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Using a Credit-card .. at Bistro/boulangerie or patisserie

Do most restaurants accept VISA credit-card (an American one.. non-chip&pin)? I know there is a difference and this is a problem in those metro machines, but it be an issue getting breakfast, snacks, and lunch?

I ask because my bank has a 3% transaction charge abroad.. but also a 3% total charge on money from an ATM. Well, if it is 3% either way, why even bother getting money out off an ATM when there are many reports of people (solo travelers) getting scammed at an ATM.... so instead of getting robbed at the ATM, why bother. Can I just use my credit-card the whole time?

PS. I know this is somewhat of a TA question--but I am asking specifically for boulangerie or patisserie and figured CHounds would know better that I am not asking about tourist trap, chains.

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  1. No, you will need cash.

    1. "Do most restaurants accept VISA credit-card"
      Yes
      "my bank has a 3% transaction charge abroad"
      Then get a Capital One card for all your restos and groceries (except at stands and street markets).
      "getting scammed at an ATM"
      Buy some nifty credit card sized envelopes with FIPS 201 blocking material.

      1. Not wanting to change our credit card to a free transaction card (for many personal reasons), and not wanting to expose a debit card, we simply pay cash everywhere except for week-long hotel bills. We use a no fee debit card at a subtle ATM near our hotel, hit the "money machine" every other day and keep extra cash in our hotel safe. Once you break the American credit card habit, cash is a simple alternative. May even become popular some day...or not.

        Most French merchants are totally unaccustomed to taking a card for small purchases, say under 10 or 20€.

        1. Unfortunately due to the fact that I had only 2 weeks (plus American holiday of "Fourth of July" cut out a week), I was told I could not apply+get-approved+receive a card in-time for my trip. :(

          The scam that I am speaking about is apparently where you are surrounded at the ATM by a group, after you have already entered your card and pin, and they grab your cash, possibly card too. Some have described that the group puts a piece of paper in front of your face or the machine and then enters a high amount to deduct + grabs the cash. Therefore, I am hesitant to use the ATM--at all--when this smack+grab at the ATM keeps getting posted. I don't have anyone to watch my back.

          Mangeur, that sounds good that your debit-card doesn't have a fee.. but mine does, so "hitting the money machine" = fees too.

          11 Replies
          1. re: GraceW

            It does happen, as in all bit cities, but it is rare. It has never happened to me, and I have lived here since the last century. You make it sound as though it happened so frequently that you should even forego the use of your credit cards. You know you have a much bigger chance of getting food poisoning or being hit by a bicycle in Paris than falling into scams. I don't want you to start worrying about food poisoning, but if you must worry about being surrounded at ATMs , why stop there ? :)

            1. re: Parigi

              I guess multiple people posting on TA in the last few days about getting scammed on the RER (CDG to Paris) and/or at ATMs.. the repetition makes me question it.

              Also, people keep saying--"credit for large purchases, Euros for small".... well, it is the same fee either way... why bother using Euros for small purchases?

              1. re: GraceW

                If you are still afraid, use an ATM that already has a line.
                A horror story repeated does give some people paranoia. First of all, if you discard all hear-say from those TA stories, how many are left ?
                I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can fly.

                1. re: GraceW

                  Mostly because small vendors don't want to take cards for small purchases. You need cash for daily life in Paris: boulangeries, snacks, coffees, small purchases, casual lunches.

                  1. re: mangeur

                    Good to know--because I use cash maybe once a week in the US. Thanks!

                  2. re: GraceW

                    the crowd on TA would have you believe that Paris is a third-world outpost with thieves and ne'er-do-wells hiding behind every tree and parking meter.

                    They're full of horsefeathers -- and yes, I've told them that.

                    Paris is one of the safest cities of its size in the world. Act like you're in a big city and you'll be fine.

                2. re: GraceW

                  Notice that I specifically mentioned a discreet ATM. We always use the same one. We never just "need money" during the day. We hit a market for bottled water for our room, a wine shop for wine and an ATM for the next day's money. We never use an ATM in a highly tourist area. If your are staying somewhat off a main street, there should be a quiet ATM that is not a magnet for the roving bands of youngsters looking for an easy mark. Look around you before stopping. Check out who is approaching from all directions. It really sounds more cloak and dagger than it is. It's just the same street smarts you'd use at home. And, of course, avoid making small withdrawals that do add up if your bank charges them.

                  1. re: GraceW

                    Make your cash withdrawals from an ATM during business hours from machines located inside a bank if you are concerned about such a situation.

