Exchanging Currency in France

Maximize your funds by avoiding high fees on cash exchange

Woman taking euros from her wallet
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If you visit France, one thing is certain: you will be spending money. So make sure you get the most bang for your euro by following these DOs and DON'Ts to exchange pounds, dollars or whatever your currency is. You can then spend the extra that you save on something special that you have always wanted to do, and make the vacation a real experience.

Exchanging Euros DOs

  • Do go to your bank at home and exchange a small amount of cash, just enough for a cab ride or basic spending on arrival.
  • Do pay with credit cards (if that was in your plans, anyway. Don't use this as an excuse to max out your Visa card, though). This is another area in which exchange rates are much more favorable. But check with your bank beforehand about their policies.
  • Do check out the various different credit cards you might consider for traveling on the useful Bankrate site. 
  • Do check your account more frequently than at home in case of fraud.

Using ATMs in France

Before leaving, check with your bank that your debit card will work in France and tell them that you will be withdrawing money when you travel. Why? Well, they might just freeze your card if there is a sudden high use away from your home.

  • An ATM in France is called a distributeur.
  • ATMs have English language instructions.
  • ATMs are all over France.
  • Do use a bank ATM; if your card is swallowed up you can go in to retrieve it. And use a bank ATM as most of them don’t charge fees while machines by so-called independent companies will do just that.
  • Do check with your bank for the limit you can withdraw each day. However, French ATMs often impose their own limits which you will find out about as you travel.
  • Do remember that ATM transactions come with fees. Your bank might charge you a flat fee, anything from $2 to $5 each time you use an out-of-network ATM. They may also charge a percentage for the currency conversion, on top of the usual Visa and MasterCard 1% fee for all international transactions.
  • Do withdraw larger amounts of cash if your bank charges a flat fee to avoid unnecessary extra fees.
  • Do make sure you know your PIN before you leave by numbers as European keypads have numbers only.
  • Do take an extra ATM card in case yours is stolen or gobbled up by the machine.
  • Do think of getting a prepaid or stored value travel card. How they work is that you plan what you will need for the vacation, add a little more for unexpected extras and place that in a special account which you access only with the travel card you order.

Exchanging Euros DON'Ts

  • Don't go to your bank and exchange all your money before your France or European trip. You will probably pay a higher rate than necessary, and you don't want to be running around with all that cash in your wallet.
  • Don't exchange money at the bureau de change or such at the airport or in tourist areas. For one thing, they usually charge an exorbitant fee. For another thing, they might not give you the true going exchange rate, but give you less in euros than your home-country currency is worth.
  • Don't exchange money at your hotel; the rate will be better than at the above alternatives, but it’s very unlikely to be good. 
  • Don't depend on traveler's checks. They make some people feel warm and fuzzy, but many French shops will not (and are not obligated to accept them). In addition, you are at the mercy of the shop owner to give you a good exchange rate if the traveler's checks are in your home currency. And if you want to exchange them at a bank you may arrive when they are all closed. Most banks work on the usual shop hours so are closed for two hours in the middle of the day.

    Edited by Mary Anne Evans