France travel guide
You could spend a lifetime’s worth of holidays in France and still not feel you’d done the country justice. It remains the planet’s most visited tourist destination, meriting its standing with an almost overwhelming mass of historical treasures, storybook landscapes, and cultural idiosyncrasies.
The teeming glam of Paris makes for one hell of a centrepiece, matching any city on the planet for ambiance, individuality, and set-piece sights. But the real beauty of France, in many ways, lies elsewhere. The country’s natural gifts are striking: white sands, hulking mountains, swathes of rolling countryside. It’s a land that has inspired dreamers and drinkers, revolutionaries and artists. Little wonder that Francophiles (and it’s telling that even the country’s devotees have a word to describe them) are found the world over.
You can soak up the A-list beaches of the Cote d’Azur, drowse in the timeless greenery of the Loire Valley or gaze up at the monumental peaks of the Alps. Wander the lavender fields of Provence, eat your way round the legendary bistros of Lyon or sample the rugged charm of Corsica. France’s cities, coastline, and countryside all have their own endearing rewards, and when taken as a whole, they present a near-perfect visitor package.
That’s not to say that France is somewhere easily bracketed. When you’re walking the moody portside backstreets of Marseille or delving among the sprawling flea markets of Paris, it can be a job to remember that they’re a part of the same country as the vineyards of Alsace and the sand dunes of the Atlantic coast.
This diversity, in many ways, is the magic of France. It’s why endless magazines, books, and texts have dedicated their works to the joys of the French lifestyle. It’s why the national spirit is well-known for its boldness and radiance. And it’s one reason why, in a world full of historical wonder and natural beauty, France still draws more tourist attention than anywhere else.
“How can one describe a country which has 365 kinds of cheese?” once asked former French president Charles De Gaulle. Even today, it's a very good question.
551,500 sq km (212,935 sq miles) not including overseas territories.
65,070,433 (UN estimate 2017).
119 per sq km.
President Emmanuel Macron since 2017.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe since 2017.
Last updated: 16 February 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
The French overseas collectivity of St Martin was severely affected by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For advice and links to more information, see our travel advice for St Maarten (the Dutch part of the island) and this page for the UK government response to Hurricane Irma and advice for affected British nationals.
If you’re crossing the Channel, check the website of your chosen operator before you set off. In the event of any disruption, information about alternative routes and operators is available via this interactive map.
There remain some migrants around Calais, who may seek to enter the UK illegally. There have been instances of migrants seeking to slow down traffic on approach roads to ports, including by placing obstacles on the Calais Port approach road. If this happens you should keep moving where it’s safe to do so, or stop and call 112 if isn’t safe to proceed (keeping car doors locked).
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in France. Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures. Check the French government’s advice about what to do if a terrorist attack occurs.
All vehicles, including motorbikes, driving in central Paris, Lyon and Grenoble now need to display a special ‘pollution sticker’. You must display a sticker to drive in central Paris from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday. In Lyon and Grenoble the requirement to display a sticker can be implemented at any time, depending on pollution levels. Some older vehicles don’t qualify for a sticker at all due to their high emissions; these vehicles can’t be driven in central Paris at all from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday. For more information, and to apply for a sticker, visit the French Ministry of Environment website (in English).
Around 17 million British nationals visit France every year. Most visits are trouble-free. The most common problem reported is pick-pocketing.
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired. Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
The Emergency phone number in France is 112. If you need to contact other emergency services call 15 (medical), 17 (police) or 18 (fire).
Safety and security
For assistance in any emergency situation, dial 112.
Take sensible precautions against street and car crime. Don’t keep your passport, credit cards and other valuables in the same place; use the inside compartments in bags where possible. Carry your bag across your body rather than on your shoulder.
Pickpockets can work in gangs: one to distract you while the other one goes into your bag. Keep your belongings close to you in restaurants and bars. Don’t be distracted around tourist attractions and cash points.
Be aware of common scams used to obtain money from tourists, there are petition, 3 card trick and gold ring tricks which are all to be avoided, more information can be found here.
