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Travel essentials

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Costs

France can be one of the more expensive European countries to visit, but how much a visit will cost depends on where in the country you go and when. Much of France is little or no more expensive than its Eurozone neighbours, with reasonably priced accommodation and restaurant food. But in prime tourist spots hotel prices can go up by a third during July and August, and places like Paris and the Côte d’Azur are always more expensive than other regions. If you’re visiting a chic tourist hotspot like St Tropez, be prepared for a wallet-bashing.

For a reasonably comfortable existence – staying in hotels, eating lunch and dinner in restaurants, plus moving around, café stops and museum visits – you need to allow a budget of around €100 (£81/$125) a day per person, assuming two people sharing a mid-range room. By counting the pennies – staying at youth hostels or camping and being strong-willed about extra cups of coffee and doses of culture – you could probably manage on €60 (£48/$75) a day.

Admission charges
Admissions to museums and monuments can also eat into your budget, though many state-owned museums have one day of the month when they’re free or half-price. Reductions are often available for those under 18 (for which you’ll need your passport as proof of age) and for students under 26, while many are free for children under 12, and almost always for kids under 4. Several towns and regions offer multi-entry tickets covering a number of sights (detailed with in the text).

Discount cards
Once obtained, various official and quasi-official youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students are eligible for the International Student ID Card (ISIC, wisic.org or wstatravel.co.uk in the UK) which entitles you to special air, rail and bus fares and discounts at museums and for certain services. You have to be 25 or younger to qualify for the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC), while teachers are eligible for the International Teacher Card (ITIC). A university photo ID might open some doors, but is not always as easily recognizable as the above cards.

Some cities issue their own discount cards, offering free or reduced price entry to museums or on public transport. These are mentioned in the relevant sections of the book.

Crime and personal safety

Theft and assault
While violent crime involving tourists is rare in France, petty theft is endemic in all the big cities, on beaches and at major tourist sights. In Paris, be especially wary of pickpockets at train stations and on the métro and RER lines; RER line B, serving Charles de Gaulle airport and Gare du Nord, has recently been the scene of several serious assaults. There has also been a spate of violent express kidnappings around the Channel ports in the early hours, often involving armed Eastern European gangs in British-registered vehicles and targeting lone drivers outside all-night stores or filling stations. Another recent trend, particularly in the south, is the targeting at night of foreign drivers on unlit sections of autoroute by fake police equipped with uniforms and flashing blue lights. Having stopped the drivers for some “offence”, they make off with their documentation and a considerable “fine”. Violence has sometimes been involved.

It obviously makes sense to take the normal precautions: don’t flash wads of notes around; carry your bag or wallet securely and be especially careful in crowds; never leave valuables lying in view; and park your car overnight in a monitored parking garage or, at the very least, on a busy and well-lit street. Be wary of unmanned aires (rest areas) on the autoroute at night. It’s also wise to keep a separate record of cheque and credit card numbers and the phone numbers for cancelling them. Finally, make sure you have a good insurance policy.

To report a theft, go to the local gendarmerie or Commissariat de Police (addresses are given in accounts for major cities). Remember to take your passport, and vehicle documents if relevant. The duty officer will usually find someone who speaks English if they don’t themselves.

Drugs
Drug use is just as prevalent in France as anywhere else in Europe – and penalties for use remain harsh by European standards, despite public agitation for a softening of the law. The authorities make no distinction between soft and hard drugs. People caught smuggling or possessing drugs, even just a few grams of marijuana, are liable to find themselves in jail. Should you be arrested on any charge, you have the right to contact your consulate, though don’t expect much sympathy.

