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I'm hoping to rent a car in June to drive from Paris to several day-trips with my family -- I figured it would be the cheapest and most convenient option for four people to get to and from places like Normandy Beach (than taking the train each time). Right?

Anyway --- does France require a special visa, permit, or fee to have Americans rent and drive cars there (I have a driver's license and passport, obviously).

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    @pnuts, Thank you! Can you just clarify what a T&C is? I'm not familiar with the lingo. – Butterfly and Bones Feb 7 '17 at 19:11
  • One thing to remember when travelling from USA to Europe and planning to drive: manual gearboxes are standard here, so if you are experienced only with automatic gearbox, make sure your rented car will have one. – jacek_wi Feb 8 '17 at 10:20
  • Not really related to a permit, but I'm surprised that nobody has explicitly mentioned the reflective jackets, warning triangles and breathalysers yet. – Qwerky Feb 8 '17 at 15:15
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    ©qwerky If you rent a car in France, these items are included. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 8 '17 at 17:21
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Driving in France

While France has an extensive rail network, a car is probably the best way to explore the country in total freedom. From motorways to departmental roads and country lanes, France has an extensive road network, and driving is a good option if you plan to explore the countryside. The most detailed maps are produced by IGN (Web site in French only), and show even the smallest paths. Others, such as Michelin maps (Web site in English), also give an excellent overview of the road network. As a general rule, tolls are levied on motorways. Seat belts must be worn in both the front and back seats of all automobiles. Children under 10 may not ride in the front seat. If you are on a motorcycle, scooter or moped, you are required to wear a helmet. All cars must also carry a safety jacket or warning triangle at all times.

If you are staying in France for less than 90 days, you can drive with your valid US driver's license. It's also generally recommended to get an International Driving Permit, which provides a translation of your license. These are available from the American Automobile Association. If you are staying in France for longer than 90 days, you can drive with your US license for one year. You can find more information about the requirements through the French Embassy. A valid driver’s license (permis de conduire) and passport are required to operate a motor vehicle. The minimum age for drivers is 18. Proof of insurance is necessary. Carry your identification, license, insurance certificate and vehicle registration (carte grise) with you when you drive.

Source: Atout France, the official government agency whose mission is to develop travel and tourism to France.

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    The official information you are linking to says something else. You are not without further ado allowed to drive with a US driver's licence in France. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 7 '17 at 19:32
  • @pnuts I am not sure if I understand your question. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 8 '17 at 1:17
  • You must have a safety jacket for each occupant of the car and a warning triangle. The safety jackets must be kept to hand, i.e. inside the car. You also need to carry two approved disposable breathalysers. – Qwerky Feb 8 '17 at 15:18
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    @Thunderforge I was suspicious of their officialdom when I saw they often made very casual, unexplained links to random keyword-keyword.COM sites. Government sites don't do that, right? Turns out all the sites I checked are in fact owned by the French government. For instance voyages-sncf.com has a DNS server of dns.sncf.fr. So yes, official. – Harper Feb 8 '17 at 19:42
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In France, driver's licences issued by non-EEA countries are only valid if they are written in French, or accompanied by a notarized translation or an International Driving Permit.

Quoting from the official information page from the French authorities:

Vous pouvez conduire temporairement en France avec votre permis délivré par un pays extérieur à l'Espace économique européen (EEE), sous certaines conditions. Les règles qui vous sont applicables varient suivant votre situation : court séjour, installation ou poursuites d'études en France.

Si vous venez en France pour un court séjour (pour des vacances par exemple), vous pouvez conduire avec votre permis. Il doit être valide et être rédigé en français ou accompagné de sa traduction ou d'un permis international.

My translation:

You can under certain conditions drive in France with a driver's licence issued by a non-EEA country. ...

If you are in France for a short period (e.g. for holidays), you are allowed to drive with your foreign licence. It must written in French or accompanied by a translation or an International Driving Permit.

In the USA, International Driving Permits are issued by AAA or AATA for a US$ 20 fee (plus postage if you apply by mail instead of going to a local office).

