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Trouble with Visa cards in France (?)

I have been reading a lot about the chip/password issues with credit cards in Europe. Would like to hear from recent travelers to France about their experiences.
We are traveling to Paris at the end of the month. We be there for 4 days then traveling to Salbris France (Loire Valley) for 5 days. Thanks

Posted by
9363 posts

Stacy, ATMs associated with banks in Europe do not charge ATM fees. The ATM fees you might see are charged by your own bank. It's not like here, where you get a fee from an ATM outside your bank's network. I carry three cards, two from local credit unions, and one from an online bank. One of my credit unions charges nothing - absolutely nothing - when I use my card abroad. They absorb the 1% currency conversion fee. My other credit union charges the 1%. Neither charges a per-use or foreign ATM fee. I also carry a card from Ally Bank, which charges the 1%, but nothing else. In fact, if I do get charged an ATM fee at an out-of-network ATM, they refund it. I've never had an ATM charge in Europe, but when I encounter one here, it's refunded. And none of my accounts have required start-up fees or loading fees. I have full internet access for transferring funds from other accounts if I need to, too.

Posted by
104 posts

Nancy, Wow really banks ATMs there charge nothing to use the ATM and get money?! I sure would love to bank with your credit union that gives you back fees from ATMs. Crazy. I think my CU also charges the 1% with nothing extra. Thank you very much for the info. :)

Posted by
44 posts

Betsy: We got back in June from a two week drive through Germany, Belgium, Normandy, and Paris. Used combination of cash, Bank of America ATM card at ATMs (BNP Paribis in France charges no transaction fees), and used our Capital One Visa without any trouble for everything else; even used it at credit card lane at toll booths! (But not unmanned gas stations; had to take it inside, but no problem with that). Otherewise, used it all over at restaurants, cafes, hotels, etc. Only had one merchant tell me it "wouldn't work," but there was a languange barrier problem, and I think he was trying to run my Visa credit card as a debit card. Otherwise, no problem. Just make sure you have enough euros in your pocket to cover the transaction in case of a "surprise."

Posted by
10284 posts

Here's an answer I gave someone about a related question a few days ago. Although I started a thread with "Mag Cards are a problem" you can still get by without a chip and pin in most instances. You would need a chip and pin card if you will be: driving a lot using gas stations and paying tolls, planning to use the Velib bicycles, or buying train tickets in small train stations that have only automatic machines in place of a human presence. Otherwise our magnetic strip cards still work at ATMs and most stores. I'd load up on cash at ATMs. Because a Travelex card is so expensive, most people would use it on a very limited basis in only the above situations. That said, I hope our banks and credit unions get the message.

Posted by
65 posts

Betsy,
We just returned from a month in France. We ran into several problems with our credit cards but most of those issues fell outside of Paris or in the subway. In Paris, all the places we ate had no problem accepting our cards. Smaller villages throughout the country could never get it to work. We also could only make one withdrawl per day at an atm so learned quick to get as much cash as possible! Have fun!

Posted by
41 posts

You've both confirmed what I feared :( as we will be doing a lot of driving in small villages in the Loire Valley. This is a very annoying situation as I like to use credit cards not only for the convenience and the better exchange rate, but also for the points I can rack up.

Posted by
9110 posts

'and the better exchange rate' The exchange rate stinks, plus you get the honor of having a couple or three percent tacked on in a FTF. Odds are, they'll still work in most places, anyway.

Posted by
104 posts

I understand Betsy. I too will soon be traveling and have heard a lot about these new cards. Tho I will mostly be in Paris. Thing is I dont plan on sitting for many meals because of the hi cost. I fear that a lot of small cafes where I only want a drink and a small amount of food may not welcome my credit card. Carrying too much cash is such a high risk. It seems like there should be a better alternative that is not so outrageously expensive.
Best of luck to us all and have a good/fun trip Betsy!! It may be a bit of a headache but we'll have fun to spite it. :)

Posted by
19137 posts

"it doesn't look too bad" No? Right now that site says you can load the card with €664,90 for $1000. Oanda says the Interbank exchange rate is €705,40/$1000. So you are losing about €40 just loading the card. In comparison, for $1000, Wells Fargo will sell you €669,93 over the counter here. With the Travelex card, you'd be taking a 5.7% "discount" (0.6649/0.7054-1.0) on the exchage rate. Well Fargo would charge you a 4% discount (3%+$5/$500 fee) for ATM withdrawals over there. Most major banks charge 3%. My bank, a local one in Colorado, charges 1.4% (1% + $2/$500 fee). I get €695 at the ATM.

Posted by
9363 posts

The only gas stations you will have trouble with are unmanned stations. You can still use your credit card if you pay inside (just not at the pump).