Racism
Though the self-proclaimed home of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, France has an unfortunate reputation for racism. The majority of racist incidents are focused against the Arab community, although black and Asian visitors may also encounter an unwelcome degree of curiosity or suspicion from shopkeepers, hoteliers and the like. Anti-semitic violence has had a high profile in France since the torture and murder of a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, in a Paris banlieue in 1996. An attack on a school in Toulouse in March 2012 left four dead and another in Villeurbanne saw young yarmulke-wearing Jews attacked with hammers. If you suffer a racial assault, contact the police, your consulate or one of the local anti-racism organizations (though they may not have English-speakers); SOS Racism (wsos-racisme.org) and Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP; wmrap.fr) have offices in most regions of France. Alternatively, you could contact the English-speaking helpline SOS Help (t 01 46 21 46 46, daily 3–11pm; wsoshelpline.org). The service is staffed by trained volunteers who not only provide a confidential listening service, but also offer practical information for foreigners facing problems in France.

Road safety
Pedestrians should take great care when crossing roads. Although the authorities are trying to improve matters, many French drivers pay little heed to pedestrian/zebra crossings. Never step out onto a crossing assuming that drivers will stop. Also be wary at traffic lights: check that cars are not still speeding towards you even when the green man is showing.

Electricity

Voltage is officially 230V, using plugs with two round pins. If you need an adapter, it’s best to buy one before leaving home, though you can find them in big department stores in France.

Entry requirements

Citizens of EU countries can enter France freely on a valid passport or national identity card, while those from many non-EU countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, among others, do not need a visa for a stay of up to ninety days. South African citizens require a short-stay visa for up to ninety days, which should be applied for in advance and costs €60.

All non-EU citizens who wish to remain longer than ninety days must apply for a long-stay visa, for which you’ll have to show proof of – among other things – a regular income or sufficient funds to support yourself and medical insurance. Be aware, however, that the situation can change and it’s advisable to check with your nearest French embassy or consulate before departure. For further information about visa regulations consult the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: wdiplomatie.gouv.fr.

Gay and lesbian France

In general, France is as liberal as other western European countries. The age of consent is 15, and same-sex couples have been able to form civil partnerships, called PACs, since 1999.

Gay male communities thrive, especially in Paris and southern towns such as Montpellier and Nice. Nevertheless, gay men tend to keep a low profile outside gay communities and specific gay venues, parades, and the prime gay areas of Paris and the coastal resorts. Lesbian life is rather less upfront, although Toulouse has a particularly lively lesbian community. The biggest annual event is the Gay Pride march in Paris (wgaypride.fr), which takes place every June. Other cities with Pride celebrations in early summer include Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

Health

Visitors to France have little to worry about as far as health is concerned. No vaccinations are required, there are no nasty diseases, and tap water is safe to drink. The worst that’s likely to happen to you is a case of sunburn or an upset stomach from eating too much rich food. If you do need treatment, however, you should be in good hands: the French healthcare system is rated one of the best in the world.

Under the French health system, all services, including doctors’ consultations, prescribed medicines, hospital stays and ambulance call-outs, incur a charge which you have to pay upfront. EU citizens are entitled to a refund (usually 70 percent) of medical and dental expenses, providing the doctor is government-registered (un médecin conventionné) and provided you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; Carte Européenne d’Assurance Maladie). Present your EHIC card to avoid upfront charges if you’re admitted to hospital; you’ll generally only have to pay a 20 percent co-payment for treatment you receive there. Note that everyone in the family, including children, must have their own EHIC card, which is free. In the UK, you can apply for them online (wehic.org.uk), by phone (t 0845 606 2030) or by post – forms are available at post offices. Even with the EHIC card, however, you might want to take out some additional insurance to cover the shortfall. All non-EU visitors should ensure they have adequate medical insurance cover. For minor complaints go to a pharmacie, signalled by an illuminated green cross. You’ll find at least one in every small town and even in some villages. They keep normal shop hours (roughly 9am–noon & 3–6pm), though some stay open late and in larger towns at least one (known as the pharmacie de garde) is open 24 hours according to a rota; details are displayed in all pharmacy windows, or the local police will have information.

