Money In Paris

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When I started traveling around Europe with a backpack several decades ago, the only thing one needed to make sure you had to have were traveler’s checks. They were easy to buy and widely accepted, no matter where one went. But times have changed and the advent of ATM machines, where you can access money directly from your bank account back home, has changed everything. And credit cards, which most of us migrated to, have become more popular to use when traveling as well as banks have made them more attractive to use when traveling.

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So here are my tips for getting money when visiting in Paris. (NOTE: This post was updated in 2019.)


Before you go, make sure you’ll have access to the phone numbers to contact your credit card companies and bank with you, or in a secure cloud-based service. If something happens, you want those numbers handy, especially if you need to cancel your credit card or if you have a problem.

Credit Cards

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in France, but merchants or restaurants often won’t accept them unless the amount is over 15€. So it’s a good idea to carry some cash. Although they are supposed to take credit cards now in Paris, some taxi drivers might say their machine is broken, and request that you pay in cash. Services like Uber, Le Cab, and Kaptain, bill you through your credit card. If you are an Uber customer in the United States, your Uber account will work in Paris.

American Express isn’t as accepted in Paris, as it is elsewhere, due to the hefty commission. So if you usually that credit card, best to have a back-up of another, in case you find the establishment doesn’t accept AmEx. Whatever card or service you use, always call your bank before you leave and let them know you’ll be traveling.

If you use a credit card to pay in restaurants and wish to leave a little extra for a gratuity, leave it in cash on the table instead of adding it to the credit card receipt.

Note that not all credit cards are the same when it comes to currency conversion. Some don’t charge fees or points when paying in another currency. If you travel frequently, those kinds of cards are worth investigating. And if a merchant or server in France asks if you want to pay in dollars, or euros, most experts say to pay in the local currency for the best rate.

ATM Cards

Although you might think Paris is a popular, world-class tourist destination, anyone who’s arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport knows that it can be a challenge to find a working ATM. Here’s an account from a traveler’s bulletin board I read recently:

“… we tried to get cash…our ATM cards didn’t work at the only ATM in the arrivals area. We then went to the departures area – same story. We ended up buying euros at the American Express desk, but even there, we had problems – my Amex card and my husband’s Visa card were both rejected. My Visa worked. So, now with some cash, we made our way to the RER to catch the train into Paris. We decided to buy a 5 day Paris Visite pass – now we find that both our Visas are rejected, but my Amex card worked. Go figure.”

Things have gotten better as they’ve been upgrading and renovating the airports in Paris. But it’s nice to have some euros in hand when you arrive. While you don’t need a lot, you might want to get a hundred euros in cash from a currency conversion kiosk or your bank back home. You may have difficulty finding an ATM at a train station in Paris, for security reasons, so don’t expect to find cash machines in them.

Most banks, on both ends, take a hefty chunk when making ATM withdrawals. But you can do a few things to soften the blow: Check with your bank to see if they have an affiliated bank in Paris. Bank of America, for example, has a deal with BNP Paribas and Barclays so you don’t pay ATM fees. Schwab will refund ATM fees on both ends. (Note: Those policies are subject the change. Check with the banks for most up to date information.) Also asking your bank to raise your cash withdrawal limit means you’ll need to make fewer transactions and can save some fees, although you may feel uneasy traveling with a large amount of cash.

Like your credit card, call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling. And when using ATMs in Paris, keep an eye on your surroundings and guard your security code when you punch the numbers in, even if you’re in a “nice” area, and in broad daylight. Unfortunately, it’s become a more common crime: people get robbed while taking money out of an ATM. (I know, because it once happened to me when I was taking money of out an ATM in the Marais, in broad daylight.)

Usually the thieves are youngsters who wait for you to put it your code, then as you’re just about to withdraw the cash, they run over (beware: it happens very quickly), punch in the highest amount of cash with lightning-fast speed, grab the cash, and run. For that reason, I highly recommend that travelers make ATM withdrawals during bank hours when you can go inside the bank. Because the problem has become rather widespread, some banks in Paris have security guards outside, by the ATMs, so they are safer places to get cash.

Lastly, although it’s tempting to try to spend all your money before departing, I advise keeping some extra cash at the end of your trip for the next time you come. Euros don’t expire and it’s nice to have some on hand for your next trip.

