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Cash

I was wondering, whether most businesses in Paris accept credit cards, such as the bakeries, grocery stores, cafes? I am trying to figure out how much actual cash I have to convert and bring versus being able to use credit card.

Posted by
16941 posts

Still haven't figured out why you just don't go to an ATM and withdraw EUR instead of walking around Paris with a wad of cash.

Posted by
2949 posts

Agreed, it is best to withdraw Euros periodically at ATMs. The RS guides give good advice. Withdraw enough cash to last one or two days, and keep some of it in a money belt. Only use the credit card for major purchases such as hotel bills, full dinners. And things you can only buy with a credit card like online bookings for museum entry, walking tours, train tickets.

Why? Because many, if not most, credit cards have a foreign transaction fee in addition to charging a percentage of the amount of the cash advance; then you also have interest on cash advances and you don't get a really great exchange rate. To keep the charges to a minimum, do not use the credit card for every small purchase, such as in a bakery or to buy snacks or postcards. Knowing your credit card charges can enable you to identify the "sweet spot" amount to withdraw to get the lowest fees relative to the amount of cash.

If you have time before your trip, research credit cards and get one with no foreign transaction fee and a low percentage fee. Bank of America Travel Rewards VISA is a good one. Check the RS forum for "Money-Saving Strategies" under the "Trips and Trip Reports" category.

Posted by
3709 posts

Because many, if not most, credit cards have a foreign transaction fee in addition to charging a percentage of the amount of the cash advance; then you also have interest on cash advances and you don't get a really great exchange rate.

This is muddled advice. Credit cards that charge for use in a foreign currency don't have a transaction fee, only a % added on, often 1-3%. Also, I've not seen any evidence that credit cards give a lower exchange rate than ATM bank transactions, but maybe it is true.

Bottom line: It is worth it for frequent travelers to go out of their way to get a no fee ATM bank card and a no foreign transaction fee credit card. I have found that the best deal on a local credit card coincidentally has no foreign transaction fees so it works out long term.

Posted by
5151 posts

The advice to use a no or low fee ATM card instead of credit cards is good, but it's not a bad idea to bring some emergency cash. On our last trip to England we hit a spell of several days where our ATM cards wouldn't work (a problem with our home bank's computer system. On a weekend!) We stretched out our ££ as long as we could, but did have to actually change $$.

And yes, we now know that we should have brought ATM cards from two different banks. It's on the list for our next trip. It's true that every trip teaches you something about how to travel.

Save the credit cards for hotels, and possibly splurge restaurants. If you rely on them for everyday transactions, you're liable to be limiting yourself. Smaller mom-and-pop places may be less likely to take credit cards, and some places may have a minimum amount you can charge.

Posted by
8510 posts

We're muddling credit card and debit card here. Use your debit card to get cash. Use your credit card for larger purchases, say over 20-30 euro. Neither businesses nor thepeople standing in line behind you want to wait while you use a US magnetic or chip and signature credit card for piddling
purchases.. The exception would be machines for tickets.

Posted by
2353 posts

We use CC for everything possible. We also carry a couple of ATM cards in case one does not work...for whatever reason and get cash as needed. We let all of our financial institutions know what dates we will be traveling.

Posted by
21859 posts

Europe, especially southern Europe, tends to be a little more cash oriented so be prepared to use more cash. Sometime you can get a cash discount for using cash especially at hotels. Often 5% or more. Many businesses will not accept cards for small purchases in the range of 10 euro. I would bring a hundred euro with you even if you have to pay a substantial fee in the US just to get through the first day or so. After that a debit card at a bank owned ATM will be the most convenient and cheapest way to obtain local currency. It is a smart practice to bring two debit cards tied to two different accounts.

Some of the above comments are confusion if not wrong so I would ignore it. While some credit cards do charge a currency conversion fee (generally 3%), I don't know of any credit card that charges both a transaction fee and a conversion fee. And many of the major credit cards have dropped the currency conversion fees. So check carefully with your credit card company for exact fees.

..you don't get a really great exchange rate..... That is absolutely wrong. The exchange rate for both credit card and debit cards will be exactly the same if the transaction occurs at the same time on the same network. Always within a point of the interbank rate.

Don't confuse getting cash via a debit card with cash advance on a credit card at an ATM. Cash advances incur lots of fees and interest so should be used only in an emergency such as both debit card have failed. Therefore, you should have a pin number for your credit cards just in case. It is called - back up to back up.

Posted by
672 posts

I recently spent five weeks in France, two of them in Paris. Over the past few trips, we've gone from using mostly cash to using mostly credit cards (with no foreign transaction fees) for our daily purchases. This came about from watching everyone in front of me pulling out their cards for purchases. It's so nice to simply pay for purchases as we go and not have to make repeated trips to the ATM. And, yes, we (along with many others) used our card at grocery stores, bakeries, cafes, pharmacies, etc. I certainly carried cash with me as a back up, but I rarely had to use it. I think it's mostly a personal preference whether you run on cash or card. This is what I do at home, so it feels quite natural to do it when I'm traveling.

