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How should I take my money? First timer.

First time to Europe. Will be spending 5 days in Paris for our 25th anniversary!

What’s the best way to take our money?

My friend, an experienced traveler, says it’s best to take our euros already exchanged on an Amex card-that’s the modern day Travelers Cheque? Will our personal cards also be accepted (after letting our banks know we are traveling)? I read somewhere that MasterCard is more widely accepted than Visa?
Most of our tickets or activities are purchased (or will be) already so we will be paying mostly for just shopping and restaurants. I prefer to carry only a bit of cash-how much is recommended to have on us pp/pd?

I appreciate the help!

Posted by
1221 posts

MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, though unmanned kiosks at train stations or toll roads can have issues with US-style chip and signature technology.

The easiest way of doing things is to just use bog standard ATMs in bank lobbies to withdraw 100-200 euros at a time from your home bank account. 99% of the time, the machines are on the right network to take your master card or visa branded debit card from your home bank and you generally get fewer fees and a better exchange rate than a prepaid card.

Do a quick internet search on how to avoid dynamic currency conversion on card transactions, whether at an ATM or while paying at a shop or hotel, because that typically gets you a worse exchange rate that you need to take

Posted by
3773 posts

Your friend’s advice is the opposite of correct for several reasons including that Amex is accepted less often in Europe than Visa and MasterCard and the cost of acquiring a travel card. Do you have a debit card? Most cards work overseas and the best way to acquire foreign currency would be using an ATM in the country you are visiting. I usually arrive with 100€ that I have left over from a prior trip and would buy 100€ before I left from my US bank or AAA if I did not have any. Others think that is a waste of money and is unnecessary.

Posted by
598 posts

Rick's advice is here: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money

I take a Visa with no international transaction fees and my bank's ATM card. Be sure to let both know you will be traveling. Then at the airport in France I use my ATM card in an ATM machine and take out the Euros I'll need for the week. I carry most of them in a money belt, just put one day's worth in my purse.

The amount of cash you spend per day really varies depending on your travel style. I usually pay cash for breakfast, ice cream, lunch, more ice cream, and incidentals. Guess that the meals would cost about the same as in an expensive US city.

Posted by
8889 posts

I don't agree with your friend.
The best (most economical) way to get cash is from an ATM, using the same card you use to gte cash out of an ATM at home.

  • Make sure you have told your bank you want to use your cards in France.
  • Make sure you have found out how much your bank charges for "foreign transactions". It may be a % (3% typical), a fixed foreign transaction charge, or both.
  • When you withdraw the money, if the machine offers the option to be charged in "your currency", dollars etc., the answer is NO. Always charge the actual amount of Euros you get out.

Some people like to have a bit of cash on them when they arrive (say €100 or €200) to cover initial expenses (transport, first meal) before finding An ATM. Some people rely on finding an ATM at the airport. It is personal preference, but changing cash will cost more than using an ATM.

  • Your credit card will also be accepted in most places, same warning about always being charged the actual amount in Euros.
  • If you are using a machine (ticket machine etc.), these only work with cards which have a PIN.

"I read somewhere that MasterCard is more widely accepted than Visa?" - Visa and Mastercard have similar acceptance. American Express is accepted less.

Posted by
2916 posts

I read somewhere that MasterCard is more widely accepted than Visa?

No, they're virtually identical, at least in any country I'm familiar with.

My friend, an experienced traveler, says it’s best to take our euros already exchanged on an Amex card-that’s the modern day Travelers Cheque?

I'm not sure exactly what your friend is saying, but the universal advice is to get money in euros from a bank-owned ATM with your US debit/ATM card when you arrive in Paris. The lower the fee that your own bank charges, the better. In other words, not Bank of America. If you want to have some euros on hand when you arrive, you can always get a small amount before you leave. As for shopping and restaurants, you can almost always use credit cards, unless your dealing with a small purchase, like an ice cream or a baguette. For those kinds of things, just take a couple of hundred euros from an ATM. If you have too much left the day before you're leaving, and don't want to bring them home, just pay cash for your dinner or shopping.

Posted by
3521 posts

AmEx? Leave home without it. (Does your friend work for them?) And any other pre-loaded card for that matter. The fees you will pay are excessive and there is no need for it. AmEx is the least accepted card in Europe. Visa and MasterCard are your best options.

Most credit cards work fine in Europe, although you can run into situations where one card might not work at a specific place so it is best to have at least 2 cards from different banks, like one Visa and one MasterCard just in case. Same for debit cards.

Get a no foreign fee credit card if you don't already have one and you have time to do so. The fees add up and can be as much as 5% per transaction on some cards. There are many options out there. My preference is the Capital One card that pays cash back. It works everywhere in Europe and you pay zero for using it: no annual fees, no foreign exchange fees, no usage fees.

