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Free money - ATM strategy for France

Free money - ATM strategy for France

Old Feb 6, 10, 6:30 am
  #1  
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Free money - ATM strategy for France

I am taking Mrs. dwcatty to Paris in May for her mmmthieth birthday. We've already got plane and hotel reservations, and are now researching where to go what to see etc. I am something of a logistics freak, so am mastering the RER, busses, museum closings and late nights, etc.

One of my concerns is obtaining the best foreign exhange, whether on credit card purchases or cash withdrawals at ATMs. My research has lead me to believe my best course of action to avoid both conversion fees for exchange and bank fees at ATMs is the following two step process.

First I am going to open a no fee checking account with Bank of America and put enough money in it to cover any and all withdrawals I will make during my trip to Paris (with a cushion). I will get BofA's debit card, which is a Visa card, and use it at the BNP Paribas ATMs in Paris. Due to the relationship between BofA and BNP there is no exchange fee, nor is there a bank fee for using the French ATMs.

Second I will get a Capitol One Master Card. Capitol One does not charge conversion fees on their credit cards. Any balance I create for the things I charge while in France I will pay off completely when the statement arrives so as to not pay any interest fees.

This way I will have both a MasterCard and a Visa, I will have access to a no fee ATM to obtain cash, and I will have a credit card. (I can even get one with a picture of the Tour Eiffel.) I plan to get two of each, in my name in my wife's, for each account.

I have also gone to the BNP website, located and printed a map of the ATMs in the neighborhood of my hotel so that I won't be wandering around looking for a branch. There is no BNP at CDG, but I will be purchasing our tickets into the city (and our Navigo Decouverte cards) at the RER ticket window and they accept credit cards, so I can wait until I get to a BNP to make my first cash withdrawal.

I think that about covers it. Based on the experience of others here, does this appear to be a sound strategy? I hate paying for money.
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Old Feb 6, 10, 7:05 am
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I think you're ok. I don't know anything about B of A and BNP, but there are a lot of BNP branches around Paris.

You'll have to go to the window at the RER station based on posts by others who say the machines there often don't take US credit cards. All the RER and Metro stations I've gone to take US cards (unless their equipment is down), though sometimes I have to ask them to keep trying as they don't know how to use the US card.

Cap One works but before you go, push through their prompts to the automated process that records when you'll be out of the country and where you're going. They still may decline a charge and ask that you call them so take a back-up. Schwab has a much better product and service that gives 2% back-see thread under Other Credit Cards.
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Old Feb 6, 10, 7:18 am
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The BofA/BNP partnership will certainly work for you to avoid fees and get a good exchange rate when withdrawing money from the ATM. HSBC will also work for you, so you might want to cover your bases and see what HSBC US products might work for you.

As Mountain Trader said, you might have to be patient with the French when trying to use your magnetic-strip card (as they are used to chip-based cards).

Bon voyage !
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Old Feb 6, 10, 8:08 am
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Getting into Paris from CDG

"but I will be purchasing our tickets into the city"

I will be coming to Paris May 25 and staying at Hilton near Arc de Triumph. After a 7 hour flight overnight flight from JFK, I just can't imagine waiting in line to buy tickets for transportation into the city. The taxi runs about 50 euro, the train for 2 people around 30 euro. 20 euro is about $30 american. I just spent $2000 for plane fare to get to Paris and to add $30 difference for covenient 1st class transportation into the city makes sense to me, especially with the luggage and the tired factor.
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Old Feb 6, 10, 8:41 am
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Well, let me warn you about the "cost" of the B of A card.

1. Before you go you MUST call and tell them you are going to Europe, otherwise your card will not work. Having done this NUMEROUS times, plan on an hour on hold. I think they have ONE person who does this.

2. MAKE VERY SURE you get the international phone number. You may need it.

3. If in spite of an HOUR on hold, giving the phone guy your travel plans etc... you discover, as I did that, your account is blocked you will have to call them from Europe. Hopefully you have a cell phone with international coverage because while the international number is faster it's not free unless you call collect. (And honestly, I have no idea how to call collect from Paris)

B of A is GONE. I would recommend a credit union. They often don't charge for "non home" ATMs and have better service. Me, I moved my funds to USAA, same deal, but you do have to qualify for membership.

A warning on the Taxi suggestion. I did it the first time I went to Paris and it cost $100. Rush hour, an accident on the road etc. Now I take the RER. I have found it faster and easier on me. The line is generally about the same lenght as the taxi line at peak times and the cost is "fixed" Plus you are going to have to stand in a line SOMEPLACE to get your Navigo and these guys are actually used to "clueless" Americans. At other stations, they may not want to deal with you and tell you "American's can't buy this" which is not true!

My other suggestion.. it's not "free" but get 50 Euros someplace before you leave. Pay the outrageous fees at the airport. If you or your wife, get off the plane, dying for a cup of coffee, a coke etc. it's worth it!

