SAFETY AND SECURITY
There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. During 2006 and in the earlier part of this year a number of explosions and failed explosions occurred in Corsica. You are advised to take care, particularly in town centres and near public buildings, and be wary of unattended packages.
The French Government has to date exercised a strong counter terrorism policy. In July 2005 the French authorities raised their level of security, particularly at airports and on the railway and metro systems.
On 6 December 2007 a letter bomb exploded in a building in central Paris. One person was killed and another seriously injured.
There have been an ongoing series of explosions, failed explosions, and other attacks in Corsica. In the latest incident during the night of 12/13 January, the facade of the main Court House in Ajaccio was hit by machine gun fire causing some damage. No one was injured. Previously, other Government buildings, restaurants, police vehicles, bars, a discotheque and a number of holiday homes have also been targeted and, in some cases, substantially damaged. In the main, the public buildings, the bars, discotheque and restaurants were closed at the time of the attacks. In previous attacks only one person has been reported as being killed with another slightly injured.
The authorities, who, some months ago warned that attacks might escalate, believe that the Corsican nationalist group, the FLNC, are responsible. You should take care, particularly in the town centres and near public buildings, and be wary of unattended packages.
In early 2004, a previously unknown group calling themselves the AZF claimed to have laid a number of explosive devices on French railway tracks timed to detonate at various future dates. Two devices were discovered and both disarmed by the French police. The group reappeared in May 2005, with threats of further (unspecified) action. However, the French authorities have not issued any specific advice against using public transport in France.
Sensible precautions should be taken to protect against street and car crime. Try to avoid carrying passports, credit cards, travel documents and money together in handbags or pockets. Valuables, including tobacco and alcohol, should not be left unattended in parked cars and they should be kept out of sight at all times.
In Paris, at Charles de Gaulle airport or at the Gare du Nord railway station, you should protect your baggage against theft and beware of pickpockets. Thieves and pickpockets also operate on the Paris Metro and RER (suburban) lines especially RER line B, which serves Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports and the Gare du Nord. Thefts have also occurred at Nice Airport, particularly at the car rental car parks where bags have been snatched as drivers have been loading luggage into hire cars. Pedestrians should beware of bag snatchers operating both on foot and from motorcycles.
You should be particularly careful in and around shopping centres and car parks. You are advised to be cautious of and, if possible, avoid, illegal street vendors, many of whom employ persistent and often intimidating techniques to sell their wares, and who are now to be found at many tourist sites and attractions in Paris. At the Basilica du Sacre Coeur, for example, vendors sometimes block the passage of visitors using the steps leading to the church in attempts to force them to buy the items they have for sale. Similar methods are employed at tourist sites elsewhere in the city.
Mugging incidents have occurred at isolated rest areas on some French motorways, usually those without petrol stations and cafeterias. There is also a continuing problem of burglaries which have been reported as taking place whilst travellers have been asleep in their caravans, mobile homes or other vehicles. Such thefts have been reported throughout France. In some cases, victims may first have been rendered unconscious by the thieves using gas. Try to avoid parking in isolated or dark areas of camping grounds or car parks, and consider installing an alarm in your caravan or mobile home.
In and around Calais and Dunkirk British owned cars have been targeted by thieves, both while parked and on the move (eg by thieves flagging down drivers for a lift or indicating that the vehicle has a flat tyre). In some cases, tyres have been punctured at service stations forcing drivers to stop soon afterwards on the road/motorway. If you decide or need to stop in such circumstances, be extremely wary of anyone offering help, ensure that car keys are not left in the ignition and that the vehicle doors are locked while you investigate the alleged problem.
If you intend to visit the Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries in northern France, many of which are in isolated areas, you are advised not leave handbags or other valuables in parked cars as they can be the target for thieves.
In the South of France, particularly in the Marseille to Menton area, you are advised to keep car doors locked and windows closed when driving as it is common for bags to be snatched from the front passenger seat, often when the vehicle is stationary at traffic lights and usually by individuals on motorbikes. You should also be aware that there have been some incicents where cars have been stolen at gunpoint.