                    1. re: GraceW

                      Grace, I have never heard of that scam in Paris, although I am sure it must happen somewhere to someone.

                      I'd just advise to be aware of your surroundings especially when you are about to use a debit or credit card in a public place like an ATM machine or in the Metro. If you're feeling apprehensive, find a police person to accompany you while you're making your transaction.

                      1. re: GraceW

                        Chase signature preferred, applied on line, had card in 6 days.

                      2. Grace I think you need to relax a bit more about Paris, in another post you asked about the safety of the metro (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9702...) and you are now worried about ATM's.

                        Yes Paris is a busy tourist city, and yes it attracts petty thieves and scammers. But it's also a modern city which is well policed and comparatively safe. As others have said just use common sense and you should be fine, it's not like many US cities where you can go from a great neighbourhood to a genuinely dangerous one in only a block or two. Just use your US street smarts and it will be fine.

                        As others have said cards are not used for small scale transactions but will be used for larger ones. The way it works in arrange is they bring the pin machine to your table, thus if your card won't handle pins it can be a problem. Although these machines will often take magnetic stripe cards and print a docket for signature. Best advice is to use cash for day to day transactions of low is value (under €20), and use a card for over $20. And as others heave said simply choose and ATM in a good area, preferably in a public space or inside the bank. You should be fine.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PhilD

                          Folks, we've removed some posts here about general tourist safety in Paris, off topic for Chowhound. By all means, help GraceW with her question about using credit cards at boulangeries, but let's keep the topic focused on Chow.

                        2. Paris is as safe as any big city I've been. I feel safer walking and riding the public transport there than where I live in San Francisco. Enough have been written on how to get around the 3% foreign transaction fee. As for ATM scams and robbery, just be prudent as you would in Chicago. If you try to use your credit card to buy a croissant at a bakery, a drink at a cafe, at a crepe stand or hundreds of similar places, they'll look at you as if you are from any planet; that includes all the people waiting in line. Why visit a city that you are so paranoid about?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PBSF

                            Thanks--I believe the more aware I am now, then less I am 'paranoid' or worried in the moment. It is what it is.

                          2. Definitely need Euros outside of Paris. Neither boulangerie in our village or the cafe take credit cards. I would suggest that you check with your US bank to see if they have a correspondent relationship with a French bank. For example, Bank of America has such a relationship with BNP Paribas so there is no ATM fee if you use BNP Paribas ATMs to withdraw cash. There is a foreign exchange fee but no ATM fees from either bank. I have withdrawn money hundreds of times in France without problem.

                            21 Replies
                            1. re: Pammel

                              even if you end up coughing up the $5 transaction fee, it's pretty minor in the greater scheme of things.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                You are right Sunshine...a $5 fee on a 400 euro withdrawal is a fee in dollars of less than 1%.

                              2. re: Pammel

                                Thank you for your response. US Bank (or US Bancorp) has no international affiliates. Clearly after I return, I will be opening or switching to Chase because as long as I return without major issue, I hope to go back or to another country next.

                                For now, I don't care as much about fees since I cannot avoid them. ---But I will look for BNP Paribas with the hope that it will receive my 'American card well and hopefully they have an safer ATM inside the bank in the fifth arrondissement.

                                1. re: GraceW

                                  The BNP Paribas deal works only if you haven an account with Bank of America.

                                  Outside ATMs are safe -- the 9 million people who live in Paris use them every single day.

                                  Really -- if you have any hope at all of enjoying yourself, you have to let go of this supposition that Paris is a high-crime district full of thieves, charlatans, and ne'er-do-wells. It simply isn't.

                                  It's a big city where completely normal people live and work and raise their children. Just like any other city its size, it's not a cotton-swaddled Disneyland -- there is crime, but it is overwhelmingly a safe city.

                                  It's also far, far safer than Chicago...I wouldn't hesitate to walk alone in Paris late at night. I'd think long and hard about it anywhere in Chicago, even on the Magnificent Mile or in the River North district.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Thank you: I rather hate Disneyland, so I am glad it is not that. I realized in the last few days (when people on Tripadvisor imploded with paranoia) I take a lot of risks everyday and in fact I took a bus out of the South-side past 10:30 pm (maybe midnight) alone back when I was 16..

                                    I have not used a debit-card before. I think once I use it a few times in the US then I will be more comfortable using it there. Also, I don't want to be careless but worse comes to worse, money is paper--I should not compromise my experience due to others' supposed events/encounters.