Also, check to see how much your bank's ATM card charges for foreign use or that it will even work (some smaller banks and credit unions do not allow debit card use outside the US). Charles Schwab and Capital One 360 accounts both have zero foreign fee debit cards so you can open an account with either of them just for travel placing money into them as needed. If you have a no fee debit card, you can then pull out cash from ATMs as needed and not carry more than €100 on you. Most ATMs in Europe still do not charge a fee for use. If you run into one that does, just cancel and try a different ATM from a different bank and it probably will not charge you any fee. And make sure you only use bank ATMs. These will either be inside a bank lobby or on the wall right outside a bank. The ones you find in shops, bars, grocery stores, etc. are more likely to charge fees.

Since this will be your first trip to Europe, you may want to purchase €100 or €200 before you leave. If you bank with a larger bank, they can usually get foreign currency for you (give them up to a week to find what you need). This will cost a bit more than getting the cash from an ATM once you arrive Europe, but might give you a bit less stress while you get settled in. I never take euros with me since there are so many ATMs around and it is simple to get what you need on arrival.

Another important thing is many merchants and some ATMs now try to get you to let them charge you in your home currency (called Dynamic Currency Conversion or DCC). This is bad. Refuse it. When they do that, they are free to use whatever rate they want for the exchange and it is not in your favor and can be up to 18% over the official exchange rate. You will still be charged in your home currency on your statement since the Visa and MasterCard networks convert the transaction into your home currency for you anyway before your bank even see the charge, but at the best possible rate.

And of course always inform your card issuers when and where you will be traveling outside the US.

Posted by
598 posts

Forgot to add that after I get to my hotel I put the money belt and cash for the rest of the week in my room safe. Larger restaurants will take Visa and Mastercard. I think we spent about 10 euros per person on breakfast, less than that for splitting a baguette sandwich on the go for lunch.

Posted by
557 posts

Congratulations on the silver anniversary!

I do not agree with your friend and to be totally honest, I wouldn't even consider that as an option. Why commit upfront to the amount of euros to be exchanged, possibly incurring fees in both directions if you have to exchange the euros back to dollars at the end of the trip?

Personally, when traveling in France and Western Europe, I only pay with two methods these days: (1) credit card and (2) cash from ATM's. (Of course, it's best to have multiple cards as backups). I also bring several hundred US dollars to exchange for euro cash, only in case of emergency.

When paying with credit card, you should know:

  • Alert your bank as you mentioned.
  • There may be a foreign-transaction fee of up to 3% or so on each transaction. If you plan to do a lot of foreign travel in the future, it's worth looking into credit cards that don't have this fee (many airline cards don't, so if you happen to have one of those you may be in luck!)
  • American credit cards with chips almost universally default to printing out signature slips at manned points of sales, i.e. somewhere where a human is ringing you up vs. a machine. There are no electronic signature terminals as we have in the US. Any shop or restaurant that sees tourists (and in Paris, this is many of them!) will not be surprised to see this, though they may have to hunt momentarily for a pen.
  • Experiences with using American chipped credit cards at machines, like metro ticket machines, vary widely. Sometimes they ask you for a PIN, sometimes they work with no PIN, sometimes they work with a PIN of 0000 or literally any PIN. If you are in Paris and run into trouble here, there is almost certainly a counter with a human where you can pay separately. (As context, French credit cards universally have a PIN; when using a credit card, French people never sign anything -- they just input a PIN.)
  • When paying at a restaurant, expect them to bring you a portable machine where you stick the card into the machine. (Quite frankly, I strongly prefer this to the "take your card and disappear into the back" approach at US restaurants.) The machine will then print out the signature slips directly.
  • If you are ever offered the chance to pay in US dollars instead of euros, don't. This is called "dynamic currency conversion" if you want to Google it, but long story short you always get a worse exchange rate. Just opt to pay in euros.

When getting money from an ATM, you should know:

  • Avoid the chance to pay in US$ instead of euros, as mentioned above.
  • Your bank may have a partnership with a French bank that allows you to avoid some transaction and exchange fees at the ATM. For example, Bank of America normally charges US$5 and a 3% fee on foreign ATM withdrawals, but if you withdraw at a BNP Paribas they waive the US$5 fee, though the 3% fee stays.
  • As with the credit cards, if you plan to do lots of travel in the future it's worth looking into ATM cards that have no foreign transaction fees.

I personally prefer to use a credit card more often than cash in places like France, where the banking system is modern and reliable, be

Posted by
3521 posts

Bank of America seems to be the only US bank with partnerships with European banks for reduced ATM fees.

