Area Codes: The country code for France is 33 and the area code for Paris is 01.
Business Hours: Opening hours in Paris are erratic. Most museums close 1 day a week (usually Mon or Tues) and some national holidays. Museum hours tend to be from 9:30am to 6pm. Generally, offices are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, but don’t count on it—always call first. Banks tend to be open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but some branches are open on Saturday instead of Monday. Large stores are open from around 10am to 6 or 7pm. Some small stores have a lunch break that can last for up to 2 hours, from noon onward, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Most shops, except those in the Marais or on the Champs-Élysées, are closed on Sunday. Restaurants are typically closed on Sundays and/or Mondays, and many businesses across the city are closed in August.
Cell Phones: The three letters that define much of the world’s wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border mobile phone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. You can use your mobile phone in France provided it is GSM and 3G, 4G, or 5G; just confirm this with your operator before you leave.
Using your phone abroad can be expensive, and you usually have to pay to receive calls, so it’s a good idea to get your phone “unlocked” before you leave. Then you can buy a SIM card from one of the three main French providers: Bouygues Télécom (www.bouyguestelecom.fr), Orange (www.orange.fr), or SFR (www.sfr.fr). A temporary SIM card (carte prepayée) costs anywhere from 5€ to 40€, depending on the number of minutes bundled with it. Alternatively, if your phone isn’t unlocked, you could buy a cheap mobile phone in Paris. To top up your phone credit, buy a prepaid card (carte prépayée) from tabacs, supermarkets, and mobile phone outlets. Prices range from 5€ to 100€.
A final strategy? Use Skype, FaceTime, or WhatsApp for phone calls. Make sure you have the app before you get to Europe and then use it whenever you have a signal for free or ridiculously inexpensive (Skype) phone calls.
Customs:What you can bring into France: Citizens of E.U. countries can bring in any amount of goods as long as the goods are intended for their personal use and not for resale. Non–E.U. citizens are entitled to 200 cigarettes, 100 small cigars, 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco duty-free. You can also bring in 4 liters of non-sparkling wine, 16 liters of beer, 2 liters of alcoholic beverages less than 22% alcohol, and 1 liter of spirits more than 22% alcohol.
Dentists & Doctors: Doctors are listed in the Pages Jaunes (French equivalent of the Yellow Pages; www.pagesjaunes.fr) under “Médecins.” Online, type “medecin” in the left-hand search box and Paris in the right-hand one; names (and even photos) will appear. The standard fee for a consultation with a general practitioner (médecin generaliste) is 25€. SOS Médecins (tel. 36-24, .15€/min., and tel. 01-47-07-77-77; www.sosmedecins.fr) makes house calls that cost around 90€ to 130€ (prices quoted are for people without French social security). Find a list of English-speaking dentists and doctors in Paris on the U.S. Embassy website: https://fr.usembassy.gov. You can also reach U.S. Citizens Services by phone at tel 01-43-12-22-22.
Drinking Laws: Supermarkets, grocery stores, and cafes sell alcoholic beverages. The legal drinking age is 18. Wine and liquor are sold every day of the week, year-round. Cafes generally open around 6am and serve until closing (between midnight and 2am). Bars and nightclubs usually stay open until 2am (sometimes 5am), but they must stop serving alcohol 1 1/2 hours before closing. You can drink in public, but you cannot be drunk in public.
The law regarding drunk driving is tough. A motorist is considered legally intoxicated if his or her blood-alcohol content exceeds .05 percent. If it is between .05 percent and .08 percent, the driver faces a fine of 750€. Over .08 percent and it could cost 4,500€ or up to 2 years in jail.
Driving Rules: The French drive on the right side of the road. At junctions without signposts indicating the right of way, cars coming from the right have priority. When entering a roundabout (rond point), you do not have priority; once you are on, be sure to signal when you are about to turn off.
