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Plan - Pack - Go - Enjoy
The Brellie Way
Before you go, make sure your financial institutions know your schedule and destination. Include debit cards, credit cards and any other bank accounts you might use while overseas. This protects you from frozen accounts when your cards are used in places that are not customary for you. Otherwise, your account may be flagged and frozen for potential theft of your card when it is used outside your normal routine.
Note that an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) has the name Distributeur de Billets in France. Check with your card issuer for any fees associated with overseas transactions. Just like in the United States, it is possible that the owner of the Distributeur de Billets may charge a fee. Most of these machines have an option to select language; English (anglais) is usually marked by the British flag. The Distributeur de Billets are widely available at banks, airports, and grocery stores.
Learn the exchange rate before you go and keep up with it while in France. Most newspapers print the exchange rate for euros and dollars.
The signs that look like Visa and MasterCard - might indicate that only French/European versions of these are accepted. This is particularly true on the toll highways called the Autoroute. The word, péage, indicates it is a toll road. It is prudent to have an alternative method of payment ready and to go to a booth with a person inside, rather than risking the credit cards only lane. These credit cards only lanes are usually marked as cartes blue. Many establishments and most grocery stores do accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard.
Note that in France, they have chip and PIN debit cards uniquely and no credit cards. This means that everyone will be expecting you to enter a PIN. Since credit cards work differently (often without a PIN), expect some confusion from the French. It may take several swipes of your credit card for it to work. Also, some machines have no way to swipe a magnetic strip and the French do not know how to input numbers as an alternative. Chip and PIN credit cards exist in the U.S., but they are currently fairly expensive and not very common. If you are a USAA member, chip and PIN credit cards are available upon special request. Once again, it is prudent to have an alternative method of payment available.