Changing Money and Using Credit Cards in France

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 Medecin, 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 Medecin).  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 Cap One is the big exception with no fee.  Other newcomers to this ‘no fee’ bandwagon include American Express, 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.

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.

Why Your U.S. Credit Card Won’t Work in French Ticket Machines:  Only chip-and-pin cards work in French ticket machines, and American credit cards now finally have the ‘chip’ but not yet the ‘pin’.  American debit cards sometimes do have chip and pin, so these will work in all machines.   All stores, restaurants 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 and require chip-and-pin.  For this reason it’s a good idea to upgrade to a new chip and pin debit card before your trip.

Adding Tips on Credit Cards: Another quirk of French credit card machines is that you can’t add a tip in restaurants.   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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