|How to Buy Train Tickets in France|
|It used to be easy. Now it's complicated. It's worth it to learn in advance the best way to buy tickets for your train trips in France.|
Buying train tickets in France can be challenging for a variety of reasons.
If you don't know how to buy your ticket, in the time it takes you to learn, you may miss your train.
Three Ways to Buy Tickets
1. Buy Your Ticket Online, in Advance
This is best, if it's possible for you. No language barrier, no worry that your credit or debit card won't be accepted, no ticket-machine learning curve, no search for a ticket office.
SNCF, France's national railway company, operates numerous websites in many languages. Try this one: http://uk.voyages-sncf.com/en/. Click on the flag in the upper-right-hand corner for a drop-down menu of other languages.
Input the details of your proposed trip: From, To, Single/One-Way or Return/Round-Trip, date and time, Standard, Premium, First Class, number of passengers, etc.
Click Search and you'll see a variety of departures, travel times, and fares for standard SNCF regional, national and international trains. (The cheapest trains and fares, idTGV and Ouigo, won't be among the choices—you must go to those separate websites for them. More...)
Having chosen your departure time and fare, you should be able to print your tickets—if you have a computer printer available—or download a ticket to your smartphone. If you can't do either of these, you may be able to write down a reservation code and retrieve your ticket either from a ticket machine at the departure station, or from a ticket agent there.
2. Ticket Machines
At train stations you will see ticket machines of several types.
Touch the screen, select your language, and follow the instructions:
Ticket machines accept only credit cards with chips (puce) or RFID, or euro currency (notes and coins). If your ticket is for a short trip on a local or regional train, it may be easy enough to pay with 2€ and 1€ coins or small notes/bills. For Grandes lignes tickets, you will need an acceptable credit or debit card. More...
3. Ticket Agents
Large urban stations and most city and large-town train stations have human ticket agents from whom you can purchase tickets with cash euros (notes/bills and coins), with chip credit cards, and in some cases with the old American-style magnetic-strip-and-signature credit cards.
Follow the signs to the Billetterie (Ticket Office):
Allow plenty of time to get through the ticket-buying process. There may be a waiting line for the ticket agent(s), perhaps as much as 15 or 20 minutes long.
The agent(s) may speak no language but French. In large stations, some agents may speak English and perhaps other languages.
Validate Your Ticket!
Many train tickets are "open tickets," valid for any train on a given route at any date or time. If you have such a ticket, you must validate it—have it stamped with the date and time of your train—before boarding to indicate that it has been used.
If you fail to validate your ticket, an inspector aboard the train may levy a substantial fine for your failure to validate.
If you bought your ticket for a particular train on a particular date and time, it is probably précomposté (pre-validated). Most tickets bought online, and many bought from ticket machines and ticket agents, are pre-validated, especially tickets for discounted fares available only on that particular train. Read your ticket. If you see a specific train number, date and time, your ticket is pre-validated and you need do nothing else.
Validate Before Boarding
If you have an open ticket good for any train on any date and time, be sure to validate it before boarding the train. You cannot validate a ticket on the train!
If you have a paper ticket issued from a ticket machine or ticket agent, validation (compostage) is done by inserting your ticket in a yellow validation machine (composteur) at the entrance to the train platform.
The composteur prints the date, time and some other numbers on the end of your ticket.
If your ticket is an e-ticket on your smartphone, you may need to scan your ticket's QR or barcode at a turnstile at the boarding gate (see the photos in the right-hand column of this page).
Validating on the Train
If you have neglected to validate your ticket before boarding the train and the train has departed, make your way to the rear of the train, find the conductor (Chef de Bord), show him or her your ticket, and the conductor will validate it, saving you from legal and financial embarassment.
If you wait at your seat and the conductor comes through checking tickets and finds yours unvalidated, you may be subject to the fine.