Where is France?
France is a large country in Western Europe. The French share borders with the Belgians and Luxembourg in the northeast, the Swiss and Germans to the east, the Italians in the southeast and Spainiards to the southwest . The Atlantic ocean lies to the west, the English Chanel and Britain to the north west. The Mediterranean Island of Corsica is also a region of France.
France has a wide variety of landscapes and climates; from the temperate coastal plains and gently rolling hills of Brittany in the north and west, to mild wet winters and sometimes hot summers along the Mediterranean coast. The deeply patriotic region of Alsace which borders Germany generally experiences hot summers and cool to cold winters, while the mountainous areas of the Pyrenees, the Alps and Auvergne are typically alpine, with lots of snow in the winter.
History of France
France is the second-largest country in Europe, and the largest in the European Union, and has been a major economic, political, scientific and cultural influence for many centuries. Ancient France, or Gaul was conquered by Julius Caesar in the first century BC, becoming a part of the Roman Empire. After hundreds of years of wars, various dynasties and monarchies, France gradually unified and evolved through a series of Republican models into the country it is today.
With a population of around 65 million people and a land mass of nearly 5.5 million square kilometres, France is probably the most popular tourism destination in the world with annual visitors of more than 80 million. With such a rich cultural and architectural heritage, along with its natural beauty, it’s no surprise that France is so popular.
While the majority of tourists head for the capital city of Paris or the Cote D’Azur on Mediterranean coast, winter activities such as skiing also draw large numbers. The city and spiritual centre of Lourdes welcomes millions visitors annually and has the larges number of hotels in France after Paris. Canal boat holidays on the Canal du Midi are also popular. France is its world famous gastronomy; the birthplace of a wide variety of wines, cheeses and food to delight the palate.
France Visa Requirements
A valid passport is required for all foreign nationals entering France and it is advisable to ensure that your passport has at least six months validity when visiting any foreign country.
Along with 24 other European countries, France is a signatory to the Schengen Convention. That means a visa to any other signatory state of the Schlengen Agreement is valid in France too (in most cases). No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or France have special treaties can enter France for up to 90 days in a 180 day period without a visa. This includes Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and US citizens, among many others. Be aware that the 90 day limit runs concurrently across the whole of the Schengen zone and the countdown begins when entering any of the signatory countries. It does not reset when travelling into another country covered by the Schengen agreement.
Visas cannot be issued in France or a French Territory, so you must hold one before entry if required to do so. You may be required to show immigration officials that you have return or onward tickets and adequate means of support and accommodation upon entering France.
More info on the Schengen Agreement and travel documents for EU citizens can be found at http://europa.eu/travel/doc/index_en.htm
France does not currently charge a departure tax when leaving the country.
Visitors should be aware that a valid form of photo identity should be carried at all times.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
France Travel Health
France, like most of Western Europe is a fairly safe country to visit from a medical perspective, with few endemic diseases. It is however advisable for all travellers to ensure that they are up to date with their routine “background” vaccinations including Tetanus and Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping cough), Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Chicken pox.
Influenza is now considered a routine annual vaccination with many travellers choosing this as a precaution. It should noted however that standard flu vaccinations may not provide effective protection against variants of Influenza (such as N1H1 Influenza 09, or Swine Flu).
If visiting France for a prolonged period, some medical sources suggest considering the Hepatitis B Vaccination. One endemic disease which can occur in France and other parts of Europe is Tick-borne encephalitis, which is a viral disease of the central nervous system. The disease is seasonally epidemic (May – September) and is found mostly in forested areas, but can be caught in parkland including in some cities. Use of repellent and appropriate cothing is usually enough for short-term exposures. Vaccines are generally not available outside of Europe, so you should consult your doctor if concerned.
The medical care available in France is considered to be of a very high standard, with good access to pharmacies (usually displaying a green cross outside the shop), doctors, dentists, and emergency room facilities. There is always a doctor on call, but be aware that home or hotel visits and consultations on Sundays or public holidays are more expensive. The local police station can provide contact details for doctors in the area.