Last edited by CarolDisney1; Feb 6, 10 at 8:49 am
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Old Feb 6, 10, 8:57 am
  #6  
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Originally Posted by belairpatrol View Post
"but I will be purchasing our tickets into the city"

I will be coming to Paris May 25 and staying at Hilton near Arc de Triumph. After a 7 hour flight overnight flight from JFK, I just can't imagine waiting in line to buy tickets for transportation into the city. The taxi runs about 50 euro, the train for 2 people around 30 euro. 20 euro is about $30 american. I just spent $2000 for plane fare to get to Paris and to add $30 difference for covenient 1st class transportation into the city makes sense to me, especially with the luggage and the tired factor.
(bolding mine)
Actually, the train for 2 people is €17. The 33-or-so euros saved could pay for one person's dinner in an average-priced restaurant, or for any number of other things. It's just a matter of priorities, or preferences, or budget.

Last edited by iff; Feb 6, 10 at 9:04 am
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Old Feb 6, 10, 10:39 am
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I used to live in Paris and I worked at CDG. I do NOT recommend taking a taxi into town. If you run into a traffic jam, you wont be happy with the fee. I also ran into a lot of taxis who took me around town saying they didn't "understand" me. I studied in France before I moved there and was hired originally by the airlines as a French speaker. No one in any other aspect of my life here in France doesn't "understand" me.

I started giving directions, which not all were thrilled with but I made it clear that I would be doing this when I entered.

I used to take the Air France bus, which is more secure than the RER. Just watch out for pick pockets as freshly arrived tourists are prime targets. The Air France bus is just a big more money and the only passengers are those going to and from the airport. No gangs of kids getting on and off the various stations like you see on the RER to CDG.

Since France is on the Euro, try to get some before leaving. Ask around to any friends who have been anywhere in the Euro zone recently (Spain, Holland, Germany, etc.) so it shouldn't be hard.

I, personally don't think you need a Mastercard. Just Visa will do but let someone else chime in on that subject.

I have my money in two credit unions so I second that one, although it may not be an option for you.

I earned dollars when I lived in Paris so I had an American credit card. Be warned that they don't always work! Usually the contact couldn't be made. One card would not work and the other would (go figure...) Perhaps this has improved since I lived there because I now have a French "pouce" (chip) debit card.

One tip is to pull out a decent amount of money each time. Don't walk around with wads of cash but you will go through 200 Euros in just a few days.
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Old Feb 6, 10, 10:42 am
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i use the Charles Schwab investor checking debit card. free exchange and they reimburse any foreign atm fees at the end of the month. i use it all the time in canada and i'm always within pennies of the interbank rate. i never tell them when i go to canada and i don't have issues, but when i bought some event tickets in australian dollars the fraud dept called me.
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Old Feb 6, 10, 9:06 pm
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Overall that sounds like a pretty good strategy. I've banked with BofA for many years and have used both my BofA debit card and credit card in Paris many, many times and never had any problems whatsoever. Never had to call them for any reason when traveling either. And there are lots of BNP branches all over the city.

Only thing I might suggest is to try to take a few euro with you to start off. Always helps - just in case. If you belong to AAA, they sell packets of 100 euro at rates that are a little bit better than other forex places offer.
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Old Feb 7, 10, 3:57 am
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I agree with your strategy. I live in Paris and I have a) a US BofA debit card that I use to access my US bank accounts; b) a Capital One card. Also have another card as a backup just in case.

RER is around 8.60 Euros per person one way. One recommendation is to always (always always always) take the express train into the city, even if it means waiting an extra 15 minutes. The express is the one that goes directly, or almost directly, to Gare du Nord from the airport. You can look up on the screen at the RER platform to see the stops that the train will make, and if there are a bunch of stops before Gare du Nord, then it is the local train. The express either goes directly to Gare du Nord, or it stops at Parc des Expositions first then direct to Gare du Nord.

Note, if you are arriving at Terminal 1, you will need to take the CDGVal to the RER station.
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Old Feb 7, 10, 5:49 am
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Thank you all. My concerns are two fold; being in another land and not being able to have access to cash, and secondly being charged for the privilege to spend, whether through ATM charges or credit card conversion fees. I agree that back ups are good.

I think I'll go with the plan as outlined above, with the following additions. I do qualify for USAA and looked in to opening an account with them. They will allow up to 10 'no charge' ATM withdrawals a month and will also refund up to US$15 in other bank ATM charges. That way if we cannot find a BNP we can use the USAA card. Also we'll have two options in case one is eaten. We also have AAA, so I will look into getting some Euros before we go. Thanks for that tip. I'll carry my AMEX, but I don't plan to use it.

A couple of perhaps odd follow up questions (remember, I'm the logistics freak). The BofA debit card a Visa while the Cap One credit card and the USAA debit card are both MCs. Is there any issue with that? I mean, don't 99% of businesses that take one take the other? Also, if I use one of the debit cards to make a purchase rather than an ATM withdrawal, is there any surcharge for that?