I didn't think it should be necessary to go into details about the consequences for violating these regulations, but since both Greg Hewgill and Savannah seem to indicate and believe that an IDP or a translation is not necessary because they were able to rent cars in France with only their US or NZ licence, here some further information:

  • The rental company is beyond all doubt entitled to refuse handing out a car to you if you can only present a foreign licence, which for itself is not valid in France. For exmaple, the wording in Sixt's terms and conditions is that at pickup, the driver must 'submit a driving licence that is valid in France'. Note, that the terms do nowhere obligate Sixt to actually verify that you have presented a licence, which is valid in France. Other rental companies are very likely to operate with similar conditions.

  • Any insurance (liability insurance is mandatory in France) of the rental car is likely void. To stay with Sixt, they clearly state in their terms and conditions, that the insurance policies do not apply if the driver, at the time of the accident, does not have a valid driver's licence.

  • I was not able to find any specifics on the legal consequences of driving with an unrecognized foreign licence in France. Penalties for severe traffic violations are unusually high in France and driving without a licence carries for example a one year imprisonment and a 15,000€ fine. The page I previously linked to has a very clear warning: 'Si vous conduisez avec un permis étranger non valable en France, vous risquez une peine de prison, une amende et la confiscation de votre véhicule.' or in English: 'If you drive with a foreign licence, which is not valid in France, you risk imprisonment, a fine and confiscation of the vehicle.' From this statement, I would assume that driving with an unrecognized foreign licence carries the same penalty as driving without a licence at all.

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    I rented and drove a car in France with a New Zealand driver license with no translation or IDP necessary. I rented from one of the big international rental companies (can't remember which one). Despite what the official page says, it doesn't seem to always be applied to tourists in practice. – Greg Hewgill Feb 7 '17 at 20:42
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    @GregHewgill It is not necessarily up to the car rental company to check if you have the required additional documents. If you are not up to following the local laws, you can also usually get away with drunk driving, since you are only very rarely checked. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 7 '17 at 20:53
  • Any idea what a fine would be if you get caught with an untranslated US license (compared to having no driving license at all)? – gnasher729 Feb 7 '17 at 22:53
  • @gnasher729 that would most likely depend on why you "got caught". In France, you are very unlikely to get pulled over by an armed police patrol for no reason except that the officer needs to log X traffic violations per day just to keep his/her job (unlike the way things seem to be in some parts of the USA...) – alephzero Feb 7 '17 at 23:28
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    This is the best answer because it comes from official authorities. Please remember that this answer is only valid if you stay less than 1 year. After that it becomes more complex. – Fabich Feb 8 '17 at 0:55
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We just got back from France a couple of days ago and didn't have any problems with renting a car - just the passport, credit card and US driver's license was needed. we rented a car with Sixt for 9 days, I'm not sure if that works with longer periods of time.

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    Then be glad that you didn't cause an accident. The mandatory liability insurance would in that case, according to Sixt France' Terms and Conditions articles 3.1 and 9.1, not have covered any damages. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 7 '17 at 23:53
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    This doesn't answer the question. The question asks about renting and driving a car. You only answer half the question. However, driving the car is illegal and the punishment is severe: one year in prison and 15000€. – Jörg W Mittag Feb 8 '17 at 10:08
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    @JörgWMittag While I agree with the advice to err on the side of caution, I have never seen people with a valid US license get in trouble in Europe, let alone go to prison or pay a 5 figure fine. – Dmitry Grigoryev Feb 8 '17 at 16:00
  • Alarmist BS in the comments. What's illegal is to -live- in France (beyond 6 months) and still use a non-EU license. Driving as a tourist is perfectly fine as long as you have a license from anywhere. – George M Jun 7 '17 at 16:47
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I used to work in a car rental agency in France, American drivers licenses are accepted, no translation required. Make sure to have a valid credit card for a security deposit.

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    This doesn't answer the question. The question asks about renting and driving a car. You only answer half the question. As has been stated in multiple other answers already, driving the car is illegal and the punishment is severe: one year in prison and 15000€. – Jörg W Mittag Feb 8 '17 at 10:07

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