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In the midst of the coronavirus crisis and following terrorist attacks and occasionally-violent street demonstrations, many people are wondering whether Paris is still safe to visit. A quick look at Google’s search statistics confirms that the anxious question is one on many thousands of travelers’ minds. And it’s an understandable and entirely human one.
Read on for the latest information on safety advisories and precautions to take, and for my full safety tips for France.
I start by covering some of the topics most likely to be on travelers’ minds, followed by more long-term safety issues and concerns.
THE LATEST: Coronavirus Safety Information & Current Advisories
Following an outbreak of a new flu-like virus called COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) in mainland China, a global pandemic has developed. In France, according to the American Embassy travel advisory page and new data released by the French government, there have been 59,105 confirmed cases since January 24th, all of whom have been strictly monitored in hospitals or isolated at home.
As of April 3rd, 4,503 patients have died in hospitals, the majority of whom were elderly and/or suffering from pre-existing health conditions. Cases are present throughout France. A much smaller but unknown number have passed away in retirement homes and care facilities. Meanwhile, nearly 13,000 patients have recovered and been released from hospitals around the country.
Current COVID-19 Cases and Travel Warnings
As of March 19th, the US State Department raised its global travel alert to the maximum Level 4 (red), advising citizens to avoid all travel abroad, including to France, for an unspecified period of time. This followed the WHO (World Health Organization) announcing on the same day that the coronavirus crisis had become a global pandemic.
The advisory notes that with many countries closing borders, bolstering travel restrictions and imposing quarantines on all arriving travelers, it may prove difficult or impossible to return home in the current climate.
Furthermore, US citizens are being advised to return home on commercial flights; the advisory states that they “should have a plan to depart from France that does not rely on U.S. government assistance”. While Air France is continuing limited service from France to the US, this may be discontinued at any time.
If you are a US citizen and have comprehensive travel insurance in place for a planned trip, contact your policy provider for information on making a potential claim for reimbursing cancellations or postponements.
Canada, the UK and Australia are among other countries to have issued global travel warnings, urging them to avoid all “nonessential” travel.
Many countries around the world are requiring travelers returning from France to self-isolate/undergo a 14-day period of quarantine.
In the case of the US, which has banned travelers from most of Europe for 30 days starting March 11th, an exception is made for US citizens, permanent residents and certain family members of US citizens returning from France, but they may be subject to screening measures at airports and other entry points. Make sure to check current measures in your home country or next destination before traveling to France. You can find the latest information on country-by-country travel advisories for France at this page.
What is France Doing to Curb the Disease?
The government is doing its utmost in an attempt to contain the virus by isolating patients with known cases and enforcing strict “social distancing” measures that approach a nationwide quarantine. As of the late evening of March 16th, Paris has been placed in “lockdown”.
All shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas, nightclubs and other “non-essential businesses that receive the general public” have closed throughout France, and individuals are only allowed to leave their place of residence to shop for essentials such as food and medicine, or practice exercise in isolation near their home.
As of March 17th, residents and visitors alike will be required to print out a form to leave their homes or accommodations, and anyone who assembles in groups or otherwise do not follow the emergency measures can be fined. Please note that visitors and tourists receive no special dispensation from these temporary measures.
Read related: A Short History of Quarantines in Europe & France
French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday, March 12th that all schools, universities and nurseries would close on March 15th for an undetermined period of time. All public gatherings are temporarily suspended.
Public transportation services in Paris and elsewhere in France remain open, but the government has said that services will likely be reduced in the coming weeks.
What’s Closed and Canceled in Paris?
Outside of supermarkets, pharmacies and other businesses offering essentials such as food and medicine, the vast majority of businesses and attractions in Paris are closed until further notice. Visit the Paris Tourist Office website to keep abreast of current closures and cancelled events, and for information on refunding certain tickets.
The Paris Half-Marathon and full Marathon have been postponed until September and October, respectively. Most other major sports matches, stadium concerts and other events have been either canceled or postponed.
