Value of the currency, accepted payment methods, tip system… These things can be confusing when you're a foreigner and don't know Europe very well. Here is some basic information for those heading to France for the first time.
Cost of living
The cost of living in France is quite similar to that of its main European neighbours. Since 2002, the Euro has replaced the Franc in various states, which makes it easier to travel between European Union member countries.
- There are seven different banknotes in France: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros. The last two are seldom used and the last one, 500 euros, may even be refused by traders who are afraid of counterfeit banknote trafficking. It's best to use notes of 50 euros or less, if possible, when exchanging currency.
- While the cost of living is quite reasonable in France, you have to be careful in Paris, the capital. Indeed, prices are often higher there than in the rest of France, especially for accommodation. You therefore need to budget for more money if you decide to spend time in Paris.
- France has one of the least expensive underground railways in the world, making it easy to travel around the capital. If you travel a lot, it's best to choose a pass or book of tickets, to save money.
- To avoid any nasty surprises, restaurant prices are always displayed outside the establishments. Likewise, for cafés and bars, food and drink prices must be displayed inside. It's worth noting that bar prices may vary if you're sitting out on the terrace, or after a certain time of day.
- When opting for paid accommodation in France, such as a hotel, campsite, B&B or even a rental, the customer must pay a tourist tax, whether they are French or foreign. Although the amount is often negligible, bear in mind that this tax isn't always included in the basic price, and may be payable as a surcharge. It is calculated per person per day.
- If you're not a European Union national, are aged over 15, and have spent €175 or more in the last three months, you can have your VAT refunded. To do this, you need to ask for the appropriate bill at shops displaying the Tax Free for Tourists sign.
Most common payment methods are accepted in France. However, they may be subject to certain specific rules.
- Credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. Where a trader has a CB sign on the counter, they have no right to refuse to take cards. Often, credit cards are not allowed below a certain amount; however this information should be clearly displayed in the establishment. Most international credit cards are accepted in France, especially Visa and MasterCard. American Express is accepted in many establishments, but not systematically. If you have another payment card, it is best to check with your bank before setting off.
- Credit cards are very convenient and let you withdraw money 24 hours a day from ATMs, and these are generally available in several languages. Favour ATMs located inside banks to avoid pickpockets. It is possible to use foreign cards to withdraw money from ATMs owned by the major French and foreign banks.
- Cash is accepted everywhere. However, it is better to pay in Euros, as few institutions accept a different currency. If you haven't exchanged your currency before leaving, it is possible to do so at a bank, but it is easier to go to a bureau de change. These require proof of ID such as an identity card or passport.
- Traveller's cheques are accepted by some traders, mainly in big cities. The holidaymaker has to show ID, and date and countersign the cheques they want to use. The advantage of traveller's cheques is that they can be replaced quickly if lost or stolen. If traders do not accept traveller's cheques, they can be exchanged for cash at banks and bureaux de change that are partners in the scheme. Transaction fees may be charged.
- In general, only bank cheques issued by a French bank are accepted. Cheques issued by a foreign bank generate additional costs for the trader, and they have no simple way to ensure it will be honoured.
- Contactless payment with a credit card or mobile phone is becoming more prevalent in small shops and vending terminals.
In France, tipping is not mandatory as establishments already include a service charge in their prices. Tipping depends on the goodwill of customers, who can tip to show their appreciation of a service of above average quality. You should therefore not feel obligated to tip when you are not satisfied with the waiter, porter, driver or guide.
- In France, the prices shown always include all taxes and service. At the restaurant, this represents about 15% of the total sum. Thus, any tip given will be added to that amount.
- When you are very satisfied with a service, it is customary to leave a tip. In general, you round up asking price and leave one or two euros more, but the tip rarely exceeds 5% of the total amount. Bear in mind that tips are almost always paid in cash.
- Caution: it may happen that some traders or restaurateurs specifically request the payment of a tip at their establishment. This practice is prohibited and illegal. Whenever possible, you should avoid such businesses, because you will be dealing with unscrupulous people.