How to buy a car in France: A complete guide

26.12.17
5 minute read
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If you’re moving to France, one of the first things you’ll need to consider is how you’re going to get around. While many of the major metropolitan areas have excellent public transportation systems, outside of big cities getting from place to place will require having-- and driving-- a car.

If four wheels aren’t for you, many French people also choose to get around by motorcycle, moped, or, in smaller villages, bicycle. If you’re looking for a vehicle with a little more room, small vans are also a popular transport method in France.

While buying a car anywhere can seem like a bit of a headache, this article will take you through all the most important things you need to know about the process, including where to find a car, the buying process, how to register the car, and many of the duties and special driving laws.

Should I bring/import my own car to France or should I just buy new in France?

It’s possible to ship your car to France and many people do choose to go this route, especially if they’re coming from inside of Europe. If you’re shipping a car from the US, the cheapest port to ship to is Le Havre, and the cost will be somewhere between €770 and €1,000. If you’re shipping a smaller vehicle, like a motorcycle, that cost plummets to about €430.

While VAT on car shipping is pretty astronomical, there are a few exceptions. If you’re only bringing your vehicle for a vacation, you only need to put down a deposit, which will be returned to you when your vehicle is exported from France.

If you’re a US citizen, you can also avoid tax as part of “relocation” for work. In this case you aren’t responsible for paying VAT, and will only have to pay a 10% duty, which is determined by the value of your car.

How do I buy a car in France?

  1. Determine the make and model of the car you want. The best place to purchase a new car is at it’s brand’s dealership, so narrowing it down to one or two that you’re interested in will save you plenty of time going back and forth between dealerships.
  2. Visit the dealership and test drive the vehicle
  3. Make a payment-- usually up to 50% deposit and set up payments going forward
  4. Register your car. This can often be handled by the dealer.
  5. Purchase insurance. This is privatized. Make sure to shop for the best rate.
  6. Hit the road!

What’s the cost of owning a car in France?

As is the case anywhere, the price of a car in France will vary greatly depending on the make and model. For example, a new Toyota Corolla cost around €21,499.

On top of the cost of the vehicle, you’ll need to budget for gas, which was around €1.40 per liter in November 2017. Your car will also need services and checks, including registration and taxes. This price is also contingent on what kind of vehicle you’re buying, but as an example registration and taxes on a new, private vehicle averages around €240.

Insurance is another major cost factor, and ranges significantly based on your age, vehicle, gender, location, and plan. That being said, the average cost of a comprehensive insurance policy in France is €850.

Where can I find a car (and how)?

Finding a car usually comes down to knowing the make and model you want and then heading straight to the dealership. Alternatively, if you’re ok with a used vehicle, the following sites are a good place to start:

How can I pay for the car?

Paying for your car will typically done by credit or debit card, unless you’re buying an older car from a private seller (in which case cash may be ok). After the initial transaction for your deposit, you’ll likely pay month to month.

If you’re planning to finance your car from your bank account back home, a good way to cut down on fees and make sure you’re getting the best exchange rate is to use TransferWise. At TransferWise they use the mid-market rate, which is the same one as you can find on Google, to convert your money.

You can also get a borderless multi-currency account which will allow you to hold money in 27 currencies. You can get your own account details for an account in euro, GBP, USD or Australian dollars. This allows you to receive payments from third parties, for free, and you can convert money from one currency to another whenever you need, or when the rate is favourable, for a small fee. When you need money in your regular bank account you can simply transfer it from your borderless account, or from 2018 you can even get a debit card with your borderless account so you can pay directly from there.

How do I register a car in France?

If you’re officially declaring your residence in France, you must register your vehicle there within a month of purchase. In order to register, expats will need:

  • Document of sale
  • ID
  • Proof of residence
  • Proof of insurance
  • Certificat de situation, which certifies that the car isn’t associated with any unpaid fees.

The dealer will likely take care of all of this for you if it’s a new car, but if you’re buying a used car you’ll need to handle the process yourself.

Fees for registration vary significantly depending on the vehicle’s horsepower, and you can look up the exact cost for your vehicle online. On average, however, this cost is about €300.

What should I know about driving a car in France?

Driving in France will look a little different than it does in other places, though all in all the rules are similar across the EU. Here are some of the things you should look out for to avoid traffic violations, tickets, and accidents.

What equipment is compulsory to have in your car in France?

To drive legally in France, your car will need to be equipped with:

  • GB sticker
  • Headlamp beam converters
  • Warning triangle
  • High visibility jacket
  • NF approved breathalyser

If your vehicle is found to be missing any of this equipment, you’ll be issued an on the spot ticket.

What driving laws should I be aware of?

Traffic travels on the right in France. While many of the laws are standard across Europe and North America, in France fines are collected on the spot-- meaning, be ready to pay as soon as you’re pulled over. It’s also important to note that the blood alcohol limit is less in France than it is in the US or UK, at .05%.

What kind of driving licenses are accepted in France?

While it’s legal to drive on your foreign license in France for your vacation, it’s not a long term solution. If you live in France and have a car registered in France, you need to obtain a French license.

What kind of useful vocabulary is helpful for me?

Even if you don’t have a good grasp on French, it’s important to have at least a few words under your belt during the buying process and when you drive. Some of the important ones to know include:

Car and Driving Vocabulary French Translation
Car Voiture
Speed limit Limitation de vitesse
Car dealership Concessionnaire automobile
Motorcycle Moto
Parking Parking
Tires Pneus
Car accident Accident de voiture
Tow truck Dépanneuse

Buying a car is a gateway to exploring all that France has to offer.

Good luck in the car buying process, and enjoy your time in Europe!

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