Using Credit Cards in Paris, France
Case 3: Your Credit Card Does Not Work
You should have no problems using your Visa/Mastercard in Paris, and ideally, this should be your first choice for paying for items in Paris. (read why here). However, occasionally, your card may be rejected. Listed below are the most common reasons and solutions to the problem.
Card Rejected Everywhere
Did you remember to call your credit card company and tell them the dates that you will be traveling in Paris? If not, your card was most likely automatically "disabled" by the credit card company to avoid overseas credit card fraud. Contact your card issuer to "turn back on" your card.
Card Rejected at a Small Shop or a Grocery Store
If your card has been working fine, but is rejected at a store off the "tourist path", make sure that the clerk is swiping the card correctly. For US cards, the swipe is in the opposite direction than for French cards. Have the clerk "switch the swipe" and your transaction will most likley go through.
Card Rejected at Automated Booths at Museums, Gas Stations, or Train Stations
Your card works at shops and restaurants, but not in any automated ticket booths. The reason: Europe is in the process of upgrading all credit cards with "smart chips" or in French "carte puce" (flea card - from "puce electronique" meaning microchip). Visa and MasterCard have no intention of upgrading US "mag and swipe" to smart cards. The result: Visa/MC is no longer as International a card as it used to be a few years ago.
The bottom line: Don't plan on paying by credit card at an automated machine in Paris. You may have purchased tickets in the past using your card, but these machines are being phased out. Now, most automated machines will not accept a US credit card, since US cards do not have the "puce."
Instead, stand in line to purchase tickets at train stations, use cash in the automated ticket machines in the metro, and be prepared to buy museum tickets at the ticket window (e.g., you can still buy tickets with credit card at the Louvre, but not at the Centre du Pompidou).
Paying for Gas at Night
If you're traveling outside of Paris by car, remember that your card will NOT work at the gas pump. Fill up during the day, before the attendants leave for the night, or you could find yourself unpleasantly out of gas.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery