Art, food, fashion and romance abound in Paris, France – after all, it's the city of love. But the proper Paris experience is an investment, as its world-class museums (like the Louvre), chapels (like the Sainte-Chapelle) and restaurants (like Le Cinq) come with a price tag. If you're traveling in Paris with cash to burn, keep in mind that the currency in Paris is the euro – France retired its previous currency, the new franc, in 2002.
You can exchange your foreign currency for euros at several spots around Paris, but it's important to make sure you're getting a fair exchange rate and paying as few fees as possible.
Where to Exchange Currency in Paris
Exchanging cash in Europe is tough, as most banks and currency exchange kiosks offer poor exchange rates or charge high commissions. That said, sometimes it's unavoidable – if you've just arrived in France from the U.K., for example, your leftover sterling will be of no use in Paris. In those cases, seek a bank to exchange your foreign currency in Paris, as banks tend to offer better exchange rates – usually around 8 percent, as opposed to exchange kiosks, which may charge up to 15 percent..
Banks in Paris generally stay open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and some open from Tuesday through Saturday. Bureaux de change, or currency exchange points, are often open on weekends, especially in busier tourist areas. Both banks and exchange points fix their exchange rates based on the current market, which fluctuates day-to-day. They typically post their exchange rates out front, and you should seek an approximate 5 percent difference between buying and selling rates.
That said, most exchange points charge a commission to change foreign currency into euros. The exact amount varies between places, and sometimes depends on your form of payment (traveler's checks, cash, etc.). Expect to pay a higher relative commission to exchange smaller sums of cash.
Cash from ATMs
If you're traveling with a bank card, count on it as the best way to get cash out pretty much anywhere in Europe, Paris included. ATMs tend to offer the lowest fees and exchange rates for currency in Paris, with debit transaction fees usually ranging between 1 and 3 percent, plus ATM fees of $1 to $5. If your personal bank has ATM locations in Paris, you might be able to withdraw euros there without incurring any fees at all. Most banks and out-of-bank ATMs, however, do charge fees. In these cases, try to withdraw large sums of cash during each trip to minimize the total amount of fees you'll pay.
Major U.S. banks and financial institutions with a presence in Paris include:
- American Express Cartes France
- Bank of America Merrill Lynch
- The Bank of New York (representative office)
- Banque AIG (subsidiary)
- Goldman Sachs (subsidiary)
- Citigroup Global Markets Limited
- JP Morgan Chase Bank (subsidiary)
- Banque Lazard
Plastic in Paris
Paris is a generally plastic-friendly city, meaning you should be able to use your credit card in most places there. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards in Paris, with most shops and restaurants taking them, though you may find some smaller merchants and street vendors who only accept or prefer cash. Higher-end boutiques and restaurants that particularly cater to tourists may take American Express, as well.
If you plan to use your credit card abroad, make sure to let your bank or credit card issuer know of your travel plans ahead of time. Otherwise, the company may decline foreign transactions. This goes for debit cards at foreign ATMs, as well.
Moreover, keep in mind that most credit card companies impose surcharges on foreign transactions. Foreign transaction fees for credit cards typically range between 2 and 4 percent, though some may reach higher. Do some research on your credit cards to learn which one charges the lowest foreign transaction fees, and prioritize that card for your Parisian shopping endeavors.
Best Credit Cards for Travel
Perhaps the best way to spend money in Paris is with a travel-friendly Visa or MasterCard credit card that does not impose foreign transaction fees (or only charges low-rate fees) and incurs cash-back rewards for travel-related purchases. Yes, those cards exist – and you actually have several to choose from, each offering its own unique set of perks. For example:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (Visa): No foreign transaction fees; 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening; double points on travel and dining; one point per dollar on all other purchases; 1:1 point transfer for airline and hotel loyalty programs. $95 annual fee.
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus (MasterCard): No foreign transaction fees; 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within 90 days of account opening; unlimited double miles on every purchase; miles don't expire. $89 annual fee.
- Bank of America Travel Rewards (Visa): No foreign transaction fees; 25,000 online bonus points if you spend $1,000 on purchases within 90 days of opening account; 0 percent introductory purchase APR for first 12 billing cycles; unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. No annual fee.
What Not to Do
When it comes to spending in Paris, there are a few situations you should make sure to avoid. Currency kiosks, as previously mentioned, are the first – they usually offer unfavorable exchange rates and charge relatively high commissions for currency exchanges.
In tourist-heavy European cities like Paris, you might come across some merchants who advertise that they accept U.S. dollars. Don't fall victim to this – most foreign retailers who accept cash dollars offer bad exchange deals, often charging you about 20 percent more to pay in U.S. dollars than they would if you paid in euros. Avoid these lazy exchange rates by changing your dollars for euros at a bank, or paying with your card.
That said, some credit card-friendly merchants may offer to charge your purchase in U.S. dollars. This is called dynamic currency conversion, and it does not work in your favor. These purchases usually undergo poor exchange rates and sometimes incur additional fees on top of that. If offered the option, always choose to charge your credit card purchases in euros.
Finally, do not use your credit card to obtain a cash advance. You might need local cash quick, but use a debit card to get it if possible, because credit card companies usually charge high fees and interest rates for cash advances – even if they also offer competitive foreign currency exchange rates. Moreover, the interest on a cash advance usually starts accumulating immediately after you withdraw the cash, unlike with typical credit card purchases.