Guide to Banking in France

5. French Bank Cards

5.1. Carte Bancaire

There are a range of cash, debit and credit cards available in France, but the card most widely used is the Carte Bancaire (CB).

The card is used on an interbank basis and CB has become a term which has generic use.

When used in connection with Mastercard or Visa Card it can be used outside of France.

The CB card is now the standard European bank card and you can withdraw cash wherever the CB logo is displayed, or use it across the counter.

You are able to withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere in France where the CB logo is shown and no fee is payable, irrespective of whether or not it is an ATM from your own bank.

If you withdraw money from ATMs from outside the Euro zone you will face a currency exchange fee.

The basic CB debit card will cost you from about €45 a year, and the more up-market versions (Premier, Gold, and Platinum) from about €125 to several hundred euros a year.

Some on-line banks offer them free of charge, with perhaps one of the most interesting offers from Wise (formerly Transferwise) who offer a Multi-Currency Account. However, there is no interest on balances and they do not offer loans or overdrafts, but it is easy to open an account with them without the need for an address in France, and their charges are very reasonable.

There is no automatic legal right to a bank card, although most residents can be expected to obtain one, albeit with conditions.

In accordance with European Regulation 2015/751, all cards must state the category to which they belong. There are four different categories

  • Cartes de crédit, which must mention the word 'crédit' printed on the card.

  • Cartes de débit, which must mention the word 'débit' on the card.

  • Cartes commerciales, which are for professional/business use, with 'commercial' on the card.

  • Cartes prépayées, with the words 'prepaye' printed on the card.

This categorisation does not affect the cardholder; it simply defines the level of fees paid between banks.

The cards are either immediate debit (débit immédiat) or deferred debit (débit différé), with some even being both on the same card, giving the option of choice to you as to how you use it. As a general rule, the annual fee for débit immédiat cards is lower.

The deferred debit cards are offered by the banks to those customers who would prefer that all their debit transactions during the month took place on a single date. It is not a 'credit card' (loan) in the manner normally understood by Anglophones. Only if it is a carte de crédit or carte débit/crédit would this be the case.

They do not, by themselves, offer any kind of overdraft or borrowing facility, which would need to be agreed separately with your bank. In addition, cash withdrawals are debited immediately.

In the context of the European regulation, deferred credit cards are a credit card, with or without interest. These also include consumer-credit cards and «revolving» credit cards.

A prepaid card is defined in the regulations as a card that provides access to a limited amount of money. The cards are known as cartes cadeaux , cartes rechargeables or cartes pour les personnes protégées.

Banks also issue cards that can only be used where there are sufficient funds in the account. Such cards are called carte à autorisation systématique or carte anti-dépassement. With such cards it is not possible to become overdrawn. The cards Visa Electron and Maestro Mastercard are two examples of such cards.

A number of the major retailing chains issue co-branded cards with a partner (Mastercard/Visa). The annual charge on these cards may sometimes be cheaper than one direct from a bank, but the credit cost of use of the card frequently outweighs the lower annual charge.

There are limits on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn on any single occasion for all of these cards, which will depend on the type of card. A maximum sum of €500 over a period of 7 days is not unusual for a standard card, but by arrangement it can be higher or lower.

There are also limits on the total level of expenditure over a 7-day or 30-day period, depending on the type of card and arrangements with your bank.

All the cards in France operate on a smart card basis ('chip and pin'), through the use of a microchip embedded in the card, now the standard across Europe, but France was the first country to adopt the system.

Accordingly, you will be given a PIN number with your card, which you will need to use every time you make a transaction. The card is entered into a payment terminal and you then enter your four digit code and press the validation key.

The cards are also available 'sans contact' so you can pay without having to enter your PIN, up to €50. A symbol of four curved lines radiating rightwards (similar to a 'wi-fi' symbol) on your card will indicate if you have a contactless card.

There is no Google Pay facility with the main retail banks, who only use the French equivalent called Paylib. Many of the on-line banks do, however, offer Google Pay.

If you have an international Mastercard or Visacard from your home country you can use it in France but you will of course face the currency risk and, depending on the terms of your card, you may also be required to pay a fee. Most banks charge a fee for withdrawing money on the card, although this is less common on the purchase of goods or services.

The banks also offer cash cards, called a carte de retrait, which either enable you to withdraw cash from the ATM of your branch, or more widely.

The cards may be freely offered with a bank account or there may be a minimal charge. You cannot use these cards to purchase goods or services.

There are two main brands of cash cards – Carte Cirrus and Carte Plus - the former issued through MasterCard, whilst the latter through Visa. The cards enable you to withdraw money from almost all ATM machines in France, as well as abroad.

Banks within the EEA are required to make no higher charge for the use of a card in another European country, than would apply within their own national borders.

In effect, cards should operate on the same basis as international money transfers, which is considered in some detail in International Money Transfers.

Others major debit cards you can find in France are American Express and Diners Club, but who have their own transactions system and may not be accepted by all merchants.

5.2. Lost or Stolen Cards

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the responsibility of a bank to indemnify a customer in the event of a fraudulent transaction is clearly enshrined in law.

Under the Code monétaire et financier, the bank is obliged to immediately reimburse their client to the amount of the unauthorised transaction. If necessary, they are also under an obligation to restore the account debited to the state it would have been if the transaction had not taken place.

Article L. 133-18 of the code states : « en cas d’opération de paiement non autorisée signalée par l’utilisateur dans les conditions prévues à l’article L. 133-24, le prestataire de services de paiement du payeur rembourse immédiatement au payeur le montant de l’opération non autorisée et, le cas échéant, rétablit le compte débité dans l’état où il se serait trouvé si l’opération de paiement non autorisée n’avait pas eu lieu »

Under the bank code where there has been fraudulent use of your card, if your card number was not used you are entitled to a full reimbursement.

Where your card number was used, there is no reimbursement under €50. Over €50 and excess of €50 applies. This means that if your card is used illegally for expenditure amounting to €250, you will be reimbursed €150.

Nevertheless, insofar as card fraud is concerned, the same code provides an exception to the bank's obligation if the customer has not acted with due care under the law, whether intentionally or through gross negligence.

What these obligations amount to is that a customer must use the card in accordance with the conditions governing its use, and must not act negligently, for example, in communicating their credit card security details.

These rules apply to a customer who is the victim of ‘phishing’, where someone impersonates an organisation familiar to a person, such as a bank or tax authority, for malicious intent.

With increased security on cards in recent years, banks are taking a tougher approach to refunds, as we considered in our France Insider article of October 2022 at Bank Frauds and Refund Claims.

In the event of loss or theft of your CB card you can contact your bank or ring the interbank emergency number 0892 705 705, available on a 24/7 basis. This number is available on all cash dispensers.

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