France Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan & Jane Fisher   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.

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France

Gare de Lyon, Paris.


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.

Many Types of Trains

Note that France offers a variety of trains, services, and fares: RER, Transilien, TGV, idTGV, TER, Intercité, Thalys, Eurostar, Ouigo.

Have a look at the different types of French trains.

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: 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.

In Paris train stations, for example, you'll see ticket machines for Île-de-France (local and regional) trains, and other machines for Grandes lignes (mainline national and international trains).

SNCF Grandes Lignes ticket machine, Paris, France Paris & Île-de-France train ticket machine, Paris, France
Intercity & international
ticket machine
City & regional ticket machine

Touch the screen, select your language, and follow the instructions:

SNCF ticket machine screen, Paris, France
Welcome screen: note the language choices, lower left:
English, French, German, Italian, Spanish...

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):

Sign for Billetterie Grandes Lignes, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France
This is a sign for the mainline trains ticket office.
The office for local and regional trains may be in a different location.

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.

Grandes Lignes ticket office, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France
Grandes lignes ticket office, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France.
Nowhere does it say Billetterie or Ticket Office...

Language is usually not a problem if your itinerary is simple, such as "I want a one-way (aller) or round-trip/return (aller-retour) ticket for one adult (adulte) from Paris to Reims."

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.

  Composteur de billets at Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France

A composteur:
validate your paper ticket!

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.

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.

There are no validation machines on the platforms or on the train! Validate before going to the train platform and boarding your train.


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.

About French Trains

Types of French Trains

Onboard a French Train

TGV High-Speed Trains

Paris Train Stations

Air Travel to & in France

Car Travel in France

Car Hire/Rental

Bus Travel

Transport in Paris

Transport in France


Paris Girls Secret Society, a novel by Tom Brosnahan


SNCF Paris & Île-de-France train ticket machine

Is this where you buy your train ticket? Do you have the right kind of payment? There's a lot to learn...

Grandes lignes ticket turnstiles, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France
Grandes lignes ticket turnstiles, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France: scan your e-ticket QR or barcode as you pass the turnstile...

Eticket scanner, Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France
Scan your e-ticket here...

Paris Girls Secret Society, the new novel by Tom Brosnahan

FTP on Facebook    
Pinterest    Twitter