Is it valid to drive a car in France with just a US driver's license?
This recent thread should cover it:
Short version: an International Driving Permit is required. Get it before the trip at your nearest automobile association office. Valid for 1 year.
Where are you getting the definite "must have" info? I have most certainly driven in France with a US license only. I can't find any new requirements stated on any websites.
From the French Embassy website:
"IF YOU ARE ON A SHORT VISIT OR SHORT BUSINESS TRIP (LESS THAN 90 DAYS)
You may drive with a valid U.S. driver’s license if it is accompanied by a notarized translation in French. It is strongly recommended that you carry an International Driving Permit. You must be 18 years of age or older to drive in France. (More information may be found here)."
The IDP meets the notarized translation requirement...just get it. You may never be asked for it. But there can hefty fines if you are asked for it and do not have one.
I just returned from France where I rented a car. To be on the safe side I got an International Driving Permit. However, when I rented from Hertz they told me it was not required and they were not interested in seeing it. They did tell me to hang on to it in case I was pulled over as it might be useful in that scenario. I was never pulled over so it was a questionable expenditure on my part but maybe worth $20 as insurance against any hassle that might have resulted.
I always have one and going back to 1999 I have never been asked by anyone to see it. What’s $20 and 2 passport photos when considering the total cost of a trip.
The only time we were stop by police driving in France, they demanded the IDP and the cop seemed a little disappointed that we had it since he seemed to be winding up to give us a lecture about it. To say 'I drove and didn't have to show it' is to 'required' as 'I didn't ride in a car seat as a baby and I was fine' is to 'childhood car safety.' Rental agencies mostly don't care; police at an accident site or a traffic violation stop likely will. And there may be insurance implications if you cause a lot of damage and don't have the required paperwork.
Personal experiences don't count. What counts is the law on the books. I've read it. It exists. IDP or a certified translation by a French government certified translator. I'm not going to spend time looking up the link; someone else can. Just because the rental company doesn't care is irrelevant to the law.
My own experience:
I've never gotten one, but I have a French license in addition to a US. I have been stopped and asked for my license several times. Police are fond of Sunday and Friday after work alcohol stops where everyone behind the wheel has to blow into a balloon.
To say 'I drove and didn't have to show it' is to 'required' as 'I didn't ride in a car seat as a baby and I was fine' is to 'childhood car safety.'
I love that analogy! Indeed, just because you weren't in a situation that required you to demonstrate you have an IDP (or certified translation) does not mean you weren't required to have one.
I say, just get the IDP or a certified translation of your driver's license. You're going on holiday and can certainly spend a few more dollars for a relatively inexpensive document.
I just got my IDP for a few days' driving in October. Well worth the minimal cost in case I'm stopped. Janet is exactly right.