Money & costs
Accommodation is the biggest expense: count on a bill of minimum €50 a night for a double room in a midrange hotel and over €120 for a top-end hotel. Backpackers staying in hostels and living on bread and cheese can survive on €50 a day; those opting for midrange hotels, restaurants and museums will spend upwards of €90.
Tax cuts, public sector reform and combating crime were among the big things promised by Chirac upon assuming office in 2002. Some years later, hindered by a flurry of national strikes and demonstrations, economic and employment reform has not panned out as the French president hoped. Unemployment, double that of Britain and a definite hot potato in light of the government’s proposed youth employment law, hovers around 9.6%. Inflation clocked in at 1.9% in 2005.
Despite ritual denunciations of globalisation by politicians and pundits, the French economy is heavily dependent on the global marketplace. It is the fourth-largest export economy, including the products of foreign businesses implanted in France which account for a third of the export market. In mid-2006, in what analysts interpreted as a brave bid to fend off US global dominance, Chirac pledged €2 billion to fund a clutch of ground-breaking technological grands projets: the creation of a €450 million Franco-German search engine called Quaero (Latin for ‘I search’) destined to rival Google and Yahoo; a biorefinery to produce chemicals from cereals; energy-storage technology allowing electric trains to recharge automatically at stations; the invention of a hybrid electric-diesel car; mobile-phone TV; and an energy-efficient heating and lighting system regulated by wall sensors.
France is the largest agricultural producer and exporter in the EU, thanks to generous subsidies awarded to the high-voting, sympathy-inducing agricultural sector. Its production of wheat, barley, maize (corn) and cheese is particularly significant. The country is to a great extent self-sufficient in food except for tropical products such as bananas and coffee.
You always get a better exchange rate in-country, though it’s a good idea to arrive with enough local currency to take a taxi to a hotel if you have to. Carry as little cash as possible while travelling around.
Commercial banks usually charge a stiff €3 to €5 per foreign-currency transaction (eg BNP Paribas charges 3.3% or a minimum of about €4). Rates offered vary, so it pays to compare. Banks charge roughly €3.40 to €5.30 to cash travellers cheques (eg BNP Paribas charges 1.5%, with a minimum charge of €4).
In Paris, exchange bureaux (bureaux de change) are faster and easier, open longer hours and give better rates than most banks. In general, post offices in Paris can offer the best exchange rates and accept banknotes in various currencies as well as American Express and Visa travellers cheques. The commission for travellers cheques is 1.5% (minimum about €4).
Familiarise yourself with rates offered by the post office and compare them with those at exchange bureaux. On small transactions, even exchange places with less-than-optimal rates may leave you with more euros in your pocket.
The most flexible travellers cheques are those issued by AmEx (in US dollars or euros) and Visa (in euros) because they can be changed at many post offices as well as commercial banks and exchange bureaux. Note that you will not be able to pay most merchants with travellers cheques directly. AmEx offices don’t charge commission on their own travellers cheques.
For lost travellers cheques call AmEx (0 800 908 600) and Thomas Cook (0 800 908 330) for replacements.