 

 

Getting Money in Paris

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28 comments

  • Virginia
    November 10, 2006 5:44am

    Hello David…I was just given the tip about your blog and am looking in for the first time. We are coming to Paris for Christmas this year and am looking forward to a great visit. What I like to do and have done in the past is visit my local bank before we go and convert a sum of money to Euros so that we don’t have to worry at all about having cash on hand for several days after we get settled in. By then we will have been able to find an ATM where we can get additional money. It is just much more pleasant to know that you can pay for the taxi and get a bite to eat without any hassle when you get there. My bank’s fees are not too exhorbitant…at least not much more than what we will get hit with by the ATM’s, so it seems like the best solution. You just have to give them a few days heads up.

  • November 10, 2006 6:54am

    The last time my mother came to France, she brought cash. We went to my bank to change some of her cash dollars for euros. The clerk wanted a copy of my bank statement, and wanted to know what was the number of the branch where I opened my account. He got mad at me when I asked why he wanted to know that. He then set abbout copying both my mother’s passport and my identity card. This was done in about 5 minutes. He had a conversation with someone in the back, then he looked at them both very carefully in the light by the window, for a long time, and after a few minutes he went to the copy machine, staring out the window while the machine slowly did its work and for some time afterwards, then coming back to the counter and staring down at the counter for a long time. My mother and I looked at each other quizzically during this time. The phone rang, and he picked it up and turned his back. There was a long conversation, in muted tones. Then, finally, the euros were brought out, and they were counted slowly three times. It was about 400 euros. They then slid them across the counter to my mother, not before she was asked to sign a paper. We were both a bit suprised by the experience.

  • November 10, 2006 7:39am

    If you must get traveler’s checks, it’s better to get them already converted to Euros. I did so and was able to cash them at the post offices (La Poste) for free.

    I also got them exchanged at currency exchange offices (usually a rip off if converting US traveler’s cheques) and they didn’t charge as large of a fee for the exchance. Students can show ID at these places and get a discount on the fees sometime.

    I AMEN the advice on cash before arrival. At least have enough to get from the airport to your hotel, plus maybe enough cash for food & the hotel for one night. It always comes in handy!

    Once I ran out of traveler’s checks in Paris, I relied on the ATMs. I was charged a $5 total fee (by my bank and the other bank) per transaction, no matter which ATM I used. I bank with Wells Fargo Bank, which has no affiliates there. So another tip I have is to take out the maximum if you think you’ll need it to avoid multiple fees. Also remember that your limit is in US dollars, so you’ll need to mentally estimate how many Euros that is, as they probably use yesterday’s exchange rate at the machine.

  • sam
    November 10, 2006 9:52am

    Another thing to note is that European “cash point machines” (ATMs) only accept 4-digit pin numbers. If your American card’s pin number is longer than 4 digits then arrange to change it to a 4-number pin before you leave the USA.

  • Judith in Umbria
    November 10, 2006 9:58am

    My Italian bank uses a 5 digit number, so there’s another difference of experience.
    I have to email my US bank when I go back to the US. So far they’ve not been stymied by any European withdrawals. It’s any unusual use that can trigger a refusal.
    Either direction, I have 100 whatevers under the lining of my shoe. Someone will always change cash.

  • Steve
    November 10, 2006 10:14am

    Ah, yes, bank exchange fees. It wasn’t until fairly recently that banks figured out that this was an easy and risk free way to make extra money. For many years the only exchange fee charged on a foreign transaction was VISA’s (or Mastercard’s) conversion fee, typically 1%. Then the banks that actually issued your card jumped in and decided to charge their own fee, though I don’t believe they have any actual role in the process. Most seem to charge 2%. Some charge nothing (I’ve found that, last time I looked, that was the case for Charles Schwab Bank.) The fees are laid out in the cardholder agreement (you kept that, right?) in a paragraph called “using your card in a foreign country,” or words to that effect.

  • November 10, 2006 11:10am

    Hi David – Thanks for posting this. My husband and I are coming to Paris next week, so this has been very helpful to read. When we went to Italy last year, I called each of my credit card companies and my bank (ATM) to figure out who offered the best exchange rate and lowest fees. I couldn’t agree with you more about bringing some cash with you. After a long flight, we were in no mood to wait in long lines at the exchange window. While we had a copy of our passports in another section of our suitcase, we also gave a copy to the folks – just in case. Thanks again!