Posted by
2929 posts

I'm kind of surprised that France isn't closer to Sweden's use of cards vs cash. Sweden discourages the use of cash even for the smallest purchases. Their card machines are so much faster than our machines in the US that it does not take more time to process, in fact it takes less time because the cashiers are out of practice. I know Bets is an expert on France so I am disappointed to hear that one has to use cash for small purchases. I do think this will be changing and one of these days RS will update his book that cash is not necessarily the best or easiest way to travel in technologically advanced areas of Europe...he was a little slow getting off of the travelers' check bandwagon. I expect cash for my trip to Greece, but I thought France would be further along. If one has a good CC for traveling, from what I could see on my card the exchange rate was right on, and there were no transaction fees or exchange fees. I do know that I was told in a taxi in Sweden that an American had never paid him for the fare with a CC and he was thrilled because it was easier...so maybe we are just not trying to travel this way due to old information? I don't know, just putting that out there. Wray

Edit: Nancy was typing while I was apparently. I am so happy to hear her experience! It is so much easier.

Posted by
20 posts

Be sure to have some euro cash with you, though, because most corner bakeries have a 10€ or 15€ minimum for credit card transactions. 2 croissants and a baguette will only cost 3.50€

Posted by
2466 posts

Almost any bank will order foreign currency for you. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to receive it, and there is a small fee for the convenience.

I never arrive in a foreign country without 2 days' worth of cash in case of emergencies. About 200 to 300 EU would be enough, depending on how many people are travelling with you.

Make certain to verify the 24-hour withdrawal limit your bank allows - if you think it's too low, ask them to raise your limit while you travel.

Always withdraw the maximum amount, to avoid excessive transaction charges that your bank at home will tack on.
French ATMs do not add transaction fees when you withdraw money.
Don't forget to let your bank and credit card companies know your exact travel dates, otherwise your transactions will be declined as fraud. Don't forget to call them back when you get home, too.

A great many places have a minimum purchase amount of 5 to 10 EU - this includes bakeries, cafes, supermarkets, etc.

American Express cards are accepted in high end stores and hotels, but nowhere else.

Posted by
1002 posts

chex - many US banks have stopped converting currency because of low demand in this age of easy credit card and ATM use. I use USAA, the membership of which is primarily US military members/retirees, and they stopped offering this service. I'm not sure about the mega banks but I bet if they do it, it's at a fairly hefty fee or poor exchange rate.
This year, we used credit cards all over France, and I was amazed that even American Express was accepted a lot of places. We also withdrew from ATMs with our debit card to have walking around money for smaller establishments. There's no one-size-fits-all answer.

Posted by
5789 posts

You will need coins for many of the public WCs.

Posted by
31522 posts

I just glanced over the other replies so not sure if this was mentioned, but if using cards be wary of the Direct Currency Conversion (DCC) scam, as that will cost you extra. If the POS terminal asks if you want the transaction processed in your home currency, refuse that and accept the local currency. It will be cheaper for your home bank to do the currency exchange.

Posted by
1014 posts

We take about 500 in Euros or Pounds. I use cc when buying large purchases, cash for small ones. My bank does not charge for ATM withdraws, but Visa does. It is not much and I usually get 400 -500 Euro/Pounds when doing so. It spreads the fee out. Try to use a bank or Post Office ATM. They are safer.

Posted by
335 posts

Since I travel on a budget, I prefer to use my ATM card and withdraw my cash limit once or twice a week (credit union card, no fees), based on my needs. That way I can more easily track what I'm spending and know when I might need to economize. I do also carry a credit card but only use it very occasionally b/c I don't want to have bills to pay when I return home (plus many credit cards charge various fees which add to your total cost). Every place takes cash, not every place takes credit cards. And DON'T buy a lot of euros here in the U.S. - they tack on fairly large hidden fees for this. Get a small amount to take if you feel you must, but then use ATM's when you arrive.

Bon voyage!

Posted by
646 posts

We take local cash, Euros, Pounds, Crowns, etc. to last a couple days. We started doing this when we began staying in apartments because we couldn't withdraw enough cash at ATMS to cover a week's rent on arrival. That's no longer a problem as most landlords now take Paypal or credit cards. But we still bring cash because it's so convenient to have some in hand on arrival.

If it were overly expensive, we wouldn't. But our credit union charges a flat fee of $10.00 to order foriegn currency no matter how many currencies we order at once. The exchange rate appears very close to debit card transactions abroad. So we bring a little with us. But I wouldn’t want to bring a lot just for fear of theft, and the impracticaly of hauling it around.

Posted by
2466 posts

Just to be clear about ordering foreign currency from your bank -
There are no "hidden fees" and the transaction is at the current exchange rate. The rate the bank charges for filling out the form is very clear.
Almost every US bank has access to secure, encrypted bank-to-bank wire transfers, which is how the cash arrives at your branch.
If you arrive in a foreign country and your credit or debit card does not work in an ATM machine, you won't have any recourse except to go to a bank and make a very expensive cash advance.

Posted by
3493 posts

chexbres,

Sorry, that is not how it works at US banks.

