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Travel Tips

Authentic Travel Tips—France

Travel to France is a passionate wish fulfilled. Paris, Nice, Bordeaux, Mystical Lourdes, The Trail of the Knights, Lascaux Cave, and the magnificent Pyrenees are just part of the beauty, waiting to be discovered. Filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites that celebrate our story, a vacation in France is a dream.

Below are authentic travel tips so that you’ll experience France’s unique joie de vivre with ease.


Euro money

France’s currency is the Euro, €. Several weeks before you leave, stop into your bank, and order some Euros. They’re handy to have when you touch down. If you don’t have time, there are places in the airport to change your US Dollars to Euros—the charge is simply a bit higher than what your bank will charge you. Also, it’s nice to have cash on hand.

When in France, you can change money at an exchange office or post office. You might also be able to change money at your hotel. You’ll need your passport or other photo ID when you exchange money.


ATMs, called distributeur automatique de billets in French, are widely available at airports and in France’s major cities and towns. There’s an ATM inside or outside most bank branches, often below a clearly visible sign that reads retrait, the French word for ‘withdrawal’. Post offices also have ATMs. France’s four major banks, as well as the post office, have online ATM locators that you can use to find the closest ATM. ATMs can be difficult to find in the countryside, so have cash on hand when you go off the beaten path.

You can use MasterCard (Cirrus and Maestro) or Visa. ATMs display the logos of all card networks they’re associated with. Remember: Let your bank know that you’ll be abroad, otherwise they’ll think there’s suspicious activity and could freeze your card. Also, French keypads don’t have letters, so make sure you know your 4-digit PIN. Good news! Most French ATMs don’t have daily withdrawal limits.

Lavender field MonastaryLavender field monastery

Credit Cards

Most urban establishments accept major credit, debit, and prepaid currency cards. American Express is less common. In the country, especially in a dining establishment, sometimes only cash is accepted. Ask before you order.

VAT Tax Refund

France charges a Value Added Tax (VAT) on all goods and services. It is currently at 20%, maximum. The VAT tax is included in the price tag of an item that you purchase. As a non-EU citizen, you are entitled to a refund on much of the VAT you paid during your travels. Step 1: Request a sales note (BVE, “bordereau de vente”) when paying for your items. Ask the seller for the slip—it includes a barcode or the words “backup procedure”. Step 2: Validate your slip. When you depart, or before the end of the third month following the month of purchase, your slip must be stamped with customs before checking your luggage. Step 3: Get your tax refunded. Present your passport and your bordereau validated by customs at the airport. Get your tax refund immediately in euros or request a refund by credit card. You may also use the Pablo terminals at the airport.

Charming house in the Provence


France power sockets have Type C and E plugs with two or three prongs. Standard voltage is 230V—twice that of the US. Simply purchase a France adapter for your plugs before leaving. They are inexpensive, small, and easy to purchase online or in many stores. If you forget, you can purchase one in France, but it is much easier to get it in advance.

Chauffeured Driving

Should you want to extend a Small Guided Vacation in France, many people like to have a chauffeured driver. It is reasonably priced, great for several people traveling together, there’s room for your luggage, and you get to relax and simply enjoy your vacation. And a local driver can share off-the-beaten-path possibilities with you. Ask your Authentic Destination Expert about this option.

Driving France Yourself

France’s roads are generally in good shape but, as it is everywhere, driving in large cities can be a nightmare. Ancient cities are best navigated on foot, bus, chauffeur, or taxi.

All drivers must carry their car rental insurance documents and driver’s license. Drive on the right in France, the same side of the road you drive on in America. When you approach a roundabout, yield to traffic coming from the left. (As in the States, pull over for emergency vehicles.) Roundabouts also have images that indicate sites and restaurants.

Road signs are in French. Distances are shown in kilometers (km). Signs generally do not indicate north, west, south, or east—they have the name of a city. A GPS is a godsend, and you might want to bring a small pocket map of the country, so you get a feel for how cities are situated in relation to each other.

Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Do not use your cell phone while driving unless you have a hands-free device. And, although drinking wine is part of daily life, under .5% BAC is mandatory. This law is strictly enforced.

Aerial view of Promenade des Anglais in Nice FrancePromenade des Anglais, Nice

Speed Limits

The speed limits are 130 km/h (80 mph) for motorways; 110 km/h (68 mph) for divided highways; main roads outside built-up areas 80 km/h (49 mph); main roads in built-up areas 50 km/h (31 mph); double lane (or more) road: 90 km (50 mph); urban roads are 50 km/h (31 mph). Few police check the roads, but there are many cameras, especially on highways. If you’re driving a rental car, and you exceed the speed limit, the ticket goes to the rental company which will take the amount of the fine off your credit card. So, go easy on the roads and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Driving Miles

Below are listed examples of driving distances. We suggest that you keep your driving time down when possible. French roads travel through stunning territory. Relax.