Travel Restrictions and Traveler Monitoring in France
There are currently no restrictions in place for travel to France, but Air France has cancelled flights to and from China through late March. Air France has also waived cancellation fees for all of its flights through at least April 30th. Many other airlines have followed suit. However, Eurostar continues to operate normally and for the time being has not changed its cancellation/rebooking policy.
In addition, officials are meetings planes arriving at French airports with passengers from countries with known coronavirus cases, including Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, South Korea, and affected regions in Italy.
Medical professionals are on hand to answer questions and care for any person who presents with possible symptoms. Any travelers from these countries will be required to comply with any screening regulations put into place at French borders, which may change at any point.
Should I Cancel or Postpone My Trip to France?
In a word, yes. At this time, non-essential travel to France is not recommended by many major health authorities, and would place your health and those of others at risk. Even if you’re healthy and believe yourself to be in a low-risk group, current guidelines recommend that we all practice as much “social distancing” as possible to avoid transmitting the virus further and overwhelming the already-strained health care system. To not do so could lead to the loss of countless lives and hospitals that can not care for those in need of treatment.
Sadly, I recommend cancelling or postponing your trip until the public health picture improves and we have more information. Paris isn’t going anywhere, and at this time you won’t be able to enjoy the city (nor the rest of the country) for all it has to offer.
France’s authorities have recently described the whole country as being “under confinement”. In addition, it may prove quite challenging to return home as countries close borders and airports and airlines drastically cut flights.
Elderly people, those who are immunocompromised or have other health complications appear to be much more at risk of serious or critical illness than young and/or healthy individuals. Meanwhile, healthy individuals may feel legitimate concern about contracting the virus and spreading it to others, including the most vulnerable.
How Dangerous is the Disease?
The fatality rate has thus far been recorded at around 2 to 3%, and the virus is much more likely to be life-threatening in elderly, immune-compromised and otherwise unwell individuals. For the vast majority of people, it results in only mild illness or flu-like symptoms that are quickly recovered from.
Moreover, there is no consensus on the actual fatality rate, since it is suspected that many people with mild illness have not been formally diagnosed and therefore not included in the data. The actual death rate may be much lower.
However, the illness is still poorly understood by health professionals and bodies. For the time being, exercising extreme caution and taking all possible measures to protect your own health and that of others is recommended.
The World Health Organization puts the risk in these terms: “If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre- existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.”
Why to Buy Travel Insurance & Other Precautions to Take
Purchasing travel insurance for France is essential at this time, protecting you financially and medically even if you have booked a trip for much later in the year. When choosing a policy, it’s important to ensure it includes cancellation protection in the event that you need to postpone or cut short your trip.
Most good travel insurance providers will mention the ability to cancel or interrupt a trip should travel to your destination be deemed unsafe by global health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Again, even if you live in a country that has not yet issued a travel advisory against visiting France, that may soon change. It’s crucial to have a policy that will reimburse you towards the cost of cancelled flights, hotels, tours and other expenses. I recommend considering World Nomads, whose comprehensive health insurance policies include such coverage. You can quickly fill in a quote form here.
All travellers can take sensible precautions to lower their risk of acquiring the virus and spreading it to others. Wash hands frequently with soapy water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap is unavailable use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol solution. Do your best to avoid touching your face, especially before thoroughly washing your hands.
When possible, avoid overly crowded places like the Paris Metro at “heures de pointe” (rush hour) between around 730-10 in the morning and 6-8pm.
Current recommendations from various national and international health authorities state that you should practice “social distancing” as much as possible and stay several feet away from others, when possible.
Keep a good distance from those who are coughing or otherwise appear ill, and avoid shaking hands or giving “bisous” (French-style kisses on the cheeks).
If you do visit France, have visited any places with active Coronavirus cases over the past 14 days and feel ill with fever, cough or shallow breathing, current public health guidelines require that you dial 15 to seek medical advice. Do not go directly to an emergency room, doctor’s office or urgent care clinic. This could result in spreading the virus to others, including the most vulnerable.
