Encountering Credit and Debit Card Problems in France
The familiar Scout motto is: “Be Prepared”. This is an understatement when it comes to travelling in France. The motto should be, “Be prepared for credit and debit card problems in France”. The three problems that happened to me could happen to you. While they didn’t ruin my trip, I realized that it could have been much worse had I NOT taken steps (aka ‘precautions’) before and during the trip. Here are the three things I did in advance and the three problems that transpired.
August 21, 2019 Update:
Good news to report. If you recall, when I was in France back in May, I used the BNP Paribas ATM and although I only made 1 withdrawal (cancelled the other), my 500 Euros was withdrawn twice. Today, 10 weeks later, Tangerine (Canada) finally debited my account for the 500 Euros!!!
Table of contents
Take These Precautions Before And During Your Trip
1. Bring More Than One Financial Card And Distribute Them With Your Cash
I carried more than one credit card and debit card and had those cards spread out with my cash so everything wasn’t in one place. I stashed these away in hidden places, including in my clothing.
Why do this:
You can be mugged and things can be stolen. One of my travel contacts was on the RER train heading into Paris and her purse was stolen when she was preoccupied with her suitcase. All her credit cards were in that one purse but she did have some cash on her and her hotel had been prepaid. Fortunately, she was able to get replacement cards in three days.
2. Set Up Bank Alerts And Notifications
- I called my bank and credit card companies in advance to notify them about my trip. Often they’ll say you don’t need to call. Don’t believe that. Call them.
- I also set up alerts so I would be notified of any transactions (purchases and payments).
- I used their smartphone apps with “Touch ID” (your fingerprint) to get into my accounts, and memorized my passwords in the event I’d have to go online on my laptop. [Copies of my financial cards and passport were also carried with me and copies were left at home.]
Why do this:
So, in theory, you want to notify the card companies that you will be out of the country so that if they see purchases in France (but you live in another country), they know those purchases are okay.
Being alerted to all the transactions on a card would flag unauthorized (fraudulent) purchases and would also confirm if automatic payments (that have been arranged) to my credit cards were being made on time.
3. Don’t Bring All Your Cash. Withdraw Money From ATMs….But Be Careful
There is no need to carry a lot of cash. I was actually surprised how much I used my credit cards so I only had to go to the ATM twice. Cash was really only needed for small purchases (ie. croissants) and at markets.
Why do this:
Depending on your banking plan, you might be able to withdraw cash with no transaction fees, just the exchange rate.
3 Problems Encountered In France
I have a Scotiabank Passport Visa credit card. I wanted it because there are no foreign transaction fees (usually 2.5%). One just has to pay the going exchange rate. Plus, 6 Priority Pass lounge passes are included so was a good card to have for frequent travelling outside of Canada.
Problem #1: My Visa Card Was Suddenly Cancelled
I notified the bank about my trip, providing the dates and I think (but not sure) my French phone number. I used the card for 60 days in France and then it happened. 4 days before I was to head home, I discovered my card had been cancelled when I tried to book a taxi in Paris. And Apple Pay notified me that this card was removed from Apple Pay.
I called Scotiabank and the representative said:
- the card had been cancelled by the fraud department because purchases outside of Canada had been made. The fraud department had tried to call me but there was no answer. [I was using a French SIM card]. They did not try calling my French phone number (I think I gave them this number, but I can’t remember).
- After explaining that I had notified Scotiabank of my travel plans and stating that I had had no problem using the card in France for the past 60 days, the representative said the Fraud department did not follow protocol after they couldn’t reach me by phone. They were to:
- email me so I could then contact them-they did not
- decrease the spending limit on the card-they did not
They just outright cancelled the card and a new one was being sent to my home. Fortunately, I had other credit cards I could use; however, you can see how I might be a bit exasperated and angry. I was fortunate to be at the end of my trip as well.
A workaround if this ever happens to you: when your new credit card is delivered to your home, have a family member call you with the new number so that you can add it to the Apple Pay app on your iPhone. Many places in France accept it.
Problem #2: Credit Card Pre-authorized Payment Was Not Made
Sadly, earlier in the trip Scotiabank made two other mistakes. I had arranged to have the balance of the credit card paid off automatically from my checking account. This is called a pre-authorized payment.
Did it happen? No. So, once again, I had to call long distance to Canada to find out what went wrong. Turns out the paperwork that was filled out was done incorrectly by the branch personnel. They missed a few numbers. UGH!!! So I was asked to pay the bill manually. I stressed that I didn’t want to be charged interest or have my credit rating affected.
You can guess what happened next. Yes, a huge interest charge for a late payment appeared on the next statement. Fortunately, the bank representative who I had dealt with at the bank immediately credited the money back.
Problem #3: BNP Paribas Took My Money—Twice
I have a Tangerine debit card and have used it in France in the past to withdraw money from the ATM machine at the French bank, BNP Paribas, because there are no foreign transaction fees (just foreign exchange rates).
During this trip I went to the BNP Paribas branch in Cavaillon. When I tried to withdraw 500 € a message appeared indicating US$. This seemed really strange. It indicated that the withdrawal would be converted from US to Euros, but I had a Canadian account. Confused, I cancelled the transaction. I did not get any receipt indicating the transaction was cancelled.
I did, however, get an email alert that there was a pending, 500 € withdrawal. I kept the email but figured this was in error. This 500 € transaction didn’t appear in my account for 12 days, so I didn’t worry about it. [Pending transactions eventually disappear].
