Paris Transit: Buying RER and Metro tickets with an American credit card
Arriving in Paris can be a wonderful experience. Certain aspects, however, can be quite frustrating—especially for travelers who arrive armed only with an American credit card.
Why? Because the RER (regional train) and Paris Metro ticket machines only accept “EC” credit cards that are security-chip enabled. American credit cards are not equipped with this technology and, for the most part, don’t work.
Getting into Paris from Charles de Gaulle Airport… with an American credit card
I think that the easiest (and most economical) way into Paris from Charles de Gaulle is the city’s regional train, the RER. The train departs several times an hour from train stations in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at CDG. The trip takes between 25-35 minutes to central Paris, depending on whether it’s running express or making local stops along the way.
RER tickets cost €8.20 per person, each way. Dozens of ticket machines are located in the airport terminals, making it (hypothetically) easy to grab a ticket and hop onto a train. However, the machines only accept EC credit cards. When we’ve tried to purchase a ticket with an American-issued card, the screen simply states “Card not valid.”
Machines also take euro notes and coins, but if you’ve just arrived in Europe, you may not be arriving with any euro currency. Of course, you could first swing by an airport ATM, although lines can be long and ATMs often dispense bills in high denominations, not exactly handy for an 8 euro ticket.
One solution is to buy your ticket from the ticket counter. I have resorted to this in the past—which is never fun, as it usually involves waiting in a long line. However, the ticket agents do accept American credit cards. Many American tourists, faced with this solution, get in line.
During my trip to Paris this month, I went through all the motions: I tried my MasterCard on two machines and was rejected by both. I then turned and gazed at the line snaking out from the ticket office. I was certain to spend the first 45 minutes of my time in Paris waiting to pay for a regional train ticket. Sad.
But then I noticed several peppy, smiling customer service personnel drifting about the floor, between the machines, asking bemused tourists if they needed help.
Just for kicks, I approached a young woman and explained my dilemma. “The machine won’t take my credit card.”
“You’re trying to use an American card, right?” she asked.
“This might not work, but there’s one machine over here that sometimes takes American cards,” she said, and led me past several clusters of ticket machines to one particular, inconspicuous machine, which appeared to me to be just like the others.
And sure enough, it worked. For some reason, that one machine accepted my MasterCard and saved me from the RER ticket line of tears.
Metro tickets… Rejection, part deux
Over the past several years, Paris has closed down Metro ticket booths in many stations and replaced them with automated vending machines. (In many cases, the ticket booths have been replaced with information booths. But they won’t sell you tickets.)
The ticket machines are pretty easy to use, unless—you guessed it!—you’re trying to use an American credit card. In short: They’re not accepted.
The solution: Pay in cash (some machines only accept coins, while others accept bills) or go to one of the Metro stations that still actually has a ticket counter (these can be found in the most-popular stations in central Paris).
What do you think?
Have you had any issues with using an American (or any other) credit card in Paris or other French cities like Marseille or Lyon? Have you been able to use your card? Do you have another creative solution? Tell us about it!