For your safety, all students must have a cell phone that works locally. If you have a multiband phone and your service provider uses the GSM network (most Blackberry phones), you can probably use your phone abroad, although roaming fees are around $1 per minute. For local calls we recommend you purchase a SIM card and prepaid service in France for which you will be given a local number. Site staff can help you do this during orientation.
Many students prefer to purchase a new cell phone for the duration of their stay and use a prepaid plan, which is relatively inexpensive. Prepaid mobile phones work in other European countries and come in handy when traveling. However be aware that there roaming charges that apply when you use your phone outside of France. What’s great about prepaid mobile plans is that minutes are only deducted if you make a call, not when your someone calls you. It is also possible to receive international calls with no charge to your phone.
To make international calls, we recommend using Skype or calling cards. You can also make calls using télécarte, a prepaid calling card. For the cheapest rates, call outside of France between 7pm and 8am (€ 0.10 per minute) rather than 8am to 7pm (€ 0.22 per minute). To make a direct international call dial 00 then the country code (1 for the United States), the area code, and then the number. Tip: Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. You can get them from any post office, tabac, magazine kiosk or métro station. Request the télécarte international for both international and domestic calls.
If you prefer, some phone companies, such as AT&T, also offer study abroad plans that allow you to keep your U.S. number and pay lower rates. Ask your provider!
For more information about getting to know the city, see here.
You can change dollars at the airport when you arrive but the exchange rates are notoriously bad. To avoid the bad exchange rates many travelers prefer to withdraw money when they arrive abroad from an ATM machine at the airport. You might have to pay withdrawal fees, but with ATMs you’ll get a much better rate of exchange because your bank itself sets the rate. You can find up-to-date currency conversion rate information at http://www.xe.com/ucc/. For students housed in an apartment or homestay, you should also plan to be able to withdraw from your account (over the first week) or bring traveler’s checks in the amount of twice your monthly rent maximum budget. You will be able to exchange traveler’s checks to pay for your first month’s rent and the security deposit when you arrive in Paris.
Some additional tips:
- Avoid opening a local bank account. Given that you’ll be abroad for a relatively short period of time, it’s hard to justify spending long hours dealing with complicated government policies.
- Instead, we recommend that you maintain your bank account in the U.S., use ATMs to retrieve local currency from your U.S.-based account. ATMs also allow you to receive the most up-to-date exchange rates—and they can be found almost everywhere! If you take our advice and plan to use your ATM card abroad, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:
- Find out if your bank charges a fee for international withdrawals and check to see if they have partner banks abroad – that will help ensure that your ATM withdrawals are as inexpensive as possible. Bank of America has a relationship with BNP Paribas bank in France, and HSBC can be found there as well, so you will not need to pay ATM fees with these banks.
- Inform your bank of your change in residence and the length of your stay abroad to prevent them from blocking your purchases or placing a “hold” on your account.
- Set up online banking – you’re unlikely to find a branch of your bank abroad and will want to keep track of your spending and ensure that all your purchases are legitimate (unfortunately, fraud can happen anywhere).
- Make sure your debit/credit card has a 4-digit PIN number – other lengths of PINs often won’t work abroad.
- Visa and Mastercard are accepted quite widely throughout Paris and France; American Express less so
- Photocopy all your cards (front and back) in case your card is lost or stolen and you need to cancel it; leave a copy with a friend or relative both in the United States and abroad (not in your purse or wallet – they might get stolen as well).
- Check your bank and credit card statements online regularly to help you identify any unusual activity.
- Beware of pickpockets!