You may have heard that chip and pin technology is finally making its way to America. It will be until the end of 2015 that there will be a large-scale rollout. Until then, however, your regular old American credit or debit card is going to work 90% of the time here in the City of Light. You may have to tell the person ringing you up that it is a “carte americaine” while making the swiping motion with your hand, but they’ll get it.
There are instances this won’t work for you. Some will affect you as a tourist (you can’t get a Velib without chip and pin, unless you register ahead of time on their site) and some you won’t have to worry about unless you live here (I couldn’t pay my SFR cell phone bill without a chip and pin card).
If you are planning ahead and live in America, Travelex offers a chip and pin card. You will get hit on transaction fees but at least you’ll have a way to do transactions that do require chip and pin (which again, aren’t many).
If you’re here for a bit of an extended stay, you might benefit from an SFR Paycard, which you can get at any SFR boutique. It costs 15 euros and comes with 10 euros of credit. You can recharge your card using credit cards or bank accounts (yeah, unless they are American cards or American bank accounts) or vouchers, buyable in denominations of 20 and 100 euros and available from some (not all) Tabacs, where you can also go to buy your tax stamps. And yes, you’ll pay transaction fees on that too. You have to shrug and realize that these are de facto “banking fees” for the unbanked…or unbankable. Until I could get my own bank debit card (an ordeal in itself) I had to use an SFR Paycard in order to pay my bill. Yes, don’t remind me: I was paying money in order to pay money.
Again – you likely won’t need a chip and pin – and should your visit come after October 2015, you’ll already have one, even if you’re an American!