Traveller's Cheques in French Francs?

Apr 13th, 1999, 09:31 AM
Julie Cabral
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Traveller's Cheques in French Francs?

Help! I have been reading postings on traveller's cheques vs. cash,changing TC vs.Atms and I am not sure what is the best thing to do. I plan on getting some francs from ATM but would like to know if it is worth it to buy traveller's cheques in french francs in US or should I get AX cheques in US$ and exchange in Paris?Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Apr 13th, 1999, 09:39 AM
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My opinion is this: if you get TC's in a foreign currency you will pay a fee to change them, then may still pay a fee to cash them, and ultimately will pay again if you don't use them all up. The ONLY advantage to having TC's in French francs is if you need to pay for meals or hotel bills with them. But it is better to use your credit card on those large expenses, use your ATM for day-to-day cash, and keep a few $100 US in TC's for emergency. When you need to cash them go to a major bank, or an AMEX office to exchange. has a really sensible article about changing money.
Apr 13th, 1999, 09:41 AM
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There is slight variation on opinions on this, but the general consensus is to rely on ATMs for cash (francs) in Paris and/or use your credit cards as much as possible. Many people (I'm one) still take some travelers checks with them just as another emergency back up.
I buy them in dollars. First, I really hope not to have to use them, so when I get home I can easily deposit them into my bank account. Second, if I buy them in foreign denominations I lose on the initial transaction, I may have to pay to exchange them for currency in Paris, and I'll certainly have to pay to have them converted back to dollars if I end up bringing them back home and want to redeposit them. Other people feel it is just convenient to buy them in the foreign denominations.
However, to recap, I think almost everyone agrees to rely on ATMS and credit cards as much as possible. Some people take no trav. checks with them at all, and many of us use them only as
a backup should a credit or debit card be lost. If you take few trav checks with you, it's not that worrisome a deal whether you get them in francs, dollars, or whatever. You can always try a few each way and see which you prefer.
Apr 13th, 1999, 09:43 AM
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Beth I guess you and I were almost simultaneous on this, I didn't mean to echo you so much.
Apr 13th, 1999, 09:54 AM
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Hi Beth and Elaine! Thanks so much for the advice. I think I will stick with CC amd Atm and take $100US travellers cheques just in case. I am leaving in 2 weeks for Paris and I can't wait. This forum has been a big help in planning the trip. Thanks again!
Apr 13th, 1999, 10:02 AM
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I once bought tc's in French francs because I thought it was a great idea. Stupid...not one Paris bank or cambion cared. You pay fx rate on the buy side, and if you have any left over, you have to sell them and lose the fx on that side too. Stupid. Use credit cards and ATM cards...I always take about $100US in foreign currency (I buy it at American Express or a bank) so I can get a coffee when I get off the plane without having to deal with the ATM hunt. If the ATM is broken, busy or empty (wanna hear about my adventure in Casablanca airport?), you have enough ff, bf, sf, dm, il, sp or whatever to get to your hotel and find an ATM in town. I haven't taken ANY tc's in the last 5 years, thanks to the ATM machines.
Apr 13th, 1999, 10:05 AM
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I agree with Beth and Elaine. I still bring tc's with me as a backup, but always in US$.

I just wanted to add that American Express has a big office right behind the old Opera if you want to convert your tc's. I had to go there once because one of the ATM's ate my card (first time I tried to use it many years ago). They also have an ATM right outside.
Apr 13th, 1999, 12:04 PM
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You don't have to lose anything at all on foreign travellers checks. I tried this last time I went to Europe. I used foreign checks for about half of my spending in Switzerland and Paris. They are accepted as cash at most places that you will use them. Just like using U.S. checks in the U.S. If a Paris restaurant bill is 50 francs, then give the waiter 100 francs in travellers checks, and you will get back 50 francs in cash. I never cashed any of them for foreign currency. I used my U.S. checks for this. It is good to compare what the current bank rate of exchange is in the paper to what you get at AAA or wherever else you obtain the checks to see if you are getting a good rate. Of course, you are only guessing what rate you might actually get when you get to Europe. You could actually save if you buy way ahead, and the dollar drops when it is time for your trip. Not that I would speculate this way. One thing to be aware of though is that you should not try to use the foreign checks for too much, since you can definitely lose quite a bit exchanging unused checks back for your own currency.

