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Why You Need To Know About the Crit’Air Sticker For Driving In France

Ever heard of the Crit’Air sticker? I hadn’t. That is until I got a surprising email from a reader. It was all about the Crit’Air sticker that is required for driving in France and how the writer was worried about getting the sticker in time. So, of course, I had to investigate this as I am going to be driving in France as well in a few weeks. It’s likely something all travelers to France need to be more aware of because not knowing could cost you € € € €.  Here’s what I found out.

June 21, 2022: update below explains how I successfully got the Crit’Air certificate

The Problem With Getting The Crit’Air Sticker For A Leased Car

The sender of the email, Diane, wrote, “Like you, we are planning to fly from Canada and stay in Paris 7 days before picking up our leased car, but it doesn’t seem possible to get the Crit’Air sticker in time as that only leaves 21 days to get the Crit’Air sticker mailed to Canada before flying to France……Have you figured out a way to get the Crit’Air sticker mailed to your home in Canada in time?”

At that moment, no, I had no idea what I would do, but I do now!

In addition to checking the government website, I also checked the Renault, Citroen, and AutoEurope leasing websites because I wanted to see if they all said the same thing: that a Crit’Air sticker is needed. The answer: yes. However, I was dismayed that on the sites, the Crit’Air requirement is not obvious. I had to search for what the companies said about the sticker. It is in the Terms and Conditions section of the leasing agreement in small print.

1. What Is A Crit’Air Certificate In France?

Crit Air Sticker facsimiles

So my first question was, “What is a Crit’Air sticker that is so important to have in France?”

Crit’Air is an Air Quality Certificate (“Certificate qualité de l’air”).

More specifically, it is an anti-pollution certificate and sticker, called a “Vignette” and it is meant to restrict traffic in high-density areas (ie. large urban centres). These air quality certificates relate to particular vehicle classes, the age of the vehicle, and the air pollution emissions or levels of that vehicle.

The French Ministry Of The Environment introduced these vignettes in 2016 as a way to reduce air pollution from road transportation vehicles. They are required all the time when entering or driving through certain cities, and for temporary periods of time when cities (prefectures) feel the pollution levels are at a high level. In an effort to reduce pollution, only vehicles with certain coloured stickers are allowed into the city. This encourages the use of less-polluting vehicles and discourages (and restricts) more high-polluting vehicles from entering restricted traffic areas or zones.

The certificates are round stickers that are to be displayed inside the car, on the lower right-hand corner of the vehicle’s windshield. Renewals are not needed and the vignette is valid for as long as it remains legible throughout the vehicle’s lifetime. It covers all French cities. Don’t remove it because you might rip it and not be able to reapply it.

There are 6 certificates and they are designated by different colours (with vehicles that are the oldest and pollute the most having the higher number):

  • Badge E (Green and white): electric or hybrid (environmentally-friendly) vehicles
  • Badge 1 (Purple): plug-in hybrid or gasoline vehicles registered after December 2010
  • Badge 2 (Yellow): gasoline vehicles registered between January 2006-December 2010, or diesel from January 2011
  • Badge 3 (Orange): gasoline vehicles registered between 1997-2005, or diesel between January 2006-2010
  • Badge 4 (Brown): diesel vehicles registered between January 2001-December 2005
  • Badge 5 (Grey): diesel vehicles registered between January 1997-2000

Any vehicles made before 1997 are considered “unclassified” and are ineligible to get the sticker.

2. Where Are Crit’Air Stickers Required?

(a Restricted Traffic Zone: Zone à Circulation Restreinte (ZCR)

The French Ministry for Ecology set up ecological zones that restrict traffic (ZCR-Restricted Traffic Zones or “zone à circulation restreinte” in French) to those vehicles that do not have an appropriate sticker, the Crit’Air. The goal is to reduce pollution in high population areas. What’s interesting is that the restrictions are often on particular days (ie. Monday to Friday) and during certain hours (ie. 8:00 am-8:00 pm).

