Whether you’re putting down a deposit, making a large purchase, or shopping for groceries, there are a number of ways to make payments from your French bank account. Here’s what you need to know about cheques, credit, and debit cards in France.
Debit Cards Options in France
Unlike many bank accounts in the UK, US, and many other countries, when you open a French bank account, you won’t be given a debit card as standard—most banks charge an additional monthly or annual fee for a debit card or ‘carte bleue’.
Most debit cards will be a carte bancaire (CB), which will allow you to withdraw cash and make payments anywhere in Europe where you see the CB logo (although watch out for fees—we’ll get to that in a minute). Most carte bancaires are also VISA or Mastercard, allowing you to benefit from international payments.
Debit cards will either be ‘débit immédiat’, which means that your account will be debited immediately when you make a purchase, or ‘débit différé‘, which means your account will be debited at the end of t month.
Using your debit card
Debit cards are widely accepted in France and there is rarely a minimum payment amount, so you’ll often see them used even for small purchases. Some banks do still impose limits on debit card payments (for example, a maximum total payment amount per day, week, or 30-day period), but these can always be negotiated (as long as you have the credit available), so check with your bank and request that limits be lifted if necessary.
All debit cards in France will be ‘chip and pin’ cards, and you will be given a four-digit PIN number (code PIN) which you will need for all transactions (aside from contactless payments). If you want to change your PIN code, you will need to do so at an ATM inside your bank branch (for online banks and some international banks, this function is available online).
With a CB, Visa, or Mastercard you will be able to withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere in France. Most cards will also allow withdrawals throughout Europe and internationally, but it’s always worth checking this with your bank first. ATMs (distributeurs) are easily found throughout France and many offer English-language options.
It’s worth noting that many banks do impose limits, both on the maximum amount you can withdraw within a single transaction (typically €200 but this depends on the bank), or the maximum total amount you can withdraw in a 24-hour or 7-day period (this could be as little as €200 per week). These limits can also be negotiated, so talk to your bank if this doesn’t work for you. If you need to withdraw large amounts of cash, this can be done from inside the bank.
Contactless payments (paiement sans contact or simply ‘sans contact’) are now the norm in most establishments and have especially been encouraged since the Covid pandemic. There is typically a minimum payment amount of €1 and a maximum of €50 per transaction. Banks impose their own daily limits, either a maximum expenditure per day (probably €50 or €100) or a maximum number of consecutive payments within a 24-hour period (typically between 3 and 10).
These limits are sometimes negotiable, so it’s worth checking with your bank. You can also opt to impose stricter limits on a card or turn off contactless payments altogether.
Debit Card Fees and Charges
Annual charges for a debit card are typically around €45, but this can vary considerably depending on your bank and the type of card. Many banks offer a standard debit card, as well as options for ‘premium’ or ‘gold’ cards which include different benefits such as travel insurance and overseas assistance. Discounted rates are often available for students, with up to a 50% reduction on first-year fees.
Along with the charges for the card, it’s also important to take note of the many fees associated with debit cards in France. Some banks charge fees for cash withdrawals from ATMs belonging to other banks, and many charge for overseas transaction fees, especially outside of the Eurozone. While many cards allow free payments and cash withdrawals within the Eurozone, there may be limits on these, too, so check with your bank before you travel.
Lost and Stolen Cards
In the event of a lost or stolen card, you must contact your bank immediately or use the emergency interbank number 0892 705 705 (available 24/7). In France, it is the bank’s responsibility to reimburse the amount of an unauthorised or fraudulent transaction (there is an excess of €50 where a signature or PIN code has been used, but no excess on other transactions). However, failure to report a lost or stolen card, or negligence regarding your card details may invalidate this.
Paying by Cheque in France
While cheque payments are becoming obsolete in many countries, paying by cheque in France is still common practice. Payment by cheque is often required for large purchases or deposits, and you’ll even see cheques being used at a supermarket or to settle private purchases. Times are changing, and you may find some smaller shops no longer accept cheques for everyday purchases. However, it’s still a good idea to carry a few cheques with you. Cheques are still the preferred payment method for many services and large purchases, such as furniture paid upon delivery or renovation work being carried out on your French property.
