1. If you import your right-hand drive car it can be complicated as your vehicle will need to conform to French manufacture and use regulations. If it’s a model or make not on sale in France things could become a real hassle. And if you stay in France for more than a month you’ll have to change to French registration (in theory at least). So if you envisage long term or permanent expatriation it might be better to make arrangements to sell your right-hand drive vehicle in the UK and buy a left-hand drive one in France.
2. If your car’s getting on for four years old you’ll have to think about taking it along for an MOT (le contrôle technique) at an officially-approved centre. After, it’s every two years. Personally I find it’s better to first take it to your local garage where they can do a pré-contrôle. This can be done at the same time as you have it serviced. They know the ropes and will check (and rectify if necessary) all that needs doing. They’ll then take it along to the centre de contrôle for you. I advise this because if you go there directly and it fails, you’ll have to take it to your garage and have all the faults put right before submitting (and paying) again. I could be wrong but I suspect garages and MOT centres (they’re privately owned) are in collusion, and when a garage sends them a customer there’s some sort of understanding between them that if you have this pre-check you won’t be failed.
3. Most French motorways are toll paying where the entrance is marked ‘Péage.’ They’re designated by an ‘A’ (Autoroute) followed by the number (e.g. A42) – so don’t confuse this with a UK ‘A’ road. On short stretches the amount can be a flat rate (or even free) but it usually depends on the distance you drive – even though the toll you’re called upon to pay can vary, sometimes considerably, from one motorway to the next. When you enter, rather than being served by a toll booth attendant it’s now more and more common to take a ticket from a machine. It’s located on the left so if you don’t have a front-seat passenger in your right-hand drive car you’ll have to get out. When you leave the motorway you give your ticket to the attendant at the toll booth. However, more and more of these are automatized and payment is by credit card or cash. Oh yes, don’t lose your ticket or you’ll be required to pay the maximum toll.
4. French motorway signs are blue and usually indicate the destination more frequently than the motorway number. So if you’re driving from Lyon to Chambéry you’re likely to see more ‘Chambéry’ signs than ‘A43′.
6. Be careful on French motorways as many drivers lack road discipline. It’s the usual tricks: in spite of the 130 km/h limit apparently 39% of them drive at speeds between 130 and 150 km/h. When there are three lanes, one in three hog the middle one (so if you drive on the inside lane you tend to get boxed in). And there’s always that irresistible tendency (in spite of repeated warnings to the contrary) to stay too close behind the vehicle they’re following – even when it’s raining and the road surface is slippery.
7. I know it sounds obvious but the French do drive on the right. You’ll soon get used to it but you’ve got to concentrate at the beginning. A useful aid is to make sure that you as a driver are nearest the side of the road.
8. Electronic speed camera detectors are illegal in France. Simply having one in your car could render you liable to a fine.
9. Driving your right-hand car in France can be a bit tricky when it comes to overtaking as you’ve got to pull out more to see if there’s any oncoming traffic. If you don’t have a driver as a front-seat passenger to tell you it’s safe to go ahead you can get better visibility if you fall further back.
10. Maximum speed limits are clearly displayed on all roads in France so I’ll let the diagram on the left do the talking. At present there are rumours about lowering them all by 10 km/h. When it’s raining you’re supposed to reduce all these speeds by 20 km/h on the motorway and 10 km/h on other roads. it will come as no surprise that few French motorists actually do this.
11. Be careful of roadside and police in-vehicle speed cameras – especially in villages where the limit is 50 km/h. You can easily get caught out. If you’re really in a hurry you can add 5 km/h to these speeds without running too much risk of getting a fine, but anything beyond and you’re pushing your luck.
12. When approaching an unmarked road junction (i.e. no Stop or Cédez le passage (Give Way) sign), the rule is to give way to all traffic approaching you from the right – even if the road is minor. This kind of junction is now admittedly rare but still exists, especially in remote country areas. However, when you’re approaching a junction from a minor road it’s better to play safe and assume that drivers approaching from the left on the major road aren’t going to give way.