Understanding France Territory: Regions, Departments, Communs

France territory is divided into France Metropolitan and the Overseas. It has an area of around 675,000 km² and population of around 67 millions people in 2016. France Metropolitan has a hexagonal form and is located in the western part of Europe. It shares its borders with Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain (Also with Monaco and Andorra); and is part of the European Union.

France territory is divided into regions. In April 2015, the French government proposed a territorial reform (then put into the August 7th 2015 NOTR law – Nouvelle Organisation Territoriale de la République) to merge the previously 22 regions into 13 regions; plus 5 regions in the overseas (See the maps below). The implementation of this law is ongoing since the 1st January 2016. The overseas include the Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Reunion Island, and Mayotte. Not included here is the New Caledonia which has a special collectif status.

carte-france-region  o-CARTE-13-REGIONS-570

Left: Old regional map (source: http://www.cartesfrance.fr/carte-france-region/carte-france-regions.html).
Right: New regional map (source: http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2014/11/25/reforme-territoriale-assemblee-vote-carte-13-region-bientot-la-fin_n_6219030.html)
— Maps not to be scaled

Each of the region is divided into smaller administrative called departement – with 101 departments in total. The first two numbers of the postal code refers to the number of the department. This is a common way to identify (in a rather formal way) where someone comes from. For example 75 refers to Paris, 69 refers to Lyon, etc.

The smallest form is the commune. Commun is a collectif territorial that is lead by a mayor, municipality body, and/or multiple adjoints. Commun can be an area, a town, or a city. Some commun even have a zero population.

To give a small example, I used to live in Châtenay-Malabry, a small town that is connected to Paris. I used to tell people that I lived in Paris to simplify things – like millions other that could not afford an appartment in Paris. In fact, it is located in different department: Haute-de-Seine (92) but still in the same region with Paris: Ile-de-France. Another example, Grenoble campus is located in Saint-Martin d’Hères and not in Grenoble, but both are located in the Isère department (38) in the Rhône-Alpes (soon Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) region.

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