It seems every other I day I bump into someone who is about to jet- set to The City of Love and Lights. If I’m truly honest with myself I feel a sharp twinge of jealousy, which is almost immediately overridden by genuine excitement for them. I want Paris all for myself, and yet paradoxically I want to share the city’s fabulousness with every single person. So, I find myself levitating with enthusiasm to share with them my top 3 things to “get the most out of Paris”. That then leads to further questions on their part, which then leaves them demanding a pen and paper as my top 3 things become 30. Deciding that it’s all too much to take in whilst standing in the street, and can I “please, oh pretty please dedicate a post to ‘Practical stuff for Paris’ on my blog”. My response… YES! Indeed! At sweet long last, to the at least ten people who have asked in under two weeks, here it is. The practical, boring, simple, but oh so necessary tips to maximise your time in Paris. I have been twice thus far, first in 2013, then in March 2015. I am going again in June 2015, and once more in Oct 2015, so Paris is a city that I feel equipped to share with you.
I hope this helps.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR PARIS
TOURIST TAX/VAT REFUND SYSTEM
If you spend more than 175 euro in a single transaction at any store on goods (not services) from a retailer, as a non- citizen of the EU, you are most likely entitled to a VAT refund.
The refund is approximately between 10%-14%, depending on which refund service provided is affiliated with the store. So yes, if you are a luxury lover, purchasing a Louis Vuitton item, with a possible 10% refund is a lot of money to have returned in your pocket.
The Refund Process
Here’s how you go about it…
You must tell the sales assistant at the time of purchase (ie: at point of sale), that you intend to claim the VAT (ie: tax) back. They will complete the necessary paperwork for you. To prove that you are entitled to a tax refund, you must provide evidence that you are not a citizen of Europe, so ensure you have your passport with you whilst shopping. Without passport proof, you cannot complete the necessary paperwork at point of sale.
Once you have the paperwork from the store, keep this to later present at the airport when you leave. If you are leaving from any Paris airport, you will need to validate the paperwork from the department stores where the purchases were made.
The process for this is as follows:
- Proceed to either a staffed terminal that says VAT refund claim/customs or proceed to the self-serve electronic computer screens to do it yourself.
- If you have decided to use the self-serve option, scan each receipt that has a barcode on it. Wait till the light turns green each time, indicating it was successful. If you receive a smiley face icon, the process has been validated successfully. If a red frown face appears, you will need to proceed to a counter to have your papers authorised by an officer. (This is the same as if you had first proceed to a customs officer to stamp your paper work).
- Customs need to first stamp your paperwork if you have chosen to proceed to a staffed counter.
- Assuming all your receipts scanned successfully with a green smiley face, the message on the screen will either tell you the transactions are all completed, or it may sometimes generate a receipt. Either way, once the process is complete, then proceed to queue at the desk marked VAT Refund. Often this is also at the Travelex counter, if at CDG Paris airport in Terminal 2.
- The officers will verify your purchases, it is expected that you have the goods unopened and unused and in your possession for proof, should they ask to see it.
- The officer will either provide you with a cash refund, or a refund directly onto your credit card, depending on which you nominated at the store where you made the purchase from.
- If you have chosen a credit card refund, the rate is sometimes slightly higher, but this varies depending on terms and conditions of various merchants.
- If you have opted for a credit card refund, the processing time for it to appear as available funds on your credit card is approximately between 4-8 weeks.
- Cash refunds are immediate prior to leaving the EU, from the airport.
- If you are to receive a refund to your credit card, you MUST post the envelope containing all paperwork from the retail store of purchase, along with the validated forms from the VAT officer in the envelope provided. Note, before posting that you have signed all sections needed, then also note the company on the envelope. Some envelopes will have stamped “Global Blue”, find the corresponding post box in the airport (usually right next to the VAT counter itself), and post your envelope in it. This process ensures the papers are delivered to the merchant who will then refund your tax to your credit card. Failure to post this, will mean no refund.
- Claiming a VAT refund is possible from several European airports, and can only be done when leaving from your final European leg of the journey.
DISCLAIMER: There is an abundance of information on official websites via the Internet, providing the most up to date information on VAT refunds. Ensure that you undertake your own research for any changes that may affect your ability to receive this service. All information provided was based on my experience, and current as of 27 April 2015 (obviously things can change in time).
I would like to premise this section on “SAFETY” by making it very clear that obviously anything can go wrong anywhere in the world.
I would also like to premise this “SAFETY” category by stating that although I outline facts and personal experiences whilst in Paris, in spite of all this, I felt safer as a solo female tourist, walking around in Paris at night on my own, than I do in my home city of Melbourne, Australia, of which I’ve lived in for over 30 years.
In my opinion, and based on the extensive research that I undertook as a solo female traveller, headed to Paris I learnt the following:
- Paris was rated as one of the SAFEST large cities for serious crime, despite recent events, (petty crime however is a problem in the form of scams, please read below section on scams).
- Gun ownership in France is based on a permit basis only, and you must be registered. The regulations surrounding this are extremely strict. Only the military, police, customs officers etc are permitted to have guns, (much like Australia). There is an abundance of information available on the Internet, but I found it a personal comfort to know that the likelihood of several random strangers walking around with firearms was not legal.