  • November 10, 2006 11:34am

    Another reason to have some cash along is the métro cashiers are being phased out and converted into automatic machines; the city of Paris is getting rid of ‘real people’ selling tickets whose job is just to dispense information (so now they can just sit behind the window and talk to their co-workers without being disturbed by pesky people trying to buy tickets.)

    And the machines don’t take US credit cards either. Zut!

  • Bob
    November 10, 2006 11:40am

    It has been my experience with the French (in and out of France) that when something is broken, or not working correctly, it will remain in that condition interminally.
    Luckily, I have never had a problem using ATM machines in France (other than the inability to get the amount I wanted) and my credit union does not charge a fee for usage out of the US.

  • athena
    November 10, 2006 12:03pm

    this information is great! thank you! i went to paris a couple of years ago (may 2004)and was able to withdraw money using my atm card for the most part with no problem. i did want to mention that if you haven’t been able to get euros in advance from your bank and you are traveling to paris from jfk in new york, there are exchange booths operating at the gates. also, there was a booth renting cellular phones for you to use on your trip if you hadn’t arranged that through your own wireless provider. it wasn’t really cheap, but not too expensive. it might be worth it depending on what you plan to do.

  • Sunnie
    November 10, 2006 12:41pm

    Errrrr….I come from a “third world” country (Thailand), and my country’s airport is an opulent palace when compared to CDG.

  • tom
    November 10, 2006 2:57pm

    Boy, I remember that Rome’s Fiumincino airport made CDG look like the Ritz three years ago…has Paris’ gotten that bad?!

  • November 10, 2006 6:17pm

    Thanks a lot for the info you’ve given here for the traveller. I’m going to be travelling soon and this info will come useful then :)

  • Susan
    November 10, 2006 6:50pm

    I usually use ATM machines when I travel, but last month I needed cash up front to pay for my Paris lodgings. When I reluctantly went to Citibank to get euros (I hate carrying large amounts of cash), it turned out that they charge no commission to change more than $1000, which sweetened the deal somewhat. This may well be the case with other banks. It was nice not having to forage for cash at CDG.

    I had no problem using my Citi card at BNP and Societe Generale ATM machines, nor did I have trouble using my Master Card (I did call the credit card company before traveling) EXCEPT at the Metro ticket machines. It’s always something, isn’t it?

  • November 10, 2006 8:38pm

    Yes, it there is one money travel tip to observe it is that you must must must call your bank and credit card company and let them know you are traveling. After cursing around Asia for 4 years I have learned the hard way (having my card denied with 6 people lined up behind me to pay). It may take 10 minutes out of your time, but is totally worth saving the embarrassment of having to mutter “that’s weird, can you try it again,” as you dig for change.

  • November 10, 2006 11:25pm

    When I went to Europe this past spring, Scotia Bank (Canadian) offered no-charge ATM withdrawals from BNP Paribas – very convenient, and worth opening a Scotia account if you’re travelling in France for more than a short while.

  • Julia
    November 11, 2006 6:41am

    I don’t know if it’s the case in France yet, but in London, where I live now, there’s been a swithc to chip-n-pin credit cards. You put your card into a machine which scans the chip, and you enter your pin. The point is that more and more places do not accept old-style credit cards (signature required) at all.

  • November 11, 2006 10:39am

    Really great information here, thanks. I learned a few of these things the hard way in China where you can only get cash at the nationalized banks.

  • November 11, 2006 2:35pm

    Really great advice, as usual! Derrick’s & my system is just like you describe: call the banks & credit card companies ahead of time, have some Euros (usually about 50-100) in pocket that we’ve either saved from the last trip or changed from USD locally, & then we use the Bofa affiliate atms.

    I see some people have mentioned the need of a 4 digit pin. Derrick ran into that problem many years ago when he had a 6 digit pin. Luckily he was able to bum money off friends attending the same conference, and change the pin when he got home.

  • November 12, 2006 1:36am

    We will in future ring our credit card company before travelling overseas. Recently we were overseas when the bank put a hold on our card, thinking it was stolen after we made a large purchase on it. They had our best interests at heart and it was sorted out after a phone call from us to the bank.

  • November 12, 2006 2:43am

    even the bank I use has finally changed to charging me for everything!!!
    that makes a big difference.
    Will be looking for a new bank!

