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 to sit 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–€2.50 (standing), €1.50–€6 (seated); beer in a bar: €2 (standing), €3–€8 (seated); Coca-Cola: €2–€4 a bottle; ham sandwich: €3–€5; 2-km (1-mile) taxi ride: €6; movie-theater seat: €9.90 (morning shows are always cheaper); foreign newspaper: €1–€5.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use 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. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
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.
Easily found throughout France, ATMs are one of the easiest ways to get euros.
Note that the ATM machine will give you two chances to enter your correct PIN number; 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 opening hours). Some ATMs will accept a credit or debit card that is also a Visa or MasterCard, but not an unaffiliated bank card.
France is a debit-card society. Debit cards are used for just about everything, from the automatic gas pumps, to the tolls on highways, payment machines in underground parking lots, stamps at the post office, and even the most minor purchases in the larger department stores. A restaurant or shop would either have to be extremely small or remote not to have some credit-card or debit-card capability. However, some of the smaller restaurants and stores do have a credit-card minimum, usually around €15, which normally should be clearly indicated; to be safe, ask before you order. Do not forget to take your credit-card receipt, as fraudulent use of credit-card numbers taken from receipts is on the rise. Note that while MasterCard and Visa are usually welcomed, American Express isn't always accepted.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card because of 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, 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 usually just transfer you to your bank; 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 usually 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.
Currency and Exchange
The advent of the euro makes any whirlwind grand 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. $1.32. 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.
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