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Lynne Feb 22nd, 2000 03:15 AM

Converting US$ to French Francs
We'll be going to France next month. Should we convert US dollars to French francs before we leave the States? My husband thinks we should have some for our first day (Sunday). What do you experienced travelers think?

Valerie Feb 22nd, 2000 03:37 AM

Yes, definately get enough money to last you for a day while still here in the States. If you are in the NYC area I know a great place I go to before every trip with a great exchange rate, the best. Just e-mail me and I will tell you.

kathy Feb 22nd, 2000 04:17 AM

Valerie, could you let us all in on that place in the NYC area? Thank you.

howard Feb 22nd, 2000 05:12 AM

You don't even need enough for a full day. Just enough to get you into the country and not have to worry. There are ATMs at the airport when you arrive, and the will definitely be better than anything you get in the US.

Louis Feb 22nd, 2000 06:06 AM

By all means get about 250 to 300ff; that's a little under $50 worth. It's good to have a little spending cash in your pocket, and you'll need it to get from the airport to the hotel. Although there are ATMs at the airport you never know: The machine in your terminal may be down; the network for your card system here in the States could also be down, briefly -- just at the moment you need cash. These things have happened to me in the past. Otherwise, that's about it. The ATMs are ubiquitous throughout France. I've lived there twice as a student for about a year total and never been at a loss to find a machine, even in the small towns. I don't even bother to take travelers checks in French francs anymore.

Bob Brown Feb 22nd, 2000 06:35 AM

My experience is similar, if not identical, to the other posters. <BR>Last year had about $100 in French currency when I arrived. I used some of it to tip the driver of our van and to buy a little to eat. Then I found an ATM machine 50 yards from the hotel entrance. <BR>The reason you do not want to buy French money inthe USA is cost. Unless you find a reasonable place, my experience has been that my local bank charges me 5% more for the purchase than I would pay at an ATM in Paris. We had a reserve of American Express checks, but we came home with all but one of them. <BR>I think we still have them nearly 6 months later. <BR>One practice we follow is that each of us has a debit card for the ATM and different credit cards: one Visa and one Master Charge. You do not want to have the same card numbers just in case something happens to one of them. In rare cases Visa might be acceptable while MC is not, or visa versa. <BR>I know some people say they don't need traveler's checks. But being the most risk averse person around, I have about $600 in checks in my possession just in case, and so does my wife. I guess old habits die hard; and having them is reassuring. When it comes to money in a foreign country, I had rather be over prepared than under. <BR>

Valerie Feb 23rd, 2000 04:00 AM

It's called "Peoples Foreign Exchange" <BR>575 5th Ave 3rd Floor <BR>New York <BR>212-883-0550

janine Feb 23rd, 2000 08:00 AM

Does anyone have such an exchange for Washington, DC?

Christina Feb 23rd, 2000 10:11 AM

As far as I know, the only foreign exchange in DC is Thomas Cook's; there are several around the city, the one in Union Station is very convenient and even open Sundays, I think. But, the rates are not a bargain (prob. at least 5-10 pct worse than in the foreign country) and I only use them to get a minimal amount as I won't travel to a foreign country without any currency, or to draft checks in foreign currency (personally, I wouldn't recommend anyone else travel abroad with no foreign currency, as I've had too many things happen to me that can prevent you easily getting it on arrival; I'm risk-averse, though). Rates are definitely worse at Cook's than you'll get abroad; I think the Thomas Cook's at the airport has even worse rates than the one in the city, so don't use it. Be prepared, I think they only take cash, also, not credit cards or personal checks. <BR> I've seen several people comment on how they still have travelers' checks left-over from long-ago trips, perhaps unaware that you can easily use these for spending money in the US, so I'd suggest that it's a bad idea to carry these around for a long time after you get home if you don't need them. Simply spend them in the grocery store, at restaurants, etc, when you get home or just take them to your bank and cash them in--you are giving the agency (AmEX, Cooks or whatever) permanent use of your money as an interest-free loan, otherwise; your cash is thus tied-up in a free loan to them. There are a few other places in DC (and one in Bethesda near the metro) that handle foreign exchange; I checked once and don't think any of them have much, if any, better rates than Cook's -- if you want to check, just look in the yellow pages under "Foreign Exchange".