Electricity: Electricity in France runs on 220 volts AC (60 cycles); the U.S. runs on 120 volts AC. Adapters for plugs (Type E is most useful in France) or transformers are needed to fit sockets; you can buy these in branches of Fnac. You can also buy them at many electronics stores before your trip. Check if your appliance can handle 220 volts; fortunately many today are dual voltage. If your appliance isn’t, though, you risk frying it. In such cases, use a transformer. If the appliance is dual voltage, you need only an adapter so you can plug into a socket.
Embassies & Consulates: If you have a passport, immigration, legal, or other problem, contact your consulate. Many require you to fill in an online form to explain your situation. Otherwise, call before you go—they often keep odd hours and observe both French and home-country holidays.
The Embassy of Australia, 4 rue Jean-Rey, 15e (https://france.embassy.gov.au; tel 01-40-59-33-00; Métro: Bir Hakeim), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm except public holidays. The Consular section is open Monday to Friday from 9am to noon and 2 to 4pm.
The Embassy of Canada, 130 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8e (www.canadainternational.gc.ca/france; tel. 01-44-43-29-02; Métro: Franklin-D-Roosevelt or Alma-Marceau), is open Monday to Friday 9am to noon.
The Embassy of Ireland, 12 av. Foch, entrance 4 rue Rude, 16e (www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/france; tel. 01-44-17-67-00; Métro: Argentine), is open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm; consular and passport services 9:30am to noon.
The Embassy of New Zealand, 103 rue de Grenelle, 7e (www.mfat.govt.nz/france; tel. 01-45-01-43-43; Métro: Solferino), is open Monday 10:30am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm; Tuesday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm.
The Embassy of the United Kingdom, 35 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e (www.gov.uk/world/france; tel. 01-44-51-31-00; Métro: Concorde or Madeleine), is open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 1pm and 2:30 to 5pm.
The Embassy of the United States, 2 av. Gabriel, 8e (https://fr.usembassy.gov; tel. 01-43-12-22-22; Métro: Concorde), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm. Appointment required for passport and other services; you can schedule online on the website.
Emergencies: In an emergency, call 112, or the fire brigade (Sapeurs-Pompiers; 18), who are trained to deal with all kinds of medical emergencies, not just fires. For a medical emergency and/or ambulance, call 15. For the police, call 17.
Etiquette & Customs: Parisians like pleasantries and take manners seriously: Say bonjour, madame/monsieur, when entering an establishment and au revoir when you depart. Always say pardon when you accidentally bump into someone. With strangers, people who are older than you, and professional contacts, use vous rather than tu (vous is the polite form of the pronoun you).
Health: For travel abroad, non–E.U. nationals should consider buying medical travel insurance. For U.S. citizens, Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs incurred abroad, so check what medical services your health insurance covers before leaving home. That said, medical costs are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. (for example, a visit to a GP costs 25€), so you may even decide to do a little medical tourism (be sure to bring your prescriptions). U.K. nationals need a U.K. Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive free or reduced-cost medical care during a visit to a European Union (E.U.) country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, or Switzerland (go to www.nhs.uk, then type GHIC into the search box).
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels—otherwise they won’t make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
For further tips on travel and health concerns, and a list of local English-speaking doctors, contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; www.iamat.org; tel. 716/754-4883 in the U.S., or 416/652-0137 in Canada). You can also consult a list of English-speaking dentists and doctors in Paris at the U.S. Citizen Services page on the U.S. embassy website (https://fr.usembassy.gov ).
Holidays: Major holidays are New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Easter Sunday and Monday (late Mar/Apr), May Day (May 1), VE Day (May 8), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), Pentecost/Whit Sunday and Whit Monday (7th Sun and Mon after Easter), Bastille Day (July 14), Assumption Day (Aug 15), All Saints Day (Nov 1), Armistice Day (Nov 11), and Christmas Day (Dec 25).
Hospitals: Most Parisian hospitals have 24-hr. emergency rooms, and some have a specialty (Hôpitals Necker and Trousseau are two of the best children’s hospitals in France, for example). For addresses and information on all Paris public hospitals, visit www.aphp.fr.
