Here are a few items of practical information about travelling to and around France, covering Business hours; Money; Electricity; Public telephones; Mobile phones; Mail/Post; Smoking; Time and Tipping.
Offices and businesses in France open Monday-Friday,
9am-noon, 2-6pm, and many also open Saturday mornings. Town and village shops
are generally open Tuesday-Friday. Midday breaks are the norm, may be much
longer in the south. However, in cities and tourist resorts, businesses may
keep longer hours or stay open all day, seven days a week, especially if they
primarily serve the tourist market. Banks are generally open between Monday-Friday
9am-5.30pm. Some branches are open for limited transactions on Saturday. Banks
limit opening hours on the day before a bank holiday.
The law regulating Sunday trading applies to the majority of
the workforce. Exceptions include businesses without wage-earning workers (such
as family-owned grocery shops), tobacco shops, flower shops, garden centres and
furniture shops. Food shops may open until 13:00
Two exemptions introduced in 2009 were urban areas where
there is high consumer demand and the population exceeds one million people and
designated "tourist zones"
Department stores can open for five Sundays a year (usually
before Christmas or seasonal sales).
There are no restrictions on the amount of currency visitors can take into France. Visitors wishing to export currency in foreign banknotes in excess of the given allocation should complete a currency declaration form on arrival.
Banks and currency exchange
A passport or other ID may be necessary when cashing cheques in banks. Commission charges vary and hotels usually charge considerably more than banks for cashing cheques, especially for non-residents.
By far the most convenient way of obtaining currency is the 24hr cash dispenser or ATM (Distributeur automatique de billets), found outside many banks and post offices and easily recognisable by the CB (Carte Bleue) logo. Most accept international credit cards (don’t forget your PIN) and almost all also give instructions in English.
Note that many ATMs will dispense only up to a certain limit, which may be lower than the daily limit set by your bank. Do not attempt to top up funds the same day (although you can continue to use the card to pay bills in restaurants, for example); this may work with some banks, but at others your card may be declined, or, worse, retained.
Foreign currency can also be exchanged in major banks, post offices, hotels or private exchange offices found in main cities and near popular tourist attractions.
Major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, Eurocard) are widely accepted in shops, hotels, restaurants and petrol stations.
The electric current is 220 volts. Circular two-pin plugs are the rule. Adapters should be bought before you leave home.
The telephone system is still operated largely by the former state monopoly France Télécom. They offer an English-language enquiries service on 0800 364 775 (within France) or 00 33 1 55 78 60 56 (outside France). The ringing tone is a series of long tones; the engaged (busy) tone is a series of short beeps.
To use a public phone you need to buy a prepaid phone card (télécartes). Some telephone booths accept credit cards (Visa, Mastercard/Eurocard). Télécartes (50 or 120 units) can be bought in post offices, cafés that sell cigarettes (Tabac) and newsagents, and can be used to make calls. Calls can be received at phone boxes where the blue bell sign is shown. The phone will not ring audibly, so keep your eye on the little message screen.
French telephone numbers have 10 digits. Numbers begin with 01 in Paris and the Paris region; 02 in the northwest ; 03 in the northeast ; 04 in the southeast and Corsica; 05 in the southwest . However, all 10 numbers must be dialled even within the local region.
To call France from abroad, dial the country code 33, omit the initial zero of the French number, and dial the remaining 9-digit number. When calling abroad from France dial 00, followed by the country code, followed by the local area code (usually without any initial zero), and the number you are calling.
All visitors from other European countries should be able to use their cell phone just as normal. Visitors from some other countries need to ensure before departure that their phone and service contract are compatible with the European system (GSM).
The three main mobile phone operators are: SFR, Orange and Bouygues.
Dual- or tri-band mobile phones will work almost anywhere In France, but at international roaming rates. If you are staying for an extended period you might consider renting a mobile phone locally, including Blackberries and iPhones – www.cellhire.fr.
Look for the bright yellow La Poste signs. Main post offices are generally open Monday-Friday 9am-7pm, Saturday 9am-noon. Smaller branches generally open 9am-noon, 2-4pm weekdays. There are often automatic tellers (guichets automatiques) inside which allow you to weigh packages and buy postage and avoid a queue. You may also find that you can change money, make copies, send faxes and make phone calls in a post office.
To mail a letter from the street look for the bright yellow post boxes. Stamps are also sold in newsagents and cafés that sell cigarettes (Tabac).
France uses a five-digit postal code that precedes the name of the city or town on the last line of the address. The first two digits indicate the département and the last three digits identify the commune or local neighbourhood. www.laposte.fr.
Since the beginning of 2008, smoking has been forbidden in all public places, especially bars, restaurants, railway stations and airports. Ironically this has created a problem for non-smokers who want to sit outside on a terrace to enjoy the open air, where smoking is not prohibited. The ban has since been extended to e-cigarettes.
France is in the Central European time zone, and the 24-hour clock is widely applied.. During the winter months, from 2am on the last Sunday of October to 2am on the last Sunday of March, France is one hour ahead of GMT. From 2am on the last Sunday of March to 2am on the last Sunday of October, it adopts daylight saving time and is two hours ahead of GMT.
Because the UK changes its clocks to British Summer Time (i.e. daylight saving time) at the same times and on the same dates, France always remains one hour ahead of the UK.
A service charge is automatically included in the prices of meals and accommodation, so it is not necessary to tip in restaurants and hotels. However, if the service in a restaurant is especially good or if you have enjoyed a fine meal, an extra tip (this is the pourboire, rather than the service) will be appreciated. Usually 5-10€ is enough, but if the bill is big (a large party or a luxury restaurant), it is not uncommon to leave more. In bars and cafés it is not unusual to leave any small change that remains after paying the bill, but this generally should not be more than 5%.
Taxi drivers do not have to be tipped, but again it is usual to give a small amount, not more than 10%. Attendants at public toilets should be given a few cents. Hairdressers are usually tipped 10-15%. Tour guides and tour drivers should be tipped according to the amount of service given: from 2 to 5€ would not be unusual.