Condoms (préservatifs) are widely available in pharmacies, supermarkets and coin-operated street dispensers. The pill (la pilule) is available only on prescription but emergency contraception (la pilule du lendemain) can be obtained at pharmacies.

For anything more serious you can get the name of a doctor from a pharmacy, local police station, tourist office or your hotel. Alternatively, look under “Médecins” in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory. The consultation fee is in the region of €23 to €25; note that some practitioners charge an additional fee on top of the official rate. You’ll be given a Feuille de Soins (Statement of Treatment) for later insurance claims. Any prescriptions will be fulfilled by the pharmacy and must be paid for; little price stickers (vignettes) from each medicine will be stuck on the Feuille de Soins.

In serious emergencies you will always be admitted to the nearest general hospital (centre hospitalier). Phone numbers and addresses of hospitals in all the main cities are given in the text.

Insurance

Even though EU citizens are entitled to health-care privileges in France, they would do well to take out an insurance policy before travelling in order to cover against theft, loss, illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad.

After investigating these possibilities, you might want to contact a specialist travel insurance company. A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid.

Rough Guides has teamed up with World Nomads to offer you travel insurance that can be tailored to suit the length of your stay. There are also annual multi-trip policies for those who travel regularly. You can get a quote on our website (wroughguides.com/website/shop).

Internet

Wireless internet (wi-fi) is increasingly the norm in even the cheapest French hotels and is often – though not invariably – free. Many hotels will also have a computer terminal in a public area for those who do not have laptops or smartphones. Internet cafés are less common than they were but can still be found in big cities, sometimes also offering cheap international calls or other services such as photocopying. Unless specified otherwise, all accommodation establishments listed in this guide have wi-fi.

Laundry

Self-service laundries are common in French towns – just ask in your hotel or the tourist office, or look in the phone book under “Laveries automatiques” or “Laveries en libre-service”. Most hotels forbid doing laundry in your room, though you should get away with just one or two items.

Mail

French post offices, known as La Poste and identified by bright yellow-and-blue signs, are generally open from around 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to noon on Saturday. However, these hours aren’t set in stone: smaller branches and those in rural areas are likely to close for lunch (generally noon to 2pm) and finish at 5pm, while big city centre branches may be open longer.

You can receive letters using the poste restante system available at the central post office in every town. They should be addressed (preferably with the surname first and in capitals) “Poste Restante, Poste Centrale, Town x, post code”. You’ll need your passport to collect your mail and there’ll be a charge of €0.60 per item. Items are kept for 15 days.

For sending mail, standard letters (20g or less) and postcards in France and beyond cost €0.57; to other European Union countries a charge of €0.05 per 10g is added to the basic fee for heavier letters and of €0.11 per 10g to all other countries. You can also buy stamps from tabacs and newsagents. To post your letter on the street, look for the bright yellow postboxes.

For further information on postal rates, among other things, log on to the post office website wlaposte.fr.

Maps

In addition to the maps in this guide and the various free town plans and regional maps you’ll be offered along the way, the one extra map you might want is a good, up-to-date road map of France. The best are those produced by Michelin (1:200,000; wviamichelin.fr) and the Institut Géographique National (IGN; 1:250,000; w ign.fr), either as individual sheets or in one large spiral-bound atlas routier.

Money

France’s currency is the euro, which is divided into 100 cents (often still referred to as centimes). There are seven notes – in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros – and eight different coins – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euros. At the time of writing, the exchange rate for the euro was around €1.24 to the pound sterling (or £0.80 to €1) and €0.81 to the dollar (or $1.23 to €1). See wxe.com for current rates.

You can change cash at banks and main post offices, and travellers’ cheques at post offices and some BNP Paribas branches. Rates and commission vary, so it’s worth shopping around. There are money-exchange counters (bureaux de change) at French airports, major train stations and usually one or two in city centres as well, though they don’t always offer the best exchange rates.

