Reader question: How does France have 12 different time zones?

Unlikely but true, France does indeed have 12 different time zones. But there is no need to change your watch if you're travelling from Paris to Toulouse.

Reader question: How does France have 12 different time zones?
Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP

Question: I read that France has 12 different time zones – how is this possible?

It’s true, France does have 12 different time zones. In fact (pub quiz fact alert) France has the largest number of time zones of any country in the world, beating the USA and Russia which have 11 each. 

But we’re not talking Metropolitan France – aka l’Hexagone – here. There is no time difference between Paris and Marseille, although time does seem to go a little slower once you get to the south coast. Maybe that’s the pastis.

No, the reason that France has so many time zones is because of its overseas territories.

Like many former colonial powers, France has territories outside of Europe, but the difference with France is that some of these territories are classed as départements d’outre-mer (overseas départements) and are counted as part of France. They have exactly the same government structure as the rest of France and therefore the Caribbean island of Martinique is as much a part of France as Brest, Bordeaux or Brive.

There are also collectivites d’outre-mer which have more autonomy and can pass their own laws, although certain areas such as defence are decided by Paris.

READ ALSO ‘Confetti of an empire’ – a look at French overseas territories

France’s overseas territories are very scattered, taking in the Caribbean, South America, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Antarctic.

This gives France a lot of different time zones, as well as – further pub quiz fact alert – a land border with Brazil (via French Guiana) and a presence on all five continents.

So what are all these time zones?

L’Hexagone – mainland France (and Corsica) are on Central European Time (GMT +1)

French Polynesia – the more than 100 islands that make up French Polynesia cover two time zones in the South Pacific – GMT -10 and GMT -9 

Clipperton Island – the tiny (6 sq km) island in the eastern Pacific is on GMT -8. It’s probably not that important what the time is, however, since the island is uninhabited. 

Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin – the four Caribbean islands are on GMT -4

French Guiana – perched in the top right of South America, French Guiana borders Brazil and Suriname is on GMT -3

Saint Pierre and Miquelon – France used to be a major power in Canada, as evidenced by the Francophone regions, but now its territory in the area is limited to these two islands, which are just off the coast of Newfoundland. They are on GMT -2 

Mayotte – in the Indian Ocean, situated between Mozambique and the much larger island of Madagascar, is Mayotte. It’s on GMT +3

Réunion – also in the Indian Ocean but the other side of side of Madagascar is the island of La Réunion, on GMT +4

French Southern Territories – these islands in the Antarctic function primarily as a research station and do not have any permanent residents. They are on GMT +5

New Caledonia – the south Pacific island could have caused France to have only 11 time zones, but in a recent referendum it narrowly rejected independence. It’s on GMT +11

Wallis and Fortuna – situated between Fiji and Samoa in the south Pacific are the islands of Wallis and Fortuna on GMT +12 

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VIDEO: French daredevil beats tightrope record with Mont Saint-Michel crossing

French daredevil tightrope walker Nathan Paulin on Tuesday claimed a new world record as he completed a 2,200-metre-long (nearly 1.4-mile) trip to Mont Saint-Michel along a wire suspended between a crane and the famous abbey on the tidal island, his team said.

VIDEO: French daredevil beats tightrope record with Mont Saint-Michel crossing

Paulin, 28, let himself down on the wire just metres before the finish “for safety reasons” his entourage said.

“He reached the stopping mark and so the (distance) record is beaten,” his spokeswoman, Laura Zhang, told reporters.

Paulin started his walk at an elevation of around 100 metres in late afternoon, secured to a safety line.

It took him two hours to inch his way, barefoot, along the two-centimetre-wide slackline.

Paulin claimed the previous record when he completed the then longest crossing of 1,662 metres in 2017 above the Cirque de Navacelles, a steep-sided canyon in southern France.

French tightrope walker Nathan Paulin arrives for his world record distance attempt on a slackline in the bay of Le Mont Saint-Michel, on May 24, 2022. (Photo by DAMIEN MEYER / AFP)

His team said he had surpassed that mark last year in Sweden, but that the walk to Mont Saint-Michel was the longest.

Mont Saint-Michel, a 1,300-year-old Benedictine abbey, is a UNESCO world heritage site and a major tourist attraction in northwest France.