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I'm going to be in France — mainly cities, especially Paris and Brest — for about a month this summer and the only credit card I have without ridiculous foreign fees is AMEX. How much can I count on this being accepted?

If I got a VISA or MasterCard, would I have better acceptance?

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    Not sure about France per se, but from what I've seen across Europe AMEX is barely accepted at all. This is because of their excessive fees. You as a holder may have lower fees, but the retailer accepting it pays through the nose... – jwenting May 29 at 3:35
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    @jcaron: I am from the US. – Joshua Frank May 29 at 12:30
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    My Capitol One Visa doesn't have foreign currency transaction fees... – G. Ann - SonarSource Team May 29 at 12:40
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    Is American Express widely accepted anywhere? – hojusaram May 30 at 3:21
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    @jwenting I live in London and use Amex for 95% of my purchases, so not sure “barely accepted” is correct. – Thomas Edwards May 30 at 16:14
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For both historical and financial reasons, American Express acceptance in France is quite low.

Visa and MasterCard were associated from the start with the CB program, so anywhere they take cards they will take Visa and MasterCard, it's a standard part of the contract a merchant would get from their bank for card acceptance.

On the other hand, American Express acceptance often needs to be requested separately, and the fees are often much higher, so merchants often don't bother.

American Express cards will be accepted in most upscale hotels, restaurants and shops (mostly those that cater to high-end tourists), but other than that, it's pretty much a lottery.

American Express have been working hard to expand acceptance, so you can have some nice surprises. They are actually accepted in stores like Carrefour (though not the very small ones) or Monoprix.

They have a site where you can look up merchants which will accept AmEx: https://www.americanexpress.com/fr-FR/maps

As a side note, even if the stores accepts contactless payments and American Express, it's nearly impossible to find a place where you can use American Express with contactless or Apple Pay, the terminals are usually not configured correctly for this.

You will most likely need to have a Visa or MasterCard card, or use cash, in most places. Note also that ATMs that allow you to make withdrawals (cash advances) on American Express are quite rare as well.

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I am in France for business and personal... Can only use my AMEX when I am in a very obvious "business" situation. Hotels fine (maybe not cheap ones). Restaurants near business districts usually OK but still not 100%. Random restaurant maybe 25% if that.

Shops are hit and miss. A high-end store might accept AMEX 60-70% but a mom and pop might be 10% - again usually only if they are in a business district or near a hotel with business travelers.

In Paris I can use my AMEX 80% of the time in the financial district and about 20% of the time in other parts. So the answer is if you are only bringing an AMEX you better bring tons of cash.

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It's well worth paying the 'ridiculous' fees for a Mastercard or Visa card. Or at least searching for a reasonable one; they exist.

American Express is basically only accepted in tourist traps, places where you'd expect some visiting American to wander into with their business expenses. Not exactly the best way to spend a vacation in France, and also very hard to find outside of Paris.

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    In France, for the cardholder, there is no difference between a Visa and a MasterCard. Both are integrated into the CB network, all merchants accept both, all ATMs accept both. There are however differences when it comes to Visa Electron or Maestro, which are different beasts. – jcaron May 31 at 7:37
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I'm French and I have both. There are no problems using Visa anywhere. Because of transaction fees, some shops may not accept American Express cards.

In big cities you won't have any problem with your American Express card but in a small village I am not so sure.

Contactless payment is becoming more popular but having a Visa or Mastercard would be preferable. Have a nice trip.

You can try asking (before shopping): Prenez-vous les AMEX ou seulement visacard? (do you accept AMEX or only Visa cards?)

  • Please try to write in complete sentences. – Ben Voigt May 31 at 4:45
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    It's worth noting that even if a merchant accepts ISO/IEC 14443 contactless payments, they can still accept Visa/Mastercard but not American Express. – Turkeyphant May 31 at 12:02
  • Or, instead of asking, watch out for the respective stickers at the entrance doors. – glglgl May 31 at 12:23
  • @glglgl - those aren't always accurate especially in respect to American Express. – Turkeyphant May 31 at 15:01
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How much can I count on this being accepted?

Some places would accept them however certainly nowhere as widely accepted as in the USA. I used my AMEX for dining when I visited. Always prudent to have some cash, especially for smaller establishments and hole-in-the-wall locations.

If I got a VISA or MasterCard, would I have better acceptance?

Absolutely

TL;DR

I am extremely surprised you indicate you could only find American Express cards without foreign transaction fees because there must be at least five times as many Visa/MasterCard cards without transaction fees as American Express cards.

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    OP was talking about the cards he currently has, not those he could potentially get. – jcaron May 29 at 8:20
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    I have a number of cards, but this one just happens to be the only one with no international fees. I can see about getting a VISA or MC with a similar benefit. – Joshua Frank May 29 at 16:41

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