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Before you leave

Before you leave

A trip to another country is always an adventure, full of surprises. A little advance planning will improve the chances that all the surprises are pleasant ones. To make your trip to France go smoothly, certain things should be done before departure. Some tasks, such as obtaining passports or visas, may take considerable time, so begin preparations well before your travel date.

Passports and visas

In order to enter and travel in France you must carry acceptable identification. For nationals of the European Union (EU) a national identity card is sufficient. Travelers from all other countries must carry a valid national passport and one other form of identification. Visas are not required for visitors staying less than 90 days who are U.S. citizens, EU nationals, or from Canada or New Zealand.

To obtain the requirements for your locality, call your local French embassy or consulate, leaving sufficient time for processing and issuing documents. Minors traveling alone are required to carry a written authorization to exit their country, signed by their parents.

As a precaution you should make two copies of your traveling documents. Leave one copy at home and take one with you, storing it separately from the originals. Then, if an original document is lost or stolen, obtaining a replacement will be easier.

Theft and safety precautions

Write the numbers of all credit cards, driving permits, insurance cards, etc., on a separate paper to use in case of loss or theft. Also record the customer service telephone number for each credit card. Store this information separately from the cards. This small effort can turn the tragedy of a lost wallet or purse into the simple matter of a few telephone calls. Write down and carry on your person your hotel telephone number and address as an identification aid in case of accident or injury.

Health care issues

Visitors to France do not need to obtain any inoculations. Citizens of the EU should request an International Social Security Form E111 from their local processing center. This will allow reimbursement for any medical and pharmaceutical expenses incurred while in France. Nationals of other countries are advised to contact their health insurance provider to verify that they are covered for illness or accident during their visit.

If you will soon be due (or are overdue) for a regular checkup at your doctor or dentist, do it before you leave. If you wear eyeglasses or contacts, bring an extra pair of glasses and your prescription. Persons taking prescription medications should make sure they have an adequate supply for the trip, and/or bring their prescription, making sure it includes the medication trade name, manufacturer's name, generic name, and dosage. Prepare a simple medical kit of over-the-counter medications (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antihistamine, antiseptic, diarrhea medication), bandaids, thermometer, sunscreen, insect repellent, and lip balm.

Travelers with special needs

Special services and facilities are available for travelers who require them, including children traveling alone, persons in wheelchairs or with other mobility restrictions, persons who are sight- or hearing-impaired, or others needing special assistance. For more information, please refer to Travelers with Special Needs.

Taking French goods home

EU nationals traveling within the EU have no limitation on purchases of goods for personal use, except for new vehicles and purchases by mail. There is, however, a recommended limit for cigarettes and alcohol: 800 cigarettes, 10 liters of spirits, 90 liters of wine. Citizens of countries outside the EU may be subject to duties when bringing goods back to their home country. Check your local customs regulations before leaving. The U.S. Customs Service has online information for U.S. citizens returning from abroad.

France has a national sales tax, or Value Added Tax (VAT ), which ranges from 5.5% to 19.6%. Travelers from non-EU countries may obtain a refund of this tax for single-store purchases in excess of 175 €.

Some goods are forbidden or strictly regulated, including narcotics, illegal drugs, forgeries, weapons, live plants, ivory, etc. Cash or cash equivalents of 10,000 € or more must be declared to customs at entry and exit.

For answers to questions telephone the Paris office of the customs service at, or visit the website of the French Customs Service (English available).

Bringing your pet

You may bring your pet to France if it is at least three months old and has a current rabies vaccination, an identification tattoo, and a collar giving the name and address of the owner. You must carry a proof of vaccination. Be sure to ask your local veterinary authorities about requirements for taking your pet back home.

Electrical appliances

The electrical service in France differs from that in the U.S., so you will need either dual-voltage personal-care appliances (shavers, hair dryers, curlers, etc.) or one or more voltage converters, plus plug adapters. For more information see Electricity.

Using credit cards

If your coming trip will be the first time you have tried to use your credit card outside the United States, we recommend that you call your credit card company several weeks before you leave to verify two things.

First, make sure that transactions are enabled for all destination countries. Some credit card companies set up new accounts with international transactions disabled to help reduce credit card fraud. Unless you call them and ask to have this feature enabled, you may find that your card is not accepted outside your home country.

Second, if you plan to use your credit card to obtain foreign currency from automatic teller machines (ATMs), you will need to have a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to confirm your identity. If you do not have a PIN, call your credit card company and request one. Some European ATM machines will not accept PINs longer than four digits, so ask for a four-digit PIN. Credit card companies need time to process your request, and will normally send PINs by first-class mail only, so be sure to call several weeks before leaving.

Commit your PIN to memory if you can. If you must write it down, do not write it on your credit card. Record it in a separate place. Don't label it "PIN", and don't write the credit card name on the same note.