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Expats Guide to cheaper train travel in France

guide to train travel for expats in France

How to keep the cost down when travelling on a train in France. Expats in France can use a regional pass to save money or sign up to receive details of first come first served cheap tickets for long journeys. But don’t take the dog says Donna Kerridge…

“Et le chien?”  asks the conducteur, indicating the Jack Russell on my lap.  He is checking our tickets on the train between my local town and Boulogne on a quiet Sunday in winter.  We all laugh at his good humour.  “No seriously” he continues “you should have bought a ticket for the dog”.  We stare dumbfounded, our minds imagining the fines we now face.  But he is a reasonable man and he understands that we clearly didn’t know the rules, so he let’s us off… “but get one for the return journey” he warns.

At Boulogne, I approach the ticket desk, still wondering if we are the butt of some inside joke, explaining that we already have our tickets but we need one for the dog.  The woman doesn’t blink and promptly issues a ticket; half the full adult fare (ouch!) and clearly marked Chien.  We board the train and I place our dog on the upholstered seat next to me; not my personal choice for the next person who has to sit on her moulting hair… but she is now a bonafide, paying customer and I feel that should she benefit from the full experience!

We are travelling on a Pass Regional Grand’Ter which allows us to travel on all Regional (TER) trains within our department at a drastically, reduced rate.  Limited to week-ends, school holidays or fériés (bank holidays), up to 5 people can travel on the same card.  The first 2 voyageurs pay half-price for their day return ticket and up to 3 additional people pay just 10c to accompany them.  We bought the card for our teenage daughter; 5 youngsters can split the cost of 1 full fare (2 x half-price tickets) plus 30 centimes, each only having to pay 20% of the full fare.  It works just as well for adults and family groups.

The Pass Regional Grand’Ter usually costs 7 euros per year (though at certain times its cheaper), you can find application forms at your local railway station.  You will need a passport style ID photo to get the pass processed.

To travel further afield on SNCF or TGV, tickets are released 3 months in advance and the first seats sold on each train are the cheapest.  If you are planning a trip for more than 3 months time, you can request to be notified by email when the tickets are available. Just remember that it must be under 3 months for both your outward and return journey, before you can book a return ticket.

There are great savings to be made of up to 80% if you’re able to book in advance.

Bon voyages  – but leave the dog at home…

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