The following prices are for Paris; other areas are often cheaper (with the notable exception of the Côte d'Azur). Keep in mind that it's less expensive to eat or drink standing at a café or bar counter than sitting at a table. Two prices are listed, au comptoir (at the counter) and à salle (at a table). Sometimes orders cost even more if you're seated at a terrace table. Coffee in a bar: €1.50–€2.50 (standing), €2–€7 (seated); beer in a bar: €3 (standing), €3.50–€7 (seated); Coca-Cola: €3–€5 a bottle; ham sandwich: €3–€6; 2-km (1-mile) taxi ride: €7–€10; movie-theater seat: €11.40 (morning shows are always cheaper); foreign newspaper: €3–€6.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
Readily found throughout France, ATMs (guichets) are the easiest ways to get euros. Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using one abroad; the foreign bank you choose may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you can usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. Extracting funds as you need them is also a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash. Just be sure to know your withdrawal limit before taking money out, and be advised that French ATMs sometimes restrict how much you can get, regardless of your bank balance.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
You'll find lots of ATMs on the street, but it's best to use ones inside the bank's doors. Even then, cover the key pad with one hand while you type your PIN in with the other. If anyone tries to speak to you during your transaction, ignore them. Note that the ATM will give you two chances to enter the correct PIN; if you make a mistake on the third try, your card will be held, and you'll have to go into the bank to retrieve it (this may mean returning during open hours).
Credit cards—MasterCard and Visa in particular—are widely accepted here, so a business would have to be extremely small or very remote not to have some credit-card capability. Some smaller restaurants and stores, however, do have a credit-card minimum (usually around €15); this should be clearly indicated, but ask if you’re in doubt. After using your card, remember to take your receipt, as fraudulent use of credit-card numbers gleaned from receipts is on the rise.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you leave home, especially if you don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, they might put a hold on your card due to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, like a USB stick, so you're prepared should something go wrong. MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa typically just transfer you to your bank anyway; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's generally cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Also be warned that many non-European cards lack the puce microchip typically found in French credit cards. While waiters and store vendors will have no problem swiping your card, buying métro passes from a machine is impossible without a chip-enhanced card.
Currency and Exchange
The advent of the euro makes any whirlwind European tour all the easier. From France you can glide across the borders of Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Ireland, Greece, Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, and Portugal with no pressing need to run to the local exchange booth to change to yet another currency before you even had the time to become familiar with the last. You'll be able to do what drives many tourists crazy—to assess the value of a purchase (for example, to realize that eating a three-course meal in a small restaurant in Lisbon is cheaper than that ham sandwich you bought on the Champs Élysées).
At this writing, one euro equals U.S. $1.14 and $1.42 Canadian. These days, the easiest way to get euros is through ATMs; you can find them in airports, train stations, and throughout cities and towns. ATM rates are excellent because they're based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. Remember, though, that you may be charged an added exchange fee when withdrawing euros from your account. It's a good idea to bring some euros with you from home and always to have some cash on hand as backup.