Two private hospitals in nearby suburbs have English-speaking staff and operate 24 hours a day (and cost much more than the public ones): the American Hospital of Paris, 63 bd. Victor Hugo, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine (www.american-hospital.org; tel. 01-46-41-25-25; Métro: Pont de Levallois; 15-min. walk from station; bus: 43, 82, 93, 163, 164, and 174); and the Hôpital Franco-Britannique, 3 rue Barbès or 4 rue Kleber, Levallois (www.hopitalfrancobritannique.org/en; tel. 01-47-59-59-59; Métro: Anatole-France).
Hotlines: S.O.S. Help is a hotline for English-speaking callers in crisis (www.soshelpline.org; tel. 01-46-21-46-46; daily 3–11pm).
Internet & Wi-Fi: Many Parisian hotels and cafes have Internet access, and Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee here) is increasingly common in public spaces. Cybercafes are few and far between nowadays, but the huge Milk location in Les Halles is reliably open 24/7 (www.milklub.com).
Language: English is increasingly common in Paris, particularly in tourist areas, but you’ll get much better service (or at least a shadow of a smile) if you attempt to use a few French words like bonjour and merci.
LGBTQ Travelers: France is known for being a particularly tolerant country when it comes to gay and lesbian people, which made the acrimonious blather surrounding the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2013 all the more upsetting. “Gay Paree” boasts a large gay population, and had an openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, for over a decade. The center of gay and lesbian life is in the Marais. The annual Gay Pride March usually takes place on the last Sunday in June. Information and resources can be found in Paris’ largest, best-stocked gay bookstore, Les Mots à la Bouche, 37 rue Saint-Ambroise, 11th arrond. (www.motsbouche.com; tel 01-42-78-88-30; Métro: Rue Saint-Maur), which carries publications in both French and English. To find listings and events, try Qweek (www.qweek.fr), a website focused on Paris.
Lost & Found: If you lose an important belonging, contact the police’s Bureau des Objets Trouvés, 36 rue des Morillons, 15 arrond. (https://objetstrouvesprefecturedepolice.franceobjetstrouves.fr/en). If you left something on the bus, Métro, or RER, consult www.ratp.fr/en and search for “lost and found,” or if that doesn’t work (the RATP’s website has flaws), type “RATP lost & found” in your standard search engine. If your object is found (including on the RATP network), the police bureau will contact you by SMS.
Mail: Every arrondissement has a post office (La Poste; www.laposte.fr; 36-31). Most are open Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm; the Louvre post office (16 rue Etienne Marcel; Métro: Louvre-Rivoli) is open daily midnight to 6am and 8am to midnight. Stamps are also sold in tabacs (tobacconists).
Money & Costs: Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com or www.xe.com to check up-to-the-minute rates.
ATMs are widely available in Paris, but if you’re venturing into rural France, it’s always good to have cash in your pocket. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Many banks impose a fee when you withdraw money abroad, and that fee can be higher for international transactions than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For currency exchanges, always use a bank (you’ll get a better exchange rate that way).
Visa is the most common credit card in France, but with the exception of American Express, which is sometimes refused, international credit cards are widely accepted. Foreign credit cards, particularly those without an embedded chip, do not always work in machines. Payments from mobile phone apps are also increasingly accepted. Check for hidden fees when using your card abroad—some bank charges can be up to 3% of the purchase price. Some family-run shops, restaurants, and bars don’t accept credit or debit cards; check in advance and have cash on hand.
Travelers’ checks are no longer accepted.
Pharmacies: You’ll spot French pharmacies by looking for the green neon cross above the door. If your local pharmacy is closed, there should be a sign on the door indicating the nearest one open. Pharmacists give basic medical advice and can take your blood pressure. Parapharmacies sell medical products and toiletries, but they don’t dispense prescriptions. Pharmacies open 24/7 include: Pharmacie Européene, 6 pl. de Clichy (tel 01-48-74-65-18; Métro: Place de Clichy); and Citypharma, 86 bd. Soult (tel. 01-43-43-13-68; Métro/Tram: Porte de Vincennes). Pharmacie du Drugstore des Champs-Élysées, 133 av. des Champs-Élysées (tel. 01-47-20-39-25; Métro/RER: Charles de Gaulle–Etoile) is open until 2am.
