If you plan to stay in France for a longer period of time, you may want to open a bank account in France. For shorter stays, you can normally get by using ATMs and credit cards.

The currency used in France, and throughout most of EU, is the euro (€). The use of credit cards is slightly less common in France than in the United States, but major bank cards and credit cards (e.g., Visa and MasterCard) are accepted by most larger stores and restaurants in France — with the notable exception of the American Express card, which is rarely accepted. You should always ask about payment options when paying for a meal or an item, especially because minimum purchases may be required when using bank cards (usually of around €10 or €15).

Note: French cards have an embedded microchip, not a magnetic strip (as in the U.S.) However, French card reading devices and ATM machines are designed to read U.S. cards.

For shorter stays in France (in which all major expenses are paid in advance), it is sometimes possible to use local ATMs to withdraw spending money from an American bank account to cover day-to-day expenses. Every bank has a different policy on the fees they charge to withdraw cash from ATMs abroad, so be sure to read the fine print associated with your account, or contact your home bank to find out what kind of ATM fees they charge.

Checks are being used less and less often in France, and very few businesses will accept checks drawn on foreign banks.

 

Opening a bank account

International students may open a "nonresident" bank account (in euros or another currency) or, if they are staying in France long enough, a "resident" account (also in euros or another currency). 

You may wish to ask your bank at home if it maintains ties with a French banking network - this might make it easier for you to open an account (perhaps even before you arrive in France) and transfer funds.

Once you have opened an account, you will get an official bank account information document, or “RIB” (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire), from the bank. This includes your account number and other important information that will allow you to make deposits to or withdrawals from your account — for example, direct deposits of your wages, your scholarship, or any automatic bill payments.

Opening an account gives you the right to a checkbook and a Carte Bleue, or debit card. at your bank in France. Anything you pay for, as well as any cash you withdraw from an ATM machine with your Carte Bleue, is immediately debited from your account.

For more information on banking in France, check out this detailed set of articles written by the French Property website.