Business Hours -- Business hours in France can be erratic. Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Many, particularly in small towns in Provence, take a long lunch break. Hours are usually posted on the door. Most museums close 1 day a week (often Mon or Tues), and they’re generally closed on national holidays. Usual hours are from 10am to 7pm. In Marseille or other big French cities, stores are open from around 10am to 7pm, with or without a lunch break (up to 2 hr.). Some shops, delis, cafes, and newsstands open at 8am and close at 8 or 9pm.
Disabled Travelers -- Facilities for travelers in the South of France, and nearly all new or modern hotels, provide disabled access. The TGVs (high-speed trains) are wheelchair accessible; older trains have compartments for wheelchair boarding. Handiplage (handiplage.fr) has a detailed map and breakdown of every French beach that offers accessible to disabled visitors.
Doctors -- Doctors are listed in Pages Jaunes (Yellow Pages; www.pagesjaunes.fr) under “Médecins: Médecins généralistes.” The minimum fee for a consultation is about 23€—for this rate, look for a doctor who is described as “secteur 1.” The higher the “secteur,” the higher the fee. SOS Médecins (www.sosmedecins.fr; [tel] 36-24) can make house calls. See also “Emergencies” and “Health” later in this section.
Drinking Laws -- As well as bars and restaurants, supermarkets and cafes sell alcoholic beverages. The legal drinking age is 18, but persons under that age can be served alcohol if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Drinking and driving is illegal, and incurs a heavy fine. Drinking wine on the beach, however, seems de rigueur.
Drugstores -- Spot French pharmacies by 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. Alternatively, Pharmacies de Garde (www.pharmaciesdegarde.com or www.3237.fr; [tel] 32-37) can direct you to the nearest open pharmacy.
Electricity -- Electricity in France runs on 220 volts AC (60 cycles). Adapters or transformers are needed to fit sockets, which you can buy in branches of Darty or FNAC.
Embassies & Consulates -- If you have a passport, immigration, legal, or other problem, contact your consulate. Most countries have representatives in Paris, although a few maintain a presence in either Marseille or Nice. Many are open Monday to Friday, approximately 10am to 5pm. However, call or check online before you visit to confirm.
- Australian Embassy: 4 rue Jean-Rey, 15e Paris (www.france.embassy.gov.au; [tel] 01-40-59-33-00; Métro: Bir Hakeim).
- Canadian Embassy: 35 av. Montaigne, 8e Paris (www.amb-canada.fr; [tel] 01-44-43-29-00; Métro: Franklin-D-Roosevelt or Alma-Marceau). Regional consulate at 2 place Franklin, Nice ([tel] 04-93-92-93-22).
- Irish Embassy: 4 rue Rude, 16e Paris (www.embassyofireland.fr; [tel] 01-44-17-67-00; Métro: Argentine).
- New Zealand Embassy: 7ter rue Léonard de Vinci, 16e Paris (www.nzembassy.com/france; [tel] 01-45-01-43-43; Métro: Victor Hugo).
- UK/British Embassy: 35 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e Paris (http://ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk; [tel] 01-44-51-34-00; Métro: Concorde or Madeleine). Regional consulate at 24 avenue du Prado, Marseille ([tel] 04-91-15-72-10).
- United States Embassy: 2 av. Gabriel, 8e Paris (http://france.usembassy.gov; [tel] 01-43-12-22-22; Métro: Concorde). Regional consulate at place Varian Fry, Marseille ([tel] 04-91-54-92-00).
Emergencies -- In an emergency while at a hotel, contact the front desk. If the emergency involves theft, go to the police station in person. Otherwise, call [tel] 112 from a cellphone. The fire brigade can be reached at [tel] 18. For an ambulance, call [tel] 15. For the police, call [tel] 17.
Etiquette & Customs -- French value 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; check your health insurance before leaving home. U.K. nationals need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; www.ehic.org.uk) to receive free or reduced-cost medical care during a visit to a France.
If you take regular medication, pack it in its original pharmacy containers, along with a copy of your prescription.
Holidays -- Major holidays are New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Easter Sunday and Monday (late March/April), Labor Day (May 1), VE Day (May 8), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), Pentecost/Whit Sunday and Whit Monday (seventh Sun/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).
Hotlines -- SOS Help is a hotline for English-speaking callers in crisis [tel] 01-46-21-46-46 (www.soshelpline.org). Open 3 to 11pm daily.
LGBT Travelers -- France is one of the world’s most tolerant countries toward gays and lesbians. Indeed, its tourism bureaus welcome LGBT travelers with open arms. Nice in particular boasts a large gay population, with many clubs, restaurants, organizations, and dedicated services. For local information, visit www.gay-provence.org. Gayvox (www.gayvox.fr) has updated listings about the gay and lesbian scene.
Mail -- Most post offices in France are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm and every Saturday from 8am to noon. Allow 5 to 8 days to send or receive mail from home. Stamps are also sold in tabacs (tobacconists). For more information, see www.laposte.fr.
Mobile Phones -- You can use your mobile phone in France, provided it is GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and tri-band or quad-band; just confirm with your operator before you leave.