In Corsica you are advised to avoid leaving your vehicles unattended by the roadside especially on coastal/beach roads, as thefts are frequent. Armed robbery can occur but such incidents are rare.
The London based Heathrow Couriers (UK) Limited have a disclaimer on their website which states they have no connection with the UK National Lottery or any other lottery organisation. A company using the same name has recently contacted British residents in France claiming they have been successful in an on-line lottery draw. You are advised to treat any such approach with caution.
Since July 2007 increased passport checks at channel ports have caused delays. Ferry travellers, especially those in coach parties, should arrive in plenty of time.
If you wish to drive in France you must have a valid UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. If you are driving a vehicle that does not belong to you then written permission from the registered owner may also be requested.
The minimum age for driving a car in France is 18 years old. If you are 17 and hold a valid UK licence you are not permitted to drive a car. If you do you may be fined and your vehicle will be impounded.
You should take particular care when driving in France as driving regulations and customs are different from those in the UK. Roads in France, particularly motorways, are of an excellent standard but speed limits are higher than in the UK and the accident rate is higher. In 2005 there were 5,318 road deaths in France (source: DfT). This equates to 8.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 5.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2005. Many drivers undertake long journeys in, or through, France. Care should be taken to plan journeys and take sufficient breaks; a minimum break of 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended.
Severe penalties exist for all road traffic infringements and they are enforced. These include imprisonment and a heavy fine for causing death whilst driving over the alcohol limit or under the influence of drugs. There are also similar penalties for causing death by dangerous or negligent driving. The French police strictly apply speeding restrictions and if you exceed speed limits you will face heavy on-the-spot fines. If you break French driving laws you can also have your UK driving licence confiscated by French Police. This could lead to your vehicle being temporarily impounded if no alternative driver with a valid licence is available.
Radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle. You should therefore ensure radar detectors are removed from your vehicle before commencing any journey to France.
Almost all roads in Corsica are mountainous and narrow, with numerous bends. You should be extra vigilant and beware of wandering animals. The majority of road accidents occur during the tourist season.
British road hauliers should be aware that the French authorities are imposing fines on hauliers who have differing sets of documents aboard the vehicle. Road hauliers should contact the Road Haulage Association for further information. It is now compulsory for drivers of vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes to fasten their seat belts when driving in France (except in vehicles which did not have seat belts fitted when they were manufactured). Offenders may face a substantial on the spot fine.
There are a number of periods during the year, including all Sundays and public holidays when heavy goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are banned from driving on roads in France. Road hauliers should contact the Road Hauliers Association, the Freight Transport Association or the Department of Transport for further information.
In two incidents at the IDS service station near the Dunes in Calais, two British lorry drivers were assaulted by a group of men who may have been illegal immigrants intent on either robbery or possibly using the lorry to illegally enter the UK. The Road Hauliers Association is aware of these incidents and can provide advice to drivers on matters of personal security.
Both the Mont Blanc and Frejus road tunnels, linking France and Italy, are open but the restrictions introduced following the fires in 1999 and 2005 continue to be applied to HGVs. These can be summarised as follows:
: height restricted to 4.7m; minimum speed 50 km/h; maximum speed 70 km/h. Consult: www.tunnelmb.com
or by telephone on number 00 33 (0)45 05 55 500.
The revised EU-wide security measures that came into effect for all passengers departing from UK airports in November 2006 are also being implemented in France. For more details about this please see: Dft Airline Security
British nationals making short term visits to France should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as French nationals. You will not be covered for medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. For more information about how to obtain the EHIC please see the Europe and Europe and the EHIC
British nationals planning a permanent move to France, especially those who have not yet reached retirement age, are advised to consult the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) at the earliest opportunity to obtain advice on their longer-term entitlement as residents to health care provision under the French national system. Enquiries should be made to the DWP Overseas Medical Benefits help-line on 00 44 191 218 1999 which is open on Mondays to Fridays from 08.00 to 20.00 daily. Alternatively, information can be obtained direct from the English language service of the Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (French social security service) on 00 33 8 20 90 42 12 or CLEISS (the Helpdesk in France for international mobility and social security) on 00 33 1 45 26 33 4; website: http://www.cleiss.fr
. Information is also available on the webiste of the British Embassy in France at: www.amb-grandebretagne.fr
Rabies cases occasionally occur in France, and you should therefore avoid contact with cats and dogs.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. NHS Direct (0845 46 47) can provide you with advice on the vaccination requirements for France.
