The Good Life France

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How bank cards work in France

Woman using a bank card at an ATM

Did you know that French banks may restrict the amount of money you can spend on your card. It’s something that regularly catches people out when they’re new to France.

How do French bank cards work?

The way in which banks operate in France compared to the UK is different and one good example are bank cards. It can prove frustrating if you find yourself in a situation whereby you have money in your bank account but discover – whilst waiting to pay at the check-out or withdrawing cash at an ATM – that the transaction has been refused. Avoid this problem by ascertaining your spending limits and adjusting the limit if necessary (see below).

The majority of bank cards in France are Carte Bancaire and you will see shops and restaurants displaying the CB sign. Carte Bancaires are debit cards and any transactions are deducted immediately from a bank account. The French certainly do not have the same appetite as Britons for credit cards, with most preferring the standard debit card. There are however plenty of options to ensure you have a card that matches your requirements and lifestyle.

In France, bank cards have limits for cash withdrawals and payments

UK banks generally limit how much money you can withdraw from an ATM per day, usually £500. However, in France the limit is generally lower. And, there are also restrictions on card payments each month.

Take a standard Carte Bancaire (Visa or MasterCard): over a 7 day period the maximum amount for cash withdrawals is €450. For card payments (online or in shops) you can spend up to €2,300 per month.

This is unlikely to pose a problem for many people day-to-day. But if you have bigger expenses, paying for renovations on your home in France for instance. Or maybe you receive a large bill. Then, these limits may present a challenge.

If you reach your spending limit, a phone call to your bank should resolve the problem. You could also ring your bank in advance to warn them if you know you have a lot of big bills coming up. You can also organise increased spending allowances on your card for a period of time. There may be a cost.

Beware that unauthorised overdrafts cause problems in France.

Contactless cards in France

France is a world leader in smart card technology and was amongst the first countries to use the chip and pin system. The use of contactless cards is widespread in shops, cafés and restaurants. There is a limit of €30 on payment. If you reach this amount you will need to enter your PIN code and the limit is reset to zero.

Annual card fees and charges in France

It may come as a surprise to people living in the UK – used to free banking services – that there are annual fees charged for holding a bank card in France.  There are no charges however for using your card for cash withdrawals and payments across the EU.

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