How to avoid crime when travelling through France

Thieves in France are abundant, clever and can even be charming! Probably the biggest threat to tourists (apart from getting a dud meal in tourist strongholds such as the Champs Elysees) are pickpockets.

Property crime in France amounts to half of all crime. And it's soaring. And is not surprisingly most prevalent in Paris and the Mediterranean coastal cities of Marseille and Nice. Here are some danger zones and tips to stay safe:

Pickpockets of Paris

Anywhere that attracts tourists, will attract thieves. In Paris with so much to see and do for newcomers, thieves are everywhere!

Be careful around Madeleine, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur church at the artists' area of Montemarte, L'Opera, Les Halles and the George Pompidou Centre, the Porte de Clingnancourt flea market and of course, anywhere near the Eiffel Tower. Including inside the crowded lifts that take you to the top.

Pickpockets on the French Metro & RER

The Metro and RER stations are always busy and bustling with locals and tourists alike. But always keep a firm hold of your bag and wallet, day or night. Pickpockets are highly organised and skilful and numerous. What may feel like someone brushing up alongside of you, or bumping into you in a crowd, could be a nifty pickpocket after your valuables.Part of a pickpocket's or thief's MO is to grab for your bag or wallet and jump off the train just as the doors are closing.

These train stations have reported considerable pickpocket activity:

      • Chatelet
      • Les Halles
      • Barbes Rochechouart
      • Gare du Nord
      • Auber-Opera-Harve Caumartin
      • Charles de Gaulle-Etoile
      • Concorde
      • Strasbourg-Saint Denis
      • Republique
      • Montparnasse
      • Franklin D. Roosevelt
      • Bastille
      • Care de l'Est
      • Nation
      • Gare de Lyon

Paris parks at night

Parks in day-time Paris do not resemble parks in night-time Paris. The beautiful manicured gardens of the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes can be dangerous and sinister when the sun sets. At night, the parks are frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes. It is much safer and wiser to stick to well-lit thoroughfares when enjoying the city in the evening.

Grand theft in France

Even shopping in Paris's fabulous department stores can pose a risk - and not just to your credit card limit! There have been reported bag snatches and theft in stores such as Printemps (closest metro stop is Havre - Caumartin) and the magnificent Galleries Lafayette (metro Chauss'e d'Antin La Fayette).

Tourists who leave their wallets or credit cards on cashier counters during transactions have turned to find them gone.

Airport taxi theft in France

A new type of theft has been reported by the local news in recent years. This one is simple yet brazen. Thieves target taxis carrying tourists or well-to-do locals from Charles de Gaulle international Airport into the city.

The traffic to and from the airport is more often than not completely jammed along the A1 highway and thieves lie in wait until the taxi is stationary and break the windows to get to the passengers' bags.

It is a much better idea to put your luggage in the boot of the cab or better (and cheaper) to take the very safe Air France shuttle bus.

French Mediterranean crime

While Paris is the haven for pickpockets, crime gets more dangerous the further south you travel. There have been reported incidences of more violent crime in southern France, particularly the Cote D'Azur cities of Marseille and Nice.

The Mediterranean area has long been considered one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden areas of Europe - therefore tourists beware. Most of it is centred around vicious racketeers that run the drug dealing, prostitution, money laundering and robbery in the area.

These gangs compete with each other for the biggest slice of the market, especially in Marseille. Gun crime and gang killings are not uncommon.

While it shouldn't directly affect travelers to the area, it is something to bear in mind. Organised crime gangs have a distinct hierarchy, and most start at the bottom rung of opportunistic, petty crime and work their way up.

Thefts from vehicles, whether stopped in traffic or unattended, is also rife in southern France, especially between the cities of Perpignan (near the Spanish border) and Menton (near Monaco).

The good news is local councils and governments have taken notice of the increased violent crime and have increased policing to provide better protection for residents and tourists alike.

Other crimes, other areas of France

It's been reported that muggings are on the rise, especially in the Ile de France region that encompasses Paris and the outer suburbs.

In the regional southern parts of France pensioners have been targeted. Even truffle farmers have been robbed at gunpoint by opportunistic thieves for their harvest that restaurants in Paris pay a small fortune for.

As a traveler, the specific areas where you should exercise caution are at automated service stations and rest areas on motorways. You'd be well advised not to sleep in these rest areas, nor in makeshift or unauthorized campgrounds on the outskirts of major cities.

There is even a warning to be more vigilant of your safety and belongings at the military cemeteries around Normandy. Tourists from around the world visit these World War I and II historic sites that then attracts local thieves.

Like all major international cities, credit card skimming is on the rise. In high volume tourist areas and automated service stations be mindful or protecting your PIN. If possible use ATMs in more controlled and supervised areas like banks, shops and shopping centres.

