Navigating the Transport System in Paris
Once you've unpacked your boxes and unwrapped the furnishings, what's next is figuring out how your new home city works in terms of moving people. What's the best and fastest way to get from Point A to Point B in Paris? Is taking the Paris public transportation system better than getting a car? In this expat guide to the City of Lights, familiarize yourself with navigating the transport system in Paris like a local in no time.
Europe's Global Hub
Paris has an integrated and efficient transport infrastructure to ease geographic mobility inside and outside the region. These include not only Paris airports but also its public transport systems of trains and rail networks, roads, buses, and taxis.
The three international airports, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly and Le Bourget, serve as the country's major gateway to the rest of Europe and the world, easing travel to over 119 countries. The region is further connected via 1,280 kilometers of metro, train and tramway networks. These include the 14 lines of the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), the state-owned railway company which also operates the high-speed rail network TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). There are over 385 stations throughout, and nearly 650 trains are in operation during rush hour simultaneously. This is complemented by bus lines that include 250 "green" buses which run on electricity or gas, and 47-night buses that cover 200 towns and cities.
The Paris Public Transport System
The "Urban Transportation Systems" report by McKinsey & Company placed Paris' public transport in third place, buoyed by high scores on affordability and safety. While the city may have one of the highest costs of living in the world, its transport system was cited as "offering value for money" versus other European cities.
The public transport in Paris is governed by the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), which covers all transport from within and extending from the capital. On the other hand, the SNCF takes responsibility for all transport outside of Paris and entering the city.
In the works is the Grand Paris project which is envisioned to transform the Paris metropolitan area with the addition of 200 kilometers of automated metro lines, and 72 new stations to carry up to 2 million passengers a day. The project also plans to connect the three Paris airports to the research and development hubs, and business districts in the Paris Region.
Tickets and Navigo
Paris is divided into five zones that make it easy to calculate fares based on how many zones are traveled. Zones 1 and 2 cover the city center and its immediate vicinity, and zones 3 to 5 extend to the rest of Île-de-France.
"t+" is the name given to the standard single ticket used in the Paris public transport systems. It can be purchased per unit at the cost of EUR 1.90, or in a pack of ten – a carnet – priced at EUR 14.90. The t+ ticket can be used for multiple transfers within one and half hour from the first ride, and unlimited transfers using the same mode of transport. There are also other ticketing options available, including daily passes called Mobilis, and Ticket Jeunes for young people. Get more information about the t+ here.
The more popular option is the Navigo card (Carte Navigo), which used to be the Navigo pass, a contactless RFID smart card that can be bought at a station or linked to the account of anyone who lives or works in the Greater Paris Region. Daily, weekly and monthly Navigo cards are available and may be topped up easily, while the yearly card can be bought as a one-time purchase or in monthly payments. A monthly pass is more affordable in Paris at EUR 75 compared to a similar one in London at EUR 165. Both monthly and yearly cards offer unlimited travel across all zones.
The Paris Métro
The Paris Métro is undoubtedly the number one mode of transport in Paris and is the second busiest metro system in Europe. This rapid transit system operates underground within the city limits, and is 214 kilometers long with 16 lines and 302 stations throughout, with around 245 Métro stations located within the city of Paris itself.
The RER, Transilien, and TGV
The RER (Réseau Express Régional)express trains connect the center of Paris to its suburbs, as well as the rest of the Paris Region. Operating above and underground, the RER lines are labeled A to E and are considerably faster than the Paris Métro. Several RER stations are also shared with the Paris Métro lines.
On the other hand, the Transilien lines serve to connect other suburban locations, not within reach of the RER. The SCNF, which operates the Transilien, also runs the high-speed rail service TGV. It connects all the main cities in France and goes as far as Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Luxembourg.
The SCNF also maintains the Gare du Nord station, one of the six terminus stations for Paris, and the busiest railway station in Europe. It connects to the Métro, RER and Paris buses, and to trains traveling to Northern France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The Paris bus system helps integrate travel throughout the suburban areas and bus stops provide real-time information. Paris bus routes are numbered and run from morning until 9:30 pm or until midnight, and the night buses – known as Noctilien – operate between 12:30 am and 5:30 am, and every 30 minutes during weekends.
Taxis and Ride-Sharing
Plenty of taxicabs ply the streets of Paris and are relatively affordable. But for expats unable to speak French, ride-sharing service Uber is quite convenient. This service provides a great alternative to booking or hailing taxis.
Driving in Paris
Paris suffers from traffic congestion, and residents prefer to use the public transport network than drive a car. Parking is also a problem. For expats driving in Paris, parking in the streets requires a Paris Carte (prepaid card) as the parking meters don't accept coins. Parking fees and fines also increased in 2018, as the French government allows each city to set the price for parking meters and fines. Cars not displaying a proper parking ticket in central Paris will be fined EUR 50.
Driving in France using a license issued by a foreign country is allowed under certain conditions. Those with licenses issued by an EU member state are valid in France indefinitely. Licenses issued by a non-European country are valid for use in France up to one year based on the starting date of your first French residence permit. If you have a VLS-TS visa (long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit), it will be based on the date of its approval by the French Immigration and Citizenship Office with the accompanying sticker and stamp on your passport.
Expats with a non-European driver's license coming from a country with a bilateral agreement with France must exchange their foreign license for a French license after their first year of residence. Those holding licenses issued by countries outside of the EU that are not on the bilateral agreement list must take the French driving test. For more information about driving in France, please visit the Driving section of Business France.