Even though this info is in the Resource Guide, I’ve had more than a handful of clients experience difficulties getting cash while in Paris recently, so I thought it might be worth clarifying a few things:
- Try to avoid bringing large sums of cash from your home country to exchange for euros; you’ll be scrambling to find change bureaus, get ripped off on the rate, and be charged a commission on top of it.
- Ditto for any dinosaurs out there who still use traveler’s cheques; they are a huge pain in the butt to cash.
- Don’t try and pay for anything with dollars; that may have worked in the 80s (possibly even the 90s), but the dollar is so low now that no one wants it (and I can’t help but think how tacky it is to TIP in dollars…)
- Using your ATM card to get cash from an automated cash machine is the best way to get cash in Paris. That said, two corollaries:
- YOU MUST KNOW YOUR 4-DIGIT PIN
- YOU MUST NOTIFY YOUR BANK OF YOUR TRAVEL PLANS SO THEY DON’T FREAK OUT AND BLOCK YOUR CARD WHEN THEY SEE TONS OF PURCHASES IN FRANCE.
- Sometimes, even if the ATM has the little symbol that means it accepts your card, it just doesn’t work. Keep trying different banks (I find that BNP-Paribas ATMs work more consistently than most). The one in the southeast corner of the Place Vendôme allows you to withdraw up to a thousand euros at once (obviously, your own home bank should allow you to take out this much at once for this to work; know your withdraw limit in advance).
- Some travel guides state that you can take your Visa or Mastercard (with a photo ID) into a bank and ask the teller to give you a cash advance. I’ve tried this more than once, at many different banks, and NONE will do this. They will direct you to the ATM. So if you don’t have your PIN, or your card is demagnetized or whatever, it just won’t work.
- American Express is not widely accepted except in more expensive shops and restaurants (because they charge the establishments a large fee to accept them).
- Sometimes there’s no explanation of why your card won’t work. I had a client last month whose three cards (two debit cards and a credit card) stopped working; no purchases would go through in shops or at restaurants, and the cash machines said they weren’t working. She called her banks who assured her there was nothing wrong on their end. A whole day of trying different banks didn’t work, so she eventually had someone from home wire her money through Western Union. Strangely, the next day her cards worked fine. So, a fluke? Who knows.
It’s good to have a Plan B just in case:
- Always good to know how Western Union works (there are daily transfer limits in some cases, and the Western Union windows in French Post Offices are only open during banking hours (weekdays until 6pm and Saturday morning).
- Bring enough cash in euros from home (ask your bank in advance) to cover your first day’s expenses: transport from the airport, dinner, etc. until you get acclimated and can find the nearest bank.
If anyone else has something to add, let me know!