Before you get on the plane or train for Paris, you'll want to make sure you have a good grasp of how to handle money while you're abroad. Many visitors to the city of light are disconcerted to find that their assumptions about how withdrawing cash, paying with credit or debit cards or even tipping should work simply don't always apply in France. You'll avoid stress if you learn ahead of time what to expect. Read on for answers to some of the frequently asked questions about handling money while in Paris, and ensure that cash issues don't put a cramp in your trip.
Cash, Credit Cards, or Traveler's Checks?
Planning to pay with a combination of cash, credit, or debit cards, and traveler's checks can be the best strategy when visiting the French capital. Here's why: ATM machines are not always readily available in some places in and around Paris, so relying solely on cash may lead to trouble. What's more, most ATMs charge moderate to steep fees for taking out money, in addition to those charged by your own bank at home.
You may now presume that paying exclusively with credit or debit cards will be your best bet, but your plans will likely be foiled. In Paris, few shops, restaurants, or markets will accept credit card payments for amounts below 15 or 20 Euros. In addition, some credit cards, particularly American Express and Discover, are not accepted at many Paris sale points. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card in Paris shops and restaurants, with Mastercard falling closely behind. If you have a Visa card, plan to use that card frequently.
As for traveler's checks, know that they are now infrequently accepted as payment by vendors in Paris—even though American Express has an office in central Paris! In a majority of cases, you'll have to cash them in first.
Tip: Avoid redeeming traveler's checks at currency exchange bureaus at the airport or in tourist-heavy areas of Paris, or you'll incur hefty service charges. Head straight for the American Express agency on 11 Rue Scribe (Metro: Opera, or RER Line A, Auber). You won't be charged any extra fees here and lines are often long for that precise reason.
Getting Ready for Your Trip: 3 Important Steps to Take
Whatever forms of payment you ultimately opt for on your next Paris vacation, make sure to take the following 3 essential steps to get you financially ready for your trip.
- Consult your bank and credit card companies and let them know that you are traveling overseas and need to verify your withdrawal and credit limits. Make sure any restrictions that will prevent you from being able to get money or make payments in Paris are lifted before you go: Many arrive at their destination only to find that they can't use their cards due to limits on international payments. Also, make sure that you understand your bank's service charge scheme: Failing to do so will result in nasty surprises on your next bank statement.
- To make payments and withdraw cash in Paris, you'll need to use your pin code in most cases. Paris ATM and credit card machines are generally equipped for pin codes composed of numbers only. If your pin code includes letters, make sure to modify your code before you leave. Trying to do so once overseas may not be possible, depending on your bank's policy. Also, make sure to memorize your pin code ahead of your trip. Entering the wrong code three consecutive times at an ATM will result in your card being "eaten" by the machine as a security measure.
- If you still prefer to rely mostly on cash, buy a money belt. Money belts are one of the best ways to protect yourself from pickpocketing.
Do I Need to Know French to Use ATMS?
No. The vast majority of ATM machines in Paris have an English-language option. In addition, many electronic payment terminals, including ticketing terminals in the Paris metro, allow you to choose a language before making your selection and paying.
How Do I Communicate With My Bank Back Home?
Ask your bank to give you an international toll-free number that you'll be able to call in case you encounter any problems. Also, check with your bank to see if they have a "sister" bank or branch in France. You may be able to handle any emergency financial situations at a sister agency in Paris.
How Do I Find out What the Current Exchange Rate Is?
A particularly strong Euro in recent years has made money and budgeting a sore point for North American travelers, who are often astonished to see just how much their Parisian vacation cost them in American or Canadian dollars. To avoid unpleasant surprises, you can consult online resources like the to find out how much your currency is worth in Euros.
Checking your accounts online or by telephone a few times during your trip to track your spending and the exchange rate can also help you manage your budget during your trip.
What About Tipping Etiquette?
Tipping in Paris is not the obligation it can be in North America. A 15 percent service charge is automatically added to your bill in cafes and restaurants. However, waitstaff in Paris do not customarily receive this service charge as extra wages, so if the service is good, adding an extra 5-10% to the total amount is recommended.
How Do I Avoid Scams?
Unfortunately, a small minority of vendors in Paris may try to take advantage of visitors who do not speak French, hiking the retail price of goods or services. This can be especially true in small businesses, flea markets, and other non-chain points of sale. Make sure to verify prices yourself before paying, and ask vendors to show you the total on the register or on paper if they fail to do so. With the possible exception of flea markets, do not, however, attempt to barter. France is not Morocco, and attempting to haggle a price can elicit a sour response. If you notice that you are being charged more than the price marked, though, politely point it out.
ATM machines can be favorite spots for potential scammers and pickpockets in Paris. Stay extremely vigilant when withdrawing cash and do not offer help to anyone who wishes to "learn to use the machine" or who engages you in conversation while you are entering your pin code. Type in your code in total privacy.