The currency used in France is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
The official language in France is French but there are many regional dialects. For example in the southwest, most inhabitants speak Basque as their first language while many of those living in Brittany speak Breton. When it comes to the major tourist areas and attractions, however, most people speak at least a little English as do most of the younger generation nationals.
The fact that France is the largest country in Europe means that its climate is quite varied. So, while it is generally agreed that it has a temperate climate, regional variations are considerable.
The west of the country, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, has a temperate oceanic climate with mild winters and cool summers with an average temperature of 16 °C. Further south, however, in areas like Bordeaux and Biarritz the climate becomes more pleasant with warmer summers. Rainfall all along the west coast is high.
As you move inland, rainfall decreases. Strasbourg and the Alsace region enjoy a drier, warmer climate but winters are colder and the Central Massif has a harsh cold climate with snow in winter. The north has a temperate climate while the northeast has a more continental climate.
And finally, the south coast and Corsica are fortunate enough to enjoy a Mediterranean climate making it the warmest region in France where it’s mild all year round and especially hot in summer.
France is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
It is difficult to generalise when talking about opening hours in a country of this size but in the bigger towns and cities most stores open between somewhere between 9.00am and 10.00am and close at 6.00 or 7.00pm. Others open from 8.00am to 9.00pm. And, in smaller stores and more remote areas you should be aware that the lunch break which usually begins at 1.00pm can last up to three hours. Office hours are usually between 9.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday.
Electricity in France operates on 220 volts AC.
As an EU member, France imposes VAT (TVA in French) on most goods and services. The standard for clothing, appliances, alcohol, perfumes etc is 19.6%. For non-EU residents, however, the good news is that you can get the tax back on any item for which you pay over 1,200F. There are no refunds available on services.
In order to avail of this incentive, you need to obtain a Europe Tax-Free Shopping Cheque when you purchase the item. When you are leaving the country, you present both the item and the cheque at customs, the officials will stamp it for you and you can then cash your cheque at any of the booths with the Tax-Free logo and Cash Refund sign. This is only applicable where you are leaving the country within three months.
All that Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, US and EU nationals require to enter France is a passport which is valid for at least three months beyond the date on which they are due to depart the country.
For all non EU-citizens who intend staying in the country for a period of longer than ninety days, a visa is necessary. Furthermore, all visitors to the country who intend to stay for longer than three months, including EU citizens, need to apply for a residence permit (carte de séjour) within sixty days of their arrival in the country. This can be carried out at the local prefecture, mairie or commissariat.
South African nationals will require a visa to visit the country and residents from any countries not listed here or those intending to work or study in France should contact the French Embassy in their home country before travelling.
The postal service in France is operated by La Poste and you will recognise the offices which are located throughout all French cities, towns and villages by the yellow sign with a blue logo. The larger offices are open between 8.00am and 7.00pm from Monday to Friday and until noon on Saturday. All branches provide banking services as well as the regular postal service. You can also buy stamps in cafés which display a red Tabac sign.
When in France you can exchange foreign cash in any branch of any bank. They open from 9.00am until 12.00pm and again from 2.00pm to 4.00pm from Monday to Friday but many major branches also open their exchange facilities from 9.00am until 12.00pm on Saturdays. They generally offer the best rates but you should try to exchange your cash in the bigger banks such as Crédit Lyonnais where the least commission is charged.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in smaller businesses or the more remote areas you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The international country code for France is 33 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial your international calling code followed by 33, the local area code without the first 0 and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country replacing 33 with the destination country’s area code. You should also note that the outgoing code for France is 00.
Pay phones can be found in most public places including post offices, bus and train stations, shopping centres and in the street in towns and villages throughout the country. Most are card phones which you can buy from post offices, tobacconists and railway stations. They come in denominations of fifty units which will cost you 40F or one hundred and twenty units which costs 100F. You can also use your credit card in most public telephones.
Calls within France range from between 0.28F per minute for a local call to 1F per minute to another department. It is worth noting that all calls are half price during off-peak times. These occur between 7.00pm and 8.00am from Monday to Friday, from 7.00pm on Friday until 8.00am on Monday and on public holidays.
By law a service charge must be included in all restaurant, café and bar bills in France. If you feel that the service merits a further tip an amount between 5% and 10% is sufficient. In bars or cafés one or two francs is the norm. Taxi drivers are usually given a tip of between 10% and 15%. It is worth noting, however, that at no time is it essential to tip, it is entirely at your discretion.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In France they take place on January 1st, Easter Monday, May 1st and 8th, Ascension Day, first Monday in June, July 14th, August 15th, November 1st and December 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.