Concerned about entering a low emission zone in Europe? Confused about how to pay the fee or buy a sticker? Here's everything you need to know about low emissions zones in France and elsewhere in Europe, so you can plan your road trip accordingly.
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Low Emission Zones in Europe- what are they?
Many countries across Europe, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal, have introduced restricted zones to try to combat vehicle pollution. They tend to affect older and/ or larger vehicles which are generally higher polluting.
Most of these zones are around a city, such as Paris or London, but some are around a protected area too.
There are several different types of Low Emission zones:
- Some are closed to all vehicles of a certain emission category (more on that shortly)
- Some can only be entered with a Crit'air or similar sticker and need to be registered in advance or pay a fee within a short period of entering (usually 24 hours)
- Others can only be entered at certain times of the day/ week.
Is it a Crit'Air, a toll pass or a vignette?
Ok, this bit is important.
A toll pass is NOT the same as a low emission zone sticker
A vignette (used in Switzerland or Austria) is NOT the same as a low emission zone sticker.
A crit'air IS a form of low emission sticker, but only valid in France. You need different ones for different countries and usually they take 4-6 weeks to arrive so you need to order them way before you set of on your Europe road trip.
NOTE: It is only one sticker per COUNTRY, not per city, so you should only need one for France, one for Germany etc.
And, don't forget, if you don't plan to enter any zones, you don't need a sticker at all (see below.)
Watch the video about Low Emission zones in Europe and the UK
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How do you find these zones?
Luckily, there are several ways to find these zones so you can either avoid them or get the appropriate solution.
The best way we've found is the Urban Access Regulations website, which has a map of all the zones and their type. You can use this to plot your route and plan your road trip.
Do you HAVE to get a low emission zone sticker?
If you want to enter a low emission zone with your vehicle, and it's allowed under that zone's conditions, then yes, you must get and display a sticker.
HOWEVER, we've been touring Europe in a motorhome for years and we've never once bought a sticker for any zone.
To be honest, we rarely visit cities, especially now we travel with our dog, but on the rare occasions we do want to, we prefer to park up in an aire or campsite (where we can leave the motorhome safely) and then use our motorbikes or public transport to visit the city.
Not sure what an ‘aire' is or how to find them? Here's everything you need to know about aires in France and Europe
Do low emission zones apply to motorcycles?
Yep, many of them do, especially in France. In Germany, many of them do not seem to apply, but please to check carefully. Obviously, if you are travelling with several motorcycles, like we do, you need a sticker for each bike.
Europe low emission zones- how do you comply with the requirements?
These are the steps you need to take to comply with the low emission zone requirements around the UK and Europe:
- Check if the city you want to visit has a Low Emission zone using this map or the city search function
- Look at your vehicle logbook (V5) to see what category your motorhome, campervan or car is.
- Purchase the appropriate sticker(s) from the government websites.
TOP TIP: These stickers don't cost a huge amount of money. If you're not sure, or you would like to stay flexible, it's worth buying one for each country you wish to visit.
Low Emission Zones in France
Ok, let's look at the rules for France.
France has two types of low emission zones; ones which are in force ALL the time called ZFE ( These include Paris, Lille, Lyon and Strasbourg), and ones which come into force when air quality is particularly bad.
For ZFEs, you MUST display a valid Crit'Air sticker (make sure it's in the correct place on your windscreen- instructions are sent with it) and there may ALSO be time restrictions when you can/ cannot enter, depending on your sticker colour.
In France, there are 6 different levels/ categories; your vehicle will fall into one of them. (0 (green), 1 (purple), 2 (yellow), 3 (orange), 4 (red) and 5 (grey) – worst polluting) Confusingly, they don't match up to the Euro emissions.
So far, only the big cities of Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Lille and Strasbourg have been added but around 22 other towns and cities across France have expressed an interested in joining the scheme over the next couple of years.
NOTE: The emission zone in Paris is only from the Boulevard de la Périphérique to the centre of Paris. The outer suburbs of Paris are not affected by this scheme. HOWEVER, it may be wise to purchase one anyway, in case the main road is closed and you get diverted into the zone.
Who needs a Crit Air Sticker?
Displaying a Crit'Air sticker IS compulsory for all road vehicles wishing to enter restricted zones, including motorcycles and foreign registered vehicles (such as UK motorhomes). Agricultural and construction machinery are not included.