  • Alex
    November 12, 2006 4:48am

    The advice given so far seems to be pretty spot on for the most part. The percentage charged by banks and credit cards is pretty annoying IMHO, but it’s usually cheaper than the commission for exchange.

    Re: London

    As long as you’ve got a foreign (ie non-UK) card, you shouldn’t really have to worry about not having a chip. All merchants who take credit cards are supposed to be able to take the old mag-stripe kind. Because of the heavy push toward chip & pin, some people might be hesitant to run your card, but usuallly if you ask nicely, they’ll “try” your card and magically…it’ll work.

    I’ve got sort of a different problem, I have a U.S. AMEX card with a chip. Since it was released before the whole U.K. chip & pin thing, and because I’d never used the chip in the U.S., I figured it wouldn’t work in the U.K. (it doesn’t work in France either). But…and it’s kind of annoying…it does work…about half the time. And since it’s a “chip & signature” card…it just confuses the clerks even more…oh well.

  • class-factotum
    November 12, 2006 4:33pm

    It doesn’t hurt to keep US dollars with you, either. You never know! I always keep US$100 in my money belt, just in case.

    In addition to emailing yourself your passport and credit card numbers, make a photocopy of your passport and bring it with you. Leave your passport number and your CC numbers with your mom or a friend, too, because internet cafes (based on my experience) are not easy to find in Paris. They are very easy to find in 3rd world countries where not everyone is wealthy enough to have his own computer, but when I was in Paris a year ago staying in the 7th, I found only one. Although the sign on the door indicated they opened at 10, the manager sauntered up at about 11. Open on time?! Bah! That is so, so Americaine!

    (NB They mean it when they say arrive three hours early at CDG. Bring your own food and your own toilet paper, too!)

  • November 13, 2006 6:05am

    Great tips David! I am now glad that we always come by Eurostar and have never had to forage for cash at CDG… I fully endorse calling your bank to let them know you are travelling – we have on occasion had our cards frozem especially after a big foreign transaction (like the amount they put on hold on your credit card when you rent a car). If you travelling with a partner or friend, make sure you have at least two (but preferably more) different debit/credit cards between you in case one of the cards is frozen. I also endorse briging enough cash to get you from the airport to the hotel and possibly a meal on the first night – it just makes things less stresful on arrival and means the next morning you can ask the hotel where the nearest ATM is (although I must say I’ve never had a problem finding ATMs in Paris). Our bank charges something like £1.75 per foreign withdrawal, so if you take out £100 at a time, that’s not too bad. Before you baulk at your bank’s charges, work out what percentage the fees will be if you withdraw the max – you’ll find it’s still a lot better than most Bureaux de Change. Oh, and unless you are desperate, avoid the Travelex booths in airports – their exchange rates are almost without fail abysmal!

  • November 13, 2006 6:06am

    PS – was that photo taken at the coffee shop where we had coffee this summer??

  • Vesper
    November 13, 2006 10:32pm

    My card was once swallowed by the ATM in France.Retriving it???Yeah good luck with that!!!I have never had a more hellish experience with stupid french arrogant bastards…I survived 5 years in France-thank God I came to my senses and left!My blood pressure is now stabil and my overall feeling of well being has highly increased…Miss the food thou!;-)

  • November 14, 2006 8:22am

    When my wife and I went to France earlier this year, we found the entire commerce experience to be incredibly pleasurable.

    Only once did I have my credit card denied (when buying some pants), but otherwise everything was smooth sailing.

    The exchange rate at the ATMs was much better than any other place in the city, and I was never charged a fee by my bank or the French bank to pull out money.

    But I guess I’m the exception.

  • Sue
    November 17, 2006 3:06am

    Hi Dave…my daughter, Kate and I just got back from France – the Perigord region. I was shocked at the fees on the credit cards this time. Even two years ago when I was there in Burgundy the charges weren’t showing up like now. Your site is doing a service for sure calling attention to this and explaining it. It is very true that cash is king now. VERY few places took credit cards. I also saw more ATM machines in CDG around where the shopping was rather than in the arrival and departure places. I also enjoyed your pics and comments on the Rue Tatin this year…it looks like it hasn’t changed much at all since we did the class in 02 and first met you. The dishes you prepared looked really intriguing and now that I’m retired maybe I’ll come again. Its hard to resist.