Banking and Money

Accessing your money when holidaying in France is very easy. Gone are the days of travellers’ cheques and having to carry cash around with you on holidays. Getting access to your bank account overseas now is really no different to being at home.

On our trips to France we have used our Australian credit cards as well as a travel card, where we load funds onto it. This has worked well for the most part but we have had issues a couple of times and always make sure we have cash available just in case. We have never had a problem taking cash out at a cash machine with our Australian cards.

Toll booths on the auto routes did not work with our Australian cards a number of years ago. Our solution was to use cash and the booths that accept cash payment. The other scenario where our cards have not worked was a café with a mobile terminal. This was a one-off and may have just been that particular transaction.

A 20 and 10 euro note sitting on a table in France

Accessing your funds in France

Accessing cash overseas from your own bank accounts is as easy as walking up to an ATM and withdrawing cash as you do at home. There are 8 main banks in France, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Sociétié Genéral, Caisse d’Epargne, Banque Populaire, Credit Mutuel, La Banque Postal and LCL. Cyclists will recognise many of these brands as team names from years gone by. Between them, you will find an extensive network of ATM’s across the country to access funds. Most ATM’s recognise that the card is from a foreign country and display the screen in that language.

Tip – before you travel it is worth checking with your own bank about fees for international transactions. Every bank sets its own fees and they may vary depending on the type of account you have. Your bank will also advise if there are any restrictions on the ATM’s you can use. We have never encountered any issues when withdrawing money from one of the bank ATM’s in France using our own cards.

Prepaid travel cards

An alternative to using your regular bank account is to purchase a pre-paid travel card. With this option, you load the card with the currency of the country you are going to and then use it as you would your normal card. Most cards will accept multiple currencies if you are travelling to different countries. The cost of using this type of card is significantly less than if you use your own card as you are not charged a fee each time you use it.

You can monitor the card balance online and top it up online as well. Using this type of card you reduce the number of times you need to change currency which can also save costs. There is the added advantage of knowing exactly how much you have spent at any point in time. There are some restrictions on what you can use it for, for example, you could not use it for a hire car. Each card issuer will provide advice on restrictions.

Other considerations

While acceptance of international cards is widespread, we have come across a few situations where our cards did not work. Having learnt the hard way we have found it always pays to carry some cash with you just in case there is any problem with the card. For instance, if we go to a restaurant we can cover the bill in cash should the card not work.

Toll booths are problematic with foreign-issued credit cards so make sure you have cash with you and don’t use lanes that only take credit cards. We also discovered that just because a card worked in one toll booth does not mean it works in the next one. So always have cash ready so you are not the person holding up the ten cars behind you on a busy day!

Automatic petrol stations can also be a problem with international cards. We stay clear of these types of stations and only use ones where there are staff. Doing this means we have never had a problem.

Make sure your card has a chip in it as opposed to just the magnetic strip or you will have problems using the card in France. This is especially a consideration if you are travelling from the USA where magnetic cards are still used.

Handy tips

  • Don’t forget to tell your bank you will be overseas or you might find your card suspended and unable to be used. Depending on your bank you can do this online or through their banking app yourself or by contacting them directly.
  • When using your card to purchase goods in a store on an EFTPOS terminal you will often get the option to pay in your home currency. It is advised not to do this as the exchange rates used for these transactions are quite often much worse than your bank will charge you. If using a pre paid travel card you don’t need to do this as the funds on your card are already in the correct currency.
  • Keep a spare cash or credit card separate from your other cards in case anything happens to them. We always keep a spare card in a suitcase in the event we lose a card or it is damaged and cannot be used. Getting a new card in a foreign country takes time and not something you want to have to spend time doing.