Understanding Currency and Credit Cards
- Arrange in advance with your bank to get some euros to take with you. When you land you may need cash for taxi fare, highway tolls if you are renting a car, and for other incidentals. We generally take at least € 300, knowing that we can withdraw more at ATMs across France using our American bank card. (More on ATM access below.)
- Know the exchange rate. As of July 2018, the US dollar is trading for a bit below $1.20 per euro.
- Shopping in outdoor food markets and in flea markets is usually a cash-only proposition, so you will need to plan your euros accordingly.
- Credit cards are widely accepted in shops across France, and of course in Paris.
- Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. American Express is not nearly as widely accepted as the first two.
- Travelers’ Cheques have gone the way of the Dodo Bird.
- You will want to make sure you have PINs for all of your debit and credit cards.
- You will want to contact your own bank/credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling abroad and to play “20 questions” with them to find out about transaction fees, amounts you can withdraw, etc. Here are questions you should ask your banker before you travel:
- Will my card work in ATMs in France?
- What fees do you charge for withdrawals or purchases made in Europe? Is it a percentage, a flat fee, or both?
- Are other currency conversion or foreign transaction fees tacked on?
- If my credit/debit card is lost or stolen, what is my liability?
- What phone number should I call if there’s an emergency?
Considerations Specific to Debit Cards:
Questions to ask your bank or debit card provider:
- What is my daily limit for ATM withdrawals in Europe?
- Can I increase my daily/weekly limit?
- Do you have partner banks in France with ATMs I can use without a fee? How will I recognize them?
Considerations Specific to Credit Cards:
- Request a PIN if you don’t have one, since if your use a credit card in an ATM to get euros, a PIN will definitely be required.
- Note that some credit card companies have responded to the needs of their jet-setting customers and begun offering cards that do not carry any foreign transaction fees. American Airlines Citibank offers a product like this, and other airline-affiliated cards are doing the same. You may want to check with your own credit card company to see what may be available. The annual fee on these cards is definitely more expensive, but they often come with perks, such as membership in airline clubs.
- You may have heard about “chip and pin” credit cards that have been prevalent in Europe for at least 15 years. Many US credit card companies now offer “chip and signature” cards. These types of cards are highly recommended, since they tend to offer a higher layer of security. However, we find that American credit cards – even chipped ones – do not work at “pay-at-the-pump” gas stations and at most train station kiosks. This is also the case at some toll booths along autoroutes, so make sure you have plenty of euros with you if you are driving along toll roads. If you are not sure whether or not your credit card is chipped, contact your provider.