“Gilet Jaune” (Yellow Vest) Protests & French Transport Strikes
Starting in late December 2018, smaller groups of “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protestors staged demonstrations in the capital, almost exclusively on Saturdays. Some saw demonstrators throw rocks, burn cars and break store windows. But starting in late May 2019, the protests simmered out, in part due to a much heavier police presence.
Then over the weekend of November 16th to 17th, 2019, a little under 5,000 protestors again convened in Paris to mark the first anniversary since the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations began. Even before the protest officially began, groups of young men wearing hoods arrived at Place d’Italie in southern Paris, setting fire to cars, throwing rocks at police and destroying barricades. Police responded by firing teargas at demonstrators and breaking up the gatherings.
Elsewhere in the city, isolated protestors smashed store windows, vandalized a bank and a statue of a French WWII veteran. Some protestors also staged a non-violent protest outside the department store Galeries Lafayette, but the police closed the store and ousted the protestors.
In total, around 175 rioters were arrested, representing a small minority of the protestors– many of whom told reporters they were disappointed the demonstrations had become violent at the margins.
In early December, a major transportation strike saw thousands of protestors take to the streets of Paris. Most were peaceful, but a small minority smashed windows and set fire to cars. Some 6,000 additional police were deployed in response.
See related: 2020 Strikes in France: Will They Affect Your Trip?
These latest events have left some tourists and future visitors shaken anew, following a period of relative calm. But despite this, weekend demonstrations have been comparatively rare over the past few months, and when they have occurred they’ve tended to consist in much smaller groups of people.
No Incidents Involving Tourists
In spite of the recent violence which can feel quite concerning, you should know that tourists have not been injured or otherwise endangered by these protests.
While it’s important to stay informed about planned demonstrations over the coming weeks and months and stay clear of them, they arguably don’t warrant canceling or delaying your trip to Paris.
What’s more, the Paris city government has worked to keep visitors informed and well away from sites that may be targeted by a small number of violent protestors at the fringe of the so-called “yellow vest” movement (read more about who they are and what they want).
Current Safety Advisories & Paris Travel Warnings from Embassies & Consulates
If you’re visiting Paris now or are scheduled to soon, you can stay informed about important safety information from your embassy or consulate.
The U.S. Embassy published its latest travel advisory in early April 2019, advising tourists to remain informed and “exercise increased caution” but not advising against travel to France. They also offer a complete list of areas around the city to avoid on planned demonstration days. You can read the full advice here.
Similar notices have been issued by embassies and consulates including Canada, the UK and Australia. Find information from your own embassy or consulate here.
Finally, news outlets including The Guardian and The Local France have been providing valuable in-depth coverage of the gilets jaunes demonstrations and their aftermath, and offering advice to tourists. I recommend following their stories to stay updated on that front.
How Did This All Start, Anyway? A Bit of Context…
In late November and early December 2018, rioters protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel taxes and other policies set fire to cars, houses and buildings, damaged parts of the Arc de Triomphe and prompted the evacuation of several areas and sites popular with tourists.
These included the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and the department stores around Boulevard Haussmann: districts where tourists traditionally flock at that time of year for holiday displays and shopping.
Responding to a fresh wave of protests in early December 2018, the government significantly stepped up the police presence in the city to some 8,000 officers, made over 1,000 arrests, and proactively closed down nearly 50 popular sights and attractions in the city, including the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. They have all since reopened.
The early December protests were followed by smaller ones on subsequent weekends in December through February. Then, in March 2019, a fringe of violent protestors vandalized and set fire to some 80 restaurants and shops in the capital, mostly on and around the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Rioters smashed windows at upscale restaurant Fouquet’s, before setting fire to it.
They also vandalized and set fire to other shops on the Avenue, some throwing rocks at police, who responded by firing teargas into the crowd. In total, there were an estimated 10,000 Yellow Vest protestors in Paris over that weekend, up from around 4,000 in earlier weeks.
Over several months of demonstrations, there were scattered reports of protestors clashing with police, burning barricades, throwing bottles or engaging in other violent activities. The police have reportedly responded by firing teargas, water cannons and even rubber bullets at small groups of protestors, using what some are describing as excessive force.
