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Paris: Cash and Payments

Categories : Cash has legal tender status, Cash is a public good, Cash is the most widely used payment instrument
August 16, 2023
Tags : Acceptance of cash, Access to cash, ATMs, Europe, France
I attested how payment habits in France have changed during a recent visit to Paris. However, cash usage remains resilient.
Manuel A. Bautista-González

Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University in the City of New York

Post-Doctoral Researcher in Global Correspondent Banking, 1870-2000 – Mexico and South America, University of Oxford

This post is also available in: Spanish

Traveling to Continental Europe

While I often carried a lot of coins and even had coin jars at home in New York City and Mexico City, I held nearly the same amount in Oxford. In May, I took the Eurostar to Paris to attend a conference on the history and present of U.S. capitalism. Without thinking, I carried those British coins and some U.S. dollars and quarter-dollar coins I held in my travel bag.

I did not regret it. Exchange dealers at St. Pancras International accepted U.S. and British banknotes and coins for euros. Most bureaus de change in the Americas refuse to accept foreign coins and accept U.S. bills lower than USD50 at a lower exchange rate.

This reminded me of Sasha Zackariya’s book Leading Travel and Tourism Retail. How Businesses Can Sustainably Capture New Profits in Shopping Tourists, about how cash is vital in international tourism: “Having cash in their wallet encourages customers to spend it in surrounding shops immediately” (Zackariya 2023: 53).


I had been to Paris once, for four days, during a month-long European stay in the summer of 2006. I did not have a bank account then. I bought American Express traveler checks in Mexico. I exchanged most of them for euros at a savings bank (Sparkasse) in Herchen, a small town near Köln where a friend lived.

In 2006, I visited the Louvre, saw the Tour Eiffel, and walked around the city. I remember I paid for most of my expenses using cash. My parents had given me a debit card for emergencies. I only used it to pay for an extra suitcase while boarding my flight from Charles de Gaulle to Mexico City via Washington Dulles.

This time, I mostly paid using payment cards from Wise and Revolut in my mobile wallet. But cash remained indispensable. My U.S. colleagues agreed to pay using Venmo for drinks after the conference. Having lost access to Venmo after I moved from New York City to Mexico City in December 2020, I settled my debts with euro notes.

Le Metro

Having experienced frequent delays when commuting by subway in New York City and Mexico City, I found the Parisian metro marvelous. The service was reliable throughout my stay. I got a Navigo card at the Gare du Nord train station; I could not pay with cash for it even though merchants are legally required to accept cash in France.

The food-vending and coffee machines in the stations mesmerized me. Most took cash; I got rid of my euro cents by grabbing espressos whenever possible. The situation stands in strong contrast to the United States, where coin circulation has experienced disruptions since the Covid-19 pandemic.

As long as commercial service providers ranging from tolls, parking meters, laundromats, and vending machines admit coins in payments, coins will preserve the efficiency of the cash cycle (U.S. Mint, Federal Reserve 2022: 5).

Cash, Digital Payments, and the Cash Infrastructure

Per the Banque de France, the flow of banknotes from the public to cash handlers (financial entities, cash-in-transit companies, and the central bank) decreased from 7 billion in early 2010 to 4.6 billion banknotes in 2019.

While the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the trend as the flow diminished to 3.5 billion banknotes in 2020, the net banknote issuance reached €168 billion that year, an 11% yearly increase.

Graph 1 shows that the number of ATMs has decreased since 2015. The country experienced a relatively small reduction in ATMs during the pandemic.

Graph 1. France: ATMs (units)

Source: CashEssentials (2019), Banque de France (2023).

In 2020, contactless payments increased by 35% in the number of transactions) and 88% by value. The number of cards grew by 13.2% between 2017 and 2021; the number of lost and stolen cards with at least one fraudulent transaction rose by 5.8% in the same period (see Graph 2).

Graph 2. France: Cards, Lost and Stolen Cards with at Least One Fraudulent Transaction (millions of cards)

Source: Number of cards and instruments, Banque de France (2022).

France: Payment Habits and Cash Usage

Cash is still the preferred means of payment for transactions in France. Per the European Central Bank’s most recent (2022) SPACE study,

Per a 2021 IFOP study for the Monnaie de Paris,

This post is also available in: Spanish