But why go through the hassle of searching for a specific bank, and still pay a large fee, when other options allow you to use any ATM from any bank you want and never charges you anything at all?

Posted by
2 posts

Great advice, everyone! Thank you, thank you!
My gf probably doesn’t have many credit cards in her name-mostly her husbands. Maybe that’s why she does this-although it seems like a Visa or MasterCard prepaid would still be better. No idea.....but, glad I asked! I have credit cards and of course debit-so, it sounds like that will work well with little hassle, as well as having euros on hand.
Very much appreciate the advice!

Posted by
1224 posts

Just use the cards you already have making sure you notifying them of your travel so they don't lock you out. Make sure you have your pin especially for your DC if that is what you want to use. I prefer CC to DC, but do what you feel comfortable with. Take out larger amounts less often as you need them if you want cash and that will cut down on your international transaction fees. I usually just use my CC and have cash as a back up. Have a great anniversary trip!

Posted by
2487 posts

Always have enough cash on you in case your bank card isn't accepted.
Last year I had my normal European bank card being refused twice: one time at a well-established book shop in Berlin and a second time at a ticket machine on some German railway station. The slightest hitch in the system can bring you in an embarrassing or problematic situation if you have no other way of paying.

Posted by
27362 posts

Do not use a prepaid card. In addition to often-excessive fees, I've read many reports of people who found they simply didn't work in Europe. There is nothing easier than sticking your ATM card in a European ATM. There will be an option to perform the entire transaction in English. Look for the British flag if you don't see "English" somewhere.

As already noted, it is useful to know what extra fees your bank and your credit card companies will charge you for overseas transactions. Call them. If you don't like their answers and have time to do so, you can open accounts at more travel-friendly institutions (perhaps at a local credit union, for example). If you don't want to bother with that, you'll have the information you need to decide whether it's cheaper to pay by credit card or with cash when you have a choice.

Posted by
24 posts

My experience in acquiring euros in US before traveling last summer was that none of my local banks offered this service. I was able
to acquire euros at my local AAA office.
Congratulations on your 25 the anniversary. Paris is enchanting.

Posted by
11355 posts

ATM at the arrival airport is what we do. Then we keep leftover Euros for our trip the next year.

Posted by
3521 posts

A standard Pre Paid card you would purchase at any shop in the US selling them will NOT work in Europe. It says so right on the card holder it is sold in. This is to reduce criminal money laundering.

A pre paid card specifically for Travel is the only option that will work outside the US because it is made to do so. AAA sells one, as does AmEx and I'm sure others as well. There are limits on how much money you can put on them. There are fees for everything: A fee to purchase the card. A fee to check your balance. A fee for every cash withdrawal. A fee for every purchase. A fee to add funds, not to mention the inflated exchange rate if it is the type of card that you pre convert when loading. Another fee for conversion if you use it for a currency you did not load. A fee to get the remaining cash off the card when your trip is done. A fee to keep the card monthly even if you don't use it.

Definitely not worth it even if your current ATM card charges the maximum fees allowed
.

Posted by
12172 posts

The one thing that needs to be updated on Rick's advice is that cards with chips in them (should be almost all cards now) negate the need to call your bank.

In the old days your card's magnetic strip was easy to duplicate and add to any plastic card. Your bank might put a fraud hold if the card was used outside the normal patterns and wouldn't remove it until you talk to them. The chip has added a level of security. Now the card's chip shows the bank your actual card is being used, not an unauthorized duplicate.

Like Rick, I get some money with my debit card at the Airport. Usually around 60 euros. These days many machines in Airports are exchange booths that look like ATM's. ATM's won't charge a fee in Europe (your fee is related to your bank) but an exchange booth might. I look for the name of a bank to make sure I'm using the type of ATM I want. Also any time you are asked, Debit or Credit card, whether you want the transaction in USD or local currency, choose local currency. Asking for the transaction in USD doesn't save you anything but incurs a separate currency transaction.

Once upon a time, banks charged both a flat fee and percentage of the transaction. Now only the big banks still do that. Wells Fargo, last time I checked, charges $5 plus 3 percent on each transaction. It saved a little to take larger withdrawals to reduce the number of flat fee charges.

Now it's easy to find a financial institution (smaller bank or credit union) that charges only a one percent transaction charge. The charge adds up, IMO enough to consider opening another travel account or even changing banks. Some places have free foreign transactions but it usually comes with requirements. If the requirements work for you, by all means use the free card. If not, one percent isn't hard to find.

Credit cards are similar, except I don't use them for cash because then cash advance fees apply. I'll use a credit card (no foreign transaction fee is increasingly common) to pay for hotel, car rental, nice restaurant or shopping purchases.