By far the easiest way to access money in France is to use your credit or debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM (known as a distributeur or point argent); most machines give instructions in several European languages. Note that there is often a transaction fee, so it’s more efficient to take out a sizeable sum each time rather than making lots of small withdrawals.

Credit and debit cards are also widely accepted, although some smaller establishments don’t accept cards, or only for sums above a certain threshold. Visa – called Carte Bleue in France – is widely recognized, followed by MasterCard (also known as EuroCard). American Express ranks a bit lower.

Opening hours and public holidays

Basic hours of business are Monday to Saturday 9am to noon and 2 to 6pm. In big cities, shops and other businesses stay open throughout the day, as do most tourist offices and museums in July and August. In rural areas and throughout southern France places tend to close for at least a couple of hours at lunchtime. Small food shops may not reopen till halfway through the afternoon, closing around 7.30 or 8pm, just before the evening meal. The standard closing day is Sunday, even in larger towns and cities, though some food shops and newsagents are open in the morning. Some shops and businesses, particularly in rural areas, also close on Mondays.

Banking hours are typically Monday to Friday 8.30am to 12.30 and 1.30/2 to 5 or 6pm. Some branches, especially those in rural areas, close on Monday, while those in big cities may remain open at midday and may also open on Saturday morning. All are closed on Sunday and public holidays.

Museums tend to open from 9 or 10am to noon and from 2 or 3pm to 5 or 6pm, though in the big cities some stay open all day and opening hours tend to be longer in summer. Museum closing days are usually Monday or Tuesday, sometimes both. Churches are generally open from around 8am to dusk, but may close at lunchtime and are reserved for worshippers during services (times of which will be posted on the door).

France celebrates eleven public holidays (jours fériés), when most shops and businesses (though not necessarily restaurants), and some museums, are closed.

Phones

Payphones (cabines) are increasingly rare due to the proliferation of mobile phones. You can make and receive calls – look for the number in the top right-hand corner of the information panel. The vast majority of public phones require a prepaid phonecard (télécarte) available from tabacs and newsagents; they come in units of 50 and 120 units (€7.50 and €15 respectively). Alternatively, a more flexible option is one of the many prepaid phonecards which operate with a unique code (tickets téléphoniques) on sale at Orange outlets, post offices, tabacs, newsagents and many supermarkets, which can be used from both private and public phones. Orange’s Ticket France Europe, for example, for domestic and European calls is available in €5 and €10 denominations, while the prices for the Ticket International are €7.50 and €15. The €15 card buys up to 1000 minutes to landlines in the US and Canada. You can also use credit cards in many call boxes.

Calling within France

For calls within France – local or long distance – simply dial all ten digits of the number. Numbers beginning t0800 and t0805 are free-dial numbers; those beginning t081 are charged as a local call; numbers beginning t086 cost €0.1 for the first minute and €0.02 per minute thereafter. Note that some of these t 08 numbers cannot be accessed from abroad. Numbers starting t06 and t07 are mobile numbers and are therefore more expensive to call.

Mobile phones

If you want to use your mobile/cellphone, contact your phone provider to check whether it will work in France and what the call charges are – they tend to be pretty exorbitant, and remember you’re likely to be charged extra for receiving calls. French mobile phones operate on the GSM standard; if you’re travelling from the US your cellphone may not work if it is not tri-band or from a supplier that has switched to GSM. If you are going to be in France for any length of time and will be making and receiving a lot of local calls, it may be worth buying a pay-as-you-go French SIM card from any of the big mobile providers (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom), all of which have high-street outlets. SFR does a SIM-only deal aimed at visitors for around €20 including a limited amount of call time and texts, while Bouygues and Orange both do very low cost SIM cards; you can then decide how much prepaid time to buy. Remember you’ll need either a plug adapter for your phone charger or a charger compatible with French power sockets – phone shops stock the most popular models. One other option, of course – if your hotel has free wi-fi – is to use your Skype account.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in all indoor public places, including public transport, museums, cafés, restaurants and nightclubs.

