There are 23,500 licensed tabacs in France, open on average 12 hours a day, six days a week, according to the Confédération des buralistes.
More than half (55.5%) are located within a bar/cafe, and 41% in communes of fewer than 3,500 people.
All told, 80,000 people work in tabacs, although 42% of their customers do not use tobacco.
Sales of tobacco are strictly controlled in France via a state monopoly, and getting a licence to sell tobacco is not easy.
Registered buralistes (owners of tabacs) are therefore regarded as representatives of the state, which is why they can also sell other restricted items, such as timbres fiscaux and scratch cards.
With fewer smokers these days, they are increasingly looking for new ways to survive.
Enterprising buralistes now offer everything from dry-cleaning to funeral planning.
Here are 14 additional services they offer:
1. Get a ‘tax stamp’
Timbres fiscaux show you have paid the required tax for items such as a French passport, driving licence, carte de séjour or to ‘validate’ a visa. They are valid for a year.
2. Have a flutter
Usually found in bar/tabacs, the PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) is a French betting operator that promotes horseracing and provides a betting service to help fund the racing industry.
3. Pay your bills
As of 2020, fines and some bills can be paid at certain tabacs.
The system makes use of the QR codes included on the paperwork. Once scanned, they show how much is owed and register the payment.
Bills covered include energy, water, telephone and internet, rent, school canteens, state crèches and hospitals.
4. Buy a stamp
Tabacs can make arrangements with their local post office to sell stamps and related products, which makes life easy when buying postcards there.
5. Top-up your phone
Many tabacs sell SIM cards and can top up prepaid ones (very useful for keeping track of how much you, or your offspring, are spending on phone calls and data).
6. Play the lottery
You can buy lottery and scratchcards at a tabac.
These gambling games are run by La Française des Jeux (FDJ), the largest gambling company in France, the second largest in Europe, and the fourth largest in the world.
FDJ estimates it has around 25 million customers over 18 in France, ie. half the adult population.
Should you wish to chance your arm, the buraliste can explain how to play.
7. Copy a document
Tabacs often offer photocopying services, and many will also scan or print, which can be a lifesaver if you suddenly have to produce a paper document.
8. Satisfy a sugar craving
Tabacs commonly sell confectionery and, unlike supermarkets which tend to sell enormous bags of sweets, they offer individual sizes and small chocolates ideally priced for children with pocket money to spend.
9. Pick up a paper
Tabacs are often associated with a presse, where you can buy newspapers (including The Connexion) and magazines.
10. Open a Nickel account
Described as ‘bank services without a bank’, Nickel accounts can be opened at participating tabacs with only ID and a mobile number.
There is no minimum income requirement and second-home owners can get one too, as long as they have a postal address in France and are tax-resident in an EU or EFTA country (the UK is also accepted).
These no-overdraft current accounts can be a lifeline for those otherwise struggling to access a French bank.
11. Collect a parcel
Many tabacs act as collection/delivery points for parcels.
12. Do your admin
Easy-to-use computer terminals with touchscreens have been deployed in some rural tabacs to help people without the internet do their admin.
You can buy train tickets, sort out car certificat d’immatriculation (carte grise) forms, change address, take digital photos, and buy insurance.
If you get stuck, the shopkeeper is on hand.
13. Put up a ‘lost cat’ poster
Tabacs often have a community noticeboard or are relaxed about letting people put up notices, making this an ideal place to advertise an event, service or lost pet.
14. Withdraw cash
Since 2021, ATMs have been available in some tabacs.
Back then, Philippe Coy, the president of the Confédération des buralistes, hailed it as yet another example of outlets expanding their offerings to ‘make everyday life easier’.