Female travelers should not expect any more hassle than in other major cities, and the same precautions apply. French men tend to stare a lot, but it’s generally harmless. Avoid walking around the less safe neighborhoods (Barbès Rochechouart, Strasbourg St-Denis, Châtelet-Les-Halles) alone at night and never get into an unmarked taxi. If you are approached in the street or on the Métro, it’s best to avoid entering into conversation and walk away. If you feel threatened, enter the nearest cafe or bar.
Senior Travel: Many discounts are available to men and women over 60. Although they often seem to apply only to residents of E.U. countries, discounts can be had by announcing at the ticket window of a museum or monument that you are 60 years old or more. You may not receive a discount, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. “Senior,” incidentally, is pronounced seenyore in France. Senior citizens do not get a discount for traveling on public transport in Paris, but the national trains do offer them. Check www.oui.sncf for details.
Student Travel: Student discounts are less common in France than in other countries, simply because young people 26 and under are usually offered reduced rates and even free entry to some museums and attractions. Some discounts only apply to residents of E.U. countries, who will need to prove this with a passport, ID card, or driver’s license, but if you’re not from the E.U. it’s worth carrying an ID to prove your age and announcing it when buying tickets. SNCF offers 25% off for under-26-year-olds traveling on national trains (www.oui.sncf).
Taxes: As a member of the European Union, France routinely imposes a value-added tax (VAT in English; TVA in French) on most goods. The standard VAT is 20% and is already included in virtually all prices for consumer goods and services (you’ll know for sure when you see TTC, which means toutes taxes comprises, “all taxes included”). If you’re over 16 and not an E.U. resident, you can get a VAT refund if you’re spending less than 6 months in France and you purchase goods worth at least 100€ over a maximum of 3 days, at a retailer offering tax-free shopping (vente en détaxe) in the same brand or group of brands. Give them your passport and ask for a bordereau de vente à l’exportation (export sales invoice), which must have a barcode. Both you and the shopkeeper sign the slip, and you choose how you want to be reimbursed (credit on card, bank transfer, or cash). Once you get to the airport, scan the code in one of the “Pablo” terminals (if your airport doesn’t have one, just go to the “detaxe” counter). Once the form has been approved, head to the reimbursement counter to immediately claim your refund. If all of this is too confusing, visit the French customs website, www.douane.gouv.fr/fiche/eligibility-vat-refunds, or search for “duty free” at the tourist office: www.parisinfo.com.
Telephones: France no longer has public telephone booths. If you want to pay for a call from a phone that is not your own, you can still use a prepaid card with a code. Called a carte téléphonique à code, or a carte prépayé, they are sold at newsstands, smoke shops, or cafes where you see a tabac sign. This is not always the cheapest or most practical way to make a call, so it may make more sense to investigate mobile phone options.
The country code for France is 33. To make a local or long-distance call within France, dial the 10-digit number of the person or place you’re calling. Mobile numbers begin with 06 or 07. Numbers beginning with 0 800, 0 805, and 0 809 are free in France; most other numbers beginning with 8 are not. Many public service numbers are now four digits, and some are toll-free.
To make international calls from Paris, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. and Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial tel. 001 202/588-6500.
Terrorism: France has reinforced its domestic security measures following the terror attacks of 2015 and 2017. But don’t let the fear of terrorism dissuade you from traveling here. Just be vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities. When you enter a new place, familiarize yourself with the emergency exits. If you see something untoward or notice an abandoned bag or package on public transport, get off the train/bus/tram or move away, and alert either a member of staff or the police (tel. 17 or 112).
Elsewhere, if you see anything suspicious, call the police or go to the nearest police station. In the unlikely event that you find yourself in danger, the words to remember are “escape, hide, alert.” Move away from the danger, help others to move away, and alert the people around you. If you need to hide, turn off both the ring and vibration mode on your telephone. If you see security forces, do not run toward them or make sudden movements, and keep your hands up or open.
