What makes France a unique country to travel to?
France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
France is a relatively safe country. Most crimes are non-violent, but pick-pocketing is a significant problem.
The majority of crimes directed against foreign visitors, including U.S. citizens, involve pick-pocketing, residential break-ins, bicycle theft, and other forms of theft with minimal violence. However, as in any big city, robberies involving physical assault do occur in Paris and other major urban areas. Visitors to congested areas and known tourist sites (e.g., museums, monuments, train stations, airports, and subways) should be particularly attentive to their surroundings. Crimes against visitors are generally crimes of opportunity, though these crimes are more likely to involve violence on the street late at night or when the victim detects the theft and resists the criminal. As in any major city, women should exercise extra caution when out alone at night and/or consider traveling out at night with companions. In general, Paris taxis are safe and professionally operated, but there has been an increase in reported harassment and assaults on women by taxi drivers.
Caution is required throughout France when driving through economically depressed areas where there is a high incidence of “smash and grab” robberies. Thieves will approach a vehicle that is stopped in traffic, smash a window, reach into the vehicle to grab a purse or other valuable item, and then flee. Keep doors locked and valuables out of sight.
There is generally an increase in the number of residential break-ins in August, when most French residents take vacation, and in December. The majority are attributed to residents not using security measures already in place, including double-locking doors and locking windows. Home invasions are often preceded by phone calls to see if the resident is at home. Often thieves who manage to gain access to the apartment building will knock on apartment doors to see if anyone answers, offering the excuse they are taking a survey or representing a utility company.
PARIS: Crime in Paris is similar to that in most large cities. Violent crime is relatively uncommon in the city center, but women should exercise extra caution when out alone at night, and should consider traveling out at night with trusted companions. There has been an increase in reported sexual harassment, and sometimes assault, by taxi drivers.
Pickpockets are by far the most significant problem. In addition to purses and wallets, smart phones and small electronic devices are particular targets. In Paris, pickpockets are commonly children under the age of 16 because they are difficult to prosecute. Pickpockets are very active on the rail link (RER B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center. Travelers may want to consider using a shuttle service or one of the express buses to central Paris rather than the RER. In addition, passengers on metro Line 1, which traverses the city center from east to west and services many major tourist sites, are often targeted. A common method is for one thief to distract the tourist with questions or disturbances, while an accomplice picks pockets, a backpack, or a purse. Schemes in Paris include asking if you would sign a petition or take a survey, and presenting a ring and asking if you dropped it. Thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the metro, leaving the victim secured on the departing train. Many thefts also occur at the major department stores (e.g., Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché), where tourists may leave wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions. Popular tourist sites are also popular with thieves, who favor congested areas to mask their activities. The crowded elevators at the Eiffel Tower, escalators at museums such as the Louvre, and the area surrounding Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre are all favored by pickpockets and snatch-and-grab thieves.
There have been some instances of tourists being robbed and assaulted near less utilized metro stations. The area around the Moulin Rouge, known as Pigalle, requires extra security precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Pigalle is an adult entertainment area known for prostitution, sex shows, and illegal drugs. Unsuspecting tourists have run up exorbitant bar bills and been forced to pay before being permitted to leave. Other areas in Paris where extra security precautions are warranted after dark are Les Halles and the Bois de Boulogne.
PROVENCE ALPES MARITIMES (PACA) / LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON (Marseille, Montpellier, Perpignan, Carcassonne Avignon, Aix en Provence, Arles, Cannes, Nice): The PACA/Languedoc-Roussillon region enjoys a fairly low rate of violent crime directed at tourists. The most common problems in the region are thefts from cars (both stopped in traffic and parked) and from luggage trolleys at the major transportation hubs, including the Nice airport and railway stations in Marseille, Avignon, and Aix en Provence. Purse snatchings in transportation hubs are also a common problem.
The U.S. Consulate General in Marseille has noted an increase in holiday rental-home burglaries and in necklace snatching. Keep your car doors locked and windows rolled up at all times. Valuables should be hidden out of site to prevent snatch-and-grab attempts. Maintain visual contact with your car when visiting tourist sites, when using rest facilities at gas stations, or stopping to enjoy panoramic views, even for a short period as thieves will break windows to access items left in cars. Victims have reported break-ins within minutes of leaving an unattended car. Keep your passport in a separate location from other valuables.
Organized crime has increased in the south of France—especially in Marseille and Corsica, where feuding groups have been responsible for several recent violent incidents—and although U.S. citizens are not targeted, you should maintain awareness and keep emergency contact information on hand should you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
STRASBOURG: Strasbourg's historic center enjoys a fairly low rate of violent crime. Pickpockets and snatch-and-grab thieves tend to concentrate their efforts in the Petite France historic district popular with visitors.
