Changing Money and Using Credit Cards in France

50 euro bills fanned out

Changing Money or Cashing Travelers Checks:  French banks won’t change currency, so you are limited to Change Bureaus or your hotel.  Change Bureaus have by far the better rates, especially if you look for ones that advertise ‘no commission’.  In Nice, you can find two change bureaus near the bottom of Jean Médecin, one on the corner across from Galeries Lafayette (tram stop Massena), and another just up the street across from McDonald’s.  The change bureau with the best rate, however, is on rue d’Italie, behind the Notre Dame church (tram stop Jean Médecin).  The only American Express office is at the Airport in terminal 1.

How to get the Best Rate for Cash:   Forget Travelers Checks, forget change bureaus…  you’ll get the best deal—that day’s bank rate—using your debit card in an ATM.  Forgot your pin?  You can get cash with your card, passport and signature (and a bit of patience) inside the bank.

Which Credit Cards to Bring:   Nobody has ever heard of Discover or Diner’s Club here, so leave those two at home. Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted, and American Express somewhat less so, but usually accepted at mostly higher-end establishments.

Credit Cards with Best Exchange Rates:   Most credit cards charge an international transaction fee, but Chase, Cap One, and BofA are some of the best U.S. credit cards with no international fee.  Credit Union cards are the next best thing, as they usually charge only 1%.

Best Debit Card to use in French ATMs:   If you use your Bank of America debit card in a BNP Paribas cash machine, you won’t be charged a transaction fee on either end; they are part of the same banking network.  Here is a list of BNP ATMs in Nice.   Credit Union cards also don’t charge transaction fees.  Here is a list U.S. debit cards with their fees so you can check your card in advance.

European credit cards have a chip and pin system, and whereas the US credit cards have gotten on the chip bandwagon, many still don’t have a pin.  Most European card machines are able to deal with this, but some still seem confused, so if you are paying with a card and it asks for your pin anyway, just hit okay or enter and the transaction should proceed.

Adding Tips on Credit Cards: A quirk of European credit card machines is that you can’t manually add a tip in restaurants once your card is processed.  You can add a tip to the credit card but only if you let the waiter know before the transaction is entered.   Just in case, have a few coins in your pocket… 2-5% is fine.

And finally, if your cards are lost or stolen, here are the French phone numbers to cancel your cards.

Photo credit: Fergoweb, licensed under Creative Commons

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