Some protestors have been severely injured by rubber bullets, drawing into question some of the tactics used by local police against the “gilets jaunes”.
Putting Your Risks Into Perspective
With what seem to be frequent reports of violent incidents in the capital, it can indeed feel scary to be a visitor these days. But as I detail at length in my piece on why you shouldn’t fear coming to the city since the attacks, there have been exaggerated accounts in some media outlets about the dangers tourists face when visiting Paris.
The recent riots, for example, may put visitors on edge– but again, none have been hurt in skirmishes between police and the fringe protestors who resort to violence. Police are ensuring that tourists stay well out of the way of areas where the protests are occurring, which is why certain popular zones have been barricaded off and closed during planned protest days. These have so far been scheduled exclusively on Saturdays.
As long as you keep your distance and plan to stay away on the days when protests have been scheduled, your risks are very low. I recommend going on a day trip, if possible. There are plenty of places you can easily reach from Paris via a short train ride.
Should I Cancel my Trip to Paris?
That’s up to you, of course. But in a modern world where there are many complex risks to weigh and negotiate all the time, it’s important to put those risks into perspective. It’s not about discounting potential danger. It’s about recognizing that life must go on– and that living in fear shrinks your world and its possibilities.
So before you cancel your trip or decide on another destination out of fear that you may be the victim of a terrorist attack or some other form of violent crime, read through my advice below.
As I’ve said elsewhere, Paris greatly depends on tourism to thrive as a city. It would be catastrophic to its livelihood to see too many people stay away and renounce all the capital has to offer out of a disproportionate sense of fear.
The Reality: Statistically Speaking, Paris Remains Very Safe
While Paris has admittedly taken a significant knockdown in world city safety ratings due to recent terrorist attacks, violent crime is still generally uncommon in the capital. OSAC, the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, notes that tourists are generally safe in the city, and that street crime such as pickpocketing remains the primary concern.
To break it down a bit: The violent crime rate in France is roughly on par with Canada’s, and is three times lower than rates in the US.
According to French government statistics, even when taking into account deaths from terrorist attacks, the homicide rate in Paris per 1,000 inhabitants between 2015 and 2017 was only 0.019 (0.014 if you exclude the attacks).
You get my drift. Violent crime, and especially the sort that threatens lives, is relatively rare in Paris. Gun violence there is astronomically lower than it is in comparably sized cities in the US.
And while the US State Department website advises that tourists remain aware of their surroundings and exercise caution due to potential terrorist threats, take note: they don’t recommend cancelling your trip or avoiding the city.
My conclusion? Yes, there are some risks that can’t be denied. Most large metropolitan cities, including London and New York, carry similar risks in our globalized world. Should you avoid setting foot in these places altogether?
Everyone has to make choices that they feel comfortable with, but from my perspective, you’d be greatly overestimating the dangers you face by doing so.
Pickpocketing is the Most Common Crime Affecting Tourists
I’ve talked about the unlikelihood of tourists becoming victims of violent crime in Paris. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t risk being targeted for petty street crimes that can still make your trip a nightmare.
Pickpocketing is by far the biggest threat to visitors, so you should learn how thieves operate and take all the precautions necessary to avoid being targeted.
How to Avoid Pickpockets in Paris?
Pickpockets operate in predictable and often highly organized ways, targeting tourists in crowded and popular areas. Often, they get away with your wallet or purse so quickly that you barely feel a thing. To keep this from happening, take these steps:
- In any crowded place (busy lines, congested metro cars, open spaces full of tourists snapping photos), take extra care with your belongings. It’s best to carry a bag or purse that you can wear crisscrossed around your chest, with pockets and valuables hugged to your front and in plain view. If you wear a backpack, don’t leave wallets, cash, passports or other valuable items in the front compartments.
- Only bring as much cash as you’ll likely need for the day, and maybe even less. 100 Euros or so is a good limit to aim for. Traveler’s checks can easily be exchanged for Euros at the American Express office on Rue Scribe (Metro: Opera).