There are all types of zones—low emission zones, zero-emission zones, temporary zones due to high pollution—so it can get confusing knowing what the rules are. Watch the road signs as they will indicate if you are entering or exiting a low emission zone. It will show the days/times and which Crit’Air classes are not allowed to enter.

(b) Low Emissions Zones (LEZ)-Zones à Faibles Émissions (ZFE)

While the main website states that there are currently 8 cities that are designated Low Emissions Zones (LEZ) (“Zones à Faibles Émissions” (ZFE) in French) another “official” website lists more cities that require the Crit’Air sticker.

The cities that I found listed under the LEZ category were: Paris city and greater area (40 municipalities), Grenoble, Lyon, Rouen, Reims, Nice, Toulouse, Saint Etienne, Rennes, Strasbourg, Marseille, Nancy, and Annecy.

(c) Crit’Air Paris

The city of Paris and the Greater Paris region are basically bordered by the A86 autoroute (also known as the “Paris super-périphérique”).  The rule states that until July 2022 only the Crit’Air sticker 3 and lower will be allowed into the zone. After July 2022, the class threshold will be lowered to the Crit’Air sticker 2 and lower.

This page was helpful in outlining which cities were affected and what Crit’Air class stickers are allowed in the zones: Urban Access Regulations

3. What Are The Penalties If You Don’t Have The Sticker?

Answer: The penalty or fine if you don’t have the sticker (or if the sticker isn’t displayed when you’re in a restricted traffic zone or temporary zone during pollution spikes) ranges from a police officer’s warning to a fine of 68€ for light vehicles (and up to 375 € for larger vehicles).

4. How Do You Get A Crit’Air Sticker?

Crit'Air 1 Sticker

Answer: You need to order your Crit’Air sticker online. Be sure to use the government website as there are other “unofficial” online third-party sites that charge much more.

Official government website: https://www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/

(a) Crit Air Sticker Application

In order to apply for the Crit Air sticker, you need to provide particular information about the vehicle on the application. Be sure to only order from the official government website. You’ll need to know:

  • the license plate number
  • date of first registration 
  • type of fuel of vehicle (In the website’s FAQ section vehicles are rated by category and then by environmental classification.)
  • serial number (VIN)
  • upload a digital copy of the vehicle registration
  • your name and home address

(b) Cost Of The Sticker

Price of the sticker: €3.70 for delivery in France (Note: If shipped outside of France there is the added delivery cost).

5. Do You Need To Apply For A Crit’Air Sticker If You’re Renting A Car?

Answer: No

The rental car agency “owns” the car and should have already purchased the sticker. Be sure it’s there when you pick up your car, especially if you’ll be driving into one of the designated zones.

6. Do You Need To Apply For A Crit’Air Sticker If You’re Driving Into France From Another Country?

Answer: Yes

If you own the car and you’re traveling in France, you’ll need the sticker. This is often the big topic of concern for British tourists who cross the English Channel and have long stays in France. If you rented a car outside of France, be sure to check with the rental agency and tell them you’ll be crossing into France.

7. Do You Need To Apply For A Crit’Air Sticker If You’re Leasing A Car?

Answer: Yes

With a buy-back leasing program, you are the “signatory of the car lease” and therefore the owner, until the car is “bought back” by the leasing company (ie. Renault). Therefore, you are responsible for getting the sticker. This is what troubled Diane….and me as I’ll be leasing a car in France too (and highly recommend it)!

8. What Do You Do If You Only Get The Vehicle’s Serial Number 14 Days Before You Pick Up The Lease?

Answer: According to the official website, within 24 hours of applying and paying for the Crit’Air sticker, you should be sent a confirmation email.

When I contacted Renault about this concern, they replied as follows:

“You should not worry about this. Most of our clients do not order it, as it’s not something that is verified rigorously by the authorities. The car is brand new and has passed all the emission tests. If you still wish to order the sticker, you will need the registration certificate that we can provide you with 10-14 days before (the vehicle is registered at that time).”