howard Feb 23rd, 2000 12:39 PM

Just be aware that many (most?) currency exchange places, both here and abroad, charge a high transaction fee. (In Europe, it can be 9% or higher.) Check with the rate at your local bank to see how it compares with the currency exchange place. No matter which you use in the U.S., you won't get as good a rate as you would overseas using ATMs.

lynn Feb 23rd, 2000 01:57 PM

Greetings - <BR> <BR>I just wanted to pipe in with a general idead related to money exchange. <BR> <BR>On our last trip this past November, we wanted to get a little Baht before we left but didn't want to use Cook. Then it dawned on me that we live less than 50 miles from Disneyland so why not check out a bank near there? Lot of tourists, must be lots of money. <BR> <BR>It worked great. My own branch of this bank in my town had told me we needed to order it special, etc., etc. Well, I just walked into the one down the street from Disneyland one Saturday and walked out with all the currency I wanted. And we got a good rate. Way better than Cook. <BR> <BR>So, for those of you who live near a "touristy" attraction, you might try a major bank in the area instead of the "cambio" next time you need to exchange. <BR> <BR>:-)

Jen Feb 25th, 2000 12:50 PM

Just a quick note about ATMs overseas... <BR> <BR>This may have changed, but usually they only accept 4 -digit PIN numbers - my US account has more than 4 digits for PIN and my card didn't work. Forutnately, my husband's card worked. I'm not sure if this is a standard rule or just bad luck - but I think I've heard of this before. If others can confirm this - just change your PIN number to 4 digits before you leave.

Jen Feb 25th, 2000 12:52 PM

Forgot - <BR> <BR>We go to our bank and just convert there for a couple hundred francs before we leave. Costs about $3 and we get a decent exchange rate.

Bob Brown Feb 25th, 2000 03:38 PM

One method of acquiring French francs that was not mentioned in the above postings was the French franc denominated American Express checks. <BR>I understand that AAA sells French franc checks for about 1% over the spot wholesale rate. If headed for Paris, they can be exchanged for currency at the American Express office. But I do not know if restaurants and hotels will accept them quickly. I found it easier to rely on the ATMs. They were seemed fairly prevalent. Anybody got a view on the French denominated AE checks?

Karen Feb 26th, 2000 12:57 AM

Definitely not! You can avoid the currency differential by being sure to have a VISA or MC with a pin number that has 4 digits. There are ATM's throughout France and why not get the best exchange rate. One caveat: check with your bank before leaving the US to see what percentage they charge for a cash withdrawal. Sometimes, it is finacially advantageous to take out 2000FF at once rather than multiple small withdrawals. France is a "plastic friendly country." One can pay for everything (including the autoroute) with a credit card.

Cat Feb 29th, 2000 01:17 PM

I just got french franc traveller's checks at AAA for no fee (I'm a member) and a fantastic (very very close to wholesale) exchange rate. I didn't get a lot(figured I'll do better in Paris), but enough to know I'm covered if the banks are closed and I can't find an ATM. I like to cover my bases when it comes to money in every way possible, after a few bad experiences. I plan to keep track of all my exchanges and I'll post exactly what I paid and how they compare when I get back. Cat <BR>

Helen Feb 29th, 2000 01:34 PM

I used FF TCs from AAA with mostly good results. I bought a few hundred franc's worth just in case I ran into problems with ATMs anywhere. The TCs were generally accepted wherever I tried to use them, except for one ethnic restaurant in Paris where they asked me to charge it instead. Not a problem. The TCs were handy for the B&B in the country, and also readily accepted for payment of part of a hotel bill in Paris at the end of the trip (used plastic for the balance, as Fodorites suggested.) <BR>As noted above, no harm in having them along, as long as the price is right.

Diane Feb 29th, 2000 07:37 PM

I just checked the exchange rate, and it's at 6.78 ff for one U.S. dollar! On Saturday I stopped at an American Express office and they quoted me 6.2 ff for a dollar with a $4 transaction fee regardless of the amount I wanted. <BR> <BR>I always like to play it safe. I'll be prepared with some travelers checks, a small amount of francs purchased before I leave here, and two ATM cards. While I'm on vacation I want as few problems as possible.

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