Visiting Biker Info
We have set out below some basic information for motorcyclists visiting France.
At the end you will find information on more complex matters like buying and owning a French registered motorbike:
(Please Note this is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of the law in France!)
Riding in France
You must have a valid licence(more below) and insurance to use any vehicle on public roads in France.
In France and mainland Europe they drive on the right side of the road – so remember the Right Side is the Right Side. Take care after refuelling or any stop to re-join the Right side of the road.
Priorite a Droite applies at ALL unmarked junctions - so even on a fast road a vehicle approaching from your right has the right to pull out in front of you! Why? It’s a cheap traffic calming solution. Thankfully Major roads have signs indicating where this rule does not apply. French sign information is available here
Stop signs are widely used as a traffic calming solution and are often used in locations where it makes no sense. Beware you must stop for at least one second (riders must put a foot down) before proceeding. Take extra care at the end of the month - as many officers have monthly targets to reach.
Legally required kit for motorcyclists
When riding you must wear a properly secured approved helmet, and motorbike gloves. You should have with you your licence and passport/ID, ownership and insurance papers. You should carry somewhere on the bike - spare bulbs, a basic first aid kit, a spare set of prescription glasses (if you need them), and a Hi Vis jacket (which you only need to wear if you break-down). Punctures are the most common cause of motorbike breakdowns, so a temporary puncture patch/repair kit, or a credit card and mobile phone with your breakdown service on speed dial is a good idea.
Most filling stations in France are unmanned and you will need a chip and pin enabled credit/debit card to buy fuel. Most types of Visa and Mastercard cards work fine. But some “prepaid currency cards” do not work at unmanned stations. (Unmanned stations initially deduct a set amount and refund the balance once filling is complete – unfortunately unmanned systems cannot return unused funds to a “prepaid card” hence they are automatically rejected.)
Most motorbikes use “Unleaded Petrol” = Essence Sans Plomb – which is usually available in 95(regular) and 98(super) octane versions.
Some older motorbikes were not designed for use with unleaded fuel and may need a lead additive – Look for either “Additif préventif essence” or “Substitut de plomb” usually only sold at a manned shop. (“Gazole” = Diesel fuel - it is not “Gas” which can confuse some American visitors).
Most motorbike shops in France are open from Tuesday to Saturday only and are usually closed on Feast Days and Public Holidays! If you need parts for your motorbike - think ahead!
Be aware there are thousands of speed cameras and unmarked cars with radar. Serious speeding can lead to an instant ban, a massive fine or even a prison sentence.
Motorway speed limits drop from 130kph to 110kph during rain (so whenever drivers are using wipers). Motorway exits can have sharp bends - watch out for signs with an arrow which indicate progressively lower speed limits applying just to the slip road. Many exit slips have speed cameras.
Emission – Crit-Air category stickers.
France recently introduced their Crit-Air scheme to provide cities and towns a sensible way to reduce vehicle pollution at times of poor air quality. Already all vehicles (including motorbikes) without a valid Crit-Air sticker are completely banned from being used within the Peripherique in Paris between 8am-8pm Mon-Fri. At times of severe pollution, daytime access is further restricted to vehicles with lower emission category stickers. The scheme also applies to foreign registered vehicles and you face a fine if you enter Paris or any of the other controlled zones without a valid Crit-Air sticker. Already the same scheme applies at time restricting or completely banning access to five other major towns (Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg, Lyon and Grenoble) and applications have been made to introduce the system to many other larger towns with air quality issues. The safe bet is to buy a sticker @ roughly £5.00 posted they could save you a big fine.
Details of the scheme are available here in English.
A valid overseas motorbike licence can usually be used during a temporary visit to France. BUT licenses issued by a few overseas countries with dubious testing procedures are NOT granted equivalent status and their licences are NOT valid in France or the EU. As the list of recognised countries may change you should seek advice from a French Embassy or consult information on the official French Government website. If your licence is not recognised you will need to obtain an appropriate International Driving Licence.
Licences issued by all EU nations are fully recognised as providing equivalent entitlement in France. They can be used throughout their validity regardless of whether or not you are resident in France.
For licences issued by other overseas countries - if you become a French resident (staying for more than 6 months in any year) then you must apply at your local Prefecture within 6 months of entering the country and swap your overseas licence for an equivalent French licence. If your foreign licence is not in French you must also arrange and pay for a formally certified official translation of your overseas licence.