Civil unrest in France

France is notorious for its planned protests and strikes that grind the city to a halt. However it is wise to stay away from any demonstrations or political rallies as they have the potential to turn violent.

Travel warnings include staying away from the outlying neighbourhoods of major French cities as there have been violent clashes between youths and police (Gendarmes) in the past.

In Corsica- a Mediterranean island that is a region of France - the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) has been conducting a sporadic bombing campaign for several years. While the primary targets have been French government buildings, the terrorist group has been known to target tourist areas, such as holiday complexes. Other groups that have become increasingly violent on the area are Cuncolta Naziunalist and the Mouvement pour l'Autod'termination ( MPA) .

M'aidez or else - France's Good Samaritan law

In France, please note that it's a criminal offence NOT to attempt to help someone who has been a victim of crime, at least by summoning assistance.

11 Comments

  • French contributor said

    Come on Phil don't make the picture so black!!
    France is like any other tourist area... you can be robbed in London New york Lisbone Madrid Rome Berlin Shanghai... and anywhere else in the world.
    As you seems to be a frequent traveller I'm surprised that you highlight France as a dangerous place.
    Big towns need that you take the same precautions everywhere!!
    In the contrary if you visit natural areas like montains hiking places which are completely free you will meet real people without any risk.
    Go ahead and try to meet the real France of solidarity friendship and human rights!

  • Natalie said

    Having travelled in cities all though the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia - Paris and Nice make my top three "unsafe feeling" cities ever. Number one being a city in Turkey. With that being said there is a difference between being actually unsafe (at risk of danger) and feeling unsafe (being constantly harassed my men in the street trying to strike up a conversation or, as in Paris, having a stranger touch my butt). While I wouldn't let safety concerns dictate my travel experience - it is refreshing to see a website unafarid to say "France could do slightly better," especially for the solo female traveller. It is still a beautiful place with amazing locals. However, constant vigilance!

  • Etienne said

    This article reflects pretty much reality. Tourists must be very cautious in Paris (especially the ones from Asia) which is becoming more and more dangerous. I'm sorry it may sound harsh to read but yes it is the truth. I'm a frenchman and been living in France for 48 years.. I was even born here, and insecurity has never been at such a critical level since a few years. I would strongly advise people to absolutely avoid metro and RER past 22h, especially the north lines (13... etc..) which can be really dangerous.
    "Country of the human rights".. blah blah... blah blah.. solidarity, friendship... nice words for tourists..
    Reality is different! ..Communautarism is pleaguing the french society since a few years, and justice is not repressive enough. Most of the pickpockets come from eastern europe (Romania, Bulgaria etc...) and are minors. As such, once caught by the police, they can only be released a few hours later as there is nothing that can be done to stop them juridically speaking.
    France could really do way more than "better"... I wished we could just do "much" better to attract tourists again. I quit Paris a few years ago to settle down in Toulouse and for nothing on earth I would come back living in Paris again. Much too unsafe to my taste.
    Go rather visit Barcelona, it's a much much safer place and the locals are really nice. Sure you don't get to see Tour Eiffel and Le Louvre... but at least you'll keep your belongings safe... when it's not your health!

  • VIVIAN said

    Gee!, now I'm having 2nd choice of moving to southern France after I retire from my United States federal civilian job. I am a black light-skinned Army Veteran female and have received my home language kit to learn French, and anticipates living alone(my 2 grown kids lives in Japan/Ireland) .

    I am now disappointed to have read such unpleasant notions of France---its not the country but the types of peoples and it seems these folks were not born there but migrated there---why can't the system root these bad peoples and send them back to where they came .

  • VIVIAN said

    Gee!, now I'm having 2nd choice of moving to southern France after I retire from my United States federal civilian job. I am a black light-skinned Army Veteran female and have received my home language kit to learn French, and anticipates living alone(my 2 grown kids lives in Japan/Ireland) .

    I am now disappointed to have read such unpleasant notions of France---its not the country but the types of peoples and it seems these folks were not born there but migrated there---why can't the system root these bad peoples and send them back to where they came .

  • abdul qadir said

    I came in pairs last month,when i was stand in one bus stop a man came to me and asked me any address after a while i felt he picked my pocket i run to him fast but a car was waiting for him and a man also in that car and he sit in the car and went immediately,i lodged a complain in the nearest police station they could be watch by CCTV camera but they didn't do it.i lost my passport and my money,now how i get my things.please advice me.
    Regards.