France has healthcare arrangements with other member countries of the EU (European Union), and visitors from these countries are usually eligible for a refund on medical costs incurred in France – usually 70% If you are travelling to France from another EU country, ensure that you take the Social Security form E111 with on your holiday. Most other visitors will need to pay full price for medical services, which can be quite expensive, depending on the treatment and services required. It is therefore highly advisable to take out an all risks medical insurance for the full duration of your journey.
Personal safety wherever one is travelling should always be a major consideration. . Although France is generally a very peaceful and safe country, a certain amount of street crime (mainly pickpockets and purse snatching) exists as it does in most countries. Be sure to make copies of important documents such as passports, birth certificates, credit cards, driver’s license etc. and store them separately when you are out and about. Carrying large amounts of cash is also inadvisable, as is dressing or behaving inappropriately, especially late at night. As a rule of thumb, the best way to stay safe is to blend in, not take unnecessary risks, and respect local knowledge on where to go and not to go. France, like many other countries in Europe has suffered a few indiscriminate terrorist attacks over the years, so it always pays to use a great deal of common sense and to remain alert when travelling anywhere. Before you travel it is advisable to visit the government website in the country where you live to check on the latest travel alerts
Exploring France by car is very popular and the French road and highway system is one of the best in Europe. New regulations require that a reflective jacket and/or triangle be kept in the car at all times for safety reasons in case of breakdowns at night. Visitors from countries like UK, Australia and New Zealand should also be aware that you drive on the right side of the road, not the left. This can take a bit of getting used to, so extra concentration is required – especially at intersections.
Numbers to dial In case of an emergency:
SAMU (medical emergencies): 15
Police emergencies: 17
Fire Service emergencies: 18
European emergency line: 112
SOS Médecins (Paris – emergency doctors): +33 (0) 1 47 07 77 77 or +33 (0) 820 332 424
SOS Dentistes (Paris – emergency dentists): +33 (0) 1 43 37 51 00
What is France Local Currency?
In France the currency used is the euro (symbol: €), and it is not common for other currencies, like the UK pound or the US dollar to be accepted when making purchases.
The euro is available as bills (500€, 200€, 100€, 50€, 20€, 10€, 5€), and coins (2€, 1€, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents 2 cents and 1 cent). One euro = 100 cents
Exchange rates are unpredictable and can fluctuate over time. Over the 2008 – 2009 period for example, one US$ could buy between 0.62€ and 0.80€. As exchange rate can often be a determining factor with international travel, it is advisable to check the exchange rates frequently.
Almost all stores, restaurants and hotels take the CB French debit card, and its foreign affiliations, Visa and Mastercard, whilst American Express tends to be accepted only in high-end shops. Typically, banks apply the wholesale inter-bank exchange rate, which is the best available, but may impose a proportional and/or a fixed fee for these transactions.
French CB cards (and CB/Visa and CB/Mastercard cards) have a “smart chip” on them allowing PIN authentication of transactions. This system, initiated in France, has now evolved to an international standard and newer cards from other countries are sometimes compatible.
Some cashiers may be unaccustomed to foreign cards and do not know that foreign Visa or Mastercard cards have to be swiped and a signature obtained, while French customers systematically use PIN and don’t sign the transactions.
It is very difficult to get a cash advance from a credit card without a PIN in France but
Automatic teller machines (ATM) all take CB, Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus and Plus and are plentiful throughout France. Be sure to check for the logos on the ATM and on your card. Travellers cheques are difficult to cash in France, and since the introduction of the euro, even exchanging foreign currency outside of busy tourist areas has become a chore. As a rule, the best way to handle your money requirements is make sure you have the money you need in your cheque account (as many ATMs default to this with foreign cards). Use ATMs to get cash, and with larger amounts such as tours, hotels and restaurants, use a credit card. Before you travel, it’s advisable to ask how your bank charges for the transaction , as some charge a flat rate rather than a proportional amount. If they charge a flat rate per transaction, you will save money by making fewer withdrawals, and larger amounts.
During their stay in France, visitors are usually asked to pay a tourism tax or a flat-rate tourism tax which is fixed by the local authority and varies from € 0.15 to € 1.07 per person per day, according to the quality and standard of the accommodation.
