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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2013


France is generally a very safe country. As far as natural disasters are concerned, storms and floods occur as in most countries. Summer forest fires are a risk in drier areas, particularly on the Mediterranean coast and on Corsica. You should take care if you are in a forest in these areas and refrain from camping if so instructed. Note also that lighting a fire in such areas is illegal.

Skiing is a popular pastime in France, especially in the Alps. The existing risk of avalanches increases markedly if you ski off-piste, especially without a local guide. To minimise the danger, do not venture off the piste unless you are sure it is safe, and pay close attention to local advice about current conditions.

The most recent terrorist attack in France was in 2012, and the threat from terrorism is deemed to be high. Since January 2013, there has been an increased level of security on public transport and public buildings. Terrorist attacks have been particularly prevalent in Corsica, where it is believed they are perpetrated by local separatists.

There are also political demonstrations in France, which can occur in several major cities at once. These do sometimes turn violent and should therefore be avoided. It is important to stay aware of such incidents using the media.

France’s crime rate is generally low. This is particularly true for crimes against the person:  robberies and drug-related crimes are infrequent, though burglary and car theft are common. Walking the streets during the day is mostly safe, and you are very unlikely to experience any trouble in most parts of the country. Nevertheless, it is advisable not to take unnecessary risks at night, such as going on public transport alone. There have been some cases of serious assault on foreigners on the Parisian RER (‘Regional Express Network’) lines, and there are areas of Paris and other large cities which it is best to avoid.

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft from cars are a problem, particularly on the Mediterranean south coast in summer. You are most likely to be pick-pocketed or fall victim to other forms of theft in crowded areas and on public transport. As in any country, theft prevention is about being aware of what is going on around you and keeping your belongings safe at all times. You can help reduce the chances of theft by keeping items such as mobile phones, laptops and satellite navigation systems out of sight as much as possible.

In popular tourist areas such as Paris, scams are also a danger. A typical scam is one in which a person suddenly produces a gold ring, gives it to you then approaches you again asking money for it. The ring is, of course, worthless.  

France is generally safe for women, with a low level of rape and sexual assault. Nevertheless it is important to avoid situations where you are vulnerable. For example, if you are out in a public place at night, make sure you know where your friends are at all times. Also, make sure at all times that there is someone in your group who has an eye on your drinks.

It is important to be aware that in France you are legally obliged to help someone who is in danger or injured. This applies whenever you are able to help someone without endangering yourself. At the very least, you are expected to alert the emergency authorities.


There are two police forces in France: the Police Nationale, mostly based in cities, and the Gendarmerie, who mostly operate in rural areas. For any emergency in France, you can dial the international emergency number 112 for the fire brigade, ambulance and police. This number can be dialled from any landline phone including phone boxes and from any mobile which has a SIM card inside.

Alternatively, you can dial 17 for the police or the gendarmes, 15 for an ambulance from a hospital, and 18 for the fire brigade. The French fire brigade have their own fleet of ambulances, so you can also dial 18 for an ambulance. Ambulances will help you no matter what your situation with insurance is; that will be dealt with afterwards.

Emergency Service



All Emergencies


Everywhere in France (and Monaco)

Police or Gendarmerie


Everywhere in France (and Monaco)

Ambulance (from a hospital)


Everywhere in France (and Monaco)

Fire brigade & fire-service ambulance


Everywhere in France (and Monaco)



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