Credit cards are supposed to give the best rates. However, travellers checks can be replaced if lost, and you have to be comfortable with running up credit charges or with having to find an ATM everytime you need more money. I generally use credit cards for large purchases, some hotels, and expensive restaurants toward the end of the trip. I use ATMs toward the end when I am running short on checks.
Apr 13th, 1999, 12:41 PM
Bob Brown
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I agree with all of the above. Let me suggest, however, that before making the final decision, you contact your bank and find out two key facts:
1. How much does each ATM transaction on foreign soil cost you?
2. Is there a conversion fee to process a foreign currency charge?
Right now on my credit card, there is no added fee for a foreign purchase. On ATM transactions, there the charge is
$1.50 per transaction regardless of the amount withdrawn. Getting $100 worth of whatever costs me $101.5, or 1.5%.
That is probably cheaper than what I would pay to buy foreign currency in the USA, which runs about a 2% charge in my experience.
But if I withdrew $500 worth of whatever from the ATM, the charge is still $1.50, and the precentage shrinks to less than a half of a percent. But, your selection of a strategy all depends on that ATM fee!!
Right now, the ATM is probably the best bet for me, except for some pocket money in the local currency to permit purchases until I can get to an ATM gadget.
Apr 13th, 1999, 12:52 PM
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Addition to Bob's question: What's the daily limit on ATM withdrawals at your bank? Are you staying in any hotels that don't take credit cards?
ATMs are wondrous little beasts, but we've had the system go down for 24 hours on a weekend. In theory, it might have saved us money to have had traveller's checks in the local currency so we didn't get gouged by the exchange places. In practice, we'll probably take our chances again rather than face a certain 2% hit..not that I'm cheap.
Apr 13th, 1999, 12:54 PM
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OK, Iím coming to the conclusion that the ATM/credit card route will be best for my upcoming London & Paris trip.

My question, though, is whether most attractions (things like the Imperial War Museum, Eiffel Tower, etc.) accept credit cards, or whether I must pay in the local currency. Any guidance on this?
Apr 14th, 1999, 07:46 AM
Bob Brown
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With all of the opinions being offered on this forum as to the best way to carry money to France, I decided to see what I could do to get some hard numbers to play with. What I learned supports most of the conclusions everyone has been stating all along.

First I called Nations Bank. I established two facts: 1. If a bought currency, the rate today (4/14/99) was
.1749. 2. the person with whom I spoke did not know the rate for travelers checks, but it is not the same rate. (Big flippin help!!)
Then I called AAA in Atlanta and was told that 1. AAA did not sell currency and 2. the exchange rate on French francs in American Express travelers check form was .16715, today.

I then called Nations Bank and found out that for my ATM card I had two free "foreign" transactions per statement period, but that the bank where I used the card might impose a fee. The amount of this fee was unknown, but could be $3.00 or more. After the first 2 "foreign" ATM uses per checking statement period, NationsBank would impose a $1.50 fee per transaction in addition to whatever I had to pay in France.
I then asked if there was a conversion fee to use my charge card. The answer, after asking about 3 differnt people, was NO, there is no conversion fee.
So, to do a little figuring: If I exchanged for 1000 FF today, I would pay $174.90 for the currency and $167.15 for the checks. So the cost of the currency is 4.64% greater than the cost of the checks.
The exchange rate at the AAA office for travelers checks was very close to the wholesale bankrate posted on Internet of .1647 (.16715 at AAA)