  • Gygis said

    I am French and very familiar with several countries including mine around the world (Americas, Europe and Asia) between which I travel constantly. I can therefore confirm that unlike some locals (who are used to this unbearable situation) seem to say, France has become a very unhealthy, dangerous place to be. It is not something I like to admit but plain reality. Be very careful. If you are after a safe place to visit, then it's clearly not the best time to go to France, really. I myself feel very wary when I am there, despite feeling safer in London, New York or even Rio a few years back. Beware like you're in an impoverished place. You are.

  • Dale Murdock said

    Wherever you go, keep your ears and eyes open. Keep your things close and prioritise things in importance from very hidden and next to your body, like passports, ID and other credentials and move out to the outside pockets of bags where disposable things are.
    Use your ears and eyes. Listen around you even when talking to a friend, this will tell you a lot about your environment. If you hear whispering ahead, turn around. If you hear yelling and screaming, find the source and rationally choose a route out. It will become second nature like looking both ways before you cross the street.
    Don't go down alleys or tunnels you don't know. If you are new in a town, take a day to visit a few coffee shops and ask people around you that you think are nice what places may be risky, what metro stops may be bad and at what time. I know how fast a place can transform in a few hours from a nice empty place to a area full of people you don't really want to meet.
    Dress up here, dress down in another place depending on where you visit. If you are just visiting sites wear clothes that mimic the ones you see around you. In Spain and France they usually wear street shoes and clothes that are much dressier than North Americans do and so should you, you will not stand out as different. Light pants in the summer, good walking shoes in leather and a button up shirt will disguise you as a local if you move the right way, like you belong, glancing up to look around until you arrive where you really want to visit. If you want to look around, stop with your partner and talk and look around while you talk. Learn to move like a salmon through the crowds of people, you will be amazed how you are left alone if you walk and dress like a local and keep your eyes open and steely. I think the criminals view the tourists in the city like a lion watching a herd of buffalos, which one is different, which one is easy, weak, encumbered and unable to get away.
    I have been all over Europe and Asia, over 20 cities in the U.S. and it can be scary too. I have been robbed, met crazy people armed with different weapons, been in high speed chases with thugs but as I have been in France for over twenty years, they all happened here. Last month I was accosted in the street in Istanbul by two heavy set young men speaking Turkish and loudly demanding something. I just said no abruptly and moved on, they were agressive looking and I was afraid of confrontation. I heard them saying, "no, no?" loudly and angrily. Later down the street it occurred to me that they may have been late for the metro and just wanted the time, lol.

  • Jacques Jones said

    I was pickpocketed twice using the Metro. First day in Paris, walking down the stairs at Nation I felt a hand in my front pocket coming from behind and I caught the Gypsy woman by her wrist. She was practiced enough to protest in English saying she hadn't done anything.

    Second time, squeezing onto the Metro at Anvers from a front zippered pants pocket I lost my wallet with cash and a credit card. I didn't feel a thing. African guys had packed the door area for their 'picking'. The card had multiple attempts for cash withdrawal inside of 20 minutes. I had let my guard down after riding the Metro for ten days.

    If the train is packed, especially the door, wait for the next train that will be by shortly.
    Carry only what you can afford to lose, consider it a 'city tax'. Aside from the 'tax', the Metro is a fabulous way to get around!

  • Sara Florent said

    Sadly I am watching my beautiful home city of Paris over run by illegals and hoodlums. It is getting worse and worse. Do you want me to be PC? Or honest? I avoid the Metro--opt for the bus system---you actually get to see more of the beauty and luminosity of Paris and the bonus is discovery and you can hop off if you see something interesting besides the usual tourist sites. You are on holiday so what is the rush for Metro? Same thing, the RER from CDG may seem faster but only if you know how to read the sign so you do not stop in every dinkky suburb and pickpockets are too many too. Try the Balabus during spring and summer as alternative to expensive red tourist buses. Try not to look like a tourist which is hard I know but that stick holding your phone for selfies is a dead giveaway. Minimize your bling even if you are a Kardasian! Belt bags may not be chic but they are safe or cross chest--backpacks are saying rob me! DO NOT OPEN YOUR WALLET OR HANDBAG OUTSIDE ON THE STREET! And if you buy from the luxury boutiques, ask the salesperson to have package delivered to your hotel or apartment---a discreet courier arrives with plain brown wrapper over your box!!

    But this consciousness is pretty much the same for any major city in the world!! Sadly it is the influx of illegals who have turned our streets into confrontations and rubbish bins---don't give to beggars or the cute little kids who are all little thieves in gangs. And SCREAM!! SCREAM AS LOUDLY AS YOU CAN if accosted--even locals do but we have advantage in swearing in French!

  • John Ryan said

    I haven't traveled much, and after reading this, I think I'll keep it that way. WTF is this world coming too.

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