Money & costs
Accommodation is the biggest cost: count on minimum €60 a night for a double room in a midrange hotel and €140 plus for a top-end hotel. Backpackers staying in hostels and living on cheese and baguette can survive on €60 a day; those opting for midrange hotels, restaurants and museums will spend upwards of €120.
French law requires that restaurant, café and hotel bills include a service charge (usually between 12% and 15%). Taxi drivers expect small tips of between 5% and 10% of the fare though the usual procedure is to round up to the nearest €1 regardless of the fare.
France is among the 15 member-states of the EU (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain) that have adopted the euro (abbreviated € and pronounced eu-roh in French) as its national currency. One euro is divided into 100 cents (centimes in French). There are seven euro notes in different colours and sizes; they come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. The designs on the recto (generic windows or portals) and verso (imaginary bridges, map of the EU) are exactly the same in all 15 countries and symbolise openness and cooperation.
The eight coins in circulation are in denominations of €1 and €2, then one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents. The ‘head’ side of the coin, on which the denomination is shown, is identical throughout the euro zone; the ‘tail’ side is specific to each member-state, though euro coins can be used anywhere that accepts euros, of course. In France the €1 (silver centre with brassy ring) and €2 (brassy centre with silver ring) coins portray the tree of liberty; the 10, 20 and 50 cent coins (all brass) have la Semeuse (the Sower), a recurring theme in the history of the French franc; and the one, two and five cent coins (all copper) portray Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic.
You’ll find an ATM, which here is known as as a DAB (distributeur automatique de billets) or point d’argent, linked to the Cirrus, Maestro, Visa or MasterCard networks, virtually on every corner. Those without a local bank account should know that there is usually a transaction surcharge of around €3 for cash withdrawals. You should contact your bank to find out how much this is before using ATMs too freely.
In general, cash is not a very good way to carry money. Not only can it be stolen, but in France it doesn’t usually offer the best exchange rates. What’s more, in recent years ATMs and the euro have virtually wiped out bureaux de change and even centrally located banks rarely offer exchange services these days.
That said, some banks, post offices and bureaux de change pay up to 2.5% or more for travellers cheques, more than making up for the 1% commission usually charged when buying the cheques in the first place.
Post offices that have a Banque Postale can offer the best exchange rates, and they accept banknotes (commission €4.50) in various currencies as well as travellers cheques issued by Amex (no commission) or Visa (1.5%, minimum €4.50).
Commercial banks usually charge a similar amount per foreign-currency transaction. For example BNP Paribas charges €5.95 for cash while Société Générale takes €5.40 (or €11.40 if you don’t bank with them). The rates charged on travellers cheques vary but neither BNP Paribas or Société Générale charge a fee to change travellers cheques in euros.
In Paris, bureaux de change are usually faster and easier, open longer hours and give better rates than most banks. It’s best to familiarise yourself with the rates offered by the post office and compare them with those on offer at bureaux de change, which are not generally allowed to charge commissions. Bureaux de change charge anything between 6% and 13% plus €3 or €4 on cash transactions and 6% to just under 10% (plus €3) to change travellers cheques.
Among some of the better bureaux de change:
American Express Bureau de Change (01 47 77 79 50; 11 rue Scribe, 9e; 9am-6.30pm Mon-Sat; Auber or Opéra)
Best Change (01 42 21 46 05; 21 rue du Roule, 1er; 9.30am-7pm Mon-Sat; Louvre Rivoli) Three blocks southwest of Forum des Halles.
CCO (01 42 66 24 44; 12 blvd de Capucines, 9e; 9am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm Sat; Opéra); Opéra branch (01 47 42 20 96; 9 rue Scribe, 9e; 9am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm Sat; Opéra)European Exchange Office (01 42 52 67 19; 6 rue Yvonne Le Tac, 18e; 10am-noon & 2-6pm Mon-Sat; Abbesses) A few steps from the Abbesses metro station.
Le Change du Louvre (01 42 97 27 28; 151 rue St-Honoré, 1er; 10am-6pm Mon-Fri; Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre) This moneychanger is on the northern side of Le Louvre des Antiquaires.
Multi Change (01 42 22 45 00; 180 blvd St-Germain, 6e; 9am-6.30pm Mon-Sat; St-Germain des Prés) Just west of Église St-Germain des Prés.
Société Touristique de Services (01 43 54 76 55; 2 place St-Michel, 6e; 9am-8pm Mon-Fri, 10am-8pm Sat; St-Michel) A bureau de change in the heart of the Latin Quarter.
In Paris, Visa/Carte Bleue is the most widely accepted credit card, followed by MasterCard (Eurocard). Amex cards can be useful at more upmarket establishments. In general, all three cards can be used for train travel, restaurant meals and cash advances.
When you get a cash advance on your Visa or MasterCard account, your issuer charges a transaction fee, which can be high; check with your card issuer before leaving home. Some banks charge a commission of 4% (minimum around €6) for a cash advance though BNP Parisbas does it for free (though the card-holder’s issuing bank will probably do so) to a maximum of €1000. American Express takes a 5% commission on cash advances on Visa cards.
Call the following numbers if your card is lost or stolen. It may be impossible to get a lost Visa or MasterCard reissued until you get home so two different credit cards are generally safer than just one.
Amex (01 47 77 72 00, 01 71 23 08 38)
Diners Club (0 820 82 05 36, 0 800 22 20 73)
MasterCard/Eurocard (0 800 90 13 87, 01 45 67 84 84)
Visa/Carte Bleue (0 892 70 57 05, 0 800 90 20 33)
The most flexible travellers cheques are issued by American Express (in US dollars or euros) and Visa, as they can be changed at many post offices.
Amex offices charges a commission on all travellers cheques of about 4% (minimum €2). If your Amex travellers cheques are lost or stolen while you are in Paris, call 0 800 83 28 20 (24-hour, toll-free). Reimbursements can be made at the main American Express office (01 47 77 79 50; www.americanexpress.fr, in French; 11 rue Scribe, 9e; 9am-5.30pm Mon-Sat; Auber or Opéra).
Taxes & refunds
France’s value-added tax (VAT) is known as TVA (taxe sur la valeur ajoutée) and is 19.6% on most goods except medicine and books, for which it’s 5.5%. Prices that include TVA are often marked TTC (toutes taxes comprises; literally ‘all taxes included’).
If you’re not an EU resident, you can get a TVA refund provided that: you’re aged over 15; you’ll be spending less than six months in France; you purchase goods worth at least €175 at a single shop on the same day (not more than 10 of the same item); the goods fit into your luggage; you are taking the goods out of France within three months after purchase; and the shop offers vente en détaxe (duty-free sales).
Present a passport at the time of purchase and ask for a bordereau de vente à l’exportation (export sales invoice) to be signed by the retailer and yourself. Most shops will refund less than the full amount (about 14%) to which you are entitled, in order to cover the time and expense involved in the refund procedure.
As you leave France or another EU country, have all three pages of the bordereau validated by the country’s customs officials at the airport or at the border. Customs officials will take one sheet and hand you two. You must post one copy (the pink one) back to the shop and retain the other (green) sheet for your records in case there is any dispute. Once the shop where you made your purchase receives its stamped copy, it will send you a virement (fund transfer) in the form you have requested. Be prepared for a wait of up to three months.
If you’re flying out of Orly or Roissy Charles de Gaulle, certain shops can arrange for you to receive your refund as you’re leaving the country though you must complete the steps outlined preceding. You must make such arrangements at the time of purchase.
For more information contact the customs information centre (0 820 02 44 44; www.douane.minefi.gouv.fr ; 8.30am-6pm Mon-Fri).