Spending your dollars in France

Here is a brief rundown about your options for spending in Euros:

ATMs

1. French banks do not add fees to withdraws from their ATMs.

2. Expect a currency conversion fee of 1% charged by the network handling the transaction; typically Cirrus or Maestro (owned by Mastercard), Pulse (owned by Visa) or some other entity.

3. Your local bank might add additional fees as a percentage of the transaction and/or a fixed fee. Bank of America charges a conversion fee and $5 per transaction which is one of the highest foreign ATM user costs of any bank in the USA. They then throw their customers a bone by not charging the fixed fee on withdrawals from BNP but many, many credit unions and smaller banks only pass along the currency conversion fee with no fixed fee no matter from where withdrawals are made.

Credit Cards

1. Merchants or their banks do not charge the customer for credit card use.

2. Visa or MC charge a 1% currency conversion fee on all charges made outside of the USA (excluding its territories or military installations) regardless of the currency used in the transaction. Accepting a Dynamic Currency Conversion transaction does not avoid the conversion fee.

3. Banks may add an additional 2% if for no other reason than they can. TD Bank, Capital One, Navy FCU, or some credit unions actually absorb the 1% currency conversion fee. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citicorp and other large banks charge 3% (1% currency conversion + 2% in house) on foreign transactions. American Express charges 2.7%. It is a fundamental misstatement to conclude that Almost all US banks now add a 3% “conversion fee”. There are many banks and credit unions which do not add transaction fees and only pass along the currency conversion fee. USAA is a large bank which only passes along the 1% conversion fee but adds no additional costs to foreign transactions. Savvy consumers inquire about these fees before opening a bank account anywhere.

Some US banks now issue chip and signature cards which are becoming more and more important to travelers. To my knowledge, there is only one chip and PIN card available in the US without any annual fee and that is the USAA Mastercard. All foreign transactions using this card are completed with the user´s PIN – a signature is never required nor ever accepted.

Many US bank issued chip and signature cards are issued with a PIN which may be required for certain kiosk purchases. Note: using a PIN this way has nothing to do with placing a US credit card into an ATM for a cash advance which also requires a PIN. Cash advances using a credit card can be done with the magnet strip format, have little to nothing to do with chip and pin usage, and can be an extremely costly way to obtain cash.

Travelers Cheques

These are almost impossible to cash and may involve degraded exchange rates. Pre loaded ATM cards with a local currency are nothing other than updated TCs and should be avoided due to their unfavorable rates of exchange and high fees charged per transaction.

Cash

For certain travelers needing euros to pay for apartments (and acknowledging associated risks of loss or theft) cash may be converted at reasonable rates at several locations in Paris. Exchanging dollars to euros will cost 2% to 3% which is about what big banks charge to use their credit cards:

http://www.bureaudechange.fr/

http://www.ccopera.com/

http://www.fcochange.com/

Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)

For individuals who require euros to pay for apartments, schools, or other types of cash obligations, there are several entities which can easily make transfers for you at virtually no cost to the user. It requires your establishing an account (the process is similar to establishing a new bank account), linking this account to your local bank, and using a secure on-line interface. These operate in a very similar fashion to Paypal except that they can make a payment in virtually any currency. Payments may be made with a wire transfer (with modest cost), EFT (at no cost), or drafts may be sent using the mail system (at no cost):

http://www.hifx.com/

http://www.xe.com/

http://www.currencyonline.com/

There are a few additional steps involved such as establishing the payees address or bank information but for many types of transactions this option is fast and very inexpensive.

Conclusion

Make no assumptions about what your bank is charging you for access to your money. Ask about fees and how they are assessed. Many banks, most of them large, national banks, are more concerned about offering meaningless promotions than they are in providing quality, low cost service to their clients. Do not overlook small regional banks or credit unions. These institutions can save you a bundle and offer more personalized service in the process.

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Paris Taxis for groups up to 7 passengers

TaxiG7 has taxis which can transport up to 7 people. Called Maxicabs, just ask for one when you telephone, there is a special number:
01 47 39 01 39
TaxiG7 also has an English speaking operator at:
01 41 27 66 99
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Taxi Bleu has a similar program:
08 91 70 10 10
English speaking operator
01 49 36 10 10
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Alpha Taxi
01 45 85 85 85
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All charge, above the metered fare, an additional 3€ for each passenger after the 3rd. Expect to pay 1€ additional for each bag placed into the trunk.

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la vinaigrette

At the heart of a great deal of French cooking is la sauce vinaigrette.  Used in salads and a host of other applications, this simple sauce adds flavor to even the simplest of dishes.  It’s not the least bit difficult but the proportions resulting in the best flavor are to mix:

3 parts olive oil

1 part vinegar

¼ part French mustard

salt to taste

From this basic beginning one may add thyme, parsley, or other herbs as are available.   I shall refer to this basic recipe from time to time as it is a valuable tool in any kitchen.

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SOS Medicine

A good number to always have handy in the unlikely event that you or someone with whom you are traveling becomes ill:

01 47 07 77 77
For about 70€, you’ll have a physician visiting you in your Parisian hotel room in under an hour.

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Le Grau du Roi – The shops, my personal favorites

Historically, the French patronize a wide variety of sole proprietors for virtually all of their basic needs:  meat, bread, vegetables and a host of other supplies.  Of course now much of these needs are provided by large grocery stores, corporate behemoths where one never meets le partron.  I still believe there are advantages to developing personal relationships with those from whom we purchase life’s necessities and consider the sole proprietor as my first choice when seeking daily provisions.

Here is my list of the best shops in Le Grau du Roi, these shops are open year round:

Le Panier des Fruits – near the Post Office, offers Continue reading

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Your mobile phone in France – UPDATE

I recently reviewed the telecommunication options for those traveling in France.  Among the companies offering service in Europe (including Callineurope and Mobal) the following are my recommendations.  Unlike the better known plans there are no set up fees with the following and per minute costs are minimal.

Consider either of these two options:

1. If you have an unlocked, GSM tri or quad band phone, purchase a Breizh SIM from PhoneHouse. Cost is 6.90€. Minutes are sold prepaid in increments of 5€. 52 minutes for 10€ or .19€/min.  This rate applies to calls made to either other mobile phones or fixed line phones.  There is never a charge for inbound minutes.

Phonehouse

Note:  Recent reports have indicated Phonehouse no longer sells this SIM, at least not from its Paris stores.  It is still available via internet sales from Breizh.

2. If you do not have an available GSM phone, purchase one for 29€ ($41) from Virgin (stores all over France). There is no setup fee and it comes with a SIM and 12 free call-out minutes. Additional minutes available in increments of 5€ and charged at .27€/minute.  There is no charge for inbound calls.

Virgin Mobile

Samsung

Updated 7 Nov 09

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Le Grau du Roi – marché aux poissons

One of the best things about le Grau du Roi is the food.  The restaurants are inexpensive and the fresh fish are plentiful.  If you like fish and can prepare it yourself, there are four or five fishermen selling their catch every morning along the port.  If you ask, they will clean the fish while you wait.

Marche au poissons, le port du Grau du Roi

Marche au poissons, le port du Grau du Roi

If the fish is to be cooked in the oven (au four) it will be scaled.  If you plan on Continue reading

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