Using a credit card in France

Use our guide to get the best out of your plastic, and your cash, on holiday in France.

The Eiffel Tower may be France’s most recognisable landmark, but there are plenty of other candidates for your itinerary if you’re planning a trip to the land of liberty, equality and fraternity. From the luxurious beaches of Cannes to the vineyards of Bordeaux, it’s no wonder that so many Brits cross the Channel each year to experience a taste of French culture (and French wine). With so much to see and do, you might be wondering what payment method you’re going to use to fund it all.

If you plan on bringing your credit card to France, you’re in luck – it’s very simple to use your “carte de crédit” in the land of cheese and croissants.

Cash machines in France

Visa and Mastercard credit cards are the most widely accepted in France, so these card networks should be your first choice. While some places do accept American Express, this is less common.

Luckily, ATMs are easy to find in nearly every French major city and town, If you’re heading to more rural areas, it’s worth having more cash with you. Definitely avoid taking cash out at an airport currency exchange, where you’re likely to be given a poorer exchange rate. You are most likely to find an ATM outside post offices and bank branches, usually indicated by a sign that says “retraite”, which means “withdrawal”.

Cash in France

Since ATMs and card machines are not common in rural areas of France, it is a good idea to ensure you have enough cash with you beforehand.

Even though card machines are common in many restaurants, shops and hotels across popular tourist destinations, it is always wise to always carry some cash just to be prepared. Small souvenir shops, patisseries and boulangeries may require you to pay with cash, and restaurants or markets are less likely to accept credit card payments below €20. Plus, if you want to tip a server when dining out, you should make sure you are carrying some small change.

Find a great deal on your travel money for France

Chip and PIN

The chip-and-PIN payment method is standard across France, so it is identical to how we make payments in the UK. Simply just insert your card into an ATM or card machine, and enter your 4-digit PIN code – et voilà!

Many retailers are also now accepting contactless payments below the €30 limit – just look out for the contactless payment symbol.

Is it safe to use my card in France?

By exercising some caution when using your credit card in France, using your card should be a safe and hassle-free experience.

  • Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
  • Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
  • Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.

Keeping your credit card (physically) safe

Remain alert to street crime, especially as pickpocketing is the most common crime in Paris. In some cases, two or more people work to distract victims before stealing their valuables. A common approach is for one person to pose as someone in need, and then force a paper into your hands for you to sign and agree to donate money – and while you are distracted another person will take your belongings while you are not looking. These kinds of street crimes occur commonly in popular tourist destinations, such as Paris, so stay vigilant at all times but especially in major cities.

Potential credit card fees

Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.

Foreign transaction fees

British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.

Learn more about cards designed for overseas spending

Currency conversion fees

If a shop or restaurant offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in the local currency.

Cash advance fees

Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive the advance fee.

The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in France.

section of credit card summary box document

Additionally you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.

What is a cash advance fee?

A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.

How to prepare before travelling to France

  1. Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to France, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, it’s not likely that you will be able to use it in many places.
  2. Think no foreign transaction fees. When there are cards that come with no foreign transaction fees, using ones that charge 2% or 3% of each overseas transaction does not make sense. Some of these cards don’t charge an annual fee, either.
  3. Keep your bank posted. Your bank may block your credit card if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
  4. Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
  5. Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.

Next steps

Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in France does not hit any roadblocks.

  • Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the best choices. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
  • Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
  • What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
  • How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you. Exchanging Sterling to Euros is easy and you’ll get several options.

When you’re in France, you typically don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card, as most popular destinations will accept them. Just make sure you keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases and to tip servers. And don’t forget your “Bonjour” and “Merci” at the till!

Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in France

Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Name Product Finder score Finder score Purchases Annual/monthly fees Initial credit limits Representative APR Incentive Link
Santander All in One Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
0% for 15 months reverting to 23.9%
£3 per month
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
29.8% APR (variable)
0.5% after £1 of monthly spend. Maximum of £10 cashback paid per month. Cashback paid Monthly into Card Account. Maximum spend for cashback purposes is limited to credit limit.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 23.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 29.8% APR (variable).
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The Royal Bank Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
12.9%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit not specified.
12.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 12.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 12.9% APR (variable).
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NatWest Credit Card
4.5
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
12.9%
£0
Min. limit £250, max. limit not specified.
12.9% APR (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 12.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 12.9% APR (variable).
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Royal Bank of Scotland Reward Black Credit Card
4.0
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
21.9%
£84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: £0 per annum
Min. limit £5,000, max. limit not specified.
40.7% APR (variable)
Earn 1% back at supermarkets and 0.5% back everywhere else, including supermarket petrol stations. At selected retailers, you could earn 1-15% back.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: £0 per annum, your representative rate is 40.7% APR (variable).
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NatWest Reward Black Credit Card
4.0
★★★★★
★★★★★
Expert analysis
21.9%
£84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: Year 2 onwards - £0 per annum
Min. limit £5,000, max. limit not specified.
40.7% APR (variable)
You'll earn 1% back at supermarkets and 0.5% back everywhere else, including supermarket petrol stations. At selected retailers, you could earn 1-15% back.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 21.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £84 per annum. Reward Black Current Account holders: Year 2 onwards - £0 per annum, your representative rate is 40.7% APR (variable).
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We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you. Most of the data in Finder's comparison tables has the source: Moneyfacts Group PLC. In other cases, Finder has sourced data directly from providers.

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