Capital: French Republic
Area: 547,030 sq km
Population: 60.4 million
Capital City: Paris
France is the heart of Europe and its largest country. It is bordered to the north by the English Channel (La Manche), the northeast by Belgium and Luxembourg, the east by Germany, Switzerland and Italy, the south by the Mediterranean (with Monaco as a coastal enclave between Nice and the Italian frontier), the southwest by Spain and Andorra, and the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The French republic includes the island of Corsica, southeast of Nice, and made up of two départements. The country has some 2900km (1800 miles) of coastline.
In the Alps near the Italian and Swiss borders is western Europe’s highest point – Mont Blanc (15,781 ft; 4,810 m). The forest-covered Vosges Mountains are in the northeast, and the Pyrénées are along the Spanish border, while the country has four river basins – the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne and the Rhône.
France operates on CET (Central European Time), which is GMT + 1.
French is the official language, but there are many regional dialects. Basque is spoken as a first language by some people in the southwest, and Breton by some in Brittany. Corsican, closely related to Italian dialect, is spoken by those in Corsica. Many people, particularly those connected with tourism in the major areas, speak good English.
The climate in France varies according to region. There is a temperate climate in the north, while northeastern areas have a more continental climate with warm summers and colder winters. In the North, rainfall is distributed throughout the year with some snow likely in winter. The Jura Mountains have an alpine climate, while Lorraine, sheltered by bordering hills, has a relatively mild climate.
A Mediterranean climate exists on the Riviera, and in Provence and Roussillon. Weather in the French Alps is variable, with mild sunny summers and heavy snow in winter. Continental weather is present in Auvergne, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. Very strong winds (such as the Mistral) can occur throughout the entire South.
The Atlantic influences the climate of the western coastal areas from the Loire to the Basque region; the weather is temperate and relatively mild with rainfall distributed throughout the year. Summers can be very hot and sunny. Inland areas are also mild and the French slopes of the Pyrénées are reputed for their sunshine record.
France is one of 12 European Union countries whose common official currency is the euro (€). 1 euro is divided into 100 cents. The coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euros. The notes are differentiated by their size and colour and come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros.
VAT and Tax Refunds
In order to be eligible for a VAT refund, The purchase you are making must be for your own use and not for business purposes. The total value of your purchases, including tax, in the same shop, on the same day, must be a minimum of €175.
When you buy the goods the retailer will give you an export sales form consisting of three sheets which must be signed by the retailer and yourself if you wish to apply for a VAT refund. You must present the goods and the form to Customs when you leave France – French Customs will remove the pink and yellow sheets (the first for the retailer and the second for statistical purposes. After having checked and certified it, the Customs service will return to you the green sheet, which you must keep in case of any future dispute.
In all cases the retailer will pay you, according to your instructions at time of purchase, the sum shown on the form (in box B/3) as the VAT refund. The retailer may also pay you the VAT refund at the time of purchase (Box B/2 on the form). This does not exempt you from the formalities described above.
Most shops, businesses, information services, museums and banks in France stay open all day. Exceptions are the smaller shops and enterprises, which may close for lunch sometime between 12.30pm and 2pm. Basic hours of business are from 8 or 9am to 6.30 or 7.30pm Monday to Saturday for the big shops, and Tuesday to Saturday for smaller shops (some of the smaller shops may open on Monday afternoon). Some boulangeries and food shops do stay open on days when others close – on Sunday normally until noon. In resort areas, some shops will operate longer opening hours.
The current in France is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Two-pin plugs are widely used and adaptors are recommended.