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Country Guides for Europe

France

France

One of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, France is famous for fine wine, world-class cuisine, and, of course, Paris. Add to that the Riviera beaches, the colors and history of Provence, and the beautiful and varied scenery throughout, and it's no wonder that France is near the top of so many travelers' "must see" lists.

Language: French 100%, rapidly declining regional dialects and languages (Provencal, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan, Basque, Flemish).

Major International Airports Include:

City

Airport
Airport
Code
Distance
From City
NiceCote d'Azur Int'lNCE4 miles W
ParisCharles de Gaulle Int'lCDG15 miles NE

The preventive measures you need to take while traveling in Western Europe depend on the areas you visit and the length of time you stay. For most areas of this region, you should observe health precautions similar to those that would apply while traveling in the United States.

Travelers' diarrhea, the number one illness in travelers, can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E.coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe.

The CDC recommends the following vaccines as appropriate for age (See your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect):

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG). You are not at increased risk in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe, including the Mediterranean regions of Italy and Greece.
  • Hepatitis B, if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay longer than 6 months in Southern Europe, or be exposed through medical treatment.
  • As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria.
  • Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11-12 years who did not complete the series as infants.

All travelers should take the following precautions, no matter the destination:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid travel at night if possible and always use seat belts.
  • Always use latex condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Don't eat or drink dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
  • Don't share needles with anyone.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
  • Never eat undercooked ground beef and poultry, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products. Raw shellfish is particularly dangerous to persons who have liver disease or compromised immune systems.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ticks are the primary source of insect-borne disease in France, often carrying Lyme disease, encephalitis and Mediterranean spotted fever. There is also a slight risk of leishmaniasis infection from sandfly bites. Travelers should use topical insect repellent and wear insecticide-treated clothing in wooded and rural areas.

Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

The municipal water supply in France is considered safe for drinking.

Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

The Government of France maintains a threat level program called "Vigipirate" which is similar to the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System. Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government mobilizes police and armed forces at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, embassies, and government installations. Over the last year, arrests have been made in France in connection with various possible Islamic extremist terrorist plots. Like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement of free cross-border movement, France's open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity. American citizens should remain alert and vigilant, and report any suspect packages or suspicious activities to local police. All passengers on subways and trains are urged to be aware of their surroundings and to report any unattended baggage to the nearest authority.

In the past, political assassinations and random bombings have occurred in France. The Basque Separatist Party (ETA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) continue to operate in the south of France and occasionally bomb local government institutions, banks, travel agencies, etc. There have been numerous politically motivated bombings on the island of Corsica and there have been two bombings on the mainland near Nice following the conviction and sentencing of several prominent separatists in France. While no deaths were caused by any of these acts of terrorism, Americans should remain vigilant when traveling to Corsica.

Violent civil disorder is rare in France. In the past, however, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other routine demonstrations have turned into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police. Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime. Nevertheless, while the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the volume of crimes involving violence has increased in France. Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways. Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways. Photocopies of travel documents and credit cards should be kept separate from the originals.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:

Paris: Gangs of thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists. In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions, while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse. Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car. Travelers may wish to consider taking a bus or taxi from the airport into the city.

Reports of stolen purses, briefcases and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport have been on the rise. Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended. As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.

There have been reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or reaching through an open window to steal purses and other bags visible inside. The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder. Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Defense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille). Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques. The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple "bump and snatch," where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag. Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees. Visitors are encouraged NOT to aggressively confront thieves, who often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered. Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation and cause a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pickpocketing and theft. Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Additionally, several sexual assaults involving American citizens have occurred recently in the immediate vicinity of the Gare du Nord train station.

Thefts also occur at the major department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Samaritaine) where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks. While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States. If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night. There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping. To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. There have been reports of thieves stealing safes from rooms in Parisian hotels. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe behind the reception desk rather than in the room safe.

Many Americans have reported thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.

ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day. The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus and an ATM transaction is easier than the cashing of travelers' checks. However, crimes committed around ATMs have been reported. Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present. Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the PIN (Personal Identification Number) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered. If the card becomes stuck, travelers should be wary of persons who offer to help or ask for the PIN to "fix" the machine. Legitimate bank employees never have a reason to ask for the PIN.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATM machines that "eat" the user's ATM card have been reported. This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed. The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open. In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user's PIN number when it is typed in and also prevents the card from being ejected. The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN number and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible. ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the supporting account.

Pigalle is the "adult entertainment district" of Paris. Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks. There have been reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs. Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

Normandy: There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries. Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard. Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.

Southern France: Thefts from cars with open windows stopped at red lights are fairly common, particularly in the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille. Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts. In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Similar incidents also have occurred at tollbooths and rest areas. Special caution is advised when entering and exiting a car, as this presents an opportunity for purse-snatchers. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common. Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. Under French law, compensation is available to victims of crime committed on French soil.



Source: U.S. Department of State

Along the Mediterranean in the south of France the summers are hot and the winters are mild. The mountainous areas in the east are cooler and receive heavy snowfall in the winter. As you move northward, the summers are warm and the winters are cooler. On the west coast, the climate is mild, and the summer days are usually hot. Precipitation can be expected year round, as well as an occasional strong, dry north-to-northwesterly mistral wind.



City
Annual
Precip. Days
Annual
Precip. Totals
Bordeaux12839"
Lyon11033"
Marseilles5822"
Paris11226"

France's electrical current is 230/50 (volts/hz) and uses the plug adaptors listed to the right under Related Items. Many North American appliances are designed to operate only within the 100-125 volt range. These appliances will suffer damage if plugged into 220-250 volts without the proper transformer or converter.

To determine which plug adaptors you'll need and if you'll require a transformer or converter, use our Electrical Connection Wizard.

For a detailed discussion of international electrical standards, see our related article on Electrical and Phone Adaptation.

Download Magellan's Guide to World Electrical ConnectionsDownload Magellan's Guide to World Electrical Connections

A passport is required for entry to France and Monaco. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days in France and Monaco. That period begins when you enter any of the Schengen group of countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. For further information concerning entry requirements for France, travelers may contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, tel. (202) 944-6000, or the French Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco. For further information on entry requirements to Monaco, travelers may contact the Consulate General of Monaco at 565 5th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017, tel. (212) 759-5227. The Consulate General's web site is http://www.monaco-consulate.com. Visit the Embassy of France web site at http://www.consulfrance-washington.org for the most current visa information.

Source: U.S. Department of State

The time zone for France is 1 hours offset from GMT, which means that if it is 12:00 noon in New York, the time in France would be 6:00 pm

The unit of currency in France is the euro (EUR).

Look up the current exchange rate using XE.com's Universal Currency Converter

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Other Travelers' Experiences in France

"I visited Montpellier two years ago and Paris this year. Forget all the stories about aloof Parisians. I chatted with shopkeepers, a pigeon feeder, docents, people at the street markets and in bookstores. They were welcoming, friendly, helpful people. Moreover, I never had to lug a heavy bag up a flight of stairs. We took the train in from the airport and my introduction to Paris was that two teenagers, a Muslim young woman, a businessman and someone else all helped me at various Metro stations with my bags. Others have written about the magnificent food, art and architecture. Believe it all, but believe me about the people."