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Getting around in Paris is easy and relatively inexpensive on the city’s extensive and efficient public transport network of buses, trains, Metro and trams. With public transport covering all corners of the city, there's really no need for expats to own a car in Paris. It's also worth noting that driving in Paris can often be a hair-raising experience.
Public transport in Paris
Most of the transport network in Paris is run by government-subsidised RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). The rest of the RER and Transilien are run by the state-owned SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), whose rail network covers the whole of France. Using the different transport systems interchangeably is relatively easy, as tickets are usually valid across all systems.
Public transport in Paris is divided into six zones, and prices vary depending on how many zones one travels across. Various packages are available. Which one an expat chooses will depend on the length of their stay in the city and the frequency of their travel on public transport.
For those staying in Paris for the long term, the most cost-effective way of using public transport is to get a travel card that allows unlimited travel on the Metro, RER and buses. These can be loaded on a weekly (Navigo Découverte) or monthly (Navigo Mensuel) basis and can be recharged at Navigo machines found in most Metro and RER stations. To buy a Navigo card, travellers need proof of their Parisian address and a passport photo.
Tickets are also sold at kiosks and automated machines in Metro and RER stations. It's usually more economical to buy a package of 10 tickets (carnet de dix). Tickets have to be inserted at the turnstiles in the subway and RER stations or shown to the driver on a bus. Children under the age of four travel free, and kids aged four to 10 years are charged half price.
The lauded Paris Metro (Metropolitan) is one of the most extensive in the world, consisting of 16 lines and around 300 stations across the city. Metro stations are marked with a big 'M' or 'Metro' sign. Exits from stations are indicated by the white-on-blue sortie (exit) signs.
Metro lines are identified on maps by number and colour, with the direction of travel indicated by the name of the destination terminal. Parisians usually refer to the line number. The Metro runs from 5.30am to 12.40am from Sunday to Thursday and 5.30am to 2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Metro cars aren't air-conditioned, so they can be uncomfortably hot during the hot summer months, especially during rush hour when they are packed with commuters. Metro lines 1, 4 and 13 are normally the most congested during this time.
The RER (Réseau Express Régional) is a network of regional trains that run through the heart of Paris into the suburbs of the city and throughout the wider Île-de-France region. The RER has five lines in Paris, labelled from A to E. Different branches of these lines are labelled by number.
The RER trains are faster than the Metro, but this is mostly because there are fewer stops along the way. This system runs daily from 5.30am to 1am, and links up and shares stations with the Metro in places.
In addition to the RER system, there are many suburban train lines (Transilien) departing from the main train stations.
Paris has a well-developed bus network, interconnecting all suburban areas. Bus routes are numbered, and buses usually run from 6.30am to 9.30pm, though some lines also run till midnight. Although buses cover a wider area than the Metro, they have to contend with traffic and can take considerably longer to reach their intended destination.
Night buses, known as Noctilien, typically operate hourly between 12.30am and 5.30am and every 30 minutes over weekends. Most of the lines leave from Place du Châtelet and serve the main Metro and RER stations as well as major streets.
The tram network in Paris has undergone development in recent years. The city currently has 13 tram lines, some of which travel far into the suburbs.
Taxis and ride-sharing services in Paris
Taxis in Paris are comparatively cheap and easy to hail on the street. They are visible by the sign on the roof of the car, which is lit up if they are vacant. There are also numerous taxi stations throughout the city, and they can be booked ahead of time over the phone. Expats should be aware that the meter may start running from the moment the taxi driver heads to the pick-up point.
Ride-sharing services such as Uber are readily available in Paris. These can be a particularly helpful option for expats who can't speak French, as they lower the risk of miscommunication with drivers.
Cycling in Paris
Paris has become a cyclist-friendly city, and cyclists are generally respected on the road. The city’s Velib bicycle hire scheme has made over 20,000 bicycles available at hire points across the city. A bicycle can be picked up at one point in the city and returned to another. Bicycles can be hired for a day or a week, allowing for an unlimited number of journeys during that time. More recently, the scheme has expanded to include electric bikes in an attempt to encourage a broader demographic to take up the more environmentally friendly option.
Driving in Paris
Driving in Paris can be a scary experience. Traffic is often congested, and finding parking can be frustrating and expensive, especially in popular tourist areas. Most Parisians don’t own cars, rather opting to use the city’s extensive public transport network. Expats driving in Paris who want to park on the streets will need a Paris Carte (prepaid card), as parking meters don’t take coins.
►Learn more about the different districts in Paris in Areas and Suburbs in Paris
►Learn more about transportation in France in Transport and Driving in France
"The public transport is quite extensive and reasonably affordable, but certainly not a pleasant trip. It’s dirty, old, and often not air-conditioned. Overcrowding on metro cars and buses is common. This is nothing like the metros you would find in Korea. Inter-city travel is also much more expensive in France than Korea." Read more about Canadian expat Dorian's experiences in Paris.
Are you an expat living in Paris?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Paris. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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