Using your phone abroad can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to get it “unlocked” before you leave. This means you can buy a French SIM card from one of the three main French providers, Bouygues Télécom (www.bouyguestelecom.fr), Orange (www.orange.fr), or SFR (www.sfr.fr). Or do like the locals do and use Skype (www.skype.com) for long-distance calls.
Money & Costs -- Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions quoted above were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com to check current rates.
It’s always advisable to bring a mix of cash and credit cards on vacation. Before you leave home, exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel. Alternatively, withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM. In many international destinations, ATMs offer the best exchange rates. Avoid exchanging money at commercial exchange bureaus and hotels, which often have the highest transaction fees and terrible exchange rates. ATMs are widely available in France.
Newspapers -- The most popular French newspapers are Le Monde (www.lemonde.fr), Le Figaro (www.lefigaro.fr), and left-leaning Libération (www.liberation.fr).
The English-language International New York Times (international.nytimes.com), based in Paris and published Monday to Saturday, is distributed all over France.
Packing Tips -- Remember that the bulk of hotel rooms in France are small indeed. Try to adhere to the old traveling maxim, “pack half of what you think you need.” You will always actually need far less than you imagine. And you can easily purchase any missing items—along with the copious souvenirs you’ll pick up too—along the way.
Passports -- Citizens of the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States need a valid passport to enter France. The passport is valid for a stay of 90 days.
Police -- In an emergency, call [tel] 17 from a landline or [tel] 112 from a mobile phone anywhere in France.
Safety -- The most common menace, especially in large cities, is the plague of pickpockets. Take precautions and be vigilant at all times: Don’t take more money with you than necessary, keep your passport in a concealed pouch or leave it at your hotel, and ensure that your bag is firmly closed at all times. In cafes, bars, and restaurants, it’s best not to leave your bag under the table, on the back of your chair, or on an empty chair beside you. Keep it between your legs or on your lap. Never leave valuables or luggage in a car, and never travel with your car unlocked.
In general, the South of France is a safe region and it is safe wander from restaurants to bars late at night, though it is always best to not drawn attention to the fact you are foreign by speaking loudly in English. Use common sense when taking public transport at night.
Although there is a significant level of discrimination against West and North African immigrants, there has been almost no harassment of African-American tourists to France in recent decades. However. S.O.S. Racisme, 51 av. de Flandre, 19e (www.sos-racisme.org; [tel] 01-40-35-36-55), offers legal advice to victims of prejudice and will even intervene to help with the police.
Female travelers should not expect any more hassle than in other major cities, and the same precautions apply. Avoid walking alone at night and never get into an unmarked taxi. If you are approached in the street or on public transportation, it’s best to avoid entering into conversation, and walk into a well-lit, populated area.
Senior Travel -- The South of France is stocked with retirees. It’s little surprise that Menton, the sunniest town on the southern coast, has the most number of seniors in the country. Many discounts are available countrywide to men and women over 60. National trains have senior discounts. Check out www.voyages-sncf.com for more information. Frommers.com offers more information and resources on travel for seniors.
Smoking -- Smoking is banned in all public places in France, including cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs. It’s permitted (dare we say popular) on outdoor and semi-enclosed terraces.
Student Travel -- Student discounts are less common in France than other countries, but simply because young people 25 and under are usually offered reduced rates. SNCF also offer discounts for 25-and-unders traveling on national trains (www.voyages-sncf.com).
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 percent, and prices that include it are often marked TTC (toutes taxes comprises, “all taxes included”). If you’re not an E.U. resident, you can get a VAT refund if you’re spending fewer than 6 months in France, you purchase goods worth at least 175€ at a single shop on the same day, the goods fit into your luggage, and the shop offers vente en détaxe (duty-free sales or tax-free shopping).
Telephones -- Public phones can still be found in France. All require a phone card (known as a télécarte), which can be purchased at post offices or tabacs.
The country code for France is 33. To make a local or long-distance call within France, dial the person or place’s 10-digit number. If you’re calling from outside of France, drop the initial 0 (zero).
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, when clocks are set 1 hour ahead of the standard time. France uses the 24-hour 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. However, it is customary to leave 1€ or 2€, depending on the quality of the service; in more upscale restaurants leave 5€ to 10€. Taxi drivers usually expect a 5 percent to 10 percent tip, or for the fare to be rounded up to the next euro. The French tip hairdressers around 15 percent, and if you go to the theater, you’re expected to tip the usher about 2€.
Toilets -- If you’re in dire need, duck into a cafe or brasserie to use the lavatory. It’s customary to make a small purchase if you do so. France still has some hole-in-the-ground squat toilets. Try not to lose your change down the pan!
Visas -- E.U. nationals don’t need a visa to enter France. Nor do U.S., Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, or South African citizens for trips of up to 3 months. Nationals of other countries should make inquiries or look online at the nearest French embassy or consulate.
Visitor Information -- Before you go, your best source of information is the French Government Tourist Office (www.francetourism.com).
Water -- Drinking water is generally safe. If you ask for water in a restaurant, it’ll be served bottled (for which you’ll pay), unless you specifically request une carafe d'eau or l’eau du robinet (tap water). Your waiter may ask if you’d like your water avec gas (carbonated) or sans gas (without bubbles).
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.