Crime & Safety Issues
With a fascinating history, unique culture, delicious food, stunning architecture, and beautiful countryside, there’s no surprise that the French Riviera is one of the most visited luxury travel destinations in the world. You’ll notice that all of the villas have gates, high fences, and bars or shutters on their windows. These aren’t for aesthetics, they’re for safety.
It is important to remember that whilst in France, anyone who witnesses an accident and does not try to assist the victim – at least by summoning help – is committing a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to €75,000 and a possible prison term of five years. For assistance in any emergency situation, dial 112.
Types of Crimes Targeting Tourists (& Locals)
The French Riviera is full of tourists — and wealthy ones. So it’s no wonder it’s also full of criminals. Here’s what to watch out for:
The main type of crime in France is break-ins which amounts to almost half of the reported incidents, despite only 56% of break-ins being reported (which tells you what people think of the police and their lack of effort). There’s a break-in every two minutes in France, and the French Riviera has the most break-ins of any region, with roughly 8,000 break-ins every year.
Criminals commonly break in at night and use gas to sedate their victims in the victim’s villa, hotel suite or apartment (they often enter via a terrace or balcony). They then take their time and steal everything of value — including the watches and wedding rings that the victims were wearing as they slept (more on this in this detailed warning about burglaries and gassings).
There’s a lack of police action and sentences (even for very violent break-ins) are shockingly minimal, keeping criminals on the street and incentivizing new criminal gangs to set up shop in France.
Who’s behind the burglaries: Burglaries in France are often blamed on crime gangs from abroad, but in actuality French men are mostly to blame. Police arrested 20,800 people on suspicion of being behind the 250,000 break-ins in France in 2019. The vast majority where men, 25% of those were under 18 and the rest under 30. While 74% of those arrested on suspicion of the crimes, 74% were French nationals, 11% from Africa and 11% from another European country. That said, in the French Riviera in particular, human-trafficking gangs from developing countries often make headlines for break-in rings.
The targets: Jewelry is the most stolen item during burglaries in France, Crime Observatory reported. Next in line are electronics (31%) and then money (29%).
Tips to reduce risk: Tourists should make sure to deadbolt the doors and lock the windows at night. Do not travel with expensive possessions, rent a fancy car, or keep a lot of cash. Don’t show off on social media, or tag your location. Don’t tell strangers where you’re staying or that you’re on holiday.
Another common crime is pick-pocketing; which is more concentrated around larger towns or cities, and on public transportation. French gangs and gangs from less wealthy countries (notably Russia and Romania) traffic young women and force them to work in groups to rob people via pick-pocketing. They surround victims and distract them while one of the young women grabs their valuables from their purse, bag or pockets.
Sometimes a scooter will swerve close to a victim and grab their bag or iPhone. Or they will pull up alongside a car and grab valuables through an open window. Some violent criminals will open car doors at stoplights to rob people. Keep your car doors locked and don’t carry anything too valuable.
There are also many gassings on trains. A thief will come up behind your seat, reach over and chloroform you, then take your belongings while you’re unconscious. This especially happens at night and near Marseille. In more crowded trains, they grab your belongings while the train is at a station, then exit the train and run away before you can catch them.
Thefts on Yachts
One less publicized yet frequent crime is the targeting of yachts and their crew. There have been a number of cases, particularly in Antibes, where crew have been mugged when returning to their yacht after a night out. Yachts moored in marinas throughout the French Riviera, where security tends to be lax, are sometimes boarded by thieves and have valuable items stolen.
Big events such as the Cannes Film Festival are targets. Cannes has become increasingly dangerous during the festival, with gangs of petty criminals looking for rich pickings. Hotel break-ins, purse snatchings and muggings have become commonplace.
Many criminals and prostitutes come to the area to profit from big events. Prostitutes often double as thieves, with groups boarding yachts and while the men are distracted, one excuses herself to go to the bathroom and instead goes from room to room stealing watches, passports, cash, and other valuables.
Violent crime such as incidents of sexual assault and gun crime are seen as being relatively low compared to other areas around the world when you look at population numbers, but it is on the rise, and according to a number of reports it is more dangerous the further south you travel. In particular the French Riviera cities of Marseille, Nice and Corsica have by far the highest crime rates (more about those cities below), where gun crime and gang killings are not uncommon.
