|RFID & Chip+PIN Debit/Credit Cards|
If your credit or debit card has a magnetic stripe, but not a computer chip, or RFID symbol, you will have trouble using it in Paris and the rest of France. In fact, you may not be able to use it at all. But there are solutions to this problem.
On your trip to Paris and France, if your Visa, MasterCard or other credit or debit card does not have RFID and/or a computer chip in it, it will not be accepted everywhere. You may not be able to use it at all, even in online transactions.
To deter credit and debit card fraud, European banks, including in France, use the EMV Smart Card Payment System which requires credit and debit cards with computer chips in them (cartes à puce in French).
When used for a purchase, the card is inserted into a merchant device card reader (often a handheld device brought to you), the merchant (say, a waiter in a restaurant) enters the business code and the amount of the charge, then hands the device to you. You press the number keys for your 4-digit PIN (Personal Identification Number), the charge is recorded, the device prints a receipt for you, your card is removed and returned to you, and the transaction is over. It's quick, easy and secure.
Credit vs. Debit Cards
Foreign (that is, non-French) chip+PIN debit cards may work in France because they use a PIN. Credit cards are another matter.
You may already have, and use, a Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) card: city transit passes for bus, metro, etc., such as Paris's Navigo, are RFID cards, as are any cards that you just touch or wave at a sensor: you just put the card on or near a sensor, the card and the sensor exchange information, and you're on your way.
RFID cards have chips within them, but may or may not have electrical contacts on the surface of the card, so they may not work on all EMV chip card system terminals.
With Chip+Signature cards, your card has a chip in it, but you sign your signature on the device or on a paper receipt, as you did with the old magnetic stripe cards. With this system, you are usually not liable for fraudulent use of your card.
Chip+Signature can be used in some establishments in France, such as restaurants. When the server brings the handheld credit card device to your table and asks for your card, simply say Signer (SEEN-yay), meaning "Signature," instead of PIN. The server will generate a paper receipt for you to sign.
But in other situations, such as buying things from a machine (Métro and train tickets, for example), a PIN is required. You won't be able to use the machine without one. So...
Get a PIN!
From some companies in the USA, you can request a PIN to go with your Chip+Signature card, making it a Chip+PIN card as well. With a new card, you may have to make your first transaction with a person (cashier) and use your signature, but after that your PIN should be active, and you should be able to use it as a Chip+PIN card in France.
Apple Pay: Easy!
We use Apple Pay to pay for virtually everything when we travel in France: You register your credit/debit cards in your smartphone. When the time comes to pay, you set up your phone to pay, hold it near the payment device, hear a chime, and payment is made. Apple Pay is accepted at 99% of the sellers we use: cafés, restaurants, shops, transport ticket machines, even at some open-air markets.
Google Pay should work as well, as may any other such system based on the credit cards you have.
With this sort of system, your card number is not revealed to the seller—the system merely provides a one-time authorization code. There's less chance that your card number will "go astray" and be used illegitimately.
International Exchange & Payment Apps
If you travel internationally frequently, consider using a service such as Wise.
We go to France several times per year to update FranceTravelPlanner.com, so we regularly need to make payments in euros. To avoid bad exchange rates and excessive fees, we use a service called Wise (formerly TransferWise), which offers international electronic banking and currency exchange at advantageous rates.
We set up a Wise account, transfer dollars to it from our bank, then convert the dollars to euros as we need them via the Wise smartphone app or website. Transfers and payments take place immediately (unlike banks, which may take days). Fees are low, or non-existent.
We also ordered a Wise Debit Card, which can be used like any bank debit card to pay for things or to obtain cash from an ATM. We save money because Wise debits our account in the currency of the purchase, so there's no additional currency exchange commission or fee paid on the transaction.
There are other, similar services available. We recommend this one because we researched it, we've used it for years, and we find it reliable and advantageous. More...
—Look into smartphone payment methods valid in France, and how to avoid currency exchange ripoffs.
—Ask your bank about Chip+PIN debit and credit cards, and obtain one if possible.
—Use a chip+PIN cash/ATM card from your home bank to withdraw euros from cash machines (retrait, distributeur des billets) in France—if it works.
—Inform your bank that you will be using your card abroad, in France, and that charges and cash withdrawals made with the card should be approved.