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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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France 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses France at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Paris does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s France-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Paris, and minimal risk from crime in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes, Strasbourg, and Toulouse.

More than four million U.S. citizens visited France in 2018. Paris is generally a safe destination for tourists, students, business travelers, and others. Violent crime is relatively uncommon; however, street crime is a concern, most notably in areas frequented by tourists. Consular officials throughout France report that U.S. travelers are frequently victims of pickpockets or scams. Crimes against visitors are generally crimes of opportunity, though these crimes are more likely to involve violence either late at night or if the victim resists the criminal. Robberies involving physical assault do occur in Paris and other major urban areas. In addition to wallets and passports, smart phones and small electronic devices are particular targets. Smart phones and computers, but specifically Apple products, cost more in France than in the United States and are targeted by local thieves and pickpockets. Be wary of where you use and store your laptop or smartphone.

Pickpockets can be any gender, race, or age; however, it is very common for pickpockets in Paris to be children under 16, as they are less likely to be arrested/prosecuted. A common method is for one thief to distract a tourist with questions or a disturbance while an accomplice picks the victim’s pockets, backpack, or purse. Remain aware and attentive to surroundings particularly in congested areas at train stations, airports, and subways.

Tourist sites and the public transportation system are locations where criminals routinely operate. Pickpockets are very active on the rail link (RER B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to the city center. In addition, pickpockets often target passengers on the Metro line 1, which traverses the city center from east to west and services many major tourist sites. Thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the Metro, leaving the victim on the departing train while the thief makes his/her escape through the Metro.

Confidence schemes in Paris include asking pedestrians to sign a petition or take a survey and then soliciting money to support the cause. Other schemes involve presenting a gold ring or a friendship bracelet, and as soon as one takes the jewelry in hand, the con artists demand payment. These schemes can also be ruses to distract for pickpockets.   

ATMs in Paris are relatively safe. However, visitors should use ATMs that are well illuminated and at a reputable bank. Thieves have installed magnetic strip readers to capture account information and small CCTV cameras to capture PINs in some ATMs. If the ATM takes your card and does not give it back, go into the bank to report it immediately. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Be aware of “date-rape” drugs, which are present in France. Be cautious in bars and clubs, and do not leave your drink unattended or accept a drink from strangers. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

U.S. citizens have also experienced residential break-ins, bicycle theft, and other forms of property crime with minimal violence. Throughout August, when most French residents take summer vacations, and in December, there is a general increase in the number of residential break-ins. The majority involve residents not using proper security measures. Frequently, burglars will make phone calls before break-ins to see if the resident is home. Often, thieves will gain access to an apartment building in order to knock on apartment doors to see if anyone answers, offering an excuse (e.g. taking a survey, representing a utility company) when someone does answer the door. 

There have been reported cases of smash-and-grab robberies from vehicles in economically depressed areas and on heavy traveled roads. Thieves on motorbike will approach a vehicle stopped in traffic, smash a window, reach in to grab valuables, and flee. Keep vehicle doors locked and valuables out of sight.

The Paris Police Prefecture maintains an English-language website for foreign visitors that provides practical advice and useful contact information for visitors.

Cybersecurity Issues

Do not trust WiFi hot spots; criminals can configure “man-in-the-middle” access points that appear free so that they can intercept communications from anyone who connects. This allows hackers to access sensitive information appearing on the user’s screen. It also provides a mechanism by which a hacker can gain control of the connecting device.

Owners of public Internet cafes may install key-logging software that enables theft of sensitive information.

Transnational organized crime operatives reside in France. Syndicates are technically competent, and conduct many of their schemes via cyber platforms.

Other Areas of Concern

Avoid public parks after dark, particularly the Bois de Boulogne. Drug dealers and frequent this area, increasing the risk of assault. Take particular care at night in adult entertainment districts, such as the Pigalle area of Paris. Many nightclubs engage in aggressive marketing, and charge exorbitant rates for drinks. Hidden charges of 500-600 Euro for drinks are not uncommon; there have been reports of threats to coerce customers into paying these charges by physically preventing customers from leaving until the tab is settled.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions are generally good. However, traffic congestion can be heavy, particularly in major cities.

Public Transportation Conditions

The Paris Metro is generally reliable and safe. However, it is widely used and can become very crowded; criminals and pickpockets target riders in crowds and individuals who appear lost or disoriented. Local authorities are also quick to close Metro stops and suspend certain lines for “security reasons,” particularly in the event of an abandoned package or a suspicious device. During large demonstrations, access to and egress from certain Metro stops may be restricted even if the line itself is running.

Use only authorized taxis, which in Paris include several ride-share services and traditional livery services. Authorized livery services will have the following equipment: an illuminated “Taxi Parisien” sign on the roof; a meter showing the cost of the trip; a display at the rear of the vehicle and visible from the exterior that enables the monitoring of the daily duration of use of the vehicle; and a plate fixed to the front fender bearing the license number. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Security at all three of Paris’s airports is commensurate with airport security at most major European cities. Authorities have heightened airport security in light of recent terrorist attacks throughout Europe. It is not uncommon to see armed French soldiers in the terminals.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes, Strasbourg, and Toulouse.

French and U.S. authorities are concerned about the security ramifications of French citizens traveling to Syria to wage violent jihad and then returning to France to conduct terrorist acts, as well as individuals radicalized in France or directed/inspired by ISIS. The borders are relatively open, and there are a significant number of supporters/sympathizers of terrorist organizations residing in the country.

Terrorist attacks by foreign fighters are the most lethal threat in France. Foreign fighters and homegrown extremists directed/inspired by ISIS or self-radicalized are difficult to detect and counter.