While these incidents usually don’t directly affect travelers to the area, it is something to bear in mind as the organized crime gangs which operate have a distinct hierarchy, and most start at the bottom rung of opportunistic, petty crime and work their way up.
If someone threatens you for your watch or wallet, do NOT resist — give it to them. There are many, many examples of men who have resisted and have ended up in the hospital for weeks, fighting for their lives after taking a bad beating. This is another reason why it’s best to leave your luxury items at home.
The French Riviera area saw an average of 48 murders per year over the last three years.
Issues with Crime Reporting
Tourists often don’t report incidents. Due to the region relying heavily upon tourism, it is well known that a high number of incidents go unreported and certainly do not get published into the public domain. It’s quite often the case where foreigners, usually tourists, are the victims of crime in the south of France. Viewed as being easy prey, foreigners are typically less familiar with their surroundings, are more relaxed in ‘holiday mode’ and rarely want to undergo the added hassle of reporting the crime to the French police. Hotels also often discourage tourists from reporting a crime, as they don’t want the crime to be on the record since they may be legally liable. Also, if the tourist doesn’t report the incident, the hotel can get the victim’s online reviews taken down more easily.
Those working in the tourism and real estate industries suppress information online. In online forums like TripAdvisor, locals (who are employed in industries that make money off foreigners) often pose as impartial commenters while they troll conversations about crime and deny that the area has any crime problem. Many Facebook groups are operated by those working in the tourism industry who have a financial incentive to suppress the truth about the risks, and when comments about crime are posted in their Facebook groups, they are often quickly deleted.
French police have a reputation for not taking crime seriously. In France, there are several issues that make the police ineffective. For one, it’s very difficult to get fired, even if you’re not doing your job. This is doubly true for government workers like police. Secondly, the police feel that there is little they can do to catch criminals (the laws in France restrict police to a point where justice suffers), so they discourage victims from officially reporting crimes. They don’t want their crime statistics to look even worse, since they know they won’t catch the thieves. The reputation is that police in France are slow to respond, refuse to speak English, and most of the time they tell you there’s nothing that can be done. This, of course, only serves to embolden and encourage criminals.
All this makes it difficult to ascertain a true reflection of the threat posed within certain regions, however, with that said, due to our local intelligence sources within certain regions we are able to highlight some of the main concerns and risks posed when travelling to and from certain areas around the southern coast.
If you've been a victim of a crime, you can report it to the police online.
Tips to Avoid Crime
The fact that the French Riviera attracts the wealthiest tourists from around the world is not lost on local con artists, who have come up with a number of scams to outwit travelers of their hard-earned cash. Knowing what to watch out for, and taking a few simple precautions that might not be necessary back home, can make the difference between a great trip and a fiasco:
- Do not bring valuable items like top-tier designer handbags, expensive jewelry, watches worth over $5,000, or wads of cash to the French Riviera.
- Be careful when on the move. The most common types of crimes are pickpockets who operate on public transport at times when it is very crowded. This has also been used against pedestrians walking with purses, bags or cameras slung over their street-side shoulder. As for personal safety on public transport, you should be aware that very late trains – approaching midnight – on the western side (Nice – Cannes – St Raphael – Marseilles) do not have a good reputation. Many stations are not staffed and trains run largely empty, so lone travellers may prefer to avoid late travel on these routes if possible. Be aware of any member of the public who appears to be pushing into queues to cause distraction as this is a popular technique used by gangs of pickpockets; as one member causes the distraction, the other member targets your belongings. The same technique is also used by thieves and pickpockets at popular tourist locations and at cash machines.
- Take sensible precautions to help protect yourself against street crime. Keep important documents and valuables inside your bags by using inside compartments and carry your bag across your body rather than over your shoulder which will make it more difficult to steal. If the strap is short, carry your bag across your chest rather than on your shoulder. Don’t flash around any valuables or cash.
- You are strongly advised to keep copies of the identification page of your passport, as well as your birth certificate, driver’s license, train or plane tickets and credit cards. Keep originals and copies in a safe but in separate places, preferable secure online. If possible, consider scanning these documents and saving the files in your email account or on an encrypted platform like Sync.com. This will ensure that your important details are always backed up and accessible to you.
- Keep a list of emergency telephone numbers to contact banks if credit cards are stolen or lost. It is a lot harder to try to find this information after the event.
