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Safety Travel Safety: Europe: France

France: French Republic
Capital: Paris
Population: 59,765,983
Currency: euro (EUR)
Languages: French 100%, rapidly declining regional dialects and languages (Provencal, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan, Basque, Flemish)
Religions: Roman Catholic 83%-88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5%-10%, unaffiliated 4%
Borders: Andorra 56.6 km, Belgium 620 km, Germany 451 km, Italy 488 km, Luxembourg 73 km, Monaco 4.4 km, Spain 623 km, Switzerland 573 km

France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.

The Government of France maintains a national anti-terrorism plan, "Vigipirate Renforce." Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government mobilizes police and armed forces at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, embassies, and government installations. Over the last year, arrests have been made in France in connection with various possible terrorist plots. American citizens should remain alert and vigilant, and report any suspect packages or suspicious activities to local police. All passengers on subways and trains are urged to be aware of their surroundings and to report any unattended baggage to the nearest authority.

In the past, political assassinations and random bombings have occurred in France. The Basque Separatist Party (ETA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) continue to operate in the south of France and occasionally bomb local government institutions, banks, travel agencies, etc. There have been numerous politically motivated bombings on the island of Corsica and there have been two bombings on the mainland near Nice following the conviction and sentencing of several prominent separatists in France. While no deaths were caused by any of these acts of terrorism, Americans should remain vigilant when traveling to Corsica.

Violent civil disorder is rare in France. In the past, however, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other routine demonstrations have turned into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police. Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations.

Both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime. Nevertheless, while the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the volume of crimes involving violence has increased in France. Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways. Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways. Photocopies of travel documents and credit cards should be kept separate from the originals.

Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:

Paris: Gangs of thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists. In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions, while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse. Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car. Travelers may wish to consider taking a bus or taxi from the airport into the city.

Reports of stolen purses, briefcases and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport have been on the rise. Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended. As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.

There have been reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or reaching through an open window to steal purses and other bags visible inside. The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder. Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked.

Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Defense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille). Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques. The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple �bump and snatch,� where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag. Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees. Visitors are encouraged NOT to aggressively confront thieves, who often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered. Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation and cause a tactical withdrawal by the thief.

Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pickpocketing and theft. Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Additionally, several sexual assaults involving American citizens have occurred recently in the immediate vicinity of the Gare du Nord train station.

Thefts also occur at the major department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Samaritaine) where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.

In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks. While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States. If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night. There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping. To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. There have been reports of thieves stealing safes from rooms in Parisian hotels. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe behind the reception desk rather than in the room safe.

Many Americans have reported thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.

ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day. The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus and an ATM transaction is easier than the cashing of travelers' checks. However, crimes committed around ATMs have been reported. Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present. Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the PIN (Personal Identification Number) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered. If the card becomes stuck, travelers should be wary of persons who offer to help or ask for the PIN to "fix" the machine. Legitimate bank employees never have a reason to ask for the PIN.

Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATM machines that �eat� the user's ATM card have been reported. This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed. The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open. In such cases, the machine has been modified by a criminal gang, using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user's PIN number when it is typed in and also prevents the card from being ejected. The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN number and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible. ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the supporting account.

Pigalle is the �adult entertainment district� of Paris. Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks. There have been reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs. Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.

Normandy: There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries. Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard. Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.

Southern France: Thefts from cars with open windows stopped at red lights are fairly common, particularly in the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille. Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts. In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Similar incidents also have occurred at tollbooths and rest areas. Special caution is advised when entering and exiting a car, as this presents an opportunity for purse-snatchers. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common. Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France or Monaco are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the U.S., for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.

Medical care comparable to that found in the United States is widely available.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning France and Monaco is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good

Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers. Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States. Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers, as most French drivers do. The French typically drive more aggressively and faster than Americans and tend to exceed posted speed limits. Right-of-way rules in France may differ from those in the United States. Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets. Many intersections in France are being replaced by circles, where the right-of-way belongs to drivers in the circle.

On major highways, service stations are situated at least every 25 miles. Service stations are not as plentiful on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States. Paris, the capital and largest city in France, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system. The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than 4 million people a day with a safety record comparable to or better than the systems of major American cities. Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France is served by an equally extensive rail service, which is reliable. High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at For specific information concerning French and Monegasque driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the French and Monegasque National Tourist Office hotline at New York at (202) 659-7779 or via the Internet at:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of France 's air carrier operations.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at tel. (618) 256-4801. 

Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

May 18, 2004

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