Thieves and pickpockets operate on the Paris underground, RER lines and at mainline stations, for example Gare du Nord.
There have been several victims of serious assault on the RER line B, which serves Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports and Paris Gare du Nord Eurostar terminus. There have also been serious assaults on RER line D, which serves the Stade de France.
Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you’re going to drink, know your limit and take sensible precautions such as not becoming separated from friends.
Motorway journeys are usually trouble-free, but if you’re asked by another motorist to stop and you decide to do so, park your car in a public area with lights - like a service station. If you’re involved in a car accident or witness an accident on the motorway, use the orange emergency phones to ask for help.
Hiking, winter sports and outdoor activities
Check weather forecasts and conditions and make sure you’re properly equipped. Don’t undertake any activity alone, and consider hiring a guide for expert advice. Always leave copies of your itinerary with someone. For travel to mountainous areas, make sure your insurance covers you for extra medical costs, repatriation to your country of residence and in the départements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie possible transfer to Switzerland for treatment.
Observe all warnings regarding avalanches and where appropriate consider carrying avalanche search equipment. You can check the latest avalanche risk areas on the Meteo Alarm website. Conditions on roads in mountainous areas can quickly become difficult in winter. You should carry water, food, warm clothing and medicines in your vehicle.
For sports activities like skiing, potholing and mountaineering, and for sports classed as particularly dangerous (eg off-piste skiing, snow-boarding, mountain biking, climbing, ice-climbing, paragliding), make sure you’re covered by your insurance. This should include mountain rescue services and helicopter costs.
Read more about how to stay safe on the slopes.
Local sea conditions can endanger even strong swimmers on the Atlantic Coast. Many beaches provide lifeguards and warning systems (coloured flags) and you should always follow the advice closely. Get information on the specific Baïne danger on the coast of the Gironde and Landes departments from the Gironde Prefecture website.
Follow local advice if jellyfish are present in the sea.
Driving regulations in France are different from those in the UK. Always remember that the normal rule is to give way to the right each time you reach an intersection.
Using mobile phones with headsets or ear pieces when driving is forbidden.
Speeding can result in heavy, on the spot fines, and your vehicle and licence could be confiscated. The maximum speed on autoroutes is 130kph (80mph) in good weather and 110kph (68mph) in poor weather.
Many drivers undertake long journeys in France. Plan your journey carefully, taking into account unknown roads, weather conditions and fatigue. Make sure you take regular breaks.
Information on road safety and potential traffic black spots (in French only) is available on the Bison Futé website. Alternatively, real-time information on road traffic conditions is available on 107.7 FM in French and in English (Motorways radio – Autoroute Info).
To drive in France you must be 18 years old and have a valid UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. If you don’t own the vehicle you’re driving, you should get written permission from the registered owner.
It’s compulsory to carry a warning triangle and reflective jacket. The reflective jacket must be stored inside the vehicle itself and accessible without getting out of the car. It is illegal to cross, even partially, on to the hard shoulder of a motorway without good reason.
Keep vehicle doors locked in slow moving traffic and secure your vehicle when it is left unattended.
In-car radar detectors and satellite navigation systems warning of the presence of speed cameras or radars are illegal whether in use or not.
In 2016 there were 3,477 road deaths in France (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 5.2 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
There have been reports of burglaries taking place while lorry drivers have been asleep in their vehicles. Avoid parking in isolated or dark areas of unsupervised camping grounds or car parks. Consider installing an alarm in your vehicle.
There have been many attempts by illegal migrants to enter lorries while stationary or in slow moving traffic. Take sensible precautions against attempts to break in to your vehicle.
Heavy goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are banned from driving on roads in France on certain days during the year, including all Sundays and public holidays. Dates are set by the French Ministry of Transport. Full details of restrictions can be found on the Bison Futé website.
British haulage companies and their employees should contact the Road Hauliers Association for further information about driving in France.
