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I am planning a trip to France from the US, and need to make multiple payments in € on-line, including but not limited to train tickets on https://www.oui.sncf/. Of course, the easiest way to pay those expanses is to use a credit card, but, from my experience,

  1. American credit cards are not often accepted by European websites, (for troubles relative to oui.sncf, cf. 1 , 2, 3, or 4.)
  2. The exchange rate applied by the bank is often to the disadvantage of the client,
  3. Some (hidden or not) fees may apply.

I don't mean to endorse them in any way, but converting $ into € using https://transferwise.com/ had been the cheapest solution by a long shot in the past for me. Unfortunately, they don't provide credit cards.

I believe a way of getting a good exchange rate and little-to-no fees would be to buy a pre-paid visa card in € using $ transferred from transferwise (or the like).

However, I haven't found a way of buying a pre-paid visa card using a wire transfer: does that even exist?

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    Does it even exist? Yes, they do, there are dozens and dozens. They come and go, too. If you look at the Entropay webpage it's crystal clear they are about to shut down "we are no longer accepting registrations and existing users are not be able to top up their accounts". Cautiously, I'd say Worldcore is perhaps the most promising but a complex user interface is impending their progress. This is not an endorsement of them. Your money, your loss. Here's a list of a dozen. – chx May 17 at 7:02
  • Actually, Transferwise do offer the option of a card coupled with their borderless account, but it may only be available to people who reside in the EU at the moment. However, other than the currency exchange / foreign transaction fee, there shouldn't be a problem using a US card on french sites, especially if you are enrolled in 3D Secure. – jcaron May 17 at 8:39
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    I'm surprised to hear that American credit cards are not often accepted by European websites - I'd expect any VISA or MASTERCARD affiliated credit card to be accepted almost anywhere in Europe or on websites operated by European businesses. – RedGrittyBrick May 17 at 9:24
  • @RedGrittyBrick There's always the issue of retailers that have been burned by fraud before and will block some cards based on whatever criteria they think is relevant, including the country. In the specific case of SNCF, there's the issue that if you have a ticket which you need to get printed at an automated kiosk, those will ask for the card for validation, and I believe they only accept chip&pin cards, which may be an issue for some US cards. Not sure if there are any restrictions if you have a mobile/electronic ticket, though. – jcaron May 17 at 9:33
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    @RedGrittyBrick Apparently, American and Australian cards are commonly rejected by oui.sncf.com, cf. seat61.com/websites/voyages-sncf.htm#Credit_card_rejection , minimalist.travel/en/reviews/…, thesavvybackpacker.com/purchase-train-tickets-europe, or travel.stackexchange.com/q/73190/51569. – Clément May 21 at 4:08
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I have never had a problem using my Schwab visa on websites for Renfe (Spanish trains) or airlines based in Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere. Nor for any hotels. Never tried SNCF. I did use it to buy a train ticket on loco2.com which should also be able to book SNCF.

Schwab is one of several banks that charges no exchange fee. They use whatever rate Visa uses, which is a hair higher than transferwise. Many sites also accept PayPal, which lets you choose the currency but not at a great rate.

  • I have had a similar experience. 10 or 15 years ago I would run into problems with European web sites that would not accept a US card, but these days I never have a problem. In particular, travel related websites seem pretty geared up for international payments. – Laconic Droid May 17 at 13:07
  • @LaconicDroid Websites, yes, but not vending machines. Many train ticket vending machines in Europe have a hard time with foreign cards, even sometimes from another EU country. In France, I think the current situation is that if you buy a ticket online to be printed by a vending machine, you need a card with a chip (a few years ago, it had to be a French card). Most tickets can now be shown on your smartphone or printed at home, but not all of them. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' May 17 at 19:48
  • @Gilles - right, but the OP says "and need to make multiple payments in € on-line" so I was discussing only online payments. – Laconic Droid May 17 at 19:52
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    @LaconicDroid in the case of SNCF, some tickets, even though ordered online, need to be printed at an automated vending machine (or using the services of a human teller, but that usually requires queueing). The machine will need the card just for verification (it will not actually debit anything, it just requires the card and the PIN for a 0.00 EUR charge). – jcaron May 18 at 7:25
  • My card also worked fine for machines in Korea, Taiwan, Spain, U.K. Didn’t work in China but that was because they demanded a six-digit pint and mine is only four digits. – WGroleau Aug 6 at 14:59
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Some online banks provide the solutions you need, like WeSwap or Revolut : For less than $10, you can get a Mastercard, top it up in your local currency and spend it in (almost) any foreign currencies.

I have one of them and I already bought a SNCF train ticket with it (and also some flight tickets in EU), I never get any trouble.

  • Another vote for Revolut - I'm in the UK and I I've used it to make US$ payments online, AUS$ payments and cash withdrawals whilst travelling in Australia and AED payments while on layover at airports in the United Arab Emirates. Never had any problems, no fees, and the exchange rates have always been very competitive. – Andy Hames Aug 6 at 15:27
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Not really an answer, but I thought I'd comment on what I ended up doing:

  • For most of the expenses, I paid cash using euros that I withdrew using my US cards. The exchange rate was fair, and there was little fee (ranging from $1 to $5 per withdraw, but some of the fees were actually refunded at the end of the month).
  • For some (larger) expenses, I paid using my US card: same deal (fair exchange fee, low or no fees).
  • For the on-line payment at https://www.oui.sncf/, I asked someone with a French credit card to do it for me. For most of the tickets, I obtained e-tickets that I could print myself, but in one case I had no choice but to get the ticket at the station using the card used to pay: in that scenario, having used my US card would have been problematic.

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