Travel London and Paris Vacation... Have questions

happy942

Member
Sep 14, 2006
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Chicago, IL
Hello ladies! I need a little info...

I am traveling to London and Paris (3 nights each) at the end of April! I am very excited as this is the my first trip to Europe and I fully intend on making this a big shopping and dining trip! I've been trying to do a little research on my own, but still have a few questions that I think tpfers could help clarify for me. I'd really appreciate any insight or advice on the specific questions or suggestions in general!

1. I intend on getting at least one "big" purchase from each city in addition to fun and delicious odds and ends and I know I need to claim a VAT refund at customs for my purchases. My question is... Do I need to go through customs twice (leaving each city) or just as I leave the EU? I read that you need to only go through customs once, but these countries obviously use different currency and I'm not sure if that affects customs procedures.

2. Where is the best (and easily accessible) place to convert currency?

I'll rifle through the existing London and Paris threads and update or add any questions as I go through the pages and do more research.
 
Oct 20, 2008
4,197
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manhattan
1. as far as i know (and i'm sure other tpfers will correct me), you go through the blue channel at customs if coming from an EU country, so you won't need to pay tax or duties on your purchases from Paris. Here's a link: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs/tax-and-duty.htm

2. i use ATMs to get money. i usually fly with maybe only $100 (most of the time less) in my wallet, then withdraw money from ATMs at the airport. you get a favorable exchange rate and save fees by using members of the global ATM alliance (see below).

if you're with Bank of America, it participates in a global ATM alliance (Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Barclay's, Scotiabank, Westpac) you can use the other banks' atms for free; just to clarify, BofA might still charge you their fee (i don't think i did), but Barclay's won't. just make sure your pin is only 4 digits otherwise your card won't work.

if you bank with HSBC, they have a global presence so that can save you atm fees as well. i believe the same is true with Citibank although they are not as widely distributed in the EU. Charles Schwab Bank does not charge fees.

take out enough money to last several days so you don't have to keep hunting for ATMs.
 
Last edited:
Apr 15, 2007
63,746
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1. as far as i know (and i'm sure other tpfers will correct me), you go through the blue channel at customs if coming from an EU country, so you won't need to pay tax or duties on your purchases from Paris. Here's a link: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs/tax-and-duty.htm

2. i use ATMs to get money. i usually fly with maybe only $100 (most of the time less) in my wallet, then withdraw money from ATMs at the airport. you get a favorable exchange rate and save fees by using members of the global ATM alliance (see below).

if you're with Bank of America, it participates in a global ATM alliance (Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Barclay's, Scotiabank, Westpac) you can use the other banks' atms for free; just to clarify, BofA might still charge you their fee (i don't think i did), but Barclay's won't. just make sure your pin is only 4 digits otherwise your card won't work.

if you bank with HSBC, they have a global presence so that can save you atm fees as well. i believe the same is true with Citibank although they are not as widely distributed in the EU. Charles Schwab Bank does not charge fees.

take out enough money to last several days so you don't have to keep hunting for ATMs.

American Express travelers checks are also accepted

pretty much everyone and you do get change in euro's
 

ildera5

Bag Lovers Unite!
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Feb 17, 2007
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GTA, Ontario
Sorry to hijack, but OP, I will be in London at the end of April too and am thinking of popping over to Paris as well (not sure yet though). Thanks for starting this thread :smile:! Which area are staying in London, may I ask?

I am also glad to hear that Travellers Cheques are still accepted! I really don't want to travel with lots of cash on my person!!
 

sonya

Member
Feb 23, 2006
5,799
10
Don't get traveler's checks. You get bad exchange rates. The best exchange rates are through the ATM, especially if you have BofA and withdraw from Barclays (UK) or BNP Paribas (France). No fees.

Or just use your credit card! Seriously, don't use traveler's checks!

There is an area with good exchange rates, like 1-2% worse than the actual, in London. Just walk along Edgeware Road near Marble Arch.

I don't really know the customs for the UK, but I know when you leave or enter the UK, you need to go through customs, so I would assume you should file your VAT there for UK purchases. The UK is part of the EU, but has its own rules.

Have FUN!

If you can, get a French speaker to book your restaurants in Paris. They can be very dismissive to non French speakers. ALTHOUGH even at the top restaurants, they can be quite empty during the weekdays (recession has taken a toll, even there). The trendy restaurants are still popular, but the more traditional ones are not so much.... I am missing haute dining in Paris!

Even though you didn't ask, for shopping, be sure to go to Liberty's, Browns and Dover Street Market in London. An easy route is to start near Marble Arch, walk down the insane Oxford Street, past Selfridges, and down South Molton Street (where Browns is), which leads to (or near) Bond Street. Bond is where all the designer stores are. Be sure to check out the side streets, like Dover. Also in the area is Marylebone High Street, very charming, great for brunch. Other shopping areas (I like) are Kensington and Notting Hill.