Where the tourism tax is not flat rate, children under 4 years of age are exempt and children under 10 are charged half the rate. This tax is collected by the owner of the accommodation and will be included in your hotel bill, rent, etc…
Like most other western countries, France has a Value Added Tax (VAT) which is added to almost all goods and services. Currently (July 2009) this tax is 19.6% and is generally included in the advertised price of goods and services. Once recent and most welcome concession to this is that the rate for restaurants has been reduced to 5.5%.
What is France’s Weather?
France has a diverse climate. Overall, most of the country, including Paris, enjoys temperate winters and mild summers. In the south and along the Mediterranean, you can expect mild winters with high rainfall and hot summers. Mild winters with high rainfall and cool summers in the north west (Brittany) , and cool to cold winters and hot summers along the German border (Alsace). Along the Rhone valley, an occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-north-westerly wind known as the mistral is most commonly experienced winter and spring . Cold winters with lots of snow characterise the Mountainous regions of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Auvergne.
Average winter and summer temperatures (degrees Celsius) for major cities are:
Paris: 3.5 to 18.4
Nice: 7.2 to 22.8
Marseille: 6.4 to 22.7
Strasbourg: 0 to 19.8
Bordeaux: 5.6 to 20.4
Lyon: 2 to 20.4
Culture of France
The French are generally regarded as being patriotic, peaceful, and polite, with a natural flair towards style and the finer things in life. Although evidence points toward the region being inhabited since the Neolithic period (4,000 BC), the written history of France began with its incorporation into the Roman empire between 118 and 50BC. Over the subsequent 2000 years the French have made significant contributions to the world of science, politics, art, design, wine-making and cuisine.
Elegance and style seem to prevail amongst the French regardless of social standing or wealth. Even though dress codes are fast disappearing, it is unusual to find the French going out to a bar or dinner in very casual clothes which may be perfectly normal in the US or Australia for instance. As a traveller, it is advisable to treat the local customs and conventions with respect. When visiting a church for instance, respect can be shown by dressing and behaving appropriately as the French find loudness and crassness both abrasive and discourteous, although they will rarely tell you so.
Tipping is very common in France and can constitute a large proportion of some people’s income. In many restaurants, a 15% surcharge may be included with the bill, and if this is the case it should be clearly stated on the menu. In addition to this, if the sevice has been particularly good, a further 2-3% is customary, as is leaving the small change on the plate if paying by cash. If a service charge is not included in the bill, a 15% tip is customary.
Taxi drivers should be given 10-15% of the metered fare, hairdressers 10%, hotel porters around 1.50€ per bag, and chambermaids around 1.50€ per day. It is also customary to tip washroom attendants and museum tour guides around 1€ , and tour guides and drivers between 1-3€ , depending on the level of service.
When shopping, haggling over the price is uncommon and generally the price shown is the price expected. There is no harm is asking for a discount or to match another store’s advertised price if it seems appropriate, but this should be done in a respectful way.
The predominant religion in France is Catholicism, with Christianity accounting for more than 50% of the population. Around 30% claim to be either agnostic or atheist, and 5% Muslim.
What Languages Are Spoken In France?
The predominant language spoken in France is (as one might expect) French, although there are some regional variations in pronunciation, and sometimes words, phrases and even dialects unique to an area. The French are generally attracted to politeness and may respond cooly to people who ignore or forget this. It is considered impolite to begin any conversation without at least saying hello “bonjour”, and when entering or leaving small bistros or shops it is considered polite to respond appropriately if staff or even other customers say bonjour. Generally, any serious attempt to speak at least a phrase or two in French will be well received. Here are a few which most non French speaking people will be familiar with:
“Excusez-moi Monsieur/Madame”: Excuse me (ex-CUE-zeh-mwah mih-SYOOR/muh-DAM)
“S’il vous plait Monsieur/Madame” : Please (SEEL-voo-PLAY)
“Merci Monsieur/Madame” : Thank you (mare-SEE)
“Au revoir Monsieur/Madame” : Good Bye (Ore-vwar)
The telecommunications network in France is modern and extensive. All numbers within France have 10 digits. The first two digits are 01 for the Paris area, and 02/03/04/05 for the northwest/northeast/southeast/southwest, respectively. Numbers starting with 06 are cellphones. You cannot drop the first two digits even if you calling a number within the same area.
