Here’s the lowdown on changing money and using credit cards in France.
Best Debit Card for ATMs: Use your Bank of America debit card in a BNP Paribas cash machine; they are part of the same banking network and you won’t be charged a transaction fee on either end. Here is a list of BNP ATMs in Nice. Credit Union cards also don’t charge transaction fees.
Best Credit Card: Most credit cards charge a 3% international transaction fee, but Cap One is the big exception with no fee. Other newcomers to this ‘no fee’ bandwagon include American Express (Platinum and Centurion only) and Chase Mileage Plus. Credit Union cards are the next best thing, as they usually charge only 1%. Here is a list U.S. banks with their fees so you can check your card in advance.
Card Acceptance: MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, American Express somewhat less so (accepted at mostly higher-end establishments), and nobody has ever heard of Discover or Diner’s Club.
Why Your U.S. Credit Card won’t work in French Ticket Machines: American credit cards are the magnetic ‘swipe’ type whereas everywhere else in the world, credit cards work with a microchip, or ‘puce‘ system. Businesses and cash machines can handle both types, but ticket machines (like at train stations, parking garages, parking meters, tram ticket machines, and the Velo Bleus) cannot swipe. For this reason it’s a good idea to have a pocket full of change.
Another quirk of French credit card machines is that you can’t add a tip in restaurants. Again, have a few coins in your pocket… 2-5% is fine.
Changing Currency or Travelers Checks: You’ll get the best rate from Change Bureaus – look for ones that advertise ‘no commission‘. You can find several change bureaus near the bottom of Jean Medecin, and the only American Express office is at the Airport. Hotels might be the easiest, but you pay for the convenience with the highest rates.
Photo credit: Fergoweb, licensed under Creative Commons
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