- If you must carry larger amounts of cash, consider wearing a money belt.
- It’s always preferable to leave passports, large amounts of cash and other valuables in a hotel safe, if possible.
- Never leave your bags or suitcases unguarded, even for a minute or two. Not only do you run the risk of them being swiped up by thieves between two blinks of an eye: they can also be legally confiscated and destroyed by security forces, under current safety regulations in public spaces.
What About ATM Thefts and Other Scams?
In addition to pickpockets, tourists are often targeted by scammers and thieves in other ways. ATMs/cashpoints are particularly vulnerable spots. Never allow anyone to linger nearby when you take out cash, and guard against prying eyes.
Never let anyone “help” you with a transaction at an ATM, or otherwise interfere with it. Ask the intrusive person to back off, and if they refuse, find another place to take out cash.
Around popular tourist attractions including the Sacre Coeur, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, merchants operating illegally are known to aggressively “persuade” tourists to buy their wares.
This often involves putting an object or trinket in your hand or inviting you to “try on” a bracelet.
Once you give in, a demand for payment often follows. Avoid this by refusing all advances from such “vendors” and not allowing them to place any items in or on your hand.
Protecting Your Health While in Paris
No one intends to get sick or suffer from an accident while traveling, but preparing for such unfortunate events will give you peace of mind and save you from outlandish medical costs.
Buying trustworthy travel insurance is essential. Many international policies cover up to millions of dollars in medical costs and liabilities, and are reasonably priced (about the cost of a nice meal out for one, or even less, depending on your age and pre-existing conditions). You can compare and purchase trusted travel insurance policies here (via World Nomads).
Emergency Numbers to Keep With You
If you run into a medical or other emergency, call one of the toll-free numbers below from any phone, and contact your embassy. It’s wise to print out these numbers and keep them with you at all times:
- Medical Emergencies & Accidents: 15
- Fire brigade: 18
- Police: 17
- SOS Médecins (on-call doctors): 01 47 07 77 77
- SOS Dentaire (dentists): 01 43 37 51 00
- SOS burns: 01 58 41 41 41
Note that in most cases, calling “15” is the best thing to do in a medical emergency. If you have been the victim of a violent crime or other crime, it will be necessary to both inform the French police and to file a report with your embassy.
If you need a pharmacy in Paris, identify them by their green flashing crosses. Most neighborhoods in the city have at least one pharmacy within a few blocks’ radius. These pharmacies are open late or 24 hours a day, in case you need to seek advice from a pharmacist or purchase medical supplies late at night.
Safety for Pedestrians in Paris
While Paris is generally a very pedestrian-friendly city– the local government has been working to increase the number of car-free zones around the capital in recent years– drivers can be aggressive, posing a danger to walkers.
My advice? Take a defensive approach when crossing streets and busy intersections, checking for cars even when the light is green and/or when you have the right of way.
In areas that appear to be pedestrian-only, watch out for cars and aggressive motorcylists: some areas that are “car-“free” still allow motorcyclists, service vehicles and cyclists.
What About Driving?
I strongly advise against trying to drive in Paris. Parisian drivers can be aggressive and unpredictable (by many standards), and traffic conditions are often congested and unpleasant.
If you have to drive, your international driver’s license and insurance must be up to date. Also make sure you understand the local rules of the road.
And you should avoid, at all costs, driving around nightmarish traffic circles such as the one at the Place de l’Etoile on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
If you do opt to take a taxi, whether within the city or to the airport and back, make sure you only use reputable companies. Never accept a ride from a taxi that doesn’t have an official “Taxi Parisien” sign atop its roof and a visible meter inside. You may be overcharged or otherwise scammed, if you do…
Why to Register & Keep in Touch With Your Embassy
It’s always wise to register with your embassy ahead of your trip and to keep their contact details with you at all times.
In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, you experience a medical emergency or a crime, or are in the city at the time of a dangerous event, registering will ensure that you’ll be able to get in touch more quickly with your embassy and to receive help from them. This is a good list of world embassies and their contact details.
