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How to Get Your Money to Paris


Such a great city! And such an expensive one. In Paris it’s possible to burn through money pretty fast, and you feel awfully vulnerable when you run out. So, how do you replenish the coffers? And how do you do it while minimizing the fees and commissions, and while getting a decent exchange rate?

For this article, I’m assuming you have funds in the US that you want to move to France. There are a few good ways to do it, and a lot of bad ones. You should review the ideas I list below, and then check out all the comments that are bound to pop up as people chime in (or set me straight).

There are lots of options—from PayPal to toting gold coins in your carryon (just kidding!)—but in every case you want to ask two questions: 1) What are the fees for the service; and 2) How good is the exchange rate? The answers can have a huge impact on what you get for your money.

Oh, one last thing:

Disclaimer: We’re not sponsored by any of the services/companies mentioned here, and we’re also not financial gurus. The information provided is checked to the best of our abilities, but it’s provided “as is.” 

OK, now let’s start with a couple of questions:

Do you want to transfer funds to a bank account (your own or someone else’s) in France? If yes, skip to Item 1, below.

Do you want to transfer cash? If yes, skip to Item 2, below.

Do you want to withdraw cash (on credit or debit cards)? If yes, skip to Item 3, below.

1. Transferring funds from the US to a French bank account

First off, make sure you have a French account to transfer funds to! If you’re looking to open your own account at a French bank, be forewarned: the IRS has made reporting of American accounts so burdensome, that many French banks don’t want to bother with it! (Maybe we should do an article on opening a bank account!)

But let’s day you already have that French account, or else you are transferring money to someone else’s account. To start the process, you need to have the banking information for the account you are transferring to—otherwise known as the relevé d’identité bancaire (or RIB). This will include the bank codes, the account holder’s name, and, especially the IBAN (the International Bank Account Number – a system used throughout Europe, but not domestically in the US).

Once you have that information, it’s possible to move to the next step. Here are your principal options:

  • You can send an international wire from your US bank to the account identified on the RIB. Note that in most instances you’ll have to go to your bank and fill out the wire paperwork. With most major US banks you can also create a standing order—one that either transfers set amounts on a regular schedule, or that is available for occasional transfers, which can be triggered by a phone call or via the web.

Pros: You get to deal with your own bank, and you don’t need to set up any accounts with third parties.

Cons: The biggest disadvantage is that many commercial banks charge absurd fees, and/or they give you terrible exchange rates. In general, this is a bad option for large transfers. (One exception: Charles Schwab seems to use market rates for exchange, and their international wire fee is only $25, regardless of the amount. This is the service I use most.) Also, typical bank transfers take several days; be patient.

  • You can use an independent money transfer service. Services like TransferWise (https://transferwise.com/fr) allow you to set up an account for transferring money. As soon as you pay them (by credit card, domestic wire transfer, or EFT transfer), they release funds at the other side. (This page at moneytis.com will show you what the best rates are currently for the main providers.) These funds must be directed to a bank account.

Pros: It’s pretty cheap, and it may be faster than some bank transfers (usually 3-4 days). TransferWise gives you market rates, and their current fee runs about $10 per thousand dollars transferred.  

Cons: Most of these services are relatively new, and you may feel nervous about trying them out. (Do your homework, and go with a proven name.) These services do require a bit of set-up, so you’ll want to think about whether it’s worth it for a one-time transaction. Also, if you’re sending large amounts (more than $2500), the fees can be more than you’d pay with some banks (such as Schwab).

  • PayPal. You can actually send dollars from your PayPal account and have them converted to euros when they arrive in the target account. (Note: you can send this money between your own US PayPal account and your own French PayPal account—but you can only have a French PayPal account if you have a French bank account, too.) The money goes to the recipient’s PayPal account, after which it can be transferred to the recipient’s bank.

Pros: It’s very fast (practically immediate). Also, you only need the recipient’s e-mail address, not his full banking information.

Cons: The fees are pretty high. Best to use this only for small amounts or when nothing else will do.

2. Sending cash from the US to be received as cash in France

What could be simpler than cash? Well, you can always carry cash (or other monetary instruments) with you (although US customs requires you to fill out a “FinCEN 105” if you take out more than $10,000). But the real problem isn’t bringing the dollars; it’s changing them into euros.

  • The main options for getting cash to someone is to send it by Western Union (www.westernunion.com) or MoneyGram (https://secure.moneygram.com/). You pay on the US side by credit card, wire transfer, EFT, or cash, and the money is transferred to Paris in just a couple of days. It can be picked up in euros at any of the available centers in the city. (Western Union, for instance, has many. See their listing for Paris here.) The recipient does need to present ID in order to pick up the funds.

