Overview of France

Information on French history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in France...


Metropolitan France is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic ocean and the English Channel and has borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Andorra. France also has borders with Suriname and Brazil through it's department, French Guiana, and with the Netherlands through the Collectivity of Saint Martin in the Caribbean.

The overseas departments are Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Mayotte and la Réunion; French overseas islands include French Polynesia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the surface area of Metropolitan France is 543,965 Km2 and 632,759 Km2 including overseas departments. Most of the country is flat with hills in the north and west and mountainous regions to the south west (Pyrenées) and south east (French Alps). The highest point is Mont Blanc at 4,807m.

Travelling to France is relatively easy with Paris Charles de Gaulle airport being a central international airport hub of Europe, and many ferry ports on the English Channel and Mediterranean coast. Once within France, a number of options are available for getting around the country; domestic flights, train - including the high-speed TGV trains for long distances - buses and coach.


France used to be part of the Celtic territory, known as Gaul. Its name is derived from the Latin word Francia, meaning Country of the Franks, after the Germanic people who conquered the region in the 5th century. During the late 5th century, the ruler Clovis I united most of Gaul, with Frankish dominance for the next few hundred years.

Following the treaty of Verdun (843), Charlemagne's empire was established as three independent kingdoms, one of which was France. The Kingdom's prominence grew under the rule of the House of Capet. After the death of the last Capetian monarch in 1337, the Kingdom suffered a succession crisis that led to the Hundred Years War, with the House of Valois eventually victorious in 1453.

The next few centuries were marked by the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation and a number of religious conflicts. The French Revolution (1789-94) and the overthrow of the monarchy in the late 18th Century, led to a short period of government as a Republic until Napoleon Bonaparte declared the French Empire. Several regime changed followed after Napoleon's defeat in the Napoleonic Wars and after the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Third Republic was established.

During World War I (1914-18), France suffered great losses of troops. It was one of the Triple Entente (Allied Powers) and fought against the Central Powers alongside Russia, the United Kingdom and their allies. During World War II, France was defeated by Nazi Germany and was occupied from June 1940 until Allied Forces liberated the country in 1944.

France faced may other problems after the war and in 1958, General de Gaulle was called upon to head the government and prevent civil war. He became president in December 1958.

France is a leading member of the European Union, the United Nations and NATO and has a continuing strong political and economic influence in the world.

Politics and Government

Under the President of the French Republic, France is governed as a democratic republic with an executive, a legislative and a judicial branch. Legislative power is executed by the President and the Prime Minister (appointed by the President). The president is elected for a five year term.


France is one of the worlds wealthiest nations and is currently ranked fifth largest and wealthiest economy in the world.

The economy is supported by France's nuclear energy sector, which accounts for 78 percent of the French electricity supply.  The agricultural sector of the economy is the largest in the European Union, with provinces in France exporting different products internationally. Northern France is renowned for its wheat farms, with dairy products, pork, poultry, and apple production in the west of France. Fruits, vegetables, and wine are primarily produced and exported from central to southern France and beef is produced and exported from central France.


Crime rates in France are similar to neighbouring European countries. The level of crime is said to be on the rise but it is generally considered a safe country. However, violent crimes do occur, especially in large cities.

It is more likely for visitors to fall victim to car crime, thefts or pick-pocketing. It is advised not to leave any possessions in unattended vehicles and be aware of muggers and pick pocketing when in public.

The worst area for crime is currently the South Coast along the Mediterranean, as this is a hub for visitors during the summer months.

Federal government establishes criminal law in France and there is currently no death penalty. The maximum prison sentence  in France is 30 years. Law enforcement is the responsibility of three organisations; the Police Nationale, the Gendarmerie Nationale and the Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects.

Foreigners Living in France

France is a multicultural nation with a large and increasing population of expatriates from around the world. The majority are from European nations.

  • INSEE provide details of immigration figures

France has a history of a very liberal immigration policy which has stirred some unrest in the French government over recent years. In an effort to strengthen French national identity and combat issues of unemployment, a more stringent immigration policy relating to employment requirements and French language capability is being imposed by the government.


The French tourism industry is a major revenue earner for the French economy and France is currently ranked number one tourist destination in the world. Whether it is skiing in the French alps or sunning on the beaches of the Côte d'Azur, France welcomes millions of tourists ever year.

The capital city, Paris, is world renowned romantic capital of the world. The iconic Eiffel tower and the Louvre are visited by millions of tourists every year, in all seasons. The wine regions in central and south France are also a popular tourist destination, with guided bus and bike tours throughout the wine regions.

In the winter, the French Alps become a playground for skiers and boarders from around Europe and beyond, as well as many travelling to France to work in resorts for the winter season.