People with a European disabled badge can enter an environmental zone at any time, but you must display both an environmental sticker AND a European disabled badge.
If you have a vehicle older than 1 January 1997 (1 June 2000 for motorbikes), you will be unable to get a sticker and must remain outside the zones. Beware if you have a vehicle with category N on the logbook, because the strictest rules will apply to you!
If you are hiring a motorhome/ campervan, please make sure it has the appropriate sticker on the windscreen before you take it into a zone, or you will get the fine.
NOTE: It's sometimes called a Crit'Air vignette. Do not confuse this with a toll pass. France doesn't use vignettes for tolls, so you still need to pay those are you travel. Find out more about motorhoming in France here.
Where to buy Crit'Air stickers
You buy the Crit'Air Stickers from HERE– Do NOT use any other website as there are plenty of spam sites about (this isn't an affiliate site in any way. It's the government one.) It's in French, but can be translated into English.
It costs less than 5€, including postage. Don't pay any more.
Click the ‘Order your vignette’ tab, then ‘foreign registered vehicle' (assuming it's a UK registered motorhome/ camper), then complete the application. You will need the following:
- Vehicle Registration Number
- Date of first registration
- Vehicle category (found on logbook)
- Fuel source (ie- petrol/ diesel etc)
- VIN number
- Make of the vehicle
- Euro Standard Emission (found on Logbook)
- Co2 emission
- You'll also need to upload a copy of the vehicle V5C Log book in PDF or PNG
NOTE: For a ‘normal' motorhome/ campervan, you are a PRIVATE CAR. The people in the Crit Air department will see the type of vehicle on the V5C logbook you upload and will send the correct emissions sticker.
How long does it take to receive the Crit'Air sticker?
You should receive the Crit d’Air within 2-3 weeks of your application, although they do say to allow up to 6 weeks, so order in plenty of time before your trip.
There is a way to track the progress of your application on the Crit d’Air website (make sure you've entered your email address correctly when you order.)
What happens if you do not purchase a Crit Air vignette?
Driving a road vehicle in a town or city with a low emission zone in place without correctly displaying a Crit Air vignette can lead to you being fined up to €135. These can be electronic fines delivered by mail or on-the-spot fines issued by Police.
How often do you need to renew the Crit'Air vignette?
Never. As long as you keep the vehicle the same (no catalytic converters etc) and as long as it remains properly affixed and legible on your windscreen, you don't need to order another one for as long as you own that vehicle.
Planning to take your motorhome to Europe?
Low Emission Zones in Germany
In Germany, most of the larger cities have ‘Umweltzonen’, which means you can only enter with an ‘Umweltplakette’ (environmental sticker). There are three colours of stickers (green, yellow and red) which is based upon emission levels of the vehicle and applies to all vehicles except motorcycles.
In 2022, only vehicles with a green sticker can enter the Umweltzones. Vehicles with the red or yellow sticker are banned from entering and must remain outside the zones.
They may introduce a blue sticker for very clean, green and electric vehicles but they aren't available yet.
Learn more about motorhoming in Germany
Where to buy a low emission zone sticker for Germany
There are two ways to get a low emission zone sticker for Germany:
- Purchase it in advance on the government website HERE (you'll need to upload a copy of your V5 logbook
- Buy it an any service station with a TÜV (Technischer Überwachungsverein, or Technical Inspection Association) station attached. You will need to present your REAL V5C logbook at the TÜV station.
Motorists with a European Disabled Parking Badge (placed in clear view behind the windscreen) do not currently need to purchase an environmental sticker (but that may change, so please do check before you travel.)
You do not need an environmental sticker just to drive on motorways or local roads- only if you plan to enter one of the zones. See the map of low emission zones in Germany here.
It costs €5 to €10 to request the sticker. If you do not visibly display the sticker, you risk a fine ranging from €80 to €100.
Diesel Transit bans
As well as the low emission zones, some cities in Germany also have transit bans on diesel vehicles which aren't up to the minimum of Euro 6. Please do check in advance if you plan to drive into a German city and have an older vehicle or a very large one, as you may have no choice but to park outside and use public transport to visit the city.
How often do you need to renew your environmental sticker for Germany?
You don't. As long as you don't change the registration plate, the environmental sticker will remain valid with the vehicle .
For all other countries in Europe, check out the excellent advice on this website.