France is part of the European Economic Community and uses the Euro as its currency. Euros come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 banknotes. Coinage is issued in amounts of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50. Fractions of a euro are called cents.
My maxim is ‘Never enter a country without at least a little local currency and have more than one credit card!’ You don’t need a lot of money. Go to your local bank and ask to exchange a small amount of cash, say the equivalent of €200. This will cover you until you can get to an ATM machine and it beats being destitute in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere!
Chip & Pin Numbers : France was the inventor of the chip (puce) and they have been in use with a personal PIN number for over twenty years. Foreign cards with the magnetic strip can still be used, but you will have to sign a receipt and be prepared for several tries as they are now an outmoded technology. Make sure you have a pin number for your cards and they are not more than four digits. Also, most of the ATM machines in France do NOT have letters corresponding to the numbers on the keypad so if you remember you numbers by words…figure out a systems that will cover you in case of this eventuality. The good news is that most ATM’s do have the capacity to give you instructions in multiple languages.
ATM machines (distributeur automatique de billets): They are everywhere in France. Normally, they don’t charge a fee and the exchange rate you will get is usually pretty good and current. Ask your bank before you leave if they have extra fees for foreign withdrawals and if they so how much they are. Check out what your daily ATM withdrawal limit is before going too.
Credit cards (cartes de crédit): These too normally have pretty favourable and current exchange rates. Again, check with your bank about their policies. Visa is the number one card in France, with MasterCard second. American Express is also used, but not everywhere so it is always wise to have either a Visa or a MasterCard as well.
Bureau de change : Exchanging money at the bureau de change at the airport or in tourist areas is one way of doing things but be prepared for the usual charge at an exorbitant fee.
Eurocheques & traveller’s cheques: Traveller’s checks are not always as useful as we would like to believe, as many French shops will not and are not obligated to accept them. Even if they are accepted, the hotelier or shop owner will quote you a rate and most certainly it won’t be the best exchange rate, so your currency won’t go as far as it could if you consider using other methods of exchange.
Banking in France is a complicated affair similar to the British system but far more conservative. And even though all of the multinationals are present next to the local banks, they are far from the service oriented institution North Americans are accustomed to, so be prepared. Cashiers in banks do not always handle cash and if they do, it will be in small quantities.
Banking hours are generally Tuesday to Saturday from 9 or 9h30 to 5h30 with closures between 12h or 12h30 to 13h30 or 14h for lunch. In the country, small village banks may be open only a few hours per week, so it is wise to make sure your ATM and credit cards are in working order before you leave.
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