France indirectly collects road tax for all French registered vehicles via a levy imposed on all French vehicle insurance premiums. The tax element of insurance premiums is linked to the “Tax Fiscal” rating shown on the registration document which reflects the vehicle horse power and emissions.
Insurance is Mandatory for French registered vehicles
Whilst accident history is an important factor in determining insurance premiums, once there is insurance on a French registered vehicle, the insurance is not always limited to its use by the owner or the person paying the premiums. This gets around the issue of riders not being insured if they take a vehicle for a test ride. Provided the vehicle is insured by someone and is being used with their permission, then any user is insured at least to the minimum third party risk standard required.
Your insurer will send you a certificate which includes a small detachable green square which must be removed from the document and securely attached to the frame or forks of the bike to show when the insurance cover is valid. Motorbike insurers usually supply a self-adhesive – waterproof plastic patch which allows the sticker to be affixed securely to the forks of the bike or the fairing.
Motorbike insurance companies in France offer the usual range of cover standards. These start with just the minimum legal cover for third parties, through to full comprehensive – which is strongly recommended as it usually includes personal injury / accident cover and breakdown assistance.
Motorbikes laid up over winter must be insured if they are drivable. You can only cease insurance cover by providing photographic proof to the insurer that the vehicle cannot be used by removing a major component like the engine or fuel tank.
The French registration process is complex.
Motorbikes must be registered to an address in France (so they can send speeding tickets to you). If you are absent from that address for extended periods arrange a mail forwarding service as fines increase sharply if not paid promptly. You can provide an international address as the owner but the official keeper address must be in France. You do not need to own that address but ensure that any official communications reach you swiftly if you are not permanently resident at that address.
Mandatory Safety Inspections
Currently motorbikes registered in France are NOT subject to any mandatory/routine safety inspections. However riders are responsible for ensuring their vehicle is in good order at all times. So especially if you decide to purchase a used motorbike from a private seller – it really is buyer beware!
Many “Control Technique” (testing) stations are equipped to carry out a detailed inspection of a motorbike for a reasonable fee. If you purchase a motorbike from a professional (business sale) the seller must offer at least 3 months warranty, and ensure that at the time of sale the vehicle is roadworthy.
For many years vested interest groups (testing firms) have attempted to use EU harmonisation to demand France introduces mandatory testing for motorbikes. The French have consistently said No! They point out that insurance data proves the instance of vehicle faults being a contributory factor in accidents involving French registered motorbikes is consistently lower than observed in any of the EU countries with mandatory testing.
Why? Well two reasons (1) French riders know they are the only one assessing the safety of their motorbike so they tend to be far more diligent at their daily checks and (2) the money not being spent on testing fees is of course available to replace worn tyres and brakes.
Perhaps somewhat unintentionally, the French have a regime which ensures French motorbikes are consistently safer than those of other EU nations, and importantly riders are not lulled into a false sense of security and assume that an extant test certificate absolves riders of carrying out regular inspections of their motorbike.
Motorcycle ownership and Registration
Overseas citizens can own a French registered motorcycle. They can register the bike at an overseas address but the motorbike must also be registered to an address in France – so they can send you speeding tickets!
If you buy or rent a new vehicle, the dealer will help you through the process.
If you buy a used vehicle, you only have 5 days to register the change of ownership at the prefecture office for the department which covers the new owners address. Make certain the seller has the Carte Gris for the vehicle – without it you cannot re-register the vehicle.
The seller and you must annotate the existing “Carte Gris” (French ownership paper) to show the new owner/address and the date and time of the sale (that way you won’t get chased for previously unpaid tickets). The seller must sign and cross through the Carte Gris with the words “Vendu le...” and will then split the document at the place marked. Seller and buyer keep respective pieces. You then have 5 days to send (or present) the old Carte Gris for re-registration at the relevant department prefecture along with the relevant forms and payment.
You will need to provide the old CG together with your identity papers (passport) and evidence of a clear link to the address in France where you intend the vehicle to be registered. Such as a Rental contract for that address, Electricity bill, Council or National Tax bill etc. When you have all the paperwork head down to the prefecture offices where the staff will generally endeavour to help you find and complete the necessary registration forms.
You will also need to present a duly stamped TVA declaration from the “hotel des Impots” (tax office) (usually co located at the prefecture office). To get the declaration you must present the existing registration documents and a written bill of sale showing whether EU VAT has been paid. They will help you complete and stamp the relevant form.