Pros: It works. It gets cash to people who need it.

Cons: It’s expensive. The fees add up quickly. This is a useful stopgap, but it’s not a good method for transferring money on a regular basis.

  • Cash. That’s right: you could just tote a bunch of cash with you. It’s a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, but if you happen to have a bunch of dollars, you can go to various bureaux de change, where you’ll pay high rates and/or commissions. Consider this your second-to-last resort. Check our page for the best places to do this, if you really want to.
  • Hock it. That’s right. If you’re in real straits, you can always hock that wedding ring. It’s called a “prêt sur gage”, and you can learn about it here: http://www.pretsurgage.fr/. The practice is run by the government via the Caisses de crédit municipal. You need an ID (passport) and a proof of where you live (typically a utility bill, but a hotel bill might suffice.) This is your last resort.

 3. Withdrawing cash (on credit or debit cards)

This is a surprisingly acceptable option—provided you aren’t trying to transfer large sums of money. In fact, with some credit cards you might decide you don’t need to bother with much cash. Using credit cards abroad used to be terribly expensive, but several cards (most American Express cards, for instance) now offer commission-free international purchases—and their exchange rates aren’t too bad. However, this is definitely not true of all cards, so check with your credit card or debit card company to be sure you understand the terms.

But what if you really need cash?

  • Use a carefully selected debit card. Lots of debit cards will charge you a fee when you’re “out of network”—and when you’re in Paris, good luck finding a US Bank or Wells Fargo ATM! However, a small number of debit cards charge no fees (or reimbursed fees) on foreign transactions—including cash withdrawals. On www.wallethub.com you’ll find a list of the current cards recommended for this purpose. My personal favorite is the Charles Schwab card: it allows up to $500 on a given day, and you can make several withdrawals for free per month. (You are actually charged any fees the local bank imposes, but then Schwab reimburses you for them automatically.) Plus, the Schwab card gives an excellent exchange rate.

Pros: Fast. Cheap. Effective. Also, if you’re a student and your parents are helping you out, they can transfer dollars to your account, and you’ll be able to pull those dollars out right away in euros.

Cons: This is great for daily expenses, but not so great for moving large sums of money.

  • Taking out cash advances on credit cards is generally not a good idea, because you start paying interest right away. (There is typically no grace period for cash advances.) However, there is a work-around for this: you can overpay your credit card bill, which leaves you with a positive balance. This means that when you draw out cash, there is no interest to pay, because you haven’t actually racked up any debt. Still, you want to check for any transaction fees, and verify the exchange rate before deciding that this is for you. Make sure you have your four-digit pin for your credit card; otherwise you won’t be able to take cash out at a French ATM.

Pros: It’s a little finicky, but it can work if you’ve tapped out the debit card but can get a positive balance on the credit account.

Cons: Many people find this too much trouble to bother with.

Phew! That was quite a chore. OK, everyone: tell me what I’ve missed! 


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  • Please be aware that if you try to use your Bank of America debit card at a BNP Paribas, it will ONLY work if you have it tied to a checking account at B of A. It will NOT work if you have it tied to a savings account. Sadly, we found this out when we got to Paris and have been unable to get any cash out. We had discussed at length what we were doing in Paris with our local Bank of America representatives and they erroneously told us we would be able to get cash out of any Paribas ATM with our savings account. A terribly irresponsible mistake on their part that is costing us great inconvenience and expense on our vacation.

  • As a First Timer to Paris I did a LOT of research and found that the BEST all around money transfer was for me to carry E1,000 with me which I got from my local bank (3% transaction fee) and used my CREDIT UNION debit card for additional CASH while in Paris.(1% international transaction fee per withdrawal). You do have to be aware French ATMs do not tell you what Euro limit per day they employ, so if your debit card is rejected by the atm try a smaller withdrawal amount. I found that withdrawing E300 was no problem. My CREDIT UNION credit card also charged only the 1% international fee for large dinner or store purchases. I used Euros for small purchases since using my card for small debit charges like we do here in the USA incurs the same 1% international fee per use. Much better to us the Euros.

  • The Charles Schwab card was really great to have in France. No fees whatsoever, even after I was overdrawn. The only inconvenience I experienced setting up the account was that they do a background check. I don't use my house address and they wanted proof of residence, even though it is on my drivers license. They ask you to open an investment account to get the checking account, but you don't have to put any money in it. Did not have any trouble getting money in France and in Poland.

