As with many of its European neighbors, France is a safe and welcoming country. A recent survey of American travelers by Smarter Travel ranked the country as the sixth safest in the world—proceeded by the Netherlands at number five, and Italy taking the fourth spot.
Scoring very low on violent crime, the types of offenses most frequently cited in France include petty theft, break-ins, vandalism, drug trafficking, and scams—in person or over the internet. You’re more likely to encounter these criminal activities (apart from scams online) in the neighborhoods of larger cities already known to the police. For example, the so-call “quartiers nord”, north-side of Marseille, is well-established with local authorities as a site of drug trafficking and petty theft. Located on the outskirts of the city, there is little reason to find yourself in such an area. As with major U.S. cities, the rule of thumb is to avoid such neighborhoods while traveling to, or living in, France.
Home-invasion-style crimes are practically unheard of in France, but break-ins have been on the rise in recent years—particularly in the south of France. As the French take fairly frequent vacations, burglars will wait for the resident(s) to leave for the weekend, or longer, to attempt a break-in. If you are a frequent traveler, you can circumvent this issue by installing a home alarm system. Several reliable companies exist across the country. The local police will also patrol your neighborhood, and keep an eye on your home, if you inform them of your absence.
The country has also seen several incidents of terrorism in the last decade, and while these attacks were isolated incidents, it’s important to note that France remains a target for terrorist organizations. Although these attacks have been rare, they remain important considerations when moving around the country.
Follow the same safety measures in large cities as you would at home—keeping a close eye on your belongings and paying attention to your surroundings at heavily touristed areas—you’re unlikely to experience any criminal activity in France.
Petty Crime in France
The most common crimes in France include petty theft, minor vandalism, and low-level drug offenses. Marijuana is not legal in the country, and many infractions revolve around possession of the drug. Unless you find yourself in neighborhoods frequented by drug traffickers, there’s little chance of getting mixed up in the drug trade.
The exception being theft of personal items—purses, wallets, beach bags—when on vacation in popular tourist areas like Paris or the French Riviera. It’s important to not leave bags unattended on the beach, and to carry your belongings close by on public transportation in major cities.
Other petty crimes included drunk and disorderly conduct, usually around nightclubs at summer beach resorts, and traffic violations. The French tend to drive fast and flaunt many traffic laws.
Violent Crime in France
As there is no right to bear arms in France, violent crime is very low and the subject of nationwide headlines for any incident. Firearms are quite difficult to obtain, thus greatly limiting the possibility of violent acts. The violent crimes that do make the evening news include fights, or “score settling” between rival gangs in tough neighborhoods of cities like Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. Drugs, or fights over turf, are some of the various factors involved. Historically known as centers for petty crime and vandalism, these areas are patrolled by local police and exist in the city suburbs.
Areas of the French island Corsica are believed to have pockets of organized crime, ie. mafia influence. Violent crimes and murders have occurred on the island between rival families, where there was a history of vendetta, or revenge crimes.
Areas to Avoid in France
Visitors and residents should avoid certain suburbs of major French cities (Paris, Lyon, Marseille), known in some references as the banlieu. While not all suburbs are dangerous, several contain housing projects which constitute “cities within the city”—often with their own police departments.
It also advised not to linger about in crowded, tourist attractions in Paris. While generally a safe area of the city, the steps of the Opéra house have seen groups of individuals trying to run scams on travelers. A member of the group will try to distract the tourist, while an accomplice attempts to steal their wallet or bag. Take care at other major sites around the city, and keep your belongings close at hand on public transportation.
Nightlife Safety in France
Nighttime in France isn’t necessarily more dangerous than other times of the day. If you exercise a bit of common sense and get a good feel for your surroundings, it’s possible to enjoy nights out with friends or family just as you would at home. There are many villages and towns where you can freely walk the streets at midnight, and several areas in Paris where this would be inadvisable.
Know the area you will be traveling to, and plan safe transport for the return trip home. While most public transport around the county is safe in the evening, avoid taking the RER, metro, or buses in Paris late at night.
Transport Crime in France
Relatively low around the country, major urban areas will have the most transport crime—centered around pickpocketing and petty theft. Larger cities like Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Montpellier offer well-organized transport services (buses, metro lines, shuttles, and trams) with little incidence of crime. Signs and recorded messages in Paris warn of pickpockets and potential scams on public transport. Along with Marseille, visitors should use caution when traveling on the metro, train, and bus lines in Paris.
All forms of public transport, including trains, have police and/or public servants known as “contrôleurs” who monitor for criminal activity. If you feel unsafe at any time, or suspect criminal activity, you can flag an attendant or security professional.
Women’s Safety in France
Women are generally quite safe in France and hold a strong position in French society. In recent years, there’s been a significant push to address domestic violence issues, and France has increased public awareness through ad campaigns and a national hotline service (#3919) https://www.solidaritefemmes.org/.
As with major cities in the U.S., women shouldn’t walk alone in the evening in certain urban areas, and avoid taking public transportation at night in large cities like Paris and Marseille.
LGBTQ+ Safety in France
France offers a very welcoming atmosphere for the LGBTQ+ community and Paris has frequently been cited as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. Gay marriage was legalized in 2013, and LGBTQ+ residents enjoy strong support across the country, notably in cities along the French Riviera, including Nice, and further south in Montpellier. However, France remains a staunchly Catholic country, so it’s best to test the waters before openly expressing your sexual orientation.
Rural areas and smaller villages tend to be less progressive, but that’s not always the case. When deciding where to travel to, or live, in France, a good resource to consult is the LGBTQ+ Center in Paris (https://centrelgbtparis.org/).
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