Here are need-to-know Paris facts for tourists. Get the nitty-gritty on passports, VAT tax refund, tipping and etiquette. This essential list of Paris facts will help you feel more comfortable and at ease on your travels.
You do not need a visa for travel from the USA or Canada to France.
It's important to check the dates on your passport BEFORE you book your air travel.
It's also a good idea to make a copy of your passport and carry it with you in a separate place from your wallet or purse.
The best advice, though, is to scan your passport and other documents and then store the photos in your cell phone and computer.
In France, the European Union Value-Added Tax is 19.6%.
That's the amount that is automatically added to most purchases including restaurants, hotels, and most consumer goods. The good news is you can get back the VAT with the proper paperwork and by planning in advance.
As a tourist, you can't get refunds on hotels and meals (business travelers qualify) but you can redeem the 19.6% tax on clothing, linens, jewlery and other purchases.
If you're not buying a lot, it's probably not worth the hassle to get the VAT refund, but if you are a big shopper, that 19.6% can add up fast! You need a minimum purchase of 175€ to qualify for a return.
Have your passport on hand when you shop.
You'll need to present your passport to the store to get the necessary VAT refund paperwork. Always ask about the VAT tax before you make your purchases. Most Paris retailers participate in the VAT-Tax refund, but it's best to check beforehand.
After your purchase, have the merchant fill out the necessary paperwork, called the "cheque". Be sure the paperwork is completed before you leave the store, with no empty blanks. Attach your receipt(s) to the form and keep it with your other travel documents.
Some Paris retailers have a "Tax Free Shopping Network" sticker in the window and can handle the whole redemption process for you. If you're lucky, the retailer will mail your documents for you.
When it's time to leave Paris, have your paperwork and unused purchases ready and arrive early at the airport.
You'll need to find the VAT Refund Office and have your documents stamped before you go through check-in. Be prepared for a long wait. If you run out of time and have to go to your gate, you will not get the VAT tax refund.
At the VAT Refund Office, an export officer will stamp the documents. Please note that the office can ask to see your unused goods. If you show up at customs wearing your new Paris clothes, you may be denied a refund.
Once your form is stamped, the next step is to get the money. If your purchases were bought from a merchant who works with a refund service such as Premier Tax Free or Global Blue you'll need to find their office (usually located near a duty-free shop), after your go through check-in and security. Here's where the magic happens, show them your stamped document, and voila, they will give your your refund.
If the retailer has handled the VAT refunds directly, you won't need to go to the Premier Tax Free or Global Blue office. Your stamped documents must be mailed to the merchant for your refund. They can be mailed from home or, better yet, mailed right at the airport. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait. A bit of warning, you can wait several months to see your refund (either by credit card or a check).
Generally speaking, Americans and Canadians over-tip when they are in Paris. It is not necessary to tip your server in restaurants. The bill includes a tip for the server – it's French law.
If you were really impressed with the server, you can leave a few Euros on the table. Never add a tip by credit card, the server will never see it.
Always check the restaurant bill total before you pay. Errors can happen, especially if you're splitting the cost on more than one credit card!
In Paris manners do count! The French are quite reserved by nature, so don't expect big smiles and "howdies" in Paris. However, don't mistake their quiet demeanour as bad manners.
Generally speaking, Parisians do not smile as much as Americans and the French do not share personal details with strangers, like Americans do. They may not even reveal their first name to you!
You may get introduced as "Madame" or "Monsieur". It's common courtesy in Paris to say "bonjour" when you enter a store or restaurant and "au revoir" when you leave. Also get in the habit of always adding please and thank-you with "s'il vous plait" and "merci".
When you are in a restaurant, try not to speak too loudly. It's a dead give away that you're not a local! Keep your voice low and speak directly to your dining partner. Loud laughter is also a no-no in Paris restaurants.
You'll also notice that loud talking and laughter is not part of the Metro experience. Many Parisians will even cover their mouth when speaking on a cell phone. Eating and drinking are not done on public transportation.
Here's an easy way to see how your currency is doing against the Euro.
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