10. How I’m Going To Deal With My Lease And The Crit’Air Sticker

Answer: I’m going to do two things so that all my bases are covered.

(a) Checked My Itinerary

I reviewed my upcoming itinerary and it looks like I will not be entering any of the designated big cities like Paris, Lyon, or Toulouse; however, I’m going to request the registration information from the leasing company at least 14 days before I pick up the car (I tried 21 days before but they wouldn’t or couldn’t get the information for me). I’ll then apply for the Class 1 Crit’Air sticker for the gasoline hybrid car I am leasing. If I get the sticker in time, great.

If I don’t get my sticker before I leave, I will have the confirmation email and will be very careful to avoid any areas that might pop up as requiring the Air Quality Certificate sticker. I will also ask my neighbor who will be collecting my mail to send me a photo of the sticker when it arrives in the mail. Perhaps I’ll be able to use that in the car as well.

June 21 Update: 15 days before my lease pick-up, I called Renault and they were able to provide me with the Registration number and Date of Registration within the hour. That’s all I needed. No photo to upload, no indication of type of fuel of vehicle, no license plate number.

After I added this information to the online form, the billing name and address was needed. I added my name and did not have to put in the delivery address (à l’adresse de livraison) because it is the address that was used when I booked the vehicle through the leasing company (à l’adresse figuring sur le certificate).

For the billing address (address de facturation), choose a French address, like a hotel you’re staying at. there’s no way to choose any country outside of the European Union. Don’t worry, this address isn’t important. Your email is the most important thing because that’s what will get you an image of the sticker. Just make sure that you have NO typos in the billing address. I wasn’t careful the first time and my order was rejected. I soon realized it was because of a typo. Once I reapplied everything was fine.

I then added my payment details and my order was confirmed. The price was 3,11 € + 0,59 € postage (i.e. 3,70 € per vehicle). I was sent a confirmation email immediately and the electronic invoice (by email) came a few hours later.

The invoice clearly displays an image of the Air Quality Certificate that is being produced and that is what I used in my car. Glad I brought scotch tape with me because after I got the invoice printed, I taped it to the inside front windshield. What’s interesting is that even after coming home I still have not received the actual sticker. Doesn’t matter now.

(b) I Will Use The Michelin Route Planner

Even with the confirmation email in my windshield, I’ll be using the Michelin Route Planner as it will alert me to areas where I might be entering a “Restricted Traffic Zone”.

Final thoughts: Is The Crit’Air Sticker Such A Big Deal?

From an environmental point of view, I think it’s a good idea for the government to limit more polluting vehicles from entering high population areas or entering cities when pollution levels are high. Whether drivers have been adhering to the rules is unknown.

Getting clear information about the Crit’Air sticker and the cities involved has been very confusing but this Ministère de la Transition Écologique (Ministry of Ecological Transition) website has been helpful in clarifying a lot of what I have written about.

For my trip, in addition to (hopefully) having the Crit’Air sticker, I’ll refer to the government websites, pay attention to the traffic restriction signs, and use the Michelin Route Planner to notify me when I plan a route.

My friend Lynn was recently in France and she was good enough to take photos of a few stickers. What’s interesting is that she said, “… not many cars have the sticker. I looked at probably 40 or 50 [cars] and only two or three had them”. Granted, she was in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, which is a very small town, but it is less than 10km SE of Nice.  It was surprising how few cars had the sticker. Perhaps the majority were tourists with rental cars? Locals, who never drive into the bigger cities?

Have you had to deal with the Crit’Air sticker during your travels? Have you run into any problems getting the sticker or being warned or fined for not having the sticker?

Please share your story.

If you’re interested in learning more about leasing a car in France, check out this post: Benefits Of Leasing A Car In France. I still firmly believe leasing is the best deal when you need a car for more than 21 days.

If you’re interested in reading more about driving in France, check out these posts:

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Driving In France? What You Need To Know About The Crit'Air Sticker

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