- I was perplexed but decided to try again as I needed the cash, so I proceeded to withdraw the money. Another email alert was sent. What’s odd is that the final rate for this 500 € was $804—much different than the first transition that was cancelled ($771)
You can imagine my surprise when 12 days later, I get another email alert saying that $771 had been actually been withdrawn from my account. So now Tangerine and BNP Paribas are stating that I have withdrawn 500 €—- TWICE!
- I immediately called Tangerine and explained the situation, providing the details from the (only) receipt I had. I was told it was good I called within 30 days or else they would not be obliged to do an investigation. I was told Tangerine would contact BNP Paribas and it could take up to 9 weeks to get this resolved.
Upon my return I suddenly realized I had proof that I had not taken out 500 € twice and called Tangerine.
- The daily ATM withdrawal limit is $1200.
- The representative verified that both transactions happened on the same day and she agreed that those two transactions combined would not have been permitted.
- The second transaction would have put me well over $1200. So the first transaction COULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED! That’s my proof!
But now I wait.
I am really hoping there is a positive resolution to this and I get my $771 back. I am praying that Tangerine can get through to BNP Paribas. [August 21 update: Tangerine came through and I got my money back!]
So when you are travelling to France, make note of my experiences and the things you can do ahead of your trip. Hopefully, you’ll prevent any problems from happening and never have to go through what I went through. If you have, though, please let me know!
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This was EXTREMELY helpful, as I am in the process of making sure I have multiple financial options for my trip to France.
The biggest thing I learned from this was to look into Apple Pay. I wonder if you could talk a bit more about the App options you used so that you didn’t necessarily carry all of your cards around with you. This seems like a really smart option for day-to-day. Leave the cards in the hotel safe and keep your phone secure and close.
So glad it was helpful. The apps I used were the same ones as my banking and credit cards. The only exception was Rogers Mastercard (which has a modified no foreign transaction fees—they basically give you a cashback greater than the fee…you net out ahead though). All the major credit cards like the ones I mentioned in the post (Scotiabank, Tangerine, TD) have them. And they all use Touch ID. I also use the Kantor website (saved to my homepage on my phone) as it gives me the most recent exchange rates. Kantor is a currency outlet in Toronto with a few locations and their rates are great. As for Apple Pay. I had it loaded but still carried a credit card.
It’s a good idea to read articles like this before traveling to France. People should also try to find out oddities or differences in financial transactions in any country you plan to visit. When we were in Italy last year, a tour guide told us that after 3 unsuccessful tries to enter your PIN at an ATM, the machine will keep your card and the tries can be at different times and different machines. They all count towards the 3 strikes and you’re out (or rather, your card is “in” the machine). BTW, if you travel to the US, we still don’t use those card readers they bring to your table so you can pay without having someone walk away with your credit card. If you act surprised the 1st time a waiter brings over the little machine when you’re wanting to pay, they’ll roll their eyes and say. “Oh. You must be from the United States.”
Really great points. Thanks for sharing that. Had no idea about the “3 strikes you’re out”. That’s scary…but I suppose good for security.
I found your blog through a Google search looking for others who have had problems withdrawing cash from a BNP Paribas ATM. I also was ripped off and have a story similar to yours.
In early November, I tried to withdraw €100 from a Paribas ATM at Place Saint-Augustin near my hotel in the 8th Arrondissement. I switched the display to English and received a warning that Paribas would impose a stiff surcharge since I didn’t have an account with them, so I canceled the transaction, took my card and left. I was given no cash nor a receipt.
I walked down Bd. Malesherbes and withdrew the money from a Societe Generale ATM instead, which did not impose a surcharge.
When I got home, I reviewed my checking account and found that I’d be charged $111 (U.S.) and my bank’s $3 out-of-network fee anyway for the Paribas transaction, as well as the same amounts for the Societe Generale transaction. I complained to my bank, TD Bank (here it is “TD Bank,” not “TD Canada Trust”), which restored the amounts to me “provisionally,” pending an investigation, which may take ninety days to complete.
Your experience with BNP Paribas turns out not to be an isolated one. In your blog, you might consider warning your readers to avoid BNP Paribas ATMs altogether. There are lots of alternatives.
Thanks for sharing this. So awful what happened to you. I’ve heard from others that BNP is the worst. I will NEVER use them again.
I was just so grateful that Tangerine reimbursed me. Fingers crossed that you get your money back.
Wow. I had no idea people have problems like this travelling in France! Thank you Jan and others for sharing your experiences. I am so sorry for your collective suffering. It Sounds equal parts ridiculous and distressing.
I mostly use a tangerine debit card, a main visa cc and backup MasterCard. I’m not sure what ATM is recommended in France. I will avoid BNP Parabas. I am going back to France in May, to Paris and Provence.
I always feel better calling the banks and cc companies to notify them of my travel plans but like you said they really Pooh-Pooh the need to contact them before departure, claiming their technology is ‘so advanced’ that this is no longer a necessity, ha! Thank you for validating it’s a not-so-crazy practice after all.
I’m glad I read this because I hadn’t thought it through enough to realize that a new SIM card equals a new phone number for France. Also that it is important to leave the French phone number as an additional contact number with the financial institutions and peeps back home. I want to try getting a SIM card for France for the first time, any recommendations or advice? How far in advance do I need to order it?
I should have added that a lot of people use the French postal ATMs (La Poste). I did too. It was fine.
As for a French SIM card, I use Le French Mobile. I actually have a post coming out in early February where I compare Le French Mobile to Orange’s Holiday. It’s pretty in-depth but should really help you out.
I’ve been using it for years…actually the same SIM card. I just keep loading it up for each trip. So, hang on until February (or late January) when I publish the post.
You’ll have lots of time to order one…they do free delivery in about 7 days to Canada.