- Petty crime is out in full force around the major tourist locations such as, The Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Sacre Couer, Notre Dame etc. However, this is nothing to be fearful of, but just aware of. It is my experience both as a person approached by scammers, and as a witness to many others being scammed that it is “petty crime”. Often in the form of pick pocketing, so you don’t even know it’s happened (I personally was not pick-pocketed), but I have met so many who have been. From passports, to lipsticks, mobile phones, money, anything and everything you could imagine is fair game. My best advice to stay vigilant and safe in this area is DO NOT CARRY A BACKPACK IN EUROPE (but for the sake of consistency for this post) in PARIS. Logically, you cannot see who approaches you from behind. The queues and crowds at monuments and venues are so long that several people are always brushing up against you. Ladies, DO NOT CARRY A TOTE/SHOULDER BAG either. The best bag for safety of belongings for both men and women is a cross-body bag, worn messenger style, and positioned on the front of your body. Obviously no one can pickpocket you from the front, without you knowing about it. Shoulder bags aren’t advisable as pickpockets are professionals at “working” a zip without you even knowing it’s happened. Men, keep wallets and phones in your front pant pockets.
- Keep a photocopy of your passport locked in you safe at the hotel
- Keep a soft/electronic copy of your passport accessible via your email
- Travel Insurance, if you can’t afford it, you really can’t afford to travel.
- Keep a copy of your Travel Insurance information, including policy number with you written down somewhere.
- Arriving at the airport in Paris, several people may approach you soliciting their services to “drive” you to your destination. Unless you have a prearranged driver amongst this group, ignore these propositions and head straight for the clearly marked TAXI cab rank outside the exist doors. Exit in French reads as “SORTIE”
- The Gold Ring Scam
There are variations on this, but they all seem to involve a gold ring. Either a gold ring lies on the ground in front of a “needy” looking person. The objective is in the hope that you, being a kind hearted person, will stop to pick it up and ask if it is theirs. Surprisingly, many people do fall for this. I implore you, DO NOT TOUCH THE RING! If you do the person becomes miraculously “able”, and in a very intimidating manner demands money as “you touch, you pay”.
Another variation, someone will drop a gold ring directly in front of you and quickly stoop to pick it up. Quickly, they’ll hold it out to you saying, “You dropped this”. It seems to be human nature as a reflex to take what is extended in front of us, (as several people fall for this too), only to realise very quickly they have walked in to a scam.
- The Clipboard, along with “Do You Speak English” Scam
Often seen at several high traffic tourist locations, and major monuments, there are several people, (usually girls/females) walking around with clipboards in hand. Many of them approach asking, “Do you speak English?” Once again, I implore you, continue walking right passed. A simple shake of your head, or a firm “No”, if they are persistent is all that’s needed. They move on very quickly. The objective of the scam? We’ve established they ask if you speak English, then they explain they are raising funds for a charity organisation and request a signature as a petition. Once you have signed it, somehow, they then demand you pay them money. Unbeknown to you, somehow you’ve now “made this commitment” (according to them).
- The Bracelet Scam
A piece of rope or twine is extended towards your wrist. The “artist” sets about weaving a handmade bracelet on your wrist. Upon completion, then demands euro. Some people are happy to partake in such antics, however, it is a scam, and for those that aren’t aware of it, and who aren’t willing to pay the euro’s being demanded once the bracelet has been completed, may be left feeling very unsettled after the confrontation.
- Unlike in Australia and America, where the social expectation is such that upon entering a store, it is customary for the sales assistant to first greet the customer, Paris (France) is very different. Here the idea is that when you as the customer enters a store, you have stepped foot within the territory of another person, and it is the social expectation that you (as the customer) acknowledge the person within the store with a pleasant “Bonjour”. You have entered their territory. I can attest to doing this without fail, whether the person was friendly or surly, made no difference, I would offer a “Bonjour” regardless, and it certainly opened doors for me.
- Manners are highly regarded amongst the French. Thank you (Merci), Bonjour, (hello), Bonsoir (good evening), S’il vous plait (please) and Pardon, (sorry) are some of the best phrases that will make interactions more pleasant for you. Trust me when I say, use them as frequently as possible.
- Despite living in this digital age, where everything is photographed for the purpose of blogs, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or video recorded for YouTube, not all stores will look kindly upon you simply whipping out your camera without first asking for permission. In 2013, when I first visited Paris, the Laduree along the Champs Elysees for instance, and Pouchkine located within the beautiful Printemps department store, requested that I refrain from taking photos within their shop. When I returned in March 2015, I had perfected the phrase in French, ‘May I please use my camera to take a photo”. The ‘no’s” from 2013, transformed to “yes”. It may be that culturally it is becoming more acceptable to do so, but I also think showing the respect to ask permission first changes the attitude of many French.
Sometimes, you may have to pay 1-2 euro to use public toilets depending on where they are located. If they are free standing, built on the street, this is usually the case, and often toilet paper has run out. My suggestion to avoid this inconvenience, when stopping for lunch at a café or restaurant, try and use the restrooms there. Or large department stores, as they do not charge to use the rest rooms.