You will probably need to request a chequebook (a ‘chéquier’ or ‘carnet de cheques’) for your account from your bank, and you should expect to pay a fee for each chequebook associated with your account. Most banks do not charge any additional fees for cheque payments, but there are a few important rules to note:
- It is illegal in France to write a cheque if you do not have enough money in your account to cover the payment. If you do write a cheque that bounces, the consequences can be severe, including a temporary ban on writing cheques (for up to 5 years) and a fine. The penalties will depend largely on your bank and your history with the bank—if you have other accounts in credit, they may allow the payment to go through and simply charge you the associated fees, or they may block the cheque and impose more severe penalties.
- It is also illegal to write a post-dated or open-dated cheque.
- French cheques are valid for one year (12 months) and 8 days.
- The only way to cancel a cheque is if it has been lost, stolen, or there is suspicion of fraud. You will need to contact your bank directly in order to do this.
Writing and Cashing Cheques in France
Writing a French cheque may be different to writing a cheque in your own country, so it’s worth taking the time to learn this skill before it comes time to write one! Our step-by-step guide to writing a French cheque takes you through the entire process, and we’ve even included a list of all the numbers you will need to fill in the written amount.
A few tips for writing cheques in France:
- Many supermarkets and larger establishments have auto-print cheque machines which will fill in the date, amount, and payee for you.
- You must fill in the date, amount, and signature in order for a cheque to be valid, but it’s common practice to leave the recipient’s name blank if you’re not sure who to make the cheque out to. (This is particularly handy when it comes to tricky-to-spell French surnames!)
- If you’re struggling, most shopkeepers or service providers will be happy to help fill in a cheque on your behalf, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just be sure to verify the information and amount is correct before you sign!
Cashing a cheque in France
To cash a cheque (‘encaisser une chèque’), you’ll need to use either a cheque-deposit machine (un Guichet Automatique de Banque) or one of the self-deposit desks (une urne) at your bank. You’ll need either your bank card (for the cheque-deposit machine) or to fill in a cheque remittance slip (bordereau de remise de chèques) using the information on your French bank RIB.
This process can seem a little complicated the first time you do it. There are several things to remember, including adding your account number and signature to the back of the cheque and stamping the bordereau de remise de cheques before depositing it in the urn. Our step-by-step guide to cashing a cheque in France that takes you through the entire process.
Due to the above-mentioned rules and regulations, cheques in France are generally seen as a reliable and secure payment method. However, if you’re receiving money for a large sale or private transaction, an extra precaution is to ask for a banker’s cheque or ‘un chèque de banque’. This kind of cheque is guaranteed by the bank, so you can be certain that the payment will go through.
If you want to use a bankers cheque, you must request this in writing from your bank, and there will be a charge. They typically take between 2 to 3 days to be issued but may take up to 7 days to be issued depending on the bank, so make sure you request this in advance of the purchase or sale.
Credit Cards in France
Credit cards (‘cartes de credit’) are not as commonly used in France as they are in other countries. The practise of having multiple credit cards as seen in the UK or US would be seen as very unusual in France, and there is a much more conservative attitude towards debt in general. Most French people opt for a debit card or pre-paid credit card, or have just a single credit card issued by their bank.
Obtaining a credit card in France is possible, but banks will typically only issue one to existing customers or businesses who have a good track record with the bank and a valid reason for needing such a card. Applications are considered on an individual basis and tend to be quite strict, although online and international banks may provide more options.
If you do get accepted for a credit card in France, you will likely be issued a Visa or Mastercard, and these cards are widely accepted. American Express cards can be used in France, but you may find some limits on where they can be used.
Managing Your Finances in France
Managing your finances in a foreign country can feel like a constant challenge, but FrenchEntrée is here to help! Whether you need advice on paying French taxes, taking out insurance, or managing your wealth, our handy Essential Reading guides, expert FAQs, and up-to-date news reports will answer all your questions. And if we don’t have the answers, we can connect you with our trusted financial advisors.