Although a stay in Paris is far from cheap, you can find plenty of affordable places to eat and shop, particularly if you avoid the obvious tourist traps. Prices tend to reflect the standing of an area in the eyes of Parisians; the touristy area where value is most difficult to find is the 8e arrondissement, on and around the Champs-Élysées. Places where you can generally be certain to shop, eat, and stay without overpaying include the St-Michel/Sorbonne area on the Rive Gauche; the mazelike streets around Les Halles and Le Marais in central Paris; in Montparnasse south of the boulevard; and in the Bastille, République, and Belleville areas of eastern Paris.
In cafés, bars, and some restaurants you can save money by eating or drinking at the counter instead of sitting at a table. Two prices are listed—au comptoir (at the counter) and à salle (at a table)—and sometimes a third for the terrace. A cup of coffee, standing at a bar, costs from €2; if you sit, it will cost €2.50 to €7. A glass of beer costs from €3 standing and from €4 to €7 sitting; a soft drink costs between €3 and €5. A ham sandwich will cost between €3.50 and €6.
Expect to pay €8 to €15 for a short taxi ride. Museum entry is usually between €7 and €12, though there are hours or days of the week when admission is reduced or free. If you plan on museum hopping, it might be better value to pick up a Paris Museum Pass valid for two, four, or six consecutive days; these cost €42, €56, and €69 respectively.
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 (guichets) abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you can usually get a better exchange rate at ATMs than at currency-exchange offices, which are a disappearing breed. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash. Be sure to know your withdrawal limit before taking out cash, and note that French ATMs sometimes restrict how much money you can take out, regardless of your bank balance.
Although ATMs are plentiful, you may have to hunt around for Cirrus and Plus locations (they can be looked up online at www.mastercard.ca/atm-locator.html and www.visa.com/atmlocator, respectively). Note, too, that you may have better luck with ATMs if you're using a debit card that doubles as a Visa or MasterCard.
The largest bank in France, BNP Paribas, has agreements with both Barclay's and Bank of America, among others, that allow no-fee withdrawals between affiliated ATMs, typically a savings of $5 per transaction. Check with your local bank to see if it has an agreement with a French bank.
To get cash at ATMs in Paris, your PIN must be four digits long. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave. If you're having trouble remembering your PIN, do not try more than twice, because at the third attempt the machine will eat your card, and you will have to go back when the bank is open to retrieve it.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you don't go abroad very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers, plus the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen, in a safe place (but not your wallet or purse!), so you're prepared should something go wrong. Some travelers also like to leave a USB key with this information plus scanned passport pages with a trusted family member back home. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call if your card is lost, but you're better off dialing the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa generally just transfer you to your bank anyway; your bank's number is usually printed on your card. Take note: American Express is less widely accepted in France, so it's wise to have a back-up 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), 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 most American cards lack the microchip (puce) typically found in European credit cards. While waiters and store vendors will have no problem swiping your card, buying métro cards from a machine is impossible without a puce chip.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express. 800/528–4800; 01–47–77–70–00; www.americanexpress.com.
MasterCard. 800/627–8372; 08–00–90–13–87; www.mastercard.com.
Visa. 800/847–2911; 08–00–90–11–79; www.visa.com.
Currency and Exchange
In 2002 the single European Union (EU) currency—the euro—became the official currency of the 12 (now 19) countries participating in the controversial European Monetary Union (with the notable exceptions of Great Britain, Denmark, and Sweden). The euro system has eight coins: 1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. All coins have one side that has the value of the euro on it, whereas the opposite side is adorned with each country's own unique national symbol. (Be aware that, because of their high nickel content, euro coins can pose problems for people with an allergic sensitivity to the metal.) There are also seven colorful notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. Notes have the principal architectural styles from antiquity onward on one side and the map and the flag of Europe on the other and are the same for all countries. If you happen to have brought some rumpled old francs from home on this trip, you may as well frame them and hang them on the wall for posterity, not prosperity: the Banque de France stopped exchanging francs in 2012.
At this writing, €1 equaled approximately US$1.09 and $1.44 Canadian.
The easiest way to get euros is through ATMs; you can find them in airports, train stations, and throughout the city. ATM rates are excellent because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. Whenever possible, it’s best to use machines that are protected by a door and not directly on the street; don't speak to people in line, and always cover your hand when entering your code in case there is a hidden camera. It's a good idea to bring some euros with you from home so you don't have to wait in line at the airport. At exchange booths always confirm the rate with the teller before changing money. You won't do as well at exchange booths in airports or rail and bus stations, in hotels, in restaurants, or in stores. French banks only exchange the money of their own clients.