There are no "hidden fees" and the transaction is at the current exchange rate. The rate the bank charges for filling out the form is very clear. I know of no bank in the US that charges their customers at the current exchange rate. They all mark up when they sell to you, they mark down when buying back. The average markup is around 8%. Or they change a fee. Sometimes they do both. Yes, the rate and any fees are clearly identified so you know what you are paying.

Almost every US bank has access to secure, encrypted bank-to-bank wire transfers, which is how the cash arrives at your branch. No, cash arrives at your branch in the US via armored transport vehicle. Even small amounts of foreign currency are shipped to the branch that way. You can't wire physical cash.

your credit or debit card does not work in an ATM machine, you won't have any recourse except to go to a bank and make a very expensive cash advance. If your cards don't work at any ATM, they will not work for a cash advance at a bank. You will have to contact your bank back in the US and hope they can unfreeze your account to allow you to use it while in Europe. And if you use your credit card to get cash anywhere, it is charged as a cash advance which I agree is very very expensive.

Posted by
13000 posts

Hi,

If you are getting groceries, clothing, wine, mouthwash, wherever at Monoprix in Paris, your US credit card is accepted. I have used a credit card when it came to just buying groceries at Monoprix in the French franc days and presently with the Euro. One time when I bough a shirt an Monoprix, I did have to produce my passport since I was paying with an American credit card.

Posted by
13000 posts

At B of A if you order one thousand dollars in Euro , the bank charges no fee. But the amount has to come from your checking/savings account not from a credit card.

Posted by
2466 posts

Of course the physical cash is delivered, well...physically. The encrypted wire transaction is what many people are not familiar with. Somebody is taking things a little too literally, here.

Fees differ from bank to bank - if my bank wants to charge me a few extra centimes for the convenience of having foreign currency in my hand when I want it, that's fine with me. I do not sweat the small stuff, and it really is "small stuff", when it comes down to it.

You most certainly may use your credit card for a cash advance if it will not work in an ATM. I have done it. My account was not blocked or frozen, my bank knew I was travelling, but the card didn't work in any machines. I had to order a replacement card, which was delivered to my hotel within 48 hours.

The bottom line is that the fees charged by your bank will not amount to much, as long as you don't order more than 200 - 300 in foreign currency. The rest should come from ATMs.

Posted by
8510 posts

One time when I bough a shirt an Monoprix, I did have to produce my passport since I was paying with an American credit card.

That must have been a long, long time ago, or a very, very expensive shirt, or you looked like a highly suspicious character, Fred! I wouldn't want people to get the idea that this is a common occurrence.

Posted by
323 posts

We always get cash at the airport in the currency of the country with our debit card, that charges no fee. It has never been a problem. And Banks do charge a hefty fee to exchange money in the states, "because they can". Glad Ken mentioned the scam that goes on when they ask if you want this charged in Dollars instead of Euros! Always, ALWAYS, decline that "convenience" they offer. It is a scam for the banks.

Posted by
13000 posts

Of the three choices, I'll mark "suspicious character" ...very fitting. I can't remember exactly what year that was, maybe 2003? The price was in Euro, maybe 25 to 28 Euro? It was a sales item in July. It was at a Monoprix in Paris and I was asked to show the passport.

Posted by
2916 posts

Only once or twice did I get foreign cash from my US bank for travelling, and the fee was significant. If I need a few euros to start a trip, it might be worth it, but I try to save some euros for the next trip when I leave. As long as I have at least 30 euros or so when I arrive, I consider that sufficient. Cash is rarely necessary (as opposed to preferable), and I always bring 2 different ATM cards and have never had a problem.

Posted by
533 posts

At the Coop grocery stores in Stockholm, I had to show my passport to pay with an American credit card. This was just last week. And I was only spending 13 kr (about $1.50) for a snack.

Posted by
16883 posts

Even without consideration of exchange rates and fees, using ATMs to get cash as you go and as you need it is easier than trying to estimate all your cash needs ahead. I withdraw my maximum daily limit of cash, then either spend it or use cc as the options come up, then resupply at another ATM before the cash runs dry. If you have any small hotels booked which prefer cash (larger amounts), you'll usually know in time to plan ahead.

Posted by
6800 posts

There was an article in The Economist (well-known UK magazine) recently, that described how Scandinavian countries were much more cash-less than others in Europe. The article noted that Germans continue to use cash, partly because of a desire not to have purchases tracked and monitored, while Italians have a high percentage of people who do not have credit cards at all. So any guidance should be country-specific.

Posted by
133 posts

I live in Vancouver, BC and prior to trips I purchase about €200 from a currency exchange which always has a better rate than the banks. There are lots of currency exchanges here but it might be different where you live. There is no need to order in advance, they have multiple currencies on hand and there are no extra fees. While travelling we use our credit cards for most purchases; the exchange rate on the credit card statements is always a couple of cents more than the currency exchange rate at which I purchased the cash but not enough to warrant the inconvenience of cash. If need be, we top up our cash at ATMs along the way without any extra fees. As others have noted, decline when the credit card machine offers to bill you in your currency - you always lose on that transaction.