In order to enter France, you will need a passport. This gives you an automatic visa to stay for three months.
If you plan to stay stay longer to work or study, you will need to apply for a special Visa.
For the most up-to-date information, see the State Department's web site.
If you don't have a passport, get one the minute you start thinking about traveling. If you do have one, check the expiration date.
You need the passport to buy your plane ticket on many sites. Don't let that great fare escape!
For American Passports, Apply/Renew your passport, and check here to see estimates for the current processing time.
Check here to find out where your nearest passport application facility is if you're applying for the first time. Renewals can be sent by mail.
There is a rush option for an extra fee and there are also passport expediters.
You should always take a photocopy of the important information in your passport. Take this along in case you lose the passport and need to apply for a new one. If you are tech-savvy, you may also want an electronic version kept somewhere on-line, just in case!
Be careful carrying your passport
You can purchase a security belt to carry your passport and other valuable documents with you. I especially suggest this if you decide to stay in a hotel or somewhere where people will be coming and going. If you are renting an apartment, the security is normally very good, so you may decide not to take it with you everywhere.
Paris is a safe city and has a low occurrence of violence. However, pick-pockets are always around anywhere that tourists are.
Newly issued passports have embeded electronic information (RFID chips) which can be scanned from up to several feet away. Read more about protecting your RFID items HERE.
My best advice for safety, always, is to NOT look like a tourist (which admittedly can be hard when you are looking at a map and awe struck by the beauty). Walk confidently, keep your map and wallet conveniently within reach (so you aren't digging for them), and then don't worry about it too much. You'll notice thousands of people on the streets of Paris who are not paranoid about their purse.
Use your common sense. Your passport is valuable and, although you can get a new one, who wants to interrupt their vacation to stand in line at the American Embassy?
Contact the U.S. Embassy and they can help:
U.S. Embassy Paris
4, avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris
Telephone: 01 43 12 22 22
Telephone from the United States: (011 33) 1 43 12 22 22
Emergency after-hours telephone: 01 43 12 22 22
Emergency after-hours telephone from the United States: (011 33) 1 43 12 22 22
Fax Passport Services: 01 42 96 28 39
Fax Passport Services from the United States: (011 33) 1 42 96 28 39
Fax Special Consular Services: 01 42 61 61 40
Fax Special Consular Services from the United States: (011 33) 1 42 61 61 40
Useful Resources: State Department