For Paris, ave Faubourg St Honore starts out as art and antique shops and transforms into designer shops (Colette, Miu Miu, Yves St. Laurent, Lanvin, etc.) I find it more charming than Ave Montaigne where the flagships are. I am not a big fan of Champs Elysees, but the Louis Vuitton flagship is there, and quite impressive. Another charming area is Blvd. St. Germain across the river. The Marais is where all the trendy boutiques are. Printemps and Galerie Lafayette are across from the Opera House, and close to Madeline church, which is also close to St. Honore.
 

trisha.viceo

Member
Jan 11, 2010
156
3
Usually when I go to a Europe trip I get the tax refund at the very last destination at the airport and that's a rule. But if you are going to 2 countries and 2 different currency maybe you can ask the tax refund ahead of time.. Coz I remember when I purchased a bag in Switzerland and Italy, my last destination was Amsterdam, I remember I was able to get tax refund my Italy purchases but the Switzerland I wasn't able coz they have issues with the currency coz I was in EU airport.
 

ildera5

Bag Lovers Unite!
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Feb 17, 2007
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Don't get traveler's checks. You get bad exchange rates. The best exchange rates are through the ATM, especially if you have BofA and withdraw from Barclays (UK) or BNP Paribas (France). No fees.

Or just use your credit card! Seriously, don't use traveler's checks!
Well, for me, coming from Canada, I was planning to get Traveller's Cheques in Pounds Sterling over here so that when I get to London, they just cash it and I don't lose out on the exchange rate there. I don't know if Canadian banks have any agreements with ATMs in other countries.
 
Oct 20, 2008
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manhattan
imho, traveler's checks are such a pain because you have to always be showing your passport whenever you use it. ildera, you should do more research on the acceptance of travelers checks because i think they're no longer as widely accepted. and if you want a bank to cash it, you may still get charged a fee. travelers checks were more widely used in the 80's but not so much anymore.

check this link out on fodor's forum:
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/acceptance-in-italy-of-travellers-checks-in-euros.cfm
 

SCL

Member
Dec 23, 2005
8,612
16
I agree. Traveler's checks can be a serious pain. And I believe you will request VAT refund once as you leave Europe to travel home. You should have the goods on you to get the custom stamps. If you are going to get a credit card refund you will check that option and receive later reimbursement. If you are going to get a cash refund you can request the currency type (e.g. euros, pounds, dollars, etc.).
 

ildera5

Bag Lovers Unite!
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Feb 17, 2007
5,987
380
GTA, Ontario
imho, traveler's checks are such a pain because you have to always be showing your passport whenever you use it. ildera, you should do more research on the acceptance of travelers checks because i think they're no longer as widely accepted. and if you want a bank to cash it, you may still get charged a fee. travelers checks were more widely used in the 80's but not so much anymore.

check this link out on fodor's forum:
http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/acceptance-in-italy-of-travellers-checks-in-euros.cfm
Yes, I have done some research and found that a lot of people are against travellers cheques. My fear is that debit cards can be easily compromised and that banks charge ridiculous rates when you use your credit cards. In the link you provided, someone mentioned that if you go to an Amex Travel Centre or the like, they will cash them without a fee. I would only try cashing them there or in a bank anyway. It is worse for me because I have to get through Australia first and then London .. Sigh!
 

annanas

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O.G.
Jul 15, 2006
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Usually when I go to a Europe trip I get the tax refund at the very last destination at the airport and that's a rule. But if you are going to 2 countries and 2 different currency maybe you can ask the tax refund ahead of time.. Coz I remember when I purchased a bag in Switzerland and Italy, my last destination was Amsterdam, I remember I was able to get tax refund my Italy purchases but the Switzerland I wasn't able coz they have issues with the currency coz I was in EU airport.
the reason for that is not the currency, it's because switzerland is not an EU country. for VAT you are supposed to do all your paperwork at your last EU destination (and for non-EU countries you do it separately if they offer a tax refund).

eta: found what i was thinking about before - it's nothing to do with detaxe, just about switzerland joining schengen.
 
Last edited:
Jan 31, 2010
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Well, for me, coming from Canada, I was planning to get Traveller's Cheques in Pounds Sterling over here so that when I get to London, they just cash it and I don't lose out on the exchange rate there. I don't know if Canadian banks have any agreements with ATMs in other countries.
I used my RBC debit card in ATMs in France with no problems last time I was there, which was 2006. I don't remember what the exchange rate/fees were - I would call your bank and ask them.
 

macska

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Sep 19, 2008
1,799
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World Traveller
Call / Got to your bank and see what is included in your monthly banking plan. Some include 1-2 foreign transactions, but if they don't (or do), your banking plan will also dictate the ATM fee for withdrawing abroad. If they do, just withdraw the max allowed. You can then go to a foreign exchange office in the other country and transfer to the other currency.

For the VAT refund, this will depend on the company the store you are purchasing from has an agreement with - there are quite a few VAT refund companies and each store decides which one they deal with, so you will need to follow the "rules" for each different one. They usually give you a information pamphlet with all the paperwork, so you will need to read how to get your refund, including in which country(ies).
 

jellyv

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Mar 29, 2006
8,660
6,228
Global alliances can avoid the ATM service fee but do not affect whether BoA or any other card holder assesses a foreign transaction fee. So,

Let's say: Go to ATM and cash out $100. You do not get charged $100 plus $2 for a fee.

But: use that same card in a shop to buy a piece of art glass, and the amount charged to your card is not just the Euro conversion but also a 3% additional fee from BoA for an international transaction.

For this reason, understand your card's benefits and its charges when used abroad, and if necessary open up a different credit card with no extra fee or a lesser foreign transaction fee.
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No matter what cards you use, be sure to alert them in advance of the dates and travel destinations when you'll use it abroad. If you don't, you will find yourself on a street corner out of luck, with your card not accepted for ATM or purchasing: they freeze your line if they suspect it's being used fraudulently.