BORDEAUX AND THE AQUITAINE, LIMOUSIN, AND POITOU-CHARENTES REGIONS: Bordeaux and other cities in southwest France are considered fairly safe. In cities and during popular festivals that draw huge crowds, you should be wary of pickpockets and other tourist-aimed crimes, especially near public transportation. Stolen purses, ID cards, and passports left in cars – particularly around renowned landmarks are common.
NOTE: Swimmers should be careful of strong riptides and swells in the Bordeaux area.
LYON: Although levels of violent crime are low, Lyon has a fair amount of petty crime and vandalism. Late-night weekend rowdiness is common in the center of town and in areas with night clubs. The city’s public transportation system is safe. To combat reckless and drunk drivers and prevent them from fleeing accident scenes, Lyon initiated 30 kilometer-per-hour zones in commercial districts, and the local police have increased controls for drunken driving. Police have also installed speed and red-light radar systems. The number of stolen passports and personal items in the district remains relatively low, and attacks are rare. Home break-ins have increased recently; according to the local news, there are 30-35 per day. Police response to sporadic armed robberies and violence is generally immediate and decisive. A recent wave of armed robberies in luxury goods stores and cash exchange businesses ended with the arrest of an organized gang of delinquents. Bicycle thefts are also a serious risk, as Lyon becomes increasingly bicycle-friendly and more people cycle around town.
NORMANDY: Break-ins and thefts from cars in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries are common. Do not leave valuables unattended in a car. Locking valuables in the trunk is not an adequate safeguard as thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags and other valuables.
OVERSEAS (NON-EUROPEAN) FRENCH DEPARTMENTS AND TERRITORIES: Please see the Country Specific Information for French Guiana, French Polynesia, and the French West Indiesfor crime trends in these areas.
RENNES: In general, the city of Rennes is relatively safe and secure, and crime rates throughout the consular district tend to be lower than in larger cities elsewhere. There are occasional crimes in the center of Rennes related to drunkenness and rowdy behavior, with the largest and most boisterous crowds tending to gather on Thursday nights in the area around Rue Saint Michel (a.k.a. “Rue de la Soif” or “Thirst Street”) and the adjacent Place Sainte Anne. The local authorities make security a priority. Tourists occasionally encounter theft of valuables and passports. Valuables left unattended in rental cars overnight, or for extended amounts of time, are particularly susceptible to theft. In particular, tourist sites around Brittany warn travelers against leaving expensive items in plain view in parked cars due to frequent vehicle break-ins. Do not leave luggage unattended on trains.
TOULOUSE AND THE MIDI-PYRENEES: Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrenees region are considered generally safe. Car theft, vehicle break-ins, petty theft, and burglary are the most common crimes, and they are relatively more frequent in areas near the railway station. Car-jacking and home invasions may occur, particularly in wealthier areas surrounding Toulouse. Home invasions usually target valuables and cars, but may include violence. Itinerant street people, often in groups accompanied by dogs, are increasingly prevalent in downtown Toulouse, particularly in warmer weather. While alcohol and drug abuse can make them unpredictable, incidents of crime are relatively rare.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim: Common-sense security precautions will help you enjoy a trouble-free stay. Most problems can be avoided by being aware of one's surroundings and avoiding high-risk areas.
When going out, carry only essential items: ONE credit/ATM card, ONE piece of identification, and no more than €40-50. Avoid carrying high-value jewelry and large amounts of cash. Valuables should be kept out of sight and in places difficult for thieves to reach, such as internal coat pockets or in pouches hung around the neck or inside clothes. Shoulder bags and wallets in back pockets are an invitation to a thief.
Keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement. Raise your awareness level while in crowded elevators, escalators, and metro cars. When possible, take a seat or stand against a wall to deter pickpockets and try to maintain a 360-degree awareness of the surrounding area.
Carry only a purse that zips closed and ensure that it is carried under the arm and slightly in front of the body. Swing backpack-type purses around so that they are slightly in front of your body. Carry your wallet in a front pocket. While on foot, remain aware of your surroundings at all times and keep bags slung across your body and away from the street.
Many U.S. citizens have had purses or bags stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table while in cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs/bars, including higher end establishments. Again, keep your valuables with you and never leave them unattended or out of your sight. Do not leave valuables in hotel rooms. If you must leave valuables in the hotel, consider using the hotel safe.
Thieves often operate in groups and often come to each other's aid if confronted. If a thief is caught in the act, a simple pick-pocketing could turn into an assault (or worse) if you attempt to capture the thief. You can shout out for police assistance to attract attention, but do not pursue the thief.
