Toll motorways

France has a substantial motorway system, which allows motorists to save considerable amounts of time when making long distance journeys.In order to make this possible, the French government opted to allow private companies build and manage many of the motorways on their behalf.

In order to cover their costs, the government allows these private companies to charge tolls for their use, particularly as there is no vehicle tax levied on private cars in France.

Consequently, if you're visiting France from another country, you'll need to factor the cost of tolls into your budget. Typically, tolls are charged at around €1 per 10 kilometres for a typical car, so for a long distance journey the cost can build up.

Not all autoroutes are tolled. Many motorways are free in the vicinity of major cities, as are the A26 near the Channel ports, and the A75 north-south motorway between Clermont Ferrand and the south coast (with the exception of the bit over the Millau Viaduct).

However, the one thing to bear in mind is that autoroutes are fast, direct roads with junctions built under or over the motorway. This gives the advantage that whatever you spend on tolls, you can potentially offset against fuel savings - after all, you won't have frequent cases of having to slow down, speed up and even stop every time you reach a roundabout or a town/village. Plus there is the considerable time (and stress) saving this comes with.


Using the toll motorways

All toll motorways are signposted , so you'll always know beforehand that a toll section is coming up. This is the case both on the motorway itself, and at junctions and on their approaches. If you choose not to follow , free routes are always signposted once you leave the motorway.

On most toll motorways, you will encounter two toll booths. At the first, you'll be issued a ticket, which you keep until you leave the motorway or reach the end of the tolled section. At this point, you'll encounter a second toll booth, which is where you insert the ticket and pay the appropriate fee.

However, there are some short tolled routes, particularly in urban areas, where you pay a flat fee at the first toll booth you encounter. An example of this is on the A154 south of Rouen.

When you approach a toll plaza, signs will tell you what payment methods are accepted:

Singage on the approach to the barrière de péage de Hordain, on the A2. Click to see full size image.

take ticket manned booth
card, cash, cheque accepted
cards accepted cash accepted
change given
cash accepted
change given
télépéage accepted

At the plaza itself, look at the overhead signs - these will tell you which lanes are open or closed, and in some cases which payment methods are accepted. A generic green arrow means that all payment methods will be accepted. Some lanes are dedicated to télépéage only, so make sure you don't use these lanes unless you have a tag (we'll discuss this further later).

Overhead signs showing accepted payment methods, with the red x denoting a closed booth. Click to see full size image.

Typical toll payment machine - left to right, ticket input (1), payment card slot (2), adjacent coin slot, green receipt button (3); vehicle class and price shown above. Click to see full size image.

How much will I have to pay?

As mentioned in the introduction, the amount you pay will normally depend on the distance travelled, and a typical charge for an ordinary car will equate to roughly €1 for every 10 kilometres travelled. Naturally, you'll pay more if you are towing a caravan or driving a larger vehicle.

To find out how much you will likely need to pay, please take a look at the official Autoroutes website. This will ensure you'll always have access to the most up-to-date information.

It is recommended that you keep a reasonable amount of cash with you. Debit cards may work, but this can depend on your bank, and credit cards are generally declined.

Are there any busy times?

Toll motorways are usually a pleasure to use. In fact, all rural roads will be, as they are generally quiet. However, toll plazas on the major north-south motorways are notoriously prone for their traffic jams during the Ascension week and more so during main summer holiday period.

In fact, the first two weekends in August are so busy, that all long-distance coach travel is banned on the the two Saturdays concerned (local travel and journeys involving travel between Calais/Dunkerque and Belgium are permitted).

To avoid these traffic jams, you may wish to be a "Cunning Bison"...

So what's this télépéage all about?

Télépéage is an electronic payment method, which involves placing a small electronic tag in your vehicle's windscreen. By using a tag, users don't need a supply of change, as payment is taken from a designated bank account on a monthly basis via direct debit.

Another advantage is that many toll plazas have designated express lanes, so there's no need to queue up behind those paying on the spot. Normally, you would be able to proceed through the lane at a steady 20km/h without the need to stop at all.

Whilst those who are making an odd journey are not really going to benefit, those who travel long distances through France or visit regularly might consider the usage fees to be worth paying for the convenience:
     - €10.00 one-off account set-up fee (+ VAT at 20%)
     - €20.00 refundable deposit
     - €6.00 annual management fee (+ VAT)
     - €5.00 monthly usage fee (+ VAT, only charged up to a maximum €10.00 per year)

Those living in France can sign up for the toll tag online. British residents can get theirs here - exchange rates are charged at market rates, not high street / bank rates, so you'll pay less than using a debit card (which will offset some of the fee costs!)

Eurotunnel comers should order their tag from here.
An exclusive offer means set-up fees are waived and annual fees are reduced after the first year.

Photos on this page are by Raymond Spekking and Sebelouf, and are used under a Creative Commons 4.0 licence