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Getting Cash in Paris

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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:
  1. YOU MUST KNOW YOUR 4-DIGIT PIN
  2. 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:
  1. 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).
  2. 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!

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  • First of all – love this site – looking forward to 3 days in Paris in July (stopover on the way back to the US from Greece).Perhaps the person whose card didn’t work was trying to withdraw more than his/her daily limit. This happened to me one day on a Greek island and I finally figured out what the problem was – doh! Shop around the banks in the US to see who has the best ATM deal and set up an account with them. 2 years ago it was Wachovia. Bof America also has a good deal if you take a few large withdrawls (ie 400 e at a time). Some banks have international partners and you can save fees by going to their machines (in Canada – Scotia Bank and BofAmerica are partners so no ATM fee, fyi). Capital One currently has the lowest fees for purchases abroad.good article here:http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/packing-the-right-credit-card/

  • For U.S. travelers, I believe Chase (though I’m not completely sure) is the only credit card right now which will allow you to charge something while abroad, without adding some kind of percentage penalty to every transaction.Killer.Most banks also sock you with a hefty ATM usage charge ($5 usually), which is usually a big % of whatever money you’re withdrawing, especially since ATMs in foreign countries may restrict how much you can withdraw at once, irrespective of the actual limit on your bank account. Thus if you’re going to withdraw 500 euros via a debit card, it pays to shop for an ATM that doesn’t limit you to 200-euro increments, since this would hit you with three separate ATM withdrawal charges. (In general, I found BnP machines didn’t have a limit.)Note for debit cards used as credit cards, and almost all credit cards, the bank will charge at least 2% or 3% of every transaction as a fee. Coming from the Boston area, I know Fleet didn’t used to add this percentage when a debit card was used as a credit card. Then when Bank of America (BOA) bought Fleet, they started to. So we called (when living in France) and they said, whoops, that was a mistake. Later, they started doing it again. We called, and they said the first time hadn’t been a mistake.And they say banking consolidation is good for customers. (Right.)

  • I just got back from 3 weeks in Paris, using my ATM card to pull cash out as needed. I looked at my online statement today and found that Citibank charged me 3% "foreign transaction fee" for each ATM withdrawal! I thought I was avoiding that 3% by using ATM/Cash instead of credit card. When I called to discuss the fees with Citibank, they said it’s been standard process for years. I don’t believe it. Be sure to check with your bank about charges for ATM use. I would have used my Capital One card more (no foreign transaction fees) if I had known.

  • Some corollaries to the above:1.) Don’t use Visa or MasterCard…they add 3% to your purchases for nothing in return.2.) Have all of your credit/debit card numbers & their emergency back-in-the-States phone numbers kept separately back at your lodging in case your purse/wallet is stolen.3.) Bring multiple debit cards, but only carry one at a time. If your purse/wallet is lifted, you can cancel that card, but still have a spare.4.) Don’t carry alot of cash, but be willing to go to the ATM almost daily. Pay your hotel bill every few days so you don’t owe a large amount at the end of your stay.5.) Go to the ATM during the daylight hours. If possible, have someone be a lookout. Memorize the punching of your 4-digit pin such that you can place your fingers over the keypad & your other hand over the fingers; then enter the PIN without looking.

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