021, you can continue to use this up to its expiry date, even if you live in France.

Those who have a UK driving licence issued after this date, or whose licence was issued by another non-EU country, must switch to a French driving licence within one year of moving to the country. 

Related articles

Do you get a notification when car’s contrôle technique test is due?

Five things they do not tell you about driving in France

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