There have been reports of burglaries taking place while travellers have been asleep in their caravans, mobile homes and other vehicles. Avoid parking in isolated or dark areas of unsupervised camping grounds or car parks and consider installing an alarm in your caravan or mobile home.
There have been many attempts by illegal migrants to enter vehicles while stationary or in slow moving traffic. Take sensible precautions against break in to your vehicle, particularly in Northern France.
Travel to and within France can be disrupted by strike action. Check with your travel provider before you travel.
If you use an individual paper ticket on the bus or on trains, make sure you validate it in the machine on the bus or in the station. If you don’t validate your ticket, you may be fined.
First World War Centenary Commemorations
If you’re travelling to commemorate the First World War centenary, see this information and advice page to help plan your trip and make sure it’s safe and trouble free. Some sites will become extremely busy at certain times of the year, and some may have access restrictions.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in France. Attacks could be indiscriminate. Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be extra vigilant and has reinforced its own domestic and overseas security measures. You should be vigilant in public places and follow the advice of local French authorities.
There have been a number of high profile terrorist attacks since 2015 across France. On 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks killed 130 and injured hundreds more at multiple sites across Paris. On 14 July 2016, 84 people were killed when a truck was driven through a crowd of people on the promenade in Nice. On 3 February 2017, a knife attack inside the Louvre museum complex in Paris injured a French soldier. The attacker was arrested. On 6 June 2017, police shot a man after he attacked a police officer with a hammer outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
There have been a number of explosions, failed explosions and other attacks in Corsica. Government buildings, restaurants, police vehicles, bars, a discotheque and holiday homes have been targeted. The authorities believe the Corsican nationalist group the FLNC are responsible.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
You must be able to prove your identity either by providing documents when asked or within 4 hours at a police station. Identity documents can be a passport, a photo driving licence or other documentation provided by a government body.
Concealing the face in public places in France is illegal. This includes balaclavas, full veils or any other garment or mask that is used to conceal the face. Failure to comply with the ban is punishable by a maximum fine of €150. Under this law, forcing someone to hide their face is also a crime and is punishable by a year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to €30,000. If the person forced to hide their face is a minor, the sentence is doubled. The law does not provide any exemption for tourists.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
If your passport describes you as a British Citizen you won’t need a visa to enter France. If you have another type of British nationality, you should check the current entry requirements on the website of the French Foreign Ministry and if necessary confirm with the French Embassy.
For stays of longer than 3 months, contact the French Embassy for information about entry requirements.
Travelling with children
From 15 January 2017, any child (under the age of 18) who is (a) living in France and (b) leaving France unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, must present the following documents on departure at the French border: (i) the child’s own ID card or passport, (ii) a completed AST authorisation form signed by a parent/guardian (Authorisation de Sortie du Territoire) and (iii) a copy of the ID card or passport of the parent or guardian who has signed the AST form. For more information visit the French Ministry of Interior website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from France.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
If you’re travelling to the French overseas collectivity of Saint Martin or Saint Barthélemy, check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting France you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as French nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
If you require medication while in France, remember to bring a prescription with you.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 for an English speaking emergency service and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
French overseas collectivities
UK health authorities have classified France as having a risk of Zika virus transmission in the French overseas collectivities of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre.
Cases of Chikungunya virus have been confirmed in the French overseas collectivities of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy. Dengue fever is also present on these islands. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Forest fires can occur anywhere in southern France during the summer months but especially along the Mediterranean coast and on Corsica. French Authorities may evacuate areas and close roads for safety reasons. Be vigilant, make sure you’re familiar with local emergency procedures and follow the advice of local authorities.
There can be risks of flooding in various areas of France, and avalanches in the mountainous areas. If your accommodation is near a river, check the vigicrues website to be kept informed of any potential flood risks. If you plan a skiing or hiking trip, check weather conditions and follow local advice before going.
The currency of France is the Euro.
Take sensible precautions and remain alert when handling cash and credit cards in public areas and at cash machines.
Credit cards are widely accepted. You may be asked to provide ID if you can’t pay by chip and PIN.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.