There is also the issue of working around lost cards but that's enough for one post.

Posted by
3204 posts

Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary trip!
I would add that you should each take a card from a different account.
That way if one card is lost , stolen, or the account is compromised in any way; then you have another option.
I travel a lot, and take a money belt for Europe.
I only put enough cash and one card in my wallet in my purse I carry daily there.
I keep ID and a little more cash in my money belt.
The rest of my cash and cards stays in my room.
Use a crossbody bag.
If you are using ATM's while away; make sure to use one inside a bank behind the glass doors, or actually in the lobby of the bank.
Less chance of random people trying to "help" you that way.

Posted by
3521 posts

The one thing that needs to be updated on Rick's advice is that cards with chips in them (should be almost all cards now) negate the need to call your bank.

Not necessarily. It still depends on the individual bank.

Chase still requires notification on both debit and credit cards. All of the ones they issue.

CapitalOne depends on the account type.

So, just to be sure, check with whoever your account is with. It would be better to take the time now to check than to try and fix a problem once you get where you are going and find your card doesn't work.

And there are no requirements for the Capital One credit or debit cards that have zero fees. You just have to open the account and in the case of the debit card, have money in the account when you use the card. That is everything.

Posted by
490 posts

Lots of really good advice here.
The only thing I want to add is that I don't think you need to bring euros with you. There are ATMs in the airport in Paris so you can get euros as soon as you land. You won't have need for any cash before you can get to an ATM.

Posted by
27362 posts

I have never been accosted near an ATM, and I have used over 100 European ATMs. I have, however, had three ATMs malfunction while I was using them and not return my card. On two occasions I figured out how to get my card back, but the third time I was stuck. After those experiences I have taken to heart the advice to use an ATM in (or at least in the outer wall of) a bank while it is open. If something goes wrong in that situation, you have a good chance of getting immediate assistance. I break that rule on occasion because I don't always plan ahead as well as I should, but it is a very good rule. I'm always a bit nervous when I use an ATM on a weekend in a city I will be leaving before the banks reopen.

Posted by
8173 posts

B of A was charging those high fees not the European banks; yes they have a deal With a partner and don't now charge this usurious fee but there are plenty of cards that let you use any bank abroad without fee. The fees originate with the American banks not the European ATMs. We changed banks over this and now don't pay the high fees on either credit card purchases or ATM withdrawals.

And the friend's 'advice' here is ludicrous. Pre-paid cards are the most expensive least convenient way to carry travel cash. Get 100Euro from your bank before you go and once there use ATMs just as you do at home and credit cards just as you do at home.

Posted by
34 posts

It will not hurt you to get a few Euros from your bank at home, so you have some when you arrive.

The above information about credit and debit cards is spot on. Everyone takes them in various forms.

Most importantly, remember to inform all of your credit card and bank card holders that you will be traveling abroad. Even do so for cards you do not anticipate using. In an emergency, you will be glad you did.

Enjoy!

Posted by
1626 posts

Here’s another reason to have more than one credit and debit card. We were in Switzerland last week and as my husband was holding his debit card, waiting for the waitress to bring check, the chip fell out. We were outside on a patio, so might have been the cold weather, or just enough wear and tear and use that the “glue” failed, as it expires in April. No problems as we a had another card to use.

We have found that Capital One credit and debit cards no longer require travel notification. Our Chase explorer card requires notification that can go out a year. Our AAdvantage Citibank card requires notification, but only for four months, then you have to notify again. Both Chase and Citibank travel notifications can be done on line while logged into your account.

Posted by
27362 posts

The AAdvantage card situation is really annoying. In the past I think they told me the notification was only good for 3 months. I don't always remember to extend it. Haven't had a problem but it's my back-up card and it seldom gets used in Europe, so I have probably just been lucky.

I've never heard of a chip popping off a card before; that would be awkward.

Posted by
2916 posts

We have found that Capital One credit and debit cards no longer require travel notification.

In fact, I don't think there's even a mechanism any longer to do that even if you want to. There's no mechanism on their web site to do that, and I've read that you can't even do it if you call.

Posted by
62 posts

I see several people suggesting getting Euro beforehand. What I would suggest (and have done if I was traveling to a new place or if I didn't happen to have any leftover currency) is to take $200 (or your local currency if you're not in the US) cash. It's nearly certain that you'll be able to use an ATM in France to get Euro when you arrive. (I've never had a problem in many trips to UK, Germany, Japan, among other place.) However, if there is an issue, it will be easy to find an exchange booth/desk for some starting money. Yes, you'll socked on the exchange but possibly no more so than in the US and, again, you'll probably not need it.