The following prices are to give you an idea of costs. Note that it is less expensive to eat or drink standing at a café or bar counter than it is to sit at a table, so two prices are listed, au comptoir (at the counter) and à salle (at a table). Coffee in a bar: €1 to €2.50 (standing), €1.50 to €5 (seated); beer in a bar: €2 (standing), €3 to €6 (seated); Coca-Cola: €2 to €4 a can; ham sandwich: €3 to €5; one-mile taxi ride: €6; movie: €7.50 to €9.50 (sometimes less expensive for screenings before noon); foreign newspaper: €1.50 to €4; museum admission: €1.50 to €9.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
ATMs (distributeurs de billets) are common in major cities and larger towns and are one of the easiest ways to get cash; you'll find one in almost any but the very smallest towns. Banks usually offer excellent, wholesale exchange rates through ATMs.
To get cash at ATMs in France, your PIN must be four digits long. You may have more luck with ATMs if you are using a credit card or a debit card that is also a Visa or MasterCard, rather than just your bank card. Note, too, that you may be charged by your bank for using ATMs overseas; inquire at your bank about charges.
Before you go, it's a good idea to get a list of ATM locations that you can use in France from your bank. Failing that, you can always ask a passerby on the street for the nearest distributeur de billets.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally 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—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your 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), note that 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.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the merchant (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.
Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it using American Express; with its cards, DCC isn't an option.
Many restaurants and stores take both credit and debit cards, though there is often a €10 or €15 minimum.
Currency and Exchange
Under the euro system, there are seven notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. Notes are the same for all countries. There are eight coins: 1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. On all coins, one side has the value of the euro on it and the other side has the national symbol of one of the countries participating in monetary union.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that's right. The sign didn't say no fee). And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
Although you'll usually have no trouble finding a baggage cart at the airport, luggage restrictions on international flights are tight and baggage carts at railroad stations are not always available, so pack light. Even hotel staffs are becoming less and less tolerant of heavy suitcases and heaps of luggage worthy of a Queen Mary crossing. If you simply must have every item on your list, you can opt to send your luggage on ahead with a number of different companies, but be prepared to organize shipment at least two weeks in advance.
Over the years, casual dress has become more acceptable, although the resorts along the Côte d'Azur and in the Luberon and Aix-en-Provence are still synonymous with smart dressers and fashion plates.
Jeans are common, though they, too, are worn stylishly, with a nice button-down shirt, polo, or T-shirt without writing. Shorts are a popular item for the younger crowd in most cities. More and more people are wearing sneakers, although you may still stand out as a tourist with them on, especially if you wear them when you go out at night.
There is no need to wear a tie and jacket at most restaurants, even fancy ones, though you should still try to look nice. Most casinos and upscale nightclubs along the Côte d'Azur, however, require jackets and ties, and certainly no jeans allowed.
For beach resorts, take a decent cover-up; wearing your bathing suit on the street is frowned on, even if topless when actually on the beach is commonly accepted.
Most of France is hot in summer, cool in winter. Since it rains all year round, bring a raincoat and umbrella. You'll need a sweater or warm jacket for the Mediterranean in winter, and you should also bring hats, scarves, and gloves.
If you are staying in budget hotels, take along soap. Many hotels either do not provide it or give you a limited amount. You might also want to bring a washcloth.
Lighters, even empty ones, may also be confiscated at check-in.