Once at your embassy’s site, read through any relevant travel advisories for Paris and France and find out how to register as a citizen traveling abroad before your trip.
Are There Dangerous Places in the Capital to Avoid?
I wish I could argue that Paris is entirely safe in corners, but sadly, there are a few places that you’d probably be best off avoiding at night, especially for women and solo travelers.
Gangs are known to operate in some of these areas, and hate crimes have been reported around them in the past.
Take special caution late at night around the following metro stops and surrounding areas (and perhaps avoid altogether when traveling alone after dark): Chatelet les Halles, Les Halles, Pigalle, Couronnes, Belleville, Place des Fetes, Porte de St Ouen, Porte de Clichy, Gare du Nord, Stalingrad, Jaures, Crimee. Please note that this is not a definitive list: you should probably be cautious in all areas of the city after nightfall, or when crowds disperse.
Also note that this is NOT a list of so-called “no-go” zones in Paris. From my perspective (and it’s one shared by most locals), these simply don’t exist within the city limits.
Advice For Women, LGBTQ+ and Minority Travelers
Women, especially when traveling alone or in small groups, should take extra care at night, especially when alone. Avoid places with poor lighting and few people roaming the streets. Safety is in numbers.
Also, be aware that French men sometimes read smiles or extended eye contact as permission to flirt or make sexual advances. With strangers, it’s best to assume a neutral stance that clearly says “I’m not interested”.
If a man makes unwelcome or aggressive advances in the street or in other public places, firmly say “non”, refrain from smiling, and walk away. Call the police if you are followed or the harassment continues, and retreat to a public cafe or other crowded place if necessary.
People of color generally have nothing to fear in Paris, a city with remarkable ethnic diversity. Nevertheless, hate crimes are not unheard of.
If you are a victim of an attack that you feel is racially motivated, report it to the police, your embassy, and if necessary to French watchdog SOS Racisme: + 33 (0)1 40 35 36 55
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary visitors are generally safe and welcomed in the capital, which harbors a large and vibrant LGBT community. That said, there has sadly been a spike in reports of homophobic attacks in Paris over the past couple of years, and in the areas I mention above as being potentially less safe after dark, it is advisable to be extra cautious.
Read my guide on homophobia in Paris over at TripSavvy for tips on staying safe, including for LGBT couples. If you are attacked, report it to the police and to your embassy, and state clearly if you believe the attack was a hate crime.
Advice for Jewish and Muslim Travelers
Jewish visitors may have read that Paris has become unsafe for them. It can’t be denied that antisemitic attacks have been on the rise in recent years, with targets including synagogues, places of business and Jewish individuals.
Sadly, from 2018 such attacks are reported to have risen sharply. Visitors should take extra precautions at this time.
These attacks have been met with increased police protection of Jewish schools, places of worship and other sites important to the Jewish community.
While safety concerns are warranted, I want to stress that Paris has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world: one with a deep history that’s very much part of the cultural fabric of the city.
The vibe is generally welcoming and you shouldn’t fear visiting the city. It’s also important to know that there have been no recent reports of attacks against tourists of Jewish faith. Nevertheless, take precautions, particularly in the areas I mention above.
While I regret advising it, it may be best, late at night and in quiet areas, to remove visibly religious symbols and clothing items. Always report it to the police and to your embassy if you are a victim of an antisemitic attack. SOS Racisme can also help.
Muslim visitors may also fear attacks from Islamophobic individuals. Since 2015, there has been, according to numerous organizations, a sharp rise in attacks on Muslim places of worship and individuals.
Tourists of Muslim faith should not fear visiting the capital, however. Again, there is a large community here and most people are welcoming.
As always, though, if you experience harassment or violence make sure to report it to the police, your embassy, and perhaps to SOS Racisme (+ 33 (0)1 40 35 36 55).
While attacks on tourists of Muslim faith are exceedingly rare, it is important for victims to be heard, have their experience accounted for, and to seek the help they need.
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