At France Motorhome Hire we like to make sure things go smoothly when you arrive to pick up your campervan and ensure you have stress free adventure in France. If you are new to European travel, here is some advice to ensure your financial transactions go smoothly when you get here.
If you come from a non-European Union country, spending your money can sometimes be challenging in France and even the most trusted forms of payment are not always as widely accepted as you would imagine.
Under French law there is no such thing as a “bounced cheque” so that method of payment remains a highly popular one with French merchants despite the decline elsewhere. Needless to say, unless you have a French bank account, you can’t get your hands on a French, Euro cheque book so you have to rely on other means.
Carrying enough cash to cover all your expenses presents a real security concern when travelling but with a little planning, it is not necessary to have a huge pocket-full of notes on you all the time (although cash is always useful for the smaller amounts of course and you certainly won’t be able to buy anything in the Farmer’s markets without it).
Though cheques and cash remain popular, France has also fully embraced credit cards (known here as Carte Bancaire or simply CB) and they are widely accepted in most outlets including supermarkets, fuel stations and restaurants. It is very common for even small amounts to be settled by CB. French banks charge a relatively low commission rate for card transactions so few traders object to taking cards as a matter of course.
So that all sounds very simple – carry a little cash and bring a credit card. However, what many of our foreign visitors don’t realise is that credit cards issued in non-EU countries do not always work in France unless you have made specific arrangements with the card issuer before you come.
This is particularly true when using the unavoidable myriad of unmanned, automatic payment terminals here. They crop up everywhere from fuel stations to car parks; motorway toll booths to train stations, often with no option to use cash so if your card does not work you can suffer real inconvenience (especially when trying to buy fuel after hours when there are no staff around to appeal to). Unprepared clients often also have trouble with foreign cards at vehicle handover time so do plan ahead to avoid delays and stress when you get here.
You may prefer a “pre-loaded” charge card to a regular credit card since it allows you to control the exchange rate you pay for bills and cash withdrawals. Nearly all the major banks offer such cards (and many other specialists), allowing you to place credit, already converted to Euros, on the card account before you leave home. These cards offer better security too than a regular card since there is a finite amount which can be spent on them so any would-be thief won’t have access to your usual domestic credit card limit.
However, be careful to read the small print since some cards only allow you to withdraw a certain amount of cash per day or meet bills up to a certain level. Don’t forget to tell the card provider you will be traveling in Europe too and ensure they confirm that you will be able to use the card here – believe it not, many cards that should specifically offer total freedom to spend funds that have been pre-loaded and converted in Euros in Europe, simply don’t work when you get here.
Here are some of our top tips for making sure your card will work when you get here:
- Make sure your card has the most up to date “chip and pin” technology and that you know your pin number because you will need it.
- The (somewhat old fashioned) “swipe and signature” cards will work in most manned terminals (although the merchants are not familiar with them so sometimes you have to mime the action of swiping the card through the terminal to get them off on the right track!) but they will not work in the vast majority of automated payment terminals.
- Remember to tell your bank you will be travelling in Europe and that they should expect to see foreign transactions being processed on the card. Once you have told your bank you will be abroad, phone back a few days later to confirm they won’t block European transactions.
- Choose a card with a MasterCard or Visa symbol. American Express and Diners Club cards are not at all commonly accepted in France (outside Paris) as their merchant fees are prohibitively high so most businesses just don’t take them.
- Check the credit limit on the card you plan to use is sufficient to cover all your planned expenses and allow for unexpected emergencies such as medical care which (even if you are insured) you may be asked to pay for whilst here and claim later.
- In addition to checking your credit limit, find out if there is a limit per transaction or per day on your card and make sure it is high enough to cover any known expenditure.
- If you are hiring a car or motorhome, the security deposit required by the hire companies will often be quite hefty and whilst this may not be debited from your card, it could affect your available credit on that card for some time, even after your hire has finished.
- Have more than one card if you can so you have other options if one card is not accepted. You can always cancel it when you get home if you don’t like to keep too many card accounts.
Once you are in France (these are pretty obvious tips but it’s amazing how your mind goes blank when your credit card won’t work):
- Check with the merchant that they do take credit cards before you commit to spending money if that is your only means of payment. This is particularly important in rural areas and with small businesses such as independent wine makers, specialist food producers, small shops or restaurants etc.
- For larger sums, if your credit card does not work at the first attempt, suggest to the merchant they try processing it as two separate payments or try splitting it between two cards (it may be a simple case of tricking the over-zealous security measures into letting you spend your own money!).
- If carrying cash, try to limit it to a small amount and don’t be seen opening a wallet full of cash in a public place (fortunately France is a very safe place to travel but it is better not to create temptation!). When buying foreign currency, avoid large denomination notes. In France (and any other Eurozone country), the Euro is accepted everywhere but many traders will not accept larger notes such as the €100, €200 and €500 bank notes.
- If you are planning to bring cash in your own domestic currency and to change it once in Europe, don’t be surprised at how difficult this can be. There are plenty of opportunities to change cash at the airports and in larger cities (although the exchange rates are often particularly poor) but away from these, it is very hard indeed to find a Bureau de Change or a regular bank to help you.
- The post office bank in France (La Banque Postale) will usually change smaller amounts of cash without any delay but be warned, they will only take small denomination foreign notes and will not usually handle large sums without long delays (sometimes up to a week!).
- The best way to manage cash in France is to use a “chip and pin” card to withdraw it from an automatic cash machine as and when you need it but do bear in mind this will also impact on your credit limit and there may well be daily or weekly limits on how much you can withdraw.
Because of the flexible and autonomous nature of RV trip you are shielded from most financial hiccups. If you can’t make your card work at a campsite you can just park up elsewhere for the night and if the restaurant you were aiming for does not take credit cards you can always scratch together supper from your motorhome fridge and dry stores. Having said that, France is full of tempting things from unique souvenirs and works of art to irresistible foods and wines so invest a little planning time before you come and make sure you can spend as the mood takes you whilst you explore this wonderful country.