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Using a credit card in France
Here's what you need to know about using your credit card in France.
Much like Canada, many shops and restaurants across France allow you to pay with your credit or debit cards. The fact you can use your card almost anywhere around the country is great news — but there are a few things you should know before you use your credit card in France.
Learn more about your options below.
In France, credit cards and debit cards are typically jointly referred to as “carte de crédit” or just “carte.” When a distinction is drawn, it’s between domestic credit cards (“Carte Bleue” or blue card) versus international ones (“Carte Bleue Visa” or “Carte Bleue Mastercard”). When you see a “CB” logo outside a French shop window, this means the shop should take an international Visa or Mastercard credit card. American Express cards are not nearly as commonly accepted in France. Compare your options below.
Using a card overseas can be expensive. Two common charges to avoid are foreign transaction fees and currency conversion fees.
- Foreign transaction fees. A foreign transaction fee is charged when you use your card overseas, and is usually around 2.5% to 3% of each transaction — though it can be more, depending on your specific credit card. Most credit cards charge these fees, however there are a couple of cards offered in Canada that come with no foreign transaction fees.
- Currency conversion fees. A merchant may offer to convert your bill into Canadian dollars instead of charging you in euros. This is called a dynamic currency conversion (DCC), and it’s expensive because you’ll pay a currency conversion fee for it. Whether you’re in France — or any other country for that matter — always decline the offer and pay in the local currency.
Most places you go — restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions — will accept both credit and debit cards. However, some merchants that run small businesses, family owned restaurants and stalls at outdoor markets, may only accept cash.
That said, it’s always a good idea to carry at least some cash on you at all times. One of the best ways to obtain cash is from one of the numerous ATMs in France. It’s best to use an ATM inside a bank as theft at ATM machines in popular tourist locations is rampant. In addition, avoid exchanging money at the airport as currency-exchange kiosks are notorious for offering terrible exchange rates.
Did you know?
The French currency is the euro. This is the same currency used by almost 20 countries in the European Union, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. If you’re visiting other countries in the EU, you won’t need to exchange money.
It’s tempting to use your credit card to withdraw cash at an ATM – but avoid doing so unless it’s an emergency. Your credit card provider will charge you a cash advance fee as well as a high interest rate for cash advances. Unlike a purchase interest rate, the cash advance interest rate will be charged from the day you withdraw the cash — there is no grace period.
Instead, use your debit card to withdraw cash at an ATM. While you’ll likely be charged an ATM fee, you can avoid paying interest. If you’re looking to avoid the ATM fee too, you can apply for a debit card that charges no ATM fees at specific ATMs. As an example, Scotiabank have a Global ATM Alliance with a variety of ATM providers around the world. This alliance allows you to withdraw cash at specific ATMs worldwide free of charge.
As with all destinations, there’s a possibility that your credit card information could be stolen. Here are a few ways to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:
- Keep your PIN safe. Whenever you enter your PIN, use your other hand to cover the keypad. This helps cut down on spying — both from hidden cameras and people looking over your shoulder.
- Be careful about which ATMs you use. Avoid ATMs in isolated locations or ones located right beside tourist attractions. Pickpockets have been known to target ATMs in busy areas, such as the one underneath the Eiffel Tower. Instead, use ATMs attached to banks.
- Cancel your ATM transaction if anything seems sketchy. Don’t use an ATM if your card doesn’t slide smoothly into the card slot or if the keypad is difficult to press. The machine may be compromised by a credit card skimmer — a device that steals credit card information.
- Avoid letting your credit card out of your sight. Out of view, someone can easily take a photo of your credit card. At restaurants, consider paying for your meals in cash so servers won’t have to take your credit card elsewhere. Many French restaurants often use portable card readers that servers bring directly to you, but you can simply use cash as a precaution.
- Keep your card physically safe. Thieves don’t just steal credit card information by recording your card number — they can also steal the card itself. Pickpockets in many European cities — like Paris and Nice — heavily target tourists. The bigger the tourist destination, the more pickpockets there tend to be. Consider keeping your credit card in a money belt to keep it out of reach and out of sight.
Before heading to France, consider the following tips:
- Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can be a downer on vacation, but they’re easy to avoid if you pick the right credit card.
- Consider getting a Visa or Mastercard. In France, both Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. Fewer locations accept American Express.
- Give your card provider a heads-up. Before heading overseas, notify your bank or credit card provider of your trip. If they see a foreign transaction on your card, they may put a hold on your account for suspicious activity. Notifying them can avoid these types of problems.
- Keep phone numbers handy. Your card might get lost or stolen while you’re travelling, which means you’ll need the right phone number to call for a replacement card.
- Know where you’ll get cash once you arrive. To save time and money, plan out beforehand where you’ll get cash. See if your bank has any international partnerships that allow you to use some ATMs for free.
Before you head out to France, answer these questions:
- Which credit cards will I take? Consider taking at least two credit cards in case you lose one or one doesn’t work in France. Ideally, at least one of the cards won’t charge foreign transaction fees.
- Do I understand the fees I might encounter? Knowledge is power — and it can save you a lot of money on your travels. Be wary of both currency conversion fees and foreign transaction fees.
- Have I called my credit card provider? Inform your credit card provider of your trip, and know what number you’ll call if you run into trouble overseas.
- What’s my plan for cash? Have a debit card ready, and know which ATMs you’ll get cash from.
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