Do not use ATMs in isolated, poorly lighted areas or where loiterers are present. Be especially alert to persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply watching the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location. If your card gets stuck in an ATM, immediately report the incident to both the local bank and your bank at home.
Many theft and assault victims are targeted when making their way home from a late night out after drinking alcohol. If you go out late at night, do so with a group of friends. There is safety in numbers.
Use only authorized taxis. Authorized taxis in Paris have the following equipment:
An illuminated “Taxi Parisien” sign on the roof;
A display meter showing the cost of the trip;
A display at the rear of the vehicle and visible from the exterior that enables the monitoring of the daily duration of use of the vehicle; and
A plate fixed to the front fender bearing the license number.
There has been an increase in sexual harassment and assault of women by taxi drivers in recent years. Women may want to consider having another individual walk them to a taxi and, in plain view of the driver, note the license number of the vehicle, or call a friend while in the taxi and communicate the license number. Letting the driver know that others are aware of your trip and the license number of the taxi may reduce the chances of becoming a victim.
Avoid public parks after dark, as they are often frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.
While in France, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Individuals who hold U.S. and French or Monegasque citizenship should be aware that local authorities may treat you as solely French or Monegasque. Criminal penalties vary from country to country, and there are some things that might be legal in France or Monaco, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy counterfeit or pirated goods in another country. Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is also a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you commit a crime in another country, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France and Monaco are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. For legal assistance in France or Monaco, refer to this list of attorneys.
If you use any of France’s excellent public transportation services, take particular care to retain your used or “validated” ticket. Inspectors conduct intermittent, random checks, and passengers who fail to present the correct validated ticket for their journey are subject to stiff and immediate fines. Inspectors may show no interest in explanations and no sympathy for an honest mistake. Failure to cooperate with inspectors can result in arrest.
If arrested: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained.
The French government has emphasized the French language so much that almost everyone in France speaks French (99%), despite the different nationalities represented. Even regional dialects have lost their importance in recent years. English is the most common foreign language.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States. In an emergency, dial 15 to connect to emergency medical services. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system). Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located. For non-emergency medical assistance in France, you may refer to this list of medical professionals.
Safety and Security
Political violence in Paris and throughout France is relatively uncommon, although there are occasional instances of extremely large demonstrations simultaneously occurring in many French cities. Large demonstrations in Paris are generally managed by a strong police presence, but even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. We recommend that U.S. citizens avoid demonstrations if possible, and exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations. The congestion caused by large demonstrations can cause serious inconveniences for a visitor on a tight schedule. Some sporting events, such as soccer matches, have occasionally degenerated into violence that continued into the streets.
Political unrest has developed in some Francophone countries with historic ties to France (e.g., Algeria, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Tunisia). Some French citizens and residents with ties to such countries have protested in front of those countries’ embassies or consulates in France in response to the unrest. Although these protests are infrequent and do not target U.S. citizens, visitors should avoid such demonstrations.
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Under this plan, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected militant extremists allegedly involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have periodically spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe. The United States and France routinely share information in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen defenses against potential threats.
Although U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities to French law enforcement authorities, who are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.
Public safety and security in France are maintained by three different forces: Municipal Police; National Police; and the military Gendarmerie. These services are professional, competent, and proactive in fighting crime and violence and maintaining overall state security.
In an emergency, dialing 17 will connect the caller to the Police in both France and Monaco.You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system) in France. Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in France and Monaco, you may encounter road conditions that are very different from those in the United States.
Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers. Lane markings and sign placements may not be clear. Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers. French drivers typically drive more aggressively and faster than U.S. drivers, and tend to exceed posted speed limits. Right-of-way rules in France differ from those in the United States. Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets. While many newer traffic circles have yield signs, some intersections do not, and still require traffic in the circle to cede the right-of-way to incoming traffic from the right.
On major highways, there are service stations at least every 25 miles. Service stations are not as common on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States. Paris has an extensive and efficient public transportation system. The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than four million people a day with a safety record comparable to, or better than, the systems of major U.S. cities. Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France has an equally extensive rail service, which is safe and reliable. High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service. Traveling by train is safer than driving.
Pedestrians make up 13 percent of the deaths in motor vehicle accidents in France (roughly the same as in the United States), but this percentage is increasing. Most of these accidents occur when a pedestrian steps out onto the street, often when a car or motorcycle is making a turn through a pedestrian crosswalk. Pedestrians should be cautious even when they have a green walking signal since this is no guarantee against aggressive drivers.
While Paris, Marseille, Lyon, and other French cities actively encourage bicycle rentals through widely available city-sponsored systems, you should be cautious about this means of transportation, especially in a busy and unfamiliar urban environment. Helmets are neither required nor readily available near rental stations. If you plan to ride a bicycle in France, you should bring your own helmet.