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Foreign currency exchange 
in France

A guide to best practice

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Buying and paying : using Euros during your trip to France    

  By far the easiest way to pay for things in France is simply to use an international  credit card or debit card. Visa and Mastercard can be used all over France, and American Express cards and other international cards in a number of places. For buying things in shops and paying hotel bills, just use your Visa or Mastercard, just the same way as you would use them at home. As long as you have a card with chip and pin technology, using it as you would at home is the simplest and often the most economical way of paying for things in France.
   But obviously, there are situations in which paying with plastic is not an option. Visitors to France therefore need to have some Euros to hand, to pay for small or larger items and in cases where the trader does not accept cards.
   As is the custom throughout Europe, prices displayed in shops in France always include sales tax ("la TVA" - value added tax). The price you see on the label is the price you will be charged  - which can be a pleasant surprise for American or Canadian visitors.

   Note that with the occasional exception of a few large international hotels, and export-oriented shops - for example some shops on the Champs Elysées in Paris - it is not possible to pay for things in dollars in France (or, for that matter, almost anywhere else in Europe).

So again, the simplest solution is to use your international credit card or debit card.


Generally speaking, you can withdraw money from cash-dispensers (ATMs) in France in exactly the same way as you would at home - except that you will be asked to select a sum in Euros. Your card company or bank will automatically debit your account in your usual currency, having converted the sum at the day's exchange rate, or the exchange rate that they use for private customers. Some banks and card companies also charge a withdrawal fee when the card is used in a foreign ATM, others do not. If you have several cards, find out first which of them is going to charge you least and offer you the best exchange if you use them to withdraw Euros, and then use that one for your trip to France.

Rules and warnings

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However, there are some golden rules that you need to follow if you do not want to end up paying far more than necessary for this service, or running out of cash because you have reached your limit for withdrawals. So here are some tips and advice.

1. Tell you bank or card operator that you are going to France before you depart; it may be necessary for them to temporarily up your ceiling for cash withdrawals, as you may well be withdrawing more in cash than you would normally need.
2.  Do not make frequent withdrawals of small sums. You will probably pay a fixed commission on each withdrawal, over and above the conversion rate margin that your financial institution will take. In percentage terms, the smaller the withdrawals, the higher the commission, and the more often you will pay it. So it makes sense to withdraw larger sums and to do so less frequently.
3. Do not use your credit or debit card for very small purchases: your bank or card company may add a small charge for each purchase you make. On small sums, for example sums under 40 €, fixed credit card charges per transaction can soon mount up.

Other means of obtaining your Euros
If you do not want to, or cannot, use a credit card or debit card in France, you will need to make other arrangements. The best proposal is usually to obtain your Euros in cash or in the form of travellers' cheques from your bank, prior to your departure. Your own bank may well apply a more favourable conversion rate than other types of bureau de change. However, in Europe as a whole, travelers cheques are rather old-fashioned, and less and less places accept them.

Exchanging currency notes
    It is no longer possible to exchange foreign currency notes in banks in France. The only places that exchange foreign banknotes are bureaux-de-change which can be found in large cities. But be wary of these foreign exchange kiosks in ports, airports, on ferries and other traveller-oriented locations. They frequently take substantial commissions, or use an exchange rate which is well below the official rate. The advertising slogan "We take no commission" is frequently used to mislead travellers into thinking that they are getting a very good deal, when the reverse is true. They may well take no fixed commission, but may use a very unfavourable conversion rate. Overall, the customer may lose up to 7% of the value of the notes being exchanged.
   It's useful to compare the "We buy at..." and the "We sell at..." rates that are announced. The greater the difference between the two, the worse the exchange rate you are getting.
A hypothetical example
 If the official Euro to dollar exchange rate is 1 Euro = 1.10 USD (which it sometimes is, depending on fluctuations), and an exchange bureau offers to sell you Euros for Dollars at  1.16602, the difference may not look great to the unwary traveler, but the exchange bureau is actually charging you about 6% by using a poor exchange rate.
   And if they're selling Euros at 1.16602, you also see that they're buying them back as something like 1.03600....
   You'll be  losing 60 dollars for every 1000 dollars you change this way.  Far better use a credit or debit card and an ATM.

Travellers cheques

These can be cashed at virtually any bank and  urban post office in France; they can also be used in some hotels. However, outside of major tourist regions (such as certain parts of Paris or or the Riviera), very few shops or hotels accept travelers checks as payment.  If you do wish to come to France with travellers cheques, it is advisable to get them in Euros, not in US dollars or any other currency. That way you know that your cheques are worth their face value when you cash them in.

Wire services.

It is often possible to have money wired to you while in France, using the services of companies such as Western Union. In this case, you can arrange to have money delivered to an agency (such as a specific post office) in France, and pick up the money in cash. For full details, consult your bank or any currency transfer operator.   Home page -  Site search  -  Regions  -  Maps of France  -  Contact

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