Time

France is in the Central European Time Zone (GMT+1). Daylight Saving Time (GMT+2) in France lasts from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

Tipping

At restaurants you only need to leave an additional cash tip if you feel you have received service out of the ordinary, since restaurant prices always include a service charge. It’s customary to tip porters, tour guides, taxi drivers and hairdressers a couple of euros.

Tourist information

The French Government Tourist Office (Maison de la France; wfranceguide.com) generally refers you to their website for information, though they still produce a free magazine, Traveller in France, and dispense the Logis de France book. For more detailed information, such as hotels, campsites, activities and festivals in a specific location, it’s best to contact the relevant regional or departmental tourist offices; contact details can be found online at wfncrt.com and wrn2d.net respectively.

In France itself you’ll find a tourist office – usually an Office du Tourisme (OT) but sometimes a Syndicat d’Initiative (SI, run by local businesses) – in practically every town and many villages. Addresses, contact details and opening hours are detailed throughout the book, or try wtourisme.fr. All local tourist offices provide specific information on the area, including hotel and restaurant listings, leisure activities, car and bike rental, bus times, laundries and countless other things; many can also book accommodation for you. If asked, most offices will provide a town plan (for which you may be charged a nominal fee), and will have maps and local walking guides on sale. In mountain regions they display daily meteorological information and often share premises with the local hiking and climbing organizations. In the big cities you can usually pick up free What’s On guides.

Travellers with disabilities

The French authorities have been making a concerted effort to improve facilities for disabled travellers. Though haphazard parking habits and stepped village streets remain serious obstacles for anyone with mobility problems, ramps or other forms of access are gradually being added to hotels, museums and other public buildings. All hotels are required to adapt at least one room to be wheelchair accessible and a growing number of chambres d’hôtes are doing likewise. Hotels, sights and other facilities are inspected under the nationwide “Tourisme & Handicap” scheme and, if they fulfil certain criteria, issued with a certificate and logo. A supplementary scheme, “Destination pour tous” was rolled out in 2011 to recognize communities that promote disabled access to tourism.

For getting to France, Eurotunnel offers the simplest option for travellers from the UK, since you can remain in your car. Alternatively, Eurostar trains have dedicated wheelchair spaces in Standard Premier and Business Premier carriages; fares cost £69 return to Paris or Lille. A companion can also travel at a discounted rate. It’s wise to reserve well in advance, when you might also like to enquire about the special assistance that Eurostar offers. If you’re flying, it’s worth noting that, while airlines are required to offer access to travellers with mobility problems, the level of service provided by some discount airlines may be fairly basic. All cross-Channel ferries have lifts for getting to and from the car deck, but moving between the different passenger decks may be more difficult.

Within France, most train stations now make provision for travellers with reduced mobility. SNCF produces a free booklet outlining its services, which is available from main stations or to download from SNCF’s dedicated website for travellers with disabilities: waccessibilite.sncf.com, where you can also find information on accessible stations. Note that you need to give 48 hours advance warning to gain assistance from the beginning to the end of your trip.

Specially adapted taxi services (such as Taxis G7’s Horizon in Paris) are available in some towns: contact the local tourist office for further information or one of the organizations listed below. All the big car hire agencies can provide automatic cars if you reserve sufficiently far in advance. while Hertz offers cars with hand controls – again, make sure you give them plenty of notice.

As for finding suitable accommodation, guides produced by Logis de France and Gîtes de France indicate places with specially adapted rooms, though it’s essential to double-check when booking that the facilities meet your needs.

Up-to-date information about accessibility, special programmes and discounts is best obtained before you leave home from the organizations listed below. French readers might want to get hold of the Handitourisme guide, published by Petit Futé (wpetitfute.com), available online or from major bookstores.