Assuming I withdrew 1000 francs at a Paris ATM, I would pay 164.70 plus what ever fee was imposed. So, the checks would cost 167.17 and currency would cost 164.70 plus a fee.
I could pay a fee of $2.50 for the ATM transaction and break even, ca.
Compared with buying the currency in the US, I could pay a fee of about $10.00 and still break even.
So, purchasing foreign currency here is the worst deal cost wise, travelers checks are close to ATM money, but they are not always liquid. If the amount of French Francs withdrawn was 2000, the fee in France could be as high as $5.00 and you would still be close to the breakeven point.
Conclusions: use the credit card where you can, use the ATM for cash on the street, and buy French currency here only for immediate convenience upon arrival. What about travelers checks?
Well they are about the same cost as ATM money, but they must be converted after arrival, and possibly subject to various exchange fees unless taken to the AmEx office. Now the big unknown to me is this: if I am in a French cafe along
rue de Rennes, and I pull out a 500 franc AmEx check to pay a 450 ff bill, does the waiter take it and smile or does he scream something in profane French that I don't understand?
Apr 14th, 1999, 07:59 AM
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I have to add to Bob's very fine analysis above. If you don't pay off the credit card when you get home, that 18% interest rate pretty quickly makes it the worst deal of all. Or if you already have an outstanding balance before you leave, or if your card has no grace period. So there are reasons for not using the credit card.

One other question though, Bob. Does the American express office in Paris cash your Amex checks in US dollars at the same exchange rate as if you purchased Amex checks in French Francs?
Apr 14th, 1999, 08:02 AM
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Bob, your explanation is a credit to edu-ers everywhere.
The thread on the loveability of Parisians has convinced me that if someone starts screaming at you in a language you don't understand, you should assume it's a charming local custom rather than profanity.
Apr 14th, 1999, 09:58 AM
Bob Brown
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Beth, I don't know the answer to your question about the rate at which US dollars are exchanged in Paris. I know several people who have gone to Paris AmEx style, but I don't know anyone who has pinpointed the differences in the daily exchange rate fluctuations.
I guess to make my "research?" complete, I should have called the AmEx office on rue Scribe. But, I didn't.
(Most of my traveling friends think I am a little goofy to keep figuring the rates anyhow. Well, they enjoy their way of doing it and I enjoy mine. I took one too many international trade courses as a grad student to totally ignore the situation. I guess my basic premise is this: If I am going to get fleeced, I want it to be my option. Like last year, we looked at the price to ride up to the Jungfraujoch, talked it over, acknowledged that it was high, and then said to each other, "Hang it all, let's go.")
I guess the other assumption I made was that fees for late and/or partial credit card payments were too much of an imponderable to figure in. But, if you are $1,000 in arrears it doesn't really matter whether or not you incurred the charge in Paris or in Kansas City.
This has been an interesting exercise, because I had not realized how much people got soaked for the dubious pleasure of purchasing foreign currency from various banks in the USA. Also, I did not call around to see if the exchange rates differed from bank to bank. They might, but not by much, is my assumption. I think at some point, one just has to accept exchange fees as an expense of the trip and go with it. No one likes to feel cheated, but, on the other hand, we could stay at home if total economy was the ambition.
Apr 14th, 1999, 06:06 PM
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RE. the point about who takes credit cards and who doesn't: During our stay in Paris the week before Easter, we only had one currency-related problem. Almost every place we went took credit cards (primarily VISA); we learned to look for the signs by the restaurant door if we were short on cash. But the day we planned to buy the Carte Musee (at Conciergerie/Ste Chappelle), after I asked the person at the door if they took credit cards and then stood in line for almost half an hour, the cashier informed me that they only took cash, so we scrounged enough cash but had very little left. However, I think this must be one of the few major tourist sites that don't take cards -- in addition to the gift shop at Notre Dame! Eiffel Tower, train station, every store we were in, nearly all restaurants accepted VISA and my debit card. I also discovered that the exchange rate on my debit card was significantly better than the rate for the francs I got from the bank in advance of the trip, but don't know yet if I was charged a fee, either by my bank or the one where I got cash. Credit card exchange rate is also better than my bank's. Always an adventure . . .
Apr 22nd, 1999, 11:13 AM
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On the topic of TC's -- based on my gleanings from prior postings, I went to the AAA just before my trip to France and bought about $500 worth of FF TC's. As Bob noted above, the rate for these is favorable. I used them for paying restaurant tabs, the B&B that didn't take credit cards, and, if any had been left at the end, I would have applied them to the hotel bill before charging the balance (which is what I ended up doing with my excess French currency.) I used ATM's for cash, credit cards for everything else possible. I'm not sure why anyone would have to pay twice to convert one's foreign currency TC's back to the home currency.

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