Time: France is on Central European Time, which is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. French daylight saving time lasts from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. France uses the 24-hr. clock. So 13h is 1pm, 14h15 is 2:15pm, and so on.
Tipping: By law, all bills in cafes, bars, and restaurants say service compris, which means the service charge is included. Waiters are paid a living wage and do not expect tips. However, they certainly won’t mind if you leave one, and if you are planning on frequenting a certain cafe, it’s a good investment to leave 1 or 2€ after a meal. Taxi drivers usually appreciate a 5 to 10% tip, or for the fare to be rounded up to the next euro. The French give their hairdressers a tip of about 15%, and if you go to the theater, you’re expected to tip the usher 1€ or 2€.
Toilets: Paris is full of grey-colored street-toilet kiosks, which are a little daunting to the uninitiated, but free, and are automatically washed and disinfected after each use. If you’re in dire need, you can duck into a cafe or brasserie to use the toilet but expect to make a small purchase (coffee standing at the bar will do) if you do so. If you’re pregnant or with small children and ask, the cafe workers will usually let you use the facilities for free.
Travelers with Disabilities: While the city still won’t win any prizes for accessibility (tortuous sidewalks, few ramps at public facilities, endless stairways in Métro stations), slow and steady progress is being made (though not enough in my eyes, and certainly in the run-up to the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics). However, there are over 60 wheelchair-accessible bus lines and several RER stations; in addition, all stations on Métro line 14 are accessible. Access to all tram lines is flush with the ground, though you might have to navigate a curb to get to the station. To find the closest accessible stations, maps, and more, visit www.iledefrance-mobilites.fr/en/the-network/easy-access-transports or call tel 09-70-81-83-85 (in French). Many museums are now accessible; visit their websites for details. Several art museums even offer tactile visits for people who are visually impaired. Many hotels with three or more stars (under the French national rating system, not ours) have at least one wheelchair-accessible room. Hotels that are particularly sensitive to the subject may bear the “Tourisme & Handicaps” label. The Paris Tourist Office (www.parisinfo.com) has a good listing of accessible hotels on its site, as well as plenty of other info and links for travelers with disabilities. Click on the English flag, then search for “Disability.” One other good resource is Sage Traveling (www.sagetraveling.com/paris-accessible-travel), which organizes wheelchair-accessible tours and offers a gold-mine of tips for navigating the city. Bear in mind that if you drive in Paris and have a disabled display card, you can park for free and for an unlimited amount of time in any parking space.
Visas: E.U. nationals don’t need a visa to enter France. Nor do U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, or South African citizens for trips of up to 3 months. If non–E.U. citizens wish to stay longer than 3 months, they must apply to a French embassy or consulate for a long-term visa. During 2022, however, U.S. nationals coming to some countries in the E.U. will require authorization through a system similar to the U.S.’s ESTA. Europe’s version is the “European Travel Information and Authorization System,” or ETIAS for short, and is available online. For more information and updates on the system’s implementation, see the website www.schengenvisainfo.com/etias.
Visitor Information: The Office du Tourisme et des Congrès, 29 rue de Rivoli, 1er (https://en.parisinfo.com/practical-paris/paris-convention-and-visitors-bureau/welcome-centres; 01-49-52-42-63), is open May to October (except May 1), daily 9am to 7pm; from November to April, 10am to 7pm. Several other offices are around Paris: Gare du Nord, 18 rue de Dunkerque, 10 arrond. (daily 8am–6pm except major holidays); and Carrousel du Louvre, 99 rue de Rivoli, 4 arrond. (daily 10am-8pm).
Water: Drinking water is safe, if not particularly tasty. To order tap water in a restaurant ask for une carafe d’eau. Drinking fountains—like the iconic, green Wallace fountains— are dotted all about the city and you’ll find drinking water taps in almost every park. Paris even has fizzy water fountains in certain green spaces (like the Jardin de Reuilly) designed to persuade people to ditch polluting plastic bottles and fill up from taps instead.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.