  • Paris to Lyon: 289 miles
  • Paris to Lille: 138 miles
  • Dijon to Paris: 194 miles
  • Paris to Marseille: 482 miles
  • Bordeaux to Paris: 368 miles
  • Nantes to Paris: 237 miles


We strongly suggest the use of a GPS. Tell your Authentic Destination Expert you want one when setting up your car rental. If you forget to do that, ask for one at the rental agency desk at the airport. But, it’s far better to plan in advance.


Service workers in France appreciate tips. Here is a general guide, but as in the States go up or down, depending on the service you received.

  • Waiters: 10%
  • Hotel Porter: 1 €/bag
  • Housekeeping: 1 €/day
  • Concierge: 2 – 3 €
  • Taxi Driver: Round up to the nearest Euro

Wine, cheese, grapes, baquette, and bread

Holidays & Public Closures

Public Holidays—Schools, post offices, and banks close. Many shops and attractions have limited hours or are closed. Many small towns also have days off. The following are dates and names of holidays:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1
  • Easter Day and Easter Monday: March or April
  • Labor Day: May 1
  • Victory 1945. VE Day: May 8
  • Bastille Day: July 14
  • Assumption Day: August 15
  • All Saint’s Day: November 1
  • Armistice Day: November 11
  • Christmas Day: December 25

Hours For Shops & Banks

Banks are closed on public holidays, and they are generally open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday. Some branches may close over lunchtime, usually between 12:30pm and 2pm. For cash withdrawals, automatic cashpoints (ATMs) operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. French shops are usually open six days a week, Monday to Saturday, from 9am to 12pm and from 2pm to 7pm. In villages and smaller towns, shops close at lunchtime. In larger towns or large shopping centers, shops don’t close for lunch, they’re open en continuous, as they say in French.

Smoking, Drugs, & Alcohol

Smoking is banned in all indoor spaces, including bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and all public places. This is enforced, with a fine of up to 500 Euros. The possession of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence. The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content is .05% and strictly enforced.

Time Zone

France is on Central European Time, one hour ahead of GMT. (When it is 8 am in London, it is 9 am in France.)

Palace of VersaillesPalace of Versailles

Visiting Sacred Sites and Natural Wonders

When visiting a church, cathedral, or ancient site remember you are on sacred ground and show respect.

What to Pack

Pack good walking shoes—many streets are made of cobblestones, and you’ll want solid footing. Bring your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Wear nice-fitting jeans or slacks, t-shirts, nice sandals, and sleeveless tops in the summer, particularly at the beach. Pack at least one smart, casual outfit for dining out and going out in the evenings. Depending upon which time of year you visit, and which part of the country, you will need a sweater and/or jacket. Paris in the winter is cold! Wherever you go, feel free to bring a few scarves or decorative belts. The French are pros at adding that final touch to outfits.

Pack your electrical adapter, a copy of your passport, and credit or debit cards. (Best to only bring two or three of these.) Make copies of your health insurance. Keep your meds, important copies of docs, and some cash in one small, convenient bag.

Cell Phones and Wi-Fi

Free hotspots are available in main towns and cities. Your lodgings have Wi-Fi, although, as with anywhere, small towns often have spotty coverage. Before leaving, contact your cell phone carrier. Most will charge you a relatively small fee, usually $10/day, for making calls back to the US and within France on your cell phone. This is very handy!

Emergency Phone Numbers

Dial 112 for an emergency operator.

Dial 17 for the police.

Dial 15 for an ambulance.

Dial 18 for the fire department.

Aerial view of Arromanches les bains in Normandy, FranceArromanches les bains, Normandy


France has a world-class healthcare system. For non-EU and non-UK citizens, payment is out-of-pocket, so it’s important to arrange for travel insurance before you leave the USA. A green cross indicates a pharmacy. A pharmacist is an excellent source of information and, if necessary, they can direct you to the nearest doctor. Usually, pharmacies display a card on all doors, showing the address of the nearest all-night pharmacy.

Local Customs

Etiquette is important to the French. When you enter or leave a store or café, it’s customary to say bonjour or au revoir. Add s’il vous plait (please) when ordering, and if you accidentally bump into someone, say pardon. The French generally shake hands when meeting someone for the first time.


You will need your US driver’s license and your passport at the car rental desk.

Mont Saint Michelle with grazing sheepMont Saint-Michel

Hair Dryers:

Hairdryers are generally supplied in our accommodations.

Wash Cloths:

Wash cloths are an American invention, and you will rarely see them in France. If this is something you absolutely must have, pack your own.

France is about superb cuisine, astonishingly beautiful landscapes, and fabulous wines. It’s also world-class art museums (some tucked away in small villages), rolling lavender fields, shopping, amazing prehistoric caves, and mystical rock art. And it’s all waiting for you!

Let your Destination Expert know what inspires you, and they’ll make your France vacation the trip of your dreams.