Travel checklist

Travelling to France? Here’s a handy checklist of things you need before you head off, including legal requirements for drivers

If you’re planning on travelling to France on holiday, a property viewing trip or to visit your French home – particularly if you’ll be driving – there are a number of things you will need, some of which are a legal requirement (and may result in on-the-spot fines if ignored). Here’s our handy checklist.

BREATHALYSER KIT

This is the latest legal requirement for drivers in France – don’t think because you’re a Brit on holiday you’ll be immune. The kits have been introduced to encourage drivers who have had a drink to test themselves before getting in their car. The French drink-driving limit is 50mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, i.e. a large beer or a glass of wine. In the UK the limit is 80mg.

Drivers who are caught without a kit face a fine, although there will be a grace period until November 2012. The kits can be bought from as little as �3 for a simple ‘blow-in-the-bag’ option, although digital versions cost �100-plus. Road safety campaigners have warned that the cheaper kits are of little real use in gauging whether a driver is over the limit. But I don’t recommend using that argument on a gendarme if you’re stopped in France without one!

It has been suggested that you should actually carry two kits, so that if one is used to check the driver, there’s a second unused one for inspection, but this remains unclear.

DRIVING LICENCE

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You can drive in France using a valid full UK licence, but you should carry it with you and be able to present it if stopped by the police. You also need to be over the minimum driving age, which in France is 18.

CAR INSURANCE

If you have a UK-registered car, you do not need a Green Card to travel to France, just your UK car insurance certificate (original document), but it may be a useful back-up to take a Green Card too. You can also ask your insurer for a European accident statement form, to use in the event of an accident. Check what cover you will have in France – it may only be third-party once you’ve left the UK.

LOG BOOK AND MOT

You’ll need to carry the original documents for your vehicle registration (V5) and a current MOT certificate.

WARNING TRIANGLE

You must carry a warning triangle when driving in France. In the event of a breakdown, you should place the triangle 50-100m behind your vehicle.

FLUORescent JACKET

You must also have a fluorescent jacket or vest in your car, for the driver at the very least. Don’t keep it in the boot, as if you need to get out of the car to get it, you will be breaking the law. If you don’t have a triangle and jacket, you could be fined around €90.

GB STICKER

A GB sticker must be clearly displayed on the back of your car or motorbike, unless you have Euro-plates (number-plates that show a circle of 12 stars on a blue background). You should also have the GB sticker on anything you are towing, such as trailers, caravans, boats etc.

GPS

GPS devices have transformed driving in France for many motorists – no more struggling with unwieldy maps and arguing over directions. However, note that since January, satnavs capable of detecting speed cameras have been illegal in France, so before you set off make sure you download the latest European maps which will exclude this facility. If you are caught with a satnav that warns you of speed cameras, even if it is switched off, you can be fined.

HEADLAMP converters

Headlight beam deflectors, also known as headlamp adaptors or converters, must be fitted, even if you will only be travelling during the day. They are easy to fit – simple stickers you put on your headlights so that they don’t dazzle motorists coming the other way (as UK cars are set up for driving on the left).

SPEED LIMIT STICKERS

The law in France now requires that speed limit stickers are fitted to caravans and trailers over 3.5GTM.

reflective motorcycle clothing

From 1 January 2013, all drivers and passengers of a motorcycle over 125cc or a motortricycle over 15 KW/h must wear reflective clothing when riding their vehicles (a minimum reflective surface of 150cm2 in total).

spare bulbs/fuses

This isn’t a legal requirement but it’s certainly advisable – handy packs are usually available at ferry ports if you forget to pack them. If you need a reminder to stay on the right-hand side of the road, you could also consider buying a ‘drive right’ sticker too.

ID/PASSPORT

You are legally required to carry ID when in France, but if you forget your passport it’s moot anyway, as you won’t be able to cross the Channel without it! Note though that you’re supposed to have ID on you at all times in France, so it’s not much use if you’ve left your passport back at your hotel or holiday home. Non-EU, EEA or Swiss nationals will need a visa to enter France.

HEALTH INSURANCE/EHIC CARD

To gain access to the French state healthcare system, on the same basis as a French national, UK (and other EU) visitors can use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the old E111 form. This covers any medical treatment you might need as a result of accident or sickness, enabling you to seek treatment from doctors, dentists and in public hospitals, or private clinics operating within the French ‘health service framework. It doesn’t, however, cover the full cost of medical treatment so you might want to take out private health insurance to cover the difference. The EHIC will not cover private healthcare. The card can be applied for online at the NHS website. Non-EU visitors will need private health insurance to access French state healthcare.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel insurance is not obligatory but you may want to take it out in the event of an emergency. This could include lost and stolen possessions cover, cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover, and extra cover for activities that are commonly excluded from standard policies, such as jet skiing, for example.

MOBILE PHONES

If you want to use your UK mobile phone while in France, make sure it can connect to French networks for both incoming and outgoing calls. Also check what you will be charged for calls, as charges vary considerably between providers and tariffs. If you travel frequently, it will probably be worth opting for contract rather than pre-pay, as the monthly line rental may be offset by cheaper roaming rates. Some providers offer an ‘international traveller service’ (ITS) with lower call charges in return for an extra fixed monthly fee. Sending text messages from France is usually cheaper than making calls, and don’t forget to turn off data roaming to avoid a nasty shock when you receive your next bill!

Other tips include selecting a different network to roam on, as it may be cheaper than the automatic choice; changing from a UK to a French SIM card; or buying or renting a different mobile phone to use in France.

CURRENCY

France, of course, uses the euro. Most UK bank cards can be used in ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines in France, so there’s no need to take euros with you, but you will be charged for this so you might want to check first. It’s a good idea to take some currency with you anyway; shop around for the best exchange rate. And if you’ll be travelling by autoroute, don’t forget to take change for the tolls.

You can also get pre-paid cards, which you load with cash and then use to withdraw cash or make purchases. They work in a similar way as a pay-as-you-go phone. You can preload most cards at ATMs, over the internet, via text messaging or by phoning your provider. Advantages include controlling how much you spend (you can’t pay out more than you have on the card), fraud protection (they’re not linked to your bank account so, if stolen, can’t be used to access it), you avoid charges for taking out money from machines in France, they are safer than carrying cash and a handy alternative to travellers’ cheques, which are being used less and less. Also, by loading the card with euros before you travel, you can set the exchange rate at a time when rates are in your favour. Note though that there are charges for the cards, such as application or monthly fees.

you might also want to take...

• Copies of any reservations, e.g. hotel, hire car

• Emergency phone numbers

• French/English dictionary and phrasebook

• Plug adapter

• First-aid kit

• Maps/guidebooks

• Fire extinguisher in your vehicle