One of the first countries to merge into the Eurozone, the euro has been the national currency of France since 1999. If you're heading to France, you can use debit cards, travel cards or credit cards to spend in more places than not. Taking travel money into one of the very western, very modern centres of Europe is not hard. However, choosing the right travel money product is an important part of planning your trip, and could make a difference to the ease of your trip (and your bank balance at the end).
Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and prices rise in France according to the number of tourists and the destination's reputation. For example, Bordeaux is a rich city and famous for its wine. Monaco (city state: France but not French) is as expensive as Paris and lesser known cities such as Lille are a little cheaper — but only marginally.
$30 - $50 per night
2 star hotel $100 - $200 per night
5 star hotel $750 - $1000+ per night
Falafel sandwich (rue des Rosiers, Le Marais) $7 Coffee with croissant/ pastry $10
Lunch at a mid range restaurant $20 - $30 per dish
Michelin star restaurant $100+ per dish
Free museum day on the first tuesday of every month
Admission to the Louvre $20
VIP seating and dinner at the Moulin Rouge $600
*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change.
Exchange rate history
Euros are a stable currency, so don't expect the rate to change too much when you're in France. If you believe it's going to get more expensive to purchase euros, you can lock in a rate with a travel card or traveller's cheques.
Conversion rate history from AUD to EUR
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 3 September 2017
If you're using a credit card or debit card to spend in France, that's purchases and ATM withdrawals, you'll get the Visa or the Mastercard (or AMEX) foreign exchange rate. This is pretty close to the interbank rate and a little better than the travel card foreign exchange rate (travel card providers apply a margin when you convert funds from Australian dollars to euros or a foreign currency).
Which to take: travel credit card, debit card or credit card?
Bars, clubs, bakeries, supermarkets, metro vending machines, retailers, museums and movie theaters are all card friendly. Like Australians, the French like to use their card for the majority of payments. Some merchants impose a minimum limit — €10 euros for example. However, if you're making a contactless payment, you can get away with purchases of just a couple of euros using your card. Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere, but American Express and Diners Club cards can be used in fewer places. Large retailers usually accept AMEX, but small business do not.
Travel money option
Travel prepaid cards
Hold different currencies
Save on currency conversion fees
Card issue fees
Security with chip and PIN
Direct access to own money
Widely used in France
Only one option: Citibank Plus Transaction Account
Widely accepted in France
Waived currency conversion fees
Cash advance fees
Can be costly with initial purchase charges
Not all merchants accept traveller's cheques
Greater payment flexibility
Higher risk of theft
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
Using travel cards, debit cards, credit cards and other options in France
Using a travel prepaid card
These cards allow you to load Aussie dollars and lock in a rate when you convert the funds to euros. This lets you spend without paying the additional 3% for currency conversion. You can hold different currencies on these cards at the same time, which is handy if you're heading across The Channel to the UK (all cards let you load euros and pounds). Although you're saving on currency conversion, there are other fees to watch out for when you use a travel card. ATM fees, reload fees, card issue fees and inactivity fees (yes, some travel card providers charge you when you don't use the product) can all add up.
Tip: You get two cards when you apply for one of these accounts. The second card can be kept as a backup incase the first card is lost or stolen.
Using a debit card
Debit cards get the gold for convenience. Equipped with a chip, secured with a PIN, and providing direct access to your own money, almost everyone in France uses a debit card (and credit card) to pay.
If you're looking at applying for a debit card specifically for the purpose of travelling, there's really only one option worth considering: the Citibank Plus Transaction Account. This account doesn't charge for currency conversion (which is the main value proposition of a prepaid travel card), it doesn't charge for international ATM withdrawals and Citibank doesn't charge an account keeping fee either. Banks in France won't charge you to make a withdrawal, so you can effectively use this account to withdraw euros and make over the counter purchases for roughly the same price as you would back home — and in some cases, it can be even cheaper.
Using a credit card
Credit cards are widely accepted in France. Like Australia, Visa and Mastercard cards can be used at every business that takes card and many businesses provide contactless payment facilities for purchases under about €70 - €80. Pick a travel friendly credit card if you're looking to applying for an additional line of credit for your trip to France. As well as waiving currency conversion charges, you can also save money by taking advantage of travel features like complimentary international travel insurance and complimentary purchase protection insurance.
Tip:Bankwest Platinum credit cards do not apply a charge for international ATM withdrawals as well as currency conversion. Be careful using your credit card to get cash, it's a cash advance and there are a number of charges which make this the most expensive way to get money from an ATM.
Using a traveller's cheques
Don't bother with traveller's cheques. They're expensive and inconvenient. There's a commission when you cash traveller's cheques and you'll have to wait in line at a bank. Withdraw money from an ATM using a debit card or travel card. You get the same features at a better price.
Paying with cash in France
You can get by using your card a lot of the time in France, but if you want to go market hunting (and who doesn't?), you'll need cash. Places like Porte de Clignancourt and Les Puces de Montreuil in Paris have some amazing deals for things you never thought you'd find. Of course, these markets are cash only (ATMs are onsite).
The Euro comes in the denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500.
