Whether you’re spending a romantic weekend in the City of Lights, taking a daytrip to eat seafood in Bourgogne, skiing Briançon’s dizzy heights or degusting by your gite in the Dordogne, make sure you’ve packed good travel insurance along with your faint, childhood memories of how to order a 'croque monsieur'.
And if you’re one of the millions of Brits driving to our closest European neighbour in a typical year, be aware of the rules that govern road traffic, as well as customs limitations for your return.
As it’s just a short hop away from most parts of the southern coast, a huge number of us have been to France at some point in our lives. There’s a large expat community and a great many cultural similarities.
The currency in France is the euro. You can use a prepaid travel money card to access your holiday money easily, and euros are one of the currencies available on them.
Healthcare in France
French healthcare is on a par with the rest of Western and Northern Europe and medical facilities are common.
From 1 January 2021, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will no longer entitle UK travellers to urgent healthcare in France. So it’s vital to have travel insurance in place to cover any medical eventualities – including medical repatriation or even helicopter mountain rescue.
While it’s sensible to bring any prescription drugs you need with you, if you run out and need to acquire more from a French pharmacy, you’ll require a prescription to do so. It’s also wise to bring a doctor’s note to explain why you’re taking these medicines.
Travel risks in France
Most trips to France are trouble-free and crime is relatively low in large parts of the country. There are, however, crime hotspots in large cities such as Paris and Marseilles.
It’s important to take caution against scams and street crime just as you would in any populous city. If you are driving into or out of Paris, you may get unwanted attention from ‘windscreen cleaners’ in the banlieues.
Similarly, you may find that you are asked to sign bogus petitions and donate to fictional charity schemes by strangers on the street in the centre of town.
Beyond the risks faced by a tourist in any major city, travel risks in France are few. Always be cautious when engaging in activities that pose inherent risk, such as kayaking or skiing, and make sure that your travel insurance covers you for these activities.
Do not take it for granted that locals will have a firm grasp of English. It’s always wise to learn a few key phrases if you don’t already know what you need to get by. This applies particularly in rural France.
The FCDO advises that terrorist attacks are likely to be attempted in France, and recent years have borne witness to the country’s terrible suffering at the hands of terrorists. Attacks are likelier to target cities and, when in these areas, always follow the local advice being given.
In Paris, street crime is present and it is advisable to take all the necessary precautions against it. Do not carry your passport or valuables with you unless you need to, and keep all money and valuables somewhere safe about your person. For instance, do not carry your wallet in your back pocket as this is easier to steal. The Gare du Nord station is particularly bad for pickpocketing and attempted scams, and some of the banlieues (autonomous suburbs) have higher crime rates.
Lots of Brits drive to France due to the ease of access for drivers. Like all EU countries, the French drive on the right-hand side of the road.
French law requires you to have a few things in place to drive there. Firstly, you will need your full UK driving licence, your passport, your V5C (registration document) and your insurance documents. You will also need your car to have a GB sticker, spare bulbs, a traffic triangle, breathalyser tests, snow chains, headlight deflector stickers and reflective jackets. Kits can be purchased cheaply that contain all you need to avoid breaking the law and being fined. You will not need an International Driving Permit to drive in France.
Motorcyclists must always wear helmets when riding. Some motorcycling laws might be expansions of those we have here, so read this article if you plan on riding around France.
The drink drive limit is 0.5 per litre for fully-qualified car drivers. However, since it is very difficult to know what this means in terms of drinks, it is best not to drink and drive at all.
French motorways are privately owned, so if you break down on one you must use the orange phone boxes to call the licensed recovery firm for help. They will transport you to an area where you can contact your own breakdown service.
In cities, there are often limits on how much you can drive in order to lower pollution levels. These change between cities, but the RAC has a guide here.
Intercity rail travel is fast and clean, however it can also be pricey. Within cities, bus transport is usually cheap and reliable and some cities, including Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse and Rennes have metro lines, which are a cost-effective and speedy way of getting around.
It’s normally not too taxing to walk around large parts of many French cities, which is a fantastic way of seeing sights.
In rural France, it is very likely that you will need a car to get around. Buses are infrequent and do not serve wide-ranging areas.
Cycling is common however cycle lanes, particularly outside of cities, are not. It is always wise to exercise caution when cycling and wear a helmet, and wearing a helmet is a legal requirement for children under 12. Make sure that your travel insurance covers you for cycling before renting your bike. Wearing a helmet may also be a requirement of your insurance.
Travel insurance for activities in France
In rural France, a large proportion of what there is to do involves outdoor activities. As well as being fun, adventure activities also come with inherent risks and it is imperative to check your travel insurance policy to make sure that you’re covered.
It’s always a good idea to take a copy of your travel insurance policy with you on holiday so that you can check on the spur of the moment whether you’re covered.
Some activities will require a specific add on, such as ski cover. If you find that you’re not covered for an activity that you really want to do, then you can always call your insurer to find out whether they can assist you.
Do I need travel insurance for France?
If you’re visiting France, it’s important to have travel insurance in place for all kinds of reasons. Not least, it will help make sure you’re covered for emergency medical expenses if you fall ill or are injured while you’re away, and even repatriation if you need to be transported home.
Healthcare in France is on a par with the rest of western Europe but can be costly if you’re paying for it yourself. With good-quality travel cover you shouldn’t have to. You can claim back the costs on your policy.
Travel insurance will also protect you against cancellation of your trip or delay and other types of disruption to your travel plans. It will also reimburse you for replacing lost, damaged or stolen belongings like luggage and passports.
Is travel insurance mandatory for France?
France isn’t a country where it’s compulsory to have travel insurance to visit but there are always risks associated with travel anywhere and it’s important to safeguard against them.
From cancelled, delayed or disrupted journeys to illness, injury or lost, stolen or damaged belongings when you’re there, various events – however unlikely they may seem – could put a dampener on your holiday. Travel insurance can help overcome or reduce their impact.
It can reimburse you for the costs of medical treatment, repatriation to the UK if needed and replacement of possessions. It can also provide access to emergency assistance if you need it during your stay.
It’s also important to check the details of any policy before you buy to make sure everything you need is covered. For instance, cruises, activities such as skiing and some of the gadgets you take aren’t usually covered so you may need to buy additional cover for them.