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 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.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in France
Updated February 19th, 2020
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.
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 kind 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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in France does not hit any roadblocks.
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!
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