ATMs in France
ATMs are everywhere in France. Ask for a "banque électronique" if you need directions from a local — though you really won't have to look far to find a machine from a bank which will give you free withdrawals. Some key information if you're using an ATM in France:
ATMs from banks do not charge a local ATM operator fee.
Card acceptance is not an issue if you're using a Visa or Mastercard. Some EFTPOS cards will also be accepted by mainstream banks such as BNP or Société Générale.
You get to pick your language, but if you insert a foreign card, you'll get English by default.
You get to pick the denominations you want.
Tip: If you're a Westpac, St.George, Bank of Melbourne or BankSA cardholder, you can make free ATM withdrawals from BNP Paribas ATMs throughout France. You can read more about Westpac's Global ATM Alliance here.
Interview with Jacob about travel money for France
Jacob spends a bit of time in Paris. The schengen visa arrangements allows Australian citizens to stay in Europe for up to 3 months every 6 months. Last time he was in France, he spent 2 and a half months in Paris and few weeks travelling to some of the smaller cities in the North of France.
ANZ Low Rate Card. This credit card is a low rate product, meaning it has no extras like complimentary insurance, but it also has a low annual fee and a low purchase rate of interest. I used this credit card to pay for my flights and other bookings. A low rate was more important to Jacob than travel features because there are some months when he doesn't pay off his credit card off in full. St.George Visa Debit Card. He says this is his day-to-day card. Jacob says he paid a currency conversion fee of 3% for each transaction when he used his card to make over the counter purchases and ATM withdrawals.
Did you withdraw from ATMs?
He used his St.George Debit Card to withdraw cash from ATMs in France. St.George is part of the Westpac Group, and Westpac has an international ATM alliance with BNP Paribas. He says he avoided an additional $5 charge each time he withdrew from a BNP ATM. BNP Paribas are one of the largest banks in France and its ATMs are widespread. He says he was paying 3% of the total value of the transaction. That was the only charge when he made withdrawals from BNP Paribas ATMs.
Were there any places where you had trouble using your cards?
Jacob says he didn't have a problem using his card throughout France, although he spent the majority of his time in Paris. He was able to make contactless purchases at a lot of the time. He could use his card in the following places: Restaurants, clubs, bars, record shops, train stations, tobacconists, supermarkets, bakeries and the list goes on. He notes that some places make you spend over €20 if you want to use your card. However, if the businesses has a contactless payment terminal installed (and he says most of them do), you can use your card for purchases as small as a couple of euros.
Artisanal bakeries such as Le Grenier à Pain, Montmartre — (the best in Paris and, arguably, the world) are cash only. Note the bakers do not handle money, you insert coins in a machine once you place your order.
The Paris flea markets are cash only.
High fashion and retail businesses in Le Marias are card friendly, but the falafel sandwich shops are cash only.
What's your recommendation for the best form of travel money to take to France?
Jacob says a credit card is a must. He also suggests it's worth including the Citibank Plus Transaction Account in your travel money comparison. He says this account doesn't charge for currency conversion or international ATM fees, which means you can use the account to withdraw from any bank ATM in France and you won't pay any extra fees.
Do you have any travel money tips for France?
Coffee. Coffee gets more expensive or cheaper (espresso) based on the location of the cafe. For example, in Paris, you'll pay €1 more for a coffee (which is not the best) in Saint Germaine than Gare du Nord or Republique. You pay for the view, not the coffee.
Tipping. Tipping is not expected and should be given as a way of saying thanks for good service. Rounding the price of a coffee up to the nearest Euro at a cafe is appreciated.
Metro tickets. If you're using the Metro in Paris, buy bulk (packs of 10 or 20 tickets at a time) for a discount. France (especially Paris) is beautiful. Walk everywhere.
Summer prices. France becomes much more expensive in Summer (tourist season), especially the price of accommodation.
Free museums. Paris is a world centre for art and culture. The calibre of its museums attract millions of visitors every year. If this is up your alley, the first Sunday of every month is free museum day in Paris. Que up early, as you can imagine, it's very popular.
Street food. Head to Rue des Rosiers, Le Marais for a one of the best falafel sandwiches in the world — and for about 5 euros.
Buy food from the supermarket to save money. This is common sense. But Jacob says your budget will go much further if you purchase staples from one of France's large supermarket chains.
Buying euros in Australia
Euros are a major international currency, you can buy euros at banks, exchange offices and at the airport, the list goes on. You will get a better deal if you wait to buy euros in France, even better if you make an ATM withdrawal using a no ATM fee and no currency conversion fee debit or travel card. If you want some cash in your pocket when you land, compare the following foreign cash providers.
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
Take a combination of the travel money products to get the most from your travel budget. A credit card is a great way to finance big ticket purchases, while using a travel card or a debit card is better for smaller everyday expenses and cash withdrawals. Give yourself a couple of different ways to access your travel budget in case something happens to one of your cards, as it can take you a couple of days to organise an emergency replacement card from Australia.
France has a lot to offer and won't disappoint. First time visitors will no doubt be smitten by the country's rolling hills, glamourous coastlines, ever-so-chic towns and cities, and of course, its delectable cuisine. If you have a tip to share about taking money to France, please share with other readers in the forum. If you have a question, use the form below and one of our team will be happy to answer it for you.
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