- There is a high frequency of vehicle break-ins. Leave nothing in view in the vehicle and above all do not leave valuable objects, passports, money or credit cards in a vehicle. Never leave personal belongings unattended and use secure parking facilities, especially overnight. Be vigilant when renting automobiles, as rented vehicles are a target of choice. When driving be suspicious if individuals signal for you to stop, it is common for thieves to obstruct a road or distract the driver by flashing headlights with the sole purpose to get you to stop your vehicle. It is then, once you have stopped that they will seize the opportunity to steal your bags or other valuable objects. Be especially vigilant when stopped at traffic lights, as bags are often snatched from the front passenger seat by thieves travelling on scooters. Keep windows closed and doors locked at all times.
- Be aware that there have recently been cases of “homejacking” – where thieves break into villas and, finding the car keys left on display, steal the rental car as well. Because the car was not “taken by force” (ie. you aren’t in possession of the car keys), renters have found themselves not covered by rental insurance and liable for the whole replacement value of the car.
- In a sidewalk café, put one purse strap under the leg of your chair, and don’t set your wallet or phone on the table or it could get whisked away in a blink of an eye.
- Beach grabs are on the rise: if you go for a dip, don’t leave your stuff unattended, and if you are sunbathing, better to use your purse for a pillow rather than have it just lying there, waiting to be plucked. Better yet, don’t take anything to the beach that would result in heartbreak if stolen.
- If you rent a villa, be alert and ensure the windows and doors are kept locked and deadbolted, especially at night.
- There are news reports of robbers posing as fake Police, using a blue flashing light on their car, pulling over drivers to then demand wallets, mobile phones, and other valuables. These thefts are occurring on motorways at night. Something to be careful of if you’re driving.
- Street robbers can use violence against their victims, with some even being killed as a result. Be cautious of gangs on the street corners (especially in Marseille and Nice) who are on the lookout for potential victims. If you are being robbed, give the robbers what they ask for. Nothing is worth losing your life.
- Emergency numbers are, for fire/rescue (18), police (17), and medical emergencies (15). If you have any concerns it may be a good idea to program them into your mobile phone before arrival. There is also a European Union-wide emergency number, 112, that will connect you with an operator who speaks both English and the language of the country you are in.
All this advice is not intended to scare you off the South of France, but by noting it, you should enjoy a more stress-free holiday, and a less stressful one in the event of unexpected problems.
The key to having an incident free stay on the French Riviera is to stay relaxed but remain vigilant. Pay attention to crime reports in the area and where possible, seek local advice from a trusted source. Always be aware of the location of your valuables whether it’s your passport, wallet, designer handbag or expensive watch. Remain in well-populated areas and don’t stray of the beaten track, especially at night. Most importantly, always put yourself in the mind of the criminal and ask yourself whether you’re presenting an easy target. If you are, then do something about it.
The crimes highlighted above are certainly not exclusive to the French Riviera. Most of these crimes happen in many of the world’s major cites on a daily basis. Remaining vigilant and applying a litle common sense is usually all that’s needed to ensure that your stay is memorable for the right reasons.
Further Analysis: By City
Here is a detailed crime analysis of the most dangerous locations, broken down by city:
- Marseille: Crime rates are over 5 times higher than any other city in France, especially the murder rate.
- Corsica: The highest murder rate in Western Europe.
- Nice: Rife with pickpocketers and petty thieves.
- This website will let you drill down on the type and amount of reported crimes by area.
The Safest Area: Monaco
The safest city on the French Riviera (and perhaps in the world) is Monaco. With nation-wide video surveillance, three police stations, and more than one police officer per 100 residents, Monaco has safety standards so strict that it is known as the safest square mile in the world.
The 519 police officers, who must go through a two-year intensive training program. They don’t mess around: the rules are extremely strict and while Monaco’s sea-view prison is notoriously comfortable, the court system in Monaco almost always pronounces maximum sentences. So behave yourself!
Monaco has a system of 24-hour video surveillance spanning the entire surface area of the Principality, including the majority of residential building lobbies, a transmitting system worthy of the best armies in the world, the possibility of blocking all access in and out of the Principality in several minutes. And we mustn’t forget the surveillance teams inside of the Casino and in all of the gambling establishments and hotels.
This works well for residents and tourists, as you won’t need to worry about your diamond bracelet or designer bag being stolen, or your child going missing. If your child wanders off, the police will be able to track him/her with facial-recognition video tracking and find your child in a matter of minutes.