Handling Money in France: How-to and Tips
Ah, money. We gotta have it while traveling, but it can be stressful to figure out the best way to handle it while in a foreign country (like, say, France. Did someone say France? Mais oui! Did someone say money? Here’s how I budget
for a trip.) How do I get the best exchange rate in France? How do I avoid getting scammed or skimmed? What do I need to do at my bank before I go? How do I avoid pickpockets? I don’t want to claim to be an expert by any means, but we’ve had a couple of European trips (most lately to France) with zero money hiccups (actually, thanks to many others out there with great advice, we’ve never had an incident. . .), so here’s our routine now:
We do NOT bring oodles of cash to exchange; you will get your worst exchange rate that way. Don’t worry about exchanging money ahead of time either. How much money should you bring to France? Travel with about $100 (USD) in case of an emergency, and get local currency when you arrive. France and much of Europe now all use euros. How do you get this local cash? The easiest and most cost-efficient way is to use an ATM to withdraw from your account once you’re in your destination city. I usually find one at the airport, so I’m ready for anything
to visit a patisserie immediately. You will get the best exchange rate, even if you’re having to pay a bank fee. (To find the current exchange rate or to convert an exact amount, just use any search engine.) To avoid too many bank fees, we withdraw about 400€ at a time.
Why so much cash? Cash is still king in France (and Europe in general), so you definitely want to have cash to use at small shops, boulangeries, markets, and some restaurants. This is true even in Paris, though less so at restaurants, but in small-town France, you gotta have cash. Exact change is even better. 😉 I’ve even been asked to pay for a B&B in cash! Cash truly is still more common than credit in France. One euro and two euro coins are used instead of paper bills, so be prepared for that. My idea of perfectly spent cash is when I use my last 5€ at the airport to buy a last pastry and coffee. 😉 (You definitely don’t need cash at the airport; they cater to international travelers and every vendor takes a credit card. I’m just illustrating where and how I want to run out of euros.) Plus banks are often closed on the weekend and holidays (24/7 customer access isn’t really a thing in laid-back France), so you want to be sure you have enough cash to get through a few days. Credit cards are very helpful for getting gas, however (more on driving in another post).
What does your bank need to know? Where you’ll be traveling and for how long. Before you leave, notify your bank/credit card of your trip, usually labeled a “travel notification”. This can often be done online these days too. A travel notification (should) prevent your account being frozen when you start making charges/withdrawals overseas! (See above: having some cash just in case!) I bring 1 credit card, 1 debit card, and maybe a back-up credit card, and empty my wallet at home of everything else in the interest of traveling lightly. I’m not usually traveling alone, so I’ve always had someone else there to spot me some green stuff if something were to happen. . . else I would definitely have an extra credit card hidden in my luggage in my rooms. Check that your credit card has no foreign transaction fees. If it does, well, either get one that doesn’t have those fees, or only use cash with your credit card as an emergency back-up.
How do I keep my money secure when traveling? Firstly I don’t worry about RFID blocking technology. I have yet to read an article that indicated it was an actual issue. (See here, here, here, and here.) Do keep an eye out for ATM skimmers, which are fake fronts to steal your info (see here and here). ATMs inside a bank are your safest bet, and when using ATMs elsewhere keep an eye out for anything that seems off. When I travel I use a sturdy cross-body purse that has a zippered top, and an inner zippered pocket also. The inner (hence double-zippered) section is where I keep my wallet and my passport. For triple (quadruple?) security, when in a crowded place I also carry my purse in front of me, and then place my hand on my purse. To deter pickpockets, make yourself a hard target. They want an easy mark; if they have to work for it, they’re much more likely to just move on to another target. If I’m traveling with kids in tow and have my hands full of kids and their paraphernalia, even if I can’t actually keep my hand on my purse knowing that my valuables are double-zippered gives me peace of mind. My husband often uses a money belt that snaps around his waist and hides beneath his shirt. (When he does carry anything; we often just use my purse and carry one set of cards on us at a time.) If you’re baby-wearing, the front zipper pocket on a baby carrier is a handy spot to stash money and passports, too — my hands are usually resting on the front of the baby anyway.
And that’s how we handle the money we save up to travel in France! Did I miss something you’re wondering about? Do you have any tips to add to my list? Who wants to go to France??