Posted by
104 posts

Lee its fine that you dont think the service is good because the exchange rate is too much (they all want to make money) but offer a solution please. Your bank may offer a good rate, which is good but you'll still have to pay their ATM fees too. Just like the Travel card. Also I have the same option for my bank and credit card (which honestly my credit card doesn't charge anything for purchases, so nice). Its a matter of finding the best rate and the safest way possible not just rate. If that were the case people would just use cash at the best place they could get the best rate. No one wants to carry $1000 of cash. Or well in this case Euros.

Posted by
19137 posts

My solution - get an ATM card at a small bank without a foreign currency op. They just pass on the 1% network charge (plus a few dollars for out-of-network ATM, same as in this country). Use the ATMs and pay cash. As for using you credit card for everything, you'll probably pay more for the services than you save on fees. In Germany, at least, the least expensive places don't accept cards, so you'll end up paying more in places that do.

Posted by
104 posts

Ok, awesome. Thank you Lee. Oh, also one more thing... Have you been to Paris then? I have read about how some places do charge more for certain things like using a credit card. But also for things like sitting to eat vs. take out and things like that. One more thing if you have also what are the ATM fees like there, for their banks?
Cool thank you! :)

Posted by
10284 posts

To reply to a few poststhese aren't new cards. Chip and pin have been in use in Europe since the 90s. It's just that every year there are fewer people employed taking tolls, pumping gas, and more automation. Second, we always carry much more cash in France than in the States and have never had a theft problem. We don't use cards for purchases under 50 euros. We're there for extended periods every year out in the boonies and can still use our credit cards at stores and restaurants 95% of the time. Often if the credit card doesn't work, the debit will and vice versa. From time-to-time the card won't work if the employee drags it through the machine too slowly. At other times I've seen the employee rubbing the magnetic strip when the card won't work. If someone repeatedly has problems, it could be that the magnetic strip is not in perfect condition to begin with. Third, most posts advise to have credit and debit cards from more than one bank or credit union. One year there was a security breach at one of our banks which closed our ATM access. Luckily we had back up cards and accounts at another bank. We never have problems using ATMs. Fourth, if you are going to drive a lot. I advise getting an autoroute toll pass called Liber-T at your first toll station. You will have all tolls charged to your credit card, American Express preferably. Our Visa card didn't work in their system. This pass is yours for life. You can bring it back and use again and again. Fifth, the large stores, such as LeClerc, sell their own chip and pin cards for use in their gas stations. The gas is cheaper but you have to look for one of their stations to use the card. Finally, the Travelex is a good back-up for the rare times something is fully automated or you don't have the correct change for the machine.

Posted by
104 posts

Richard you have been so super helpful thank you! I was wondering... Did BOA charge you anything at all? Or just pass on the 1% charge?
Thank you!

Posted by
375 posts

Betsy, this may be an obvious thing to say, but I'll recommend that since you are planning to do a lot of rural driving you keep the gas tank as full as possible. We had the experience several times, before we acquired a chip and pin card from a European bank, of driving in rural France and not being able to find a manned station AT ALL for long stretches. Many stations have no staff at all so there is no "inside" to take your card to. It didn't matter that we had cash; there was no one to pay and no way to use the stations. So just in case, before the tank gets too low fill up at the first manned station you see and don't assume there'll be another right down the road.

Posted by
19137 posts

"really banks ATMs there charge nothing to use the ATM and get money?!" Yes, really. In 10 years, probably 30 ATM withdrawals, I have never been charged a fee to use a European ATM. I think its a Network rule. I once saw a statement on a Nor'west bank's ATM to the effect that they charge non-Norwest, US customers to use their ATM, the implication being that they don't charge non-US customer.

Posted by
104 posts

Lee- well I just find it hard to believe. This world is not a place that lends itself to the something for nothing attitude. (Oh and this is my first trip ever abroad so I am a little shocked because I have a lack of knowledge about these things.) (Still dont know if they charge the 1% or anything else for the exchange rate but I do know I can find that info.) I am so glad to have seen this posting, in the matter of two days, I think I have resolved my question about how to carry my money. I sure hope you did too Betsy. Thank you Betsy for posting. I used to have a BOA account and closed it like a yr or so ago. Oh well.
Wonderful group discussion. Thank you all so much!

Posted by
23411 posts

To answer a couple of your other questions. it is not uncommon to be charged extra to use a credit card. It costs the merchant extra to process the card so they just pass cost on to you. Also, it is very common for take away to be cheaper, stand up counter service is cheaper than sitting down and being served. And do not buy something at the counter and then try to sit down. Also, do not expect free refills on anything. Americans tend to expect a high level of service without paying for it. In Europe you pay for evereything. That is local practice. You are not being ripped off.

Posted by
10284 posts

Backing up D.D.'s post, unmanned gas stations in France are exactly that. He's absolutely correct. There are no insides for paying. And there are more and more of them. Also, autoroutes in France are run by private companies, built in different years and they have different age toll machines. You can have your card accepted at one toll plaza but rejected at the next one. You need to keep a lot of change on hand for the tolls or get a Liber T pass.