As for the 'train to the city,' we're actually going to Versailles our first day. We'll stand in line to buy the RER tix and our Navigo Decouverte passes - to me that is just one of the lines I am prepared to stand in. We'll take the train to St. Michel where we transfer to the line to Versailles. The following day we will buy the return tickets at the station there as we ride from Versailles Rive Droite to St. Lazare. Belairpatrol, we'll see you at the ADT as we will be there May 23-30.

Thanks again for all the helpful thoughts.
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Old Feb 7, 10, 8:07 am
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Originally Posted by belairpatrol View Post
I just spent $2000 for plane fare to get to Paris and to add $30 difference for covenient 1st class transportation into the city makes sense to me, especially with the luggage and the tired factor.
Lots of wisdom in a few words.

I don't tell friends to take the RER as it's very confusing and on jet lag with luggage and almost always a transfer to another train or the Metro, the savings are not worth the hassle.

The Air France bus would work ok for staying at the Hilton Arc, but they've raised the fares a lot in the last couple of years and the RT from CDG to the Arc is now 24 Euros, and they only run every 30 minutes. Once you're at the Arc, it is still over half a mile to the Hilton Arc-walkable but not close.

I haven't had the cab problems mentioned above in Paris. Obviously getting stuck in traffic will increase the fare, but in most circumstances, 60 Euros should handle it.

Last edited by Mountain Trader; Feb 7, 10 at 12:32 pm Reason: Typo
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Old Feb 7, 10, 8:09 am
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Originally Posted by imagineertobe View Post
HSBC will also work for you, so you might want to cover your bases and see what HSBC US products might work for you.
Does HSBC offer a no fee, no foreign exchange charge cc with cash back without other HSBC activity?
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Old Feb 7, 10, 8:21 am
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Originally Posted by dwcatty View Post
Thank you all. My concerns are two fold; being in another land and not being able to have access to cash, and secondly being charged for the privilege to spend, whether through ATM charges or credit card conversion fees. I agree that back ups are good.

I think I'll go with the plan as outlined above, with the following additions. I do qualify for USAA and looked in to opening an account with them. They will allow up to 10 'no charge' ATM withdrawals a month and will also refund up to US$15 in other bank ATM charges. That way if we cannot find a BNP we can use the USAA card. Also we'll have two options in case one is eaten. We also have AAA, so I will look into getting some Euros before we go. Thanks for that tip. I'll carry my AMEX, but I don't plan to use it.

A couple of perhaps odd follow up questions (remember, I'm the logistics freak). The BofA debit card a Visa while the Cap One credit card and the USAA debit card are both MCs. Is there any issue with that? I mean, don't 99% of businesses that take one take the other? Also, if I use one of the debit cards to make a purchase rather than an ATM withdrawal, is there any surcharge for that?

As for the 'train to the city,' we're actually going to Versailles our first day. We'll stand in line to buy the RER tix and our Navigo Decouverte passes - to me that is just one of the lines I am prepared to stand in. We'll take the train to St. Michel where we transfer to the line to Versailles. The following day we will buy the return tickets at the station there as we ride from Versailles Rive Droite to St. Lazare. Belairpatrol, we'll see you at the ADT as we will be there May 23-30.

Thanks again for all the helpful thoughts.
I have never had a problem using my USAA MasterCard. I don't think I even took a Visa last time.

Are you planning to tour Versailles or spend the night? It's a little overwhelming with sleep, can't imagine trying to tour that after an overnight flight!
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Old Feb 7, 10, 9:20 am
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Originally Posted by CarolDisney1 View Post
Are you planning to tour Versailles or spend the night? It's a little overwhelming with sleep, can't imagine trying to tour that after an overnight flight!
I'm figuring the adrenaline will get us ~to~ Versailles when we land Saturday, and our thought is we will spend the afternoon wandering and picnicking (sp?) in the gardens before we crash. We spend the night across the street at the Hilton Trianon which has a nice indoor pool that should be refreshing and relaxing. We hope be in line to go in to the chateau when the doors open at 9 am Sunday morning.

I realize we will have to pay for the gardens on Saturday as the fountains will be on, which is a part of the reason we are willing to brave the weekend crowds. We'll to activate our museum passes Sunday when we visit the chateau. Hopefully by being there at 9, even on a Sunday, the place won't be completely overrun. Having done the gardens the day before we won't mind the museum pass does not include them when the fountains are on.

Sunday afternoon we relocate to the Hilton ADT for 8 nights. I gave this itinerary a lot of thought before booking and think it will work to our advantage. We want to see the garden spectacle at Versailles, we don't want to do much the first day, and I had a certificate for a free night at a W-A property. This puts all of those together. (A little off topic, I know - can I hijack my own thread?)
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