On January 1, 2002 the Euro became the official currency of France and all other EU countries (including the Principality of Monaco). The paper bills are €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, and €500 (do NOT let any banks or exchange services give you these, no one will accept them but banks). The coins are silver and gold-colored €2 and €1, the golden-colored €0.50, €0.20, €0.10, and the practically worthless copper-colored €0.05, €0.02, and €0.01 cents. You can see what they look like here. If you have old French francs lying around, keep them as souvenirs; they are worth nothing anymore in France. Learn more than you ever wanted to know about the Euro here.
It’s a good idea to buy at least €100 from you home bank so that you arrive with enough money to get you to your hotel (you really don’t want to deal with out-of-order cash distributors or expensive exchange commissions when you arrive jet-lagged at the airport). Then use your bank card to withdraw cash as needed from cash distributor machines in or outside all banks and post offices (you need to know your 4-digit PIN to use these machines; there is always an option to change the language on the machines to English).
Cash Exchange offices (bureaux de change) are the ONLY places to exchange cash in France (banks will only do this for their own customers, not for tourists). The exchange offices that state “no commissions” have better rates than airports, hotels, department stores or train stations. You can find exchange booths in every touristy area such as:
- Place St-Michel, 5th
- Carrefour de l’Odéon, 6th
- Avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th
- American Express behind the Opéra, 9th
- Around M° Grands Boulevards, 2nd/9th
- At 162 Rue de Rivoli, 1st, M° Louvre-Rivoli
Find the official exchange rates here.
Compare Paris Currency Exchanges (From Secrets of Paris Newsletter #136, February 21, 2014)
I’m not a big fan of exchanging currency because it requires you to carry large sums of cash while traveling, which is never a safe thing to do. Using a credit or debit card to get cash from the ATMs in Paris usually gets you a better rate anyway. But if you can’t avoid exchanging cash, at least try and get the best rate possible within Paris. Usually to do this you’d have to call around or check a bunch of websites, but an enterprising young French techie with some free time decided to create a website that allows you to compare rates all in one spot, Compare Money Changers. He doesn’t work for these agencies and doesn’t make any money off the site (for now), so consider it an unbiased service, and always confirm the rate with the change office before handing over your cash.
Also have a look at this ongoing discussion on currency exchange in Paris.