When traveling to another country, many travelers wonder how they are going to handle their money. Those traveling to a country that does not accept United States dollars will first need to convert their cash into the local currency. It's also wise to bring along credit cards and debit cards in addition to cash, to use whenever possible. Travelers planning a trip to France should have no problem using a credit or debit card, but there are some things to consider before swiping away.
Where You Can Use a Card
France is one of those countries where credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Whether a person is paying for a rental car to drive to the south of France, making a reservation online to visit the Louvre or planning on buying some luxurious items on Champs d' Elysee, travelers can rely on their credit card or debit card to get the job done. Cash is really only used for things like taxis, buses and trains, though it's possible to pay for train or subway tickets with a card too.
France Requires Chip & Pin Cards
Any debit or credit cards a person plans on using in France must have a chip in it and a pin associated with the card. Most cards in the U.S. now have a chip in them. Therefore, as long as you're not using an old card with a simple magnetic strip, you will be able to use your card in the terminals in France, as well as most places in Europe, without any problems. Some machines may prompt you to also put in a pin number, and if not, the cashier will ask for a signature. If your card is not working in a self-scanner machine, then simply ask a sales associate to help you manually use the card.
One thing to keep in mind is that even if a card does have a chip and requires a pin, this may not always work for "offline" transactions, mainly because the U.S. uses a somewhat different system. Offline transactions are those at unmanned payment systems, such as a French toll plaza.
Foreign Transaction Fees & ATMs
Before using a debit card or credit card in France, it's important to know what the bank charges in foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can accrue every time the card is swiped, so it's a good idea to ask the bank what the charges are. Card-users may also get a separate charge by the institution they are using the card at in France.
An ATM, or what's called a "distributeur" in France, is a bit different and can be a great way to access money in France without being charged too much. If you can find a bank that's a sister bank (or even a branch) of the one you use in the U.S., then you will either not be charged ATM fees or will be charged very little. For instance, Bank of America has a corresponding bank in France known as "BNP Paribas" which won't charge the $5 fee for using a Bank of America debit card at their ATM.
By using an ATM with a debit card (not a credit card), it's easy to take out a lot of cash at once and avoid losing the money that you would normally lose on a lousy currency exchange; additionally by making one lump sum withdrawal you can avoid paying a large number of ATM fees. Some banks will even reimburse customers for foreign transaction fees accrued abroad.
When bringing a debit and credit cards to France, make sure to keep those cards safe. Scammers can try to steal sensitive card information by using a card skimmer. Avoid using strange looking ATMs and always watch the cashier when they scan your card. Before taking your debit and credit cards abroad, call your bank and let them know you'll be traveling in order to avoid having your transactions come up as suspicious or fraudulent activity.