Travelling with children

France is a relatively easy country in which to travel with children. They’re generally welcome everywhere and young children and babies in particular will be fussed over. There are masses of family-oriented theme parks and no end of leisure activities geared towards kids, while most public parks contain children’s play areas.

Local tourist offices will have details of specific activities for children, which might include anything from farm visits, nature walks or treasure hunts to paintball and forest ropeways for older children. In summer most seaside resorts organize clubs for children on the beach, while bigger campsites put on extensive programmes of activities and entertainments. Children under 4 years travel free on public transport, while those between 4 and 11 pay half-fare. Museums and the like are generally free to under-12s and half-price or free up to the age of 18; in some cases, citizens of the European Union aged under 26 get in free too.

Hotels charge by the room, with a small supplement for an additional bed or cot, and family-run places will sometimes babysit or offer a listening service while you eat or go out. Some youth hostels also now offer family rooms. Nearly all restaurants offer children’s menus. Disposable nappies/diapers (couches à jeter) are available at most pharmacies and supermarkets, alongside a vast range of baby foods, though many have added sugar and salt. Milk powders also tend to be sweet, so bring your own if this is likely to be a concern. You can breastfeed in public.

Women travellers

Despite a relatively strong feminist movement, France can still feel like a very male-dominated country, with many men still holding rather strong chauvinist ideas. While change is in the air, with female politicians starting to take a higher profile and giving the male ruling class a run for their money, for the moment many women still suffer the double burden of being housewife and earner.

French men tend to be on the predatory side, but are usually easily brushed off if you don’t want the attention. It’s not unusual, however, to be chatted up regularly, or have men (more often boys) call at you from cars in the street, and make comments as they pass you. The best way to deal with this is simply to avoid making eye contact and fail to react, and they’ll soon get the message. On the beaches, especially on the Riviera, women young and old tend to go topless. Be sensitive though; if on the rare occasion you find you’re the only one baring all on the beach, do cover up.

Work and study in France

EU citizens are able to work in France on the same basis as a French citizen. This means that you don’t have to apply for a residence or work permit except in very rare cases – contact your nearest French consulate for further information. You will, however, need to apply for a Carte du Séjour from a police station within three months of your arrival – consular websites have details. Non-EU citizens are not allowed to work in France unless their prospective employer has obtained an “autorisation de travail” from the Ministry of Labour before they arrive in France. Under the “Compétences et Talents” scheme, a three-year renewable work permit may be issued to individuals with specific skills. Students who have completed one academic year in France can work on renewable three-month work permits under strict conditions, subject to obtaining prior permission from the Ministry of Labour. Au pair visas must also be obtained before travelling to France. Contact your nearest French consulate for more information on what rules apply in your particular situation.

When looking for a job, a good starting point is to read one of the books on working abroad published by Crimson Publishing (wcrimsonbooks.co.uk). You might also want to search the online recruitment resource Monster (wmonster.fr) and Job Etudiant (wjobetudiant.net) which focuses on jobs for students. In France, try the youth information agency CIDJ (wcidj.com), or CIJ (Centre d’Information Jeunesse) offices in main cities, which have information about temporary jobs and about working in France.

A degree and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or similar qualification are normally required for English-language teaching posts. The online EL Gazette newsletter (welgazette.com) is a useful source of information; so too is the annual Teaching English Abroad published by Vacation Work and the TEFL website (wtefl.com), with its database of English-teaching vacancies.

Foreign students pay the same as French nationals to enrol for a course, and you’ll be eligible for subsidized accommodation. French universities are relatively informal, but there are strict entry requirements, including an exam in French for undergraduate courses if you don’t already have a degree in French. If you’re not a citizen of the EU or European Economic Area you’ll also need a one-year extended-stay visa and residency permit. For 31 countries including the United States, enrolment is through a compulsory online process. See the Campus France website (wcampusfrance.org) for more information.

Should you wish to study French in France, you can search online for language courses meeting recognized quality criteria at wlabelqualitefle.org.

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