In 2017, there were a number of “lone-wolf” directed/inspired attacks targeting French security forces, to include several attacks that occurred on the Champs Elysées and one near Notre Dame. A lone terrorist murdered two women at the main train station in Marseille in October 2017.

In March 2018, a gunman affiliated with ISIS stole a car in Carcassonne, killing a passenger and wounding the driver before attacking a group of police officers who were jogging, then taking hostage a group of people in a supermarket. Police eventually killed the gunman, but only after he killed three more people.

In December 2018, a lone gunman opened fire outside the Christmas market in Strasbourg, killing five and injuring 11. Security forces killed the gunman two days later.

The French government maintains a threat rating system known as “Vigipirate.” There are three threat levels: Vigilance, Enhanced Security Risk of Attack, and Imminent Attack.

Although terrorists have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens in terrorist attacks in France in the past few years, several have been victims of recent attacks. Terrorist organizations continue to aspire to attack U.S. interests worldwide. Remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities to law enforcement authorities.

Authorities continue to speak publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in France and throughout Europe. The U.S. and France routinely share information in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen defenses against potential threats.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Multiple developments have fueled anti-Western sentiment and protests in France: French military involvement in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia, and CAR; a state ban against wearing the veil in public buildings and state schools; and the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons in the French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. These have incited terrorist acts in France in recent years.

In 2018, there were no anti-U.S./Western protests of any size or significance in France. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Paris and Rennes, and minimal risk in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, and Toulouse.

Protests and demonstrations routinely occur throughout France, especially in major cities. These protests range from concern over work conditions/wages to the environment. While protests are generally non-violent, some have resulted in property damage and minor injuries. Most organizers announce protests in advance, as demonstrations require prior police approval. However, unapproved and spontaneous protests do occur.  

In 2017, there were two separate incidents of unrest and violence in the suburbs of Paris. The first occurred following the alleged rape by French police of a black man held in custody, and resulted in several nights of violence in several suburbs of Paris. A number of protesters were arrests following clashes with police. The second incident followed the police shooting of a Chinese man, and resulted in 150 protesters throwing objects at the police and burning cars outside of a police station.

In late 2018, a leaderless, grassroots political movement known as the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) took to the streets of Paris and many major cities throughout France with concerns over new fuel tax hikes and other economic grievances. The demonstrators, known for wearing bright yellow reflective safety vests, have staged large demonstrations in most major cities, taken control of highway tollbooths, and blocked traffic at key intersections throughout France nearly every Saturday since mid-November. Violence, described as the worst since 1968, and significant property damage have occurred in Paris and other cities as demonstrators have clashed with police, burned cars, and taken advantage of the chaos to loot stores in the affected areas. At least ten deaths resulted from the anti-government demonstrations, most due to traffic related accidents.  

Avoid demonstrations, as even peaceful demonstrations may turn violent. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding is a concern. In 2016, torrential rains caused deadly flooding in central and northeastern France, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. The Seine River in Paris rose 18 feet, causing flooding along the lower embankments and closing several roads. Similar flooding occurred in Paris at the beginning of 2018.

Police Response

The police are professional, well equipped, and reliable. They maintain a robust presence, especially at high-profile government installations and tourist attractions. French police (as well as military personnel) routinely patrol public spaces.

Following the terrorist attacks in November 2015, the government enacted a state of emergency, renewing it five times before it finally expired in November 2017. The state of emergency allowed the government to prevent the circulation of certain individuals, and to create zones of protection and security. There were reinforced security measures throughout the communes in the Île de France region. The state of emergency allowed for house arrest of any person whose activities authorities deemed dangerous, the closure of theaters and meeting places, the surrender of weapons, and the possibility of administrative house searches. Following the expiration of the state of emergency, President Macron signed a counterterrorism law giving the police additional tools and authorities to fight violent extremism.

Operation Sentinelle remains in effect, with approximately 10,000 soldiers deployed throughout France, and 6,500 within Paris to augment police and increase the visible security presence at airports, train/metro stations, schools, major tourist attractions, religious facilities, and government installations. It is not uncommon to see army patrols in Paris.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Arrested or detained U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) unit. The Embassy's main number, +33 1 43 12 22 22, can be reached 24 hours a day. 

Crime Victim Assistance

In an emergency, dialing 17 will connect the caller to the police. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all types of emergency services. Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.

For non-emergency assistance, go to the nearest police station (commissariat) in order to file an official report.

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

Three principal forces maintain public safety and security: Municipal Police, National Police, and the military Gendarmerie. These services are professional, competent, and proactive in fighting crime and violence and maintaining security. 

It is increasingly common to see private security personnel conducting security inspection at public venues, tourist attractions, businesses, and shopping centers.  

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is comparable to that found in the U.S. In an emergency, dialing 15 will connect the caller to emergency medical services. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all types of emergency services. Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

Do not assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. Ask your insurance company if your policy applies outside the U.S. and if it will cover emergencies (like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation). Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. Consider taking out another policy for the duration for your trip. Except for emergency services, individuals and insurance companies may be required to pay for service prior to receiving treatment in France. Under local law, medical providers may refuse service to individuals lacking the ability to pay for service.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for France.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Paris is active, meeting annually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Paris, 2 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday 0900-1800

Embassy Contact Numbers

Tel. +33 1 43 12 22 22

Website: https://fr.usembassy.gov

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

U.S. Consulate Marseille covers Monaco.

Nearby Posts

 

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to France should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

France Country Information Sheet

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