You’ll get the best exchange rate by using your credit/debit card for purchases or cash advances from automated bank tellers (distributeurs de billets). Be sure you know your 4-digit code and the maximum daily withdrawal allowance before leaving home. Your own bank may charge €1-€2 per transaction. It’s also a good idea to notify your bank of your trip so they don’t think your card has been stolen and deactivate it.
Note: French cash dispensers accept most international bank cards. If yours doesn’t seem to be working at any of the cash machines, don’t give up. Try the BNP Paribas Lutèce (72 Rue Monge, 5th M° Monge), which seems to accept even the most obscure cards. If you have a high withdraw limit (ie $1000) but can’t find a cash machine that will give you more than €200-€300 at a time, try the BNP Paribas Vendôme (in the passage at 7, Place Vendôme, 1st, M° Tuileries or Concorde).
Carte Bleue (French affiliate of Visa) and MasterCard (aka EuroCard) are the most widely accepted credit cards in France, with JCB and Diners Club also widely accepted. Because of the high commission fees, American Express is usually only accepted in larger stores and expensive restaurants; always ask in advance. “Paiement sans contact” is usually an option for purchases under €30 if your credit card has the “waves” symbol on it (see image below). You then just hold your card close to the terminal until it beeps, no code or signature needed.
French credit cards have always exclusively used the microchip that recognizes their PIN instead of the “swipe and sign” method (today both options are available on US credit cards, so you may be asked to enter your pin or to sign the receipt, depending on the merchant).
- MasterCard, 08 00 90 13 87 (France)
- Visa, 08 00 90 11 79 (France) or collect 1 410 581 9994.
- American Express, call collect 1 336 393 1111.
- Diners Club, call collect 1 303 799 1504.
Why yes, they still DO exist! (at least as of October 2018) The best option to carrying large sums of cash when traveling, the only downside is that they can be cumbersome to exchange and commissions are high. There are two “Kanoo” exchange bureaus in Paris recommended by American Express, one at 11 Rue Scribe (9th M° Opéra), and one on the third floor of Le Bon Marché Department Store at 24 rue de Sèvres (7th, M° Sèvres-Babylone). There are many other exchange bureaus that will also exchange them, check out the map here.