When dialling in to France from another country, the country code is 33 followed by the area code (omitting the 0) and then the number. To call another country from France, dial 00 + country code + local number.
If you are staying in France for a while, most of the local phone companies offer the purchase or rental of a GSM SIM card and some companies will even rent a GSM handset at reasonable prices. Another cost effective way make cheap international calls is with dial-around services such as appeldiscount, appellemonde or allo.
Dial-around services are directly accessible from any landline in France. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services allows you to call USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at local rate (tarif local) so you can easily save on your phone calls. They also work from payphones, though the first minute is surcharged by France Telecom.
Internet access is widely available in large and medium sized cities and towns through cybercafés. Many hotels and hostels also offer either wireless or Ethernet connections if you have a laptop, or an area with a computer for guest access. Free wireless hotspots are becoming more common in the larger cities, especially Paris.
Post offices can be found in every city and town, but their opening hours can vary. Typically the hours of operation are from 09.00 to 18.00 Monday through to Saturday lunchtime, with many closing for lunch during the week.
France Transport Options
Like most developed western European countries, France is well served by an excellent transportation system. The main international airport is Charles de Gaulle Airport located just outside of Paris, and is the largest and busiest in France. Orly airport also services the Paris area, and although its main function is to act as a hub connecting all of the major cities and regions with domestic flights, it also handles some international traffic. All of France’s cities have airports, making air travel within France fairly easy even if it’s not the cheapest way to get around.
France has a well-developed system of highways. Most of the freeway (autoroute) links are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section of the highway, whilst others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don’t lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance. All toll stations accept major credit cards, or you can use the automatic booth, but only if your card is equipped with a chip.
Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways. Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centres tend to be unwieldy for cars. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. It often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
France drives on the right, so drivers from countries which drive on the left will need to pay particular attention, especially at intersections.
When you are in France and wish to explore the country, car rental is by far the best way of getting around quickly and cheaply, especially for groups of two or more. A French driver flashing headlights means they are asserting their right of way and warning you of their intentions and presence. Do not misunderstand this as meaning “thank-you”. Flashing headlights can also often mean, “Watch out, there’s a police speed-check ahead of you!”
An alternative to car rental is having a short term lease agreement as offered by some car manufacturers. Lease periods rang from 17 to 175 days with plans offering unlimited mileage, fully comprehensive insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance.
All drivers in France are required to carry a valid driver’s licence. Visitors from other countries can usually use their own licence provided it is valid and in a language that uses the Roman alphabet, otherwise they should get an international drivers licence before arrival. Also, if licences do not have photo ID, it will be necessary to carry additional documentation to confirm identity.
Train/rail travel service in France is efficient, punctual, and comfortable. It is one of the most popular ways to get around, allowing travelers to view the countryside in a swift, but leisurely manner. France’s extensive railway network connects large cities and towns throughout the country. Smaller towns without train stations are generally linked by bus service to the nearest station. The French National Railroads’ (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer or SNCF) network of inter-city rail links also provides frequent express and high-speed train service known as the TGV or Train à Grande Vitesse. Operating at of up to 186mph, the high-speed network also includes European routes, featuring the Eurostar which connects Paris to London in just 2h35 and the Thalys going to Brussels and Amsterdam in 1h30 and 4 hours respectively. For added convenience, the Paris Charles-de-Gaulle and Lyon Saint-Exupery Airports have high-speed train stations.
The price of train travel in France depends on whether you choose first or second class, as well as on the time and date of travel. If you planning your rail travel before you go, there are a variety off affordable and flexible passes which include the France Railpass, the France Rail’n Drive, Eurail. Rail Europe also offers combo-country passes, including the France n’Italy Pass and the all new France’n Spain pass. Most passes offered by Rail Europe have specially priced youth versions as well as special passes for seniors. Point-to-point tickets can also be purchased in advance. It is illegal to travel on a train or the Metro without a ticket and on the spot fines are routinely administered. If for any reason you find yourself on a train without a valid ticket find the conductor or guard before they fine you, and ask to buy a ticket.
Paris had a convenient and efficient metro system which is generally considered safe and a great way to get around the city and its suburbs. France and especially Paris has a very progressive attitude towards cycling, with abundant cycle lanes and bile paths. Bicycle hire is common and a fun and cheap way to explore. On Sundays, a few of the roads on the banks of the river Seine are closed to vehicles for the exclusive use of pedestrians, cyclists and rollerblading.