                                    1. re: GraceW

                                      Grace, our ATM/debit card is also with US Bank. I had no problem using it in France last year at ATMs. If you don't typically use one, you may want to use your card at an ATM in the States before you leave, just to be sure that it is fully functional -- i.e., that you are using the correct PIN no., that the magnetic strip is functional, etc. Otherwise, you may get to France and discover that it doesn't work -- not because it is incompatible with the French ATMs (which should not be an issue), but just because you've gotten confused as to the PIN or the magnetic strip has been deactivated, etc.

                                      When we travel overseas, we typically get our first local cash at an ATM located in the airport. That way you have local currency immediately on hand. (And, those are, of course, relatively high security areas for the transaction --- although, as others have suggested, you are overthinking the security issues.)

                                      1. re: masha

                                        Actually many United States bank ATM cards do not work overseas. If it is a small town non-international bank it most likely will not work.

                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                          as long as it has Plus, Cirrus, or Visa printed on the card, it should be fine -- you *do* have to phone your bank/card issuer (both, for best results) and tell them that you'll be out of the country.

                                          I used an ATM from a small regional credit union for years and years -- they only ever charged a $1.75 "out of network" fee and a 1% transaction fee.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            When a friend joined me in Paris last year, his three local US bank cards did not work eventhough they were Visa based and he had called. They all said no international usage was available.

                                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                              Yes, that cannot happen. I have one card. And know no one. I would have to just keep calling until the card company 'made it' work.

                                              1. re: GraceW

                                                Grace, as mentioned upthread, my debit card is through US Bank and I had absolutely no problem using it at ATMs in France (both in Paris and beyond) last summer. (And, US Bank is a good-size bank within the US with locations in many cities, not a "small town" local bank, which is the subject addressed by Deluca.)

                                                1. re: masha

                                                  Yes, Masha your post really lifted my spirit; I really appreciated that because US Bank had said to bring travelers checks for back-up ... but then after calling four branches yesterday, they alerted me to the fact that they no longer issue travelers checks.

                                                  Therefore, like your card, my card will work. And I will have Euros on hand for smaller shops, for coffee, and small purchases.

                                                  1. re: GraceW

                                                    travelers checks are an enormous headache -- there are very, very few places that will take them, and even fewer that will exchange them wtihout charging userous fees.

                                                2. re: GraceW

                                                  Do not panic. To the best of my knowledge, all cards accept collect calls 24/7. A pain in the neck, but you shouldn't be left stranded.

                                                  Sometimes the fault is with the restaurant's machine. We were once denied a charge after dinner deep in the 15th at around midnight. We coughed up enough cash but the staff eyed us suspiciously. When we complained to our Visa supplier, they calmly said, "Oh, well, you should have just called us. We would have put the charge right through."

                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                    "Sometimes the fault is with the restaurant's machine"
                                                    Has happened twice to me, a good reason to have a French bank and puce card.

                                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                                      the THEORY is that they're getting ready to add the puce to US cards. The Target fiasco was an enormous wakeup call, and my B of A card has a puce in it (it's still signature only, but it's at least there!)

                                                      Most of my regular shops have already switched over to puce-compatible terminals.

                                                      I can only hope.

                                                          1. re: mr_gimlet

                                                            the little gold square embedded in newer credit cards.

                                            2. re: GraceW

                                              and I remember a store owner running out of his shop as I walked from the Art Institute to catch the train back to my hotel...that area has changed a lot since then, but I've never been warned to never cross the train tracks in Paris at 2:30 in the afternoon of a bright, sunny Saturday!

                                      2. Get Euros before you leave the US.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: gourmanda

                                          You will pay 6-14 % for the privilege, so do not get much

                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                            No necessarily 6-14%. If you go to a AAA travel office, are a AAA member and buy more than $200 in euros there's no transaction fee. In order to have cash for my cab ride and first cup of coffee/pastry that's what I've done. Now, in terms of the 'best exchange rate (it's done via Well Fargo), I'm not sure how it stacks up, but I'll take the convenience of having the cash on hand when I land.

                                            1. re: AHA64

                                              Lots of places have no transaction fees - they simply make their margin by offering a lower exchange rate. Useful to work that out as well.

                                          2. re: gourmanda

                                            I always bring euros home with me, so that when I arrive the next time I don't find myself without ready cash. Makes it easier to get into the city, get situated with a glass of wine or whatever before worrying about my first ATM stop.

                                          3. Well I am learning so much for next-time! Besides the need to switch banks.

                                            Hopefully I will be eating so well in Paris that I will forget all about eating these fees. I will just try to enjoy everything 3% more than planned.

                                            1 Reply