  • Many US banks have "affiliated" banks in foreign countries, including France. Usually you don't pay a withdrawal fee on ATM's from these partner banks (but sometimes there may still be a conversion fee). For example, Bank of America is partnered with BNP Paribas in France. It's worth checking with the bank before you leave, as it can reduce the cost. The major US banks generally have good conversion rates.

  • For anyone planning to spend an extended amount of time abroad, a debit card without international fees is an absolute necessity. In the US, I literally go for months without any cash in my wallet. But, for some reason, I was always drawing some out during our several months of travel.There are only two banks I know of that offer debit cards that charge no international fees, Charles Schwab and Capital One 360. But whichever you choose, do NOT wait until the last minute to open your account. You should allow at least two weeks whichever you choose.My personal preference is for Capital One 360, mainly because of the advantage it offers for family cards, though that is not the only reason. Regular Capital One credit cards don't charge international fees, either, but I believe there are several others which don't, as well. Debit cards are a different story. Capital One 360 is an online-only bank, and they are not exactly the same as Capital One. So even if you already have a Capital One checking account, you will need to open a Capital One 360 account in order to get the fee-free debit card.Once you have your own debit card, you can get several more linked to your account. This is meant for teenagers, to allow them to be more independent, but I got them for my two adult daughters and my 12 year old granddaughter. It made it so easy for me to transfer money to them during our travels. And, when one daughter missed her flight, I was able to instantly transfer funds from her sister to pay the extra fees for a new flight – with her permission, of course. We all still have the cards, and use them to send funds for birthdays and holidays. However, since they are meant to be for minors, there are some restrictions. The cards will randomly get turned down in bars or for airline tickets. Just recently, one of my daughters was able to buy Ryanair tickets but not EasyJet tickets in Europe. But I was able to transfer her funds to my card and make the purchases for her because my card is a regular adult one. Eventually, they may all get their own 360 accounts. But in the meantime, since we are such a close family, it works out fine with me as the major account holder. I seriously don't know why more banks don't have this feature, because these have been a lifesaver.You can still make deposits into a Capital One branch for your Capital One 360 account, but you cannot pick up a debit card there. That must come by snail mail and can take a week or more. So, although you can open an account almost instantly online, you don't want to wait until the very last minute to do so.And the Capital One 360 customer service is excellent. I needed help opening all of our accounts, and again while I was abroad, it was very impressive. But there was still nothing they could do to get me a debit card sooner, so I was lucky my sister was leaving a little later than I was and could bring it to me.For those who don't already have a Charles Schwab account, and may be doing this at pretty close to the last minute – as I did, you should be aware that Schwab treats all accounts as investment accounts and this has a couple of different implications.One, the applications are much more detailed and there is a much greater chance of being turned down. People who have never had problems opening bank accounts all over the country at major banks have been declined due to credit scores or not having large enough deposits. And, unfortunately, you don't find this out right away. Because…Two, unlike a regular bank account, you can't just go into a Charles Schwab branch and open one. You fill out all of the paperwork, then you have to wait at least 24 to 48 hours to hear whether you are approved. Possibly longer.So, again, don't wait until the last minute. But definitely get one of these. Because those fees on every single purchase and withdrawal you make will add up very, very quickly. Fortunately, in a lot of the UK and Europe, ATMs don't charge fees for cash. So if that's where you are headed, and you have one of these cards, you can get all the cash you want and not have to pay a penny for it.

  • I always suggest that visitors bring more than one card with them, particularly if they're bringing cards they've never used outside of the US. And of course, the cards should always be chip cards. A couple of times, relatives have gotten brand-new cards to bring with them specifically because of special features like no foreign transaction fees, etc., only to find that the chip in the card wasn't working. This was more of a problem for payments than for cash withdrawals, but it caused some money management problems as they had to fall back on less-than-ideal cards.Regarding cash advances on credit cards, I certainly wouldn't recommend it for just anybody or for just any old credit card. It CAN make sense, though, even without the overpayment trick. My father got a card with zero foreign transaction fees where they promised a good exchange rate, and he brought it to Europe with zero balance and the intention of using it for everything — purchases and cash both. Over the course of 10 days he withdrew well over 1000 EUR cash, then went straight to the bank and paid the card off when he got home. Yes, he started paying interest immediately, but the total amount of interest he paid was only something like $15-20. His ATM card, on the other hand, had a foreign transaction fee of 2.5% plus a fee of $3/withdrawal from a foreign bank — so using his ATM card (and factoring daily withdrawal limits) he would have paid more like $40 in fees for the same amount of cash. They key is to remember to pay the card off immediately upon returning from your trip, because the interest will continue to accumulate until you pay off that balance.Still, I'm going to suggest the overpayment trick to my dad the next time he visits….