The recently introduced Ve’lib rental bike scheme brought biking in Paris into the public eye. Bikes can be rented from numerous points in Paris, and the first half hour is free although you do have to register.
France Travel Tips
Like most countries, France has its own idiosyncrasies and customs which visitors should be aware of and respect. Loud, crass and inappropriate behaviour will get a cool response from the French, as will rudeness.
Over the years, Parisians have gained a somewhat undeserved reputation as being haughty and resentful towards tourists. This is generally a myth, but one should also consider that the local residents live fast paced lives in a busy city with millions of tourists unable to communicate effectively asking for directions and other information. It’s quite understandable that at least some locals would just prefer not to become involved in potentially difficult interactions.
In the same vein, the French living outside of Paris do not respond favourably to the assumption that all French people are like Parisians. As for personal safety is concerned, using both your own common sense and trusted local advice is generally the best way of staying safe and out of trouble.
France Local Food
France is famous around the world for its food and wine, with top restaurants around the world featuring famous dishes, often prepared by chefs trained in French cordon bleue cooking schools operating in many countries. With such a good international reputation it would not be surprising to know that the food in France can be very, very good. Unfortunately some restaurants can serve up very ordinary food at high prices, especially in touristy areas, so it’s best to ask around or consult a restaurant guide. Also, prices at similar styles of eateries can vary significantly depending on their location and even whether you are sitting at a table on the sidewalk or standing at the bar.
In France, there are three meals a day. Breakfast, generally served from around 7:00 am to 9:00 am, and consists of a hot drink (coffee, tea, or chocolate), croissants and/or bread, butter and jam. Lunch, between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm, is typically a real feast, usually consisting of a starter, main course and (often) a dessert. It is usually finished off with an espresso coffee. A snack (around 4:00 pm) is traditionally reserved for children, although some adults take this as an opportunity to enjoy tea and cakes. Finally, dinner starts around 8:00 pm. It usually 1-2 hours, and consists of an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.
France has literally hundreds of speciality dishes and all of the regions have there own unique cuisine which reflects local tastes, produce and wines.
While dining in top gourmet restaurants can be quite expensive, there are many brassieres which serve plain simple food at reasonable prices. Asian food is another favourite of the French, with good Thai and Chinese restaurants with low prices in plentiful supply.
One item on a French menu which international visitors may be surprised or even horrified to see is cheval – horse meat. Its widespread consumption dates back to 1866 and has become firmly entrenched in the national diet as healthier alternative to beef and pork. Normal butchers shops are prohibited from selling horse meat and specialised shops called boucheries chevalines are plentiful.
France Local Timezones
France is slightly to the east of the Greenwich meridian and is in the Central European Timezone, being one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +1) in the winter months starting the last Sunday in October, and shifted forward one hour (GMT +2) in the summer months, starting on the last Sunday in March.
In France, electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V 50Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and other countries using 230V 50Hz which use different plugs simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in France. Plug adaptors for plugs from the US and UK are available from electrical and “do-it-yourself” stores. Multi adaptors can also usually be found at these stores or at airports or travel shops.
France Dutyfree Limits
It is important to check with your travel agent for up to date information regarding duty free allowances, as legislation and allowances change often.
At the time of writing the following goods may be imported into France without incurring customs duty by passengers 17 years of age or older arriving from non-EU countries:
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 cigarillos or 250g of tobacco.
1l of spirits over 22%, or 2l of alcoholic beverage up to 22%.
2l of wine.
50g of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette.
Medication: quantities corresponding to the needs of the patient.
Other goods up to the value of €175 (€90 per person under 15 years of age).
Travellers entering from EU countries (goods obtained duty & tax paid – guidance levels)
800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars & 1 kg of tobacco
10 lit of spirits, 20 lit of fortified wine, 90 lit of wine (of which, a max of 60 lit of sparkling wine) & 110 lit of beer
In certain cases, the VAT tax can be claimed back on some purchases.
When leaving France, your duty free allowance will depend on which country you are travelling to, so it is wise to check with your travel agent or the consulate from your destination country.