For further information on endemic diseases, like malaria, health outbreaks and vaccination requirements for Fiji you should check the websites of the National Travel Health Network and Centre NaTHNaC
and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel
Avian Influenza (Bird flu)
The French authorities have confirmed that four ducks found dead on a lake in Diane-Capelle in the Moselle, in eastern France on 8 August 2007, were victims of the H5N1 strain of Avian influenza (bird flu). These cases follow the death of three swans in early July 2007, near the town of Assenoncourt, also in eastern France. Restrictions to help prevent the further spread of the virus are in place. No human infections or deaths have been reported.
The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low. As a precaution you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
You should read this advice in conjunction with the Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet
, which gives more detailed advice and information.
Fires can be a regular occurrence in forested areas anywhere during the summer months but especially along the Mediterranean coast and on Corsica. The fires are generally extinguished quickly and efficiently by experienced French authorities, though short-term evacuations are sometimes necessary. Most visits to forested areas should remain trouble-free, but if you plan to stay in such an area you should familiarise yourself on arrival with local emergency procedures in the event of fire.
SPORTS ACTIVITIES AND WINTER SPORTS
Travellers to Andorra who transit France en route should be aware that conditions on the road from Toulouse to Andorra can quickly become difficult in severe winter weather and vehicles might be delayed. Those making this journey should ensure their hand luggage inside the vehicle contains water, food, warm clothing and any medical requirements they may need.
Alpine travellers should take out comprehensive insurance to cover extra medical costs, repatriation or, in the départements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, possible transfer to Switzerland for hospital treatment. For sports activities such as skiing, potholing and mountaineering, travel insurance must include mountain rescue services and helicopter costs. You should be aware of the risks involved in the more hazardous sports activities. Be aware of weather forecasts and conditions, well equipped, not undertake the activity alone, study the itinerary and inform someone of your plans.
There is, at present, an acute danger of avalanches in the French Alpine regions. You are therefore advised to exercise due care and attention and observe all written notices and warning instructions and, where and when appropriate, consider carrying avalanche search equipment.
If you intend to go hill walking in any part of France including Corsica, you should ensure that you are well prepared and equipped to cope both with the terrain, high temperatures and a lack of shade in summer and low temperatures during the winter months.
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake. Please see: Travel Insurance
Following the withdrawal of duty free facilities within the European Union, customs authorities in all member countries have introduced guidance levels for the import of tobacco, alcohol and other products bought by visitors for their own use. The levels you can bring into the UK should be checked with Her Majesty's Customs. French regulations currently allow a maximum of one thousand cigarettes or one kilogram of tobacco to be imported from another EU member country to France. Heavy Goods Vehicle operators should be aware of the revised seizure policy being operated by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise against any vehicles detected with illicit alcohol or tobacco.
If you intend to carry or transport valuables (including works of art and antiques) or amounts of cash in excess of 7,600 Euros, you should consult French customs regulations beforehand.
Do not leave your luggage unattended at airports, railway stations and other public places as it may be removed and destroyed by security staff. Notices to this effect are prominently displayed. No compensation can be claimed for destroyed property.
Remember where you are staying. Keep a note of your hotel address. Enter next of kin details into the back of your passport.
Since 15 June 2007 new legislation on the controls of cash entering or leaving the EU apply in all Member States. Any person entering or leaving the EU will have to declare the cash that they are carrying if this amounts to 10,000 euros or more; this includes cheques, travellers' cheques, money orders, etc. This will not apply to anyone travelling via the EU to a non-EU country, as long as the original journey started outside of the EU nor to those travelling within the EU.