Posted by
2788 posts

Have you looked up the information elsewhere on this web site: "Graffiti Wall > Money/Communication > ATMs: Minimizing Fees" It has some good information for folks not familiar with trying to save money. I go to Europe every summer and always use a Credit Union DEBIT card tied to my CHECKING ACCOUNT. I pay not ATM fees if I use an ATM machine that has one of the symbols that is on my debit card and my CU only marks up the exchange rate 1%. Those folks who choose to use credit cards for all of their purchases either pay a higher price or contribute to higher prices for all since the merchant is going to pass along the fee that they have to pay for taking a credit card. I do hope that those folks do not try to give a credit card to any B&B operators.
In the last 10 years in Europe I have not used a credit card ten times total. Then again, I have no debt.

Posted by
9363 posts

Stacey, the bank I use that refunds ATM charges is Ally Bank, which is online. Anyone can open an account there, including you. And it is true that European banks do not charge for use of their ATMs. The only charges you will see are those charged by your own bank for doing withdrawals abroad.

Posted by
41 posts

Thanks everyone for the great discussion. I'm going to make sure I have a lot of change for the toll roads and keep my fingers crossed for my visa card.... DD re: keeping the tank full is a good idea. We will be driving a citroen 2cv that gets 50 miles (85 km) per gallon and will be mainly driving in the countryside. Only taking toll road to and from Paris

Posted by
11 posts

Just one further point that I think gets missed on some of these credit card discussions: using a credit card costs the business a significant amount! As a small business owner here in the US, while I take credit cards and am happy to have those purchases, I am happier to have cash or check purchases. Small businesses anywhere are going to feel the same. I'd imagine that having the equipment to process both types of credit cards (magnetic stripe and chip and pin) is an additional cost incurred by small businesses in europe. I'll admit I get a bit uncomfortable when folks are wanting to use their cards for all purchases in order to rack up points, someone is paying for those points! I could care less if you use you card in a big name hotel or chain grocery store, but I think it would be a nice gesture to use cash in a small village. Just my two cents.

Posted by
32237 posts

@ Katherine, The POS Terminals being used here will accommodate both "chip & PIN" as well as swipe cards. The Terminals had to be changed when "C & P" cards were introduced, but I'm not sure if the credit card companies / Banks absorbed the cost, or whether the merchants were charged for the new machines? It's probably safe to say that the Banks NEVER lose money, so customers end up paying in the end. Merchants usually include operating expenses somewhere in their pricing (correct me if I'm wrong), so customers ultimately pay. Cheers!

Posted by
33107 posts

citroen 2cv On the autoroute? You'll be staying in the slow lane, then?

Posted by
10284 posts

I had the same reaction as Nigel2CV brings back memories. That's what my husband owned when we got married. We moved up to a Renault 4CV with the birth of the first child. You'll definitely turn heads and get into a lot of conversations.

Posted by
9110 posts

The deux chevaux ? The one with a roller shade for a roof? I thought they quit making those things in the fifties.

Posted by
41 posts

RE: 2CV The last 2CV was produced in 1990 in Portugal. But there a zillions of original old ones around the world. Here in the US, we have one from 1965. In France, we will be borrowing a car from some friends and traveling to the Loire Valley for the semi-annual Meeting of 2CV Friends (kinda like a Woodstock for 2CVs)

Posted by
2349 posts

Stacey writes, "No one wants to carry $1000 of cash." You don't have to carry 1000 euros. Get 200-300 euros out of the atm. Put all but 50 euros in your money belt, tucked under your clothes, and you'll be fine. (This thread had gone on too long without a mention of a money belt. Just following the site rules, folks!) And thank you, Katherine, for bringing up the overall cost for so many people using credit cards for every little purchase. About a year ago, most major banks upped their points programs to encourage running debit cards as credit cards. Why? Because they knew their days of charging fees of up to a dollar for all debit purchases were coming to an end. Congress just recently passed a bill that will significantly reduce the fees they can charge a merchant for debit purchases. But, of course, look for those fees to be shifted elsewhere. The banks will still make their money.

Posted by
263 posts

I was in France in May and used the toll way, or auto route. Change won't help....they are expensive to drive. Be sure to have bills also. There are manned booths at some toll plazas, but not all. We would hit the ATM for 400 E at a time and never had a problem. We paid cash for everything except our hotels and rental cars. We did have to sit at a gas station one day for 15 minutes as the attendant did not start until 9 and the automatic machine would not accept my Visa. Good idea to keep the tank full. And Lee, for the first time, my bank started charging for using the ATM card in Europe. Have had 8 trips and never paid.....evidentally you are supposed to read those change in policy notices you periodically get, otherwise you get surprised by the dinky little fees that add up over time. As people are always saying, make sure your credit card and banks know when and where you are going. You can adjust your daily ATM limit as you feel will be best for you. Have fun.