When you think of France, what first comes to mind? Maybe delicious cheese and wine, amazing bread, perfume, and fashion galore? France is the go-to destination for world-class gastronomy, luxury fashion, and all things fancy. Yes, while it’s true that on a vacation to France you can experience the finer things in life, that doesn’t mean you have to go broke in the process. Even if you’re doing Paris on a budget, no one likes paying more than they have to, right? So with that, let’s get into how to save money in Paris and other areas of France on your next vacation.
How to save money in Paris on your France vacation
1. Come in the off-season.
For a less crowded trip that doesn’t come with that pesky peak summer pricing, come during the shoulder season just before or after the busy summer months. You’re going to get a better deal on flights and accommodations and have an easier time booking reservations and seeing the sights if you steer clear of July and August. I’d recommend visiting France in the May-June timeframe or not until September. More on the best time to visit France here.
Something else to note is that French kids have two-week long breaks from school in February and April and that’s in addition to Christmastime. Those are often considered peak weeks. If you’re a winter lover like me, you can sometimes snag a great deal on flights if you aren’t put off by the cooler weather. Another plus of coming during January if you’re into shopping is that you can take advantage of France’s biannual nationwide sales period called les soldes (the other timeframe for the sales is July).
2. Look into train discounts.
If you’re planning to visit several areas of France, why not consider traveling by train. I wrote a whole guide on France’s national railway system (SNCF) where there are a few ways to save some money. The first is to buy your tickets as far in advance as possible since last-minute tickets tend to be the most expensive.
There are also special OUIGO low-cost fares on many routes which make sense in a lot of cases. In addition, if you’re a student, senior or fall into one of the other special fare categories, you’ll save even more, so look into the discount programs offered. Discount cards are especially useful if you’ll be staying in France for several weeks or months and traveling by train often. With the way gas and toll prices are in France, train travel is an excellent option.
3. Take advantage of the VAT tax refund in France
This is my FAVORITE way to save money as a visitor in France. If shopping is the name of the game, you’ll want to listen up because the VAT tax refund is a fantastic way to put money back in your pocket. Here’s a quick overview of how the VAT refund in France process works along with an introduction to Wevat, a company that makes it as easy as possible to save big bucks if you’re departing from France.
First, what is tax-free shopping?
You’ve probably seen signs in the airport about getting a VAT refund and it can be kind of confusing. To put it simply, the VAT stands for value added tax and it’s automatically included in the cost of goods you buy in France (and the EU in general).
For those of you who are non-EU residents over the age of 16, you can get part of the VAT reimbursed. Score! It includes all kinds of items like clothes, jewelry, bags, watches, wine, tobacco, cosmetics and more. That’s because as a non-EU resident who is taking the goods outside of the EU, your purchases aren’t subject to the full VAT.
Now there are two main ways to get the VAT refund in France: the traditional in-store refund which can be a bit complex and slow and the digitized method via an app called Wevat, which is the way to go.
For the Wevat option, all you have to do is download the free app before your trip. Then when you’re out shopping and it’s time to pay, ask the store for an invoice made out to Wevat’s address. The app walks you through this important step, so don’t worry if your French skills aren’t up to par.
Then after you get each invoice, you scan and upload them to the app via your phone. The app will generate a barcode that you then scan at the airport tax refund kiosks for validation before heading home.
Et voilà, your money will be deposited directly into your bank account after your departure.
So why, you ask, would you want to use the Wevat digital VAT refund process in Paris instead of the traditional method? Well, there are a few main reasons that make it the obvious choice. The first is that you’ll actually get more of the VAT refunded to you using Wevat than you would via the traditional method. You’ll get 13.34% back with Wevat versus the regular 8-12% with the traditional route. The short answer as to why this is possible is because Wevat cuts out the middleman.
The extra savings can really make a difference on a large luxury purchase and who doesn’t want to save money? GAME CHANGER, my friends!
Next, the other main perk of using Wevat is that it’s simple and transparent. You don’t need to fill out complicated forms. You scan your invoices into the app and it’s easy peasy. Unlike at the airport where you get a refund at a terrible exchange rate that takes months to process, Wevat pays you in a very transparent way at the spot rate in the currency of your choice. And rest assured, Wevat is approved by the French government and they are in compliance with all laws and regulations.
Something else to note is that you also don’t need to spend 100 euros or more at each store. It’s a TOTAL of 100 euros over the course of your trip which is more than doable. One common misconception with the VAT refund is that it’s for airport shopping only but that’s not the case.
While you can do all your shopping in the airport, you can also claim the refund after purchasing goods from stores anywhere including big luxury names like Gucci on the Champs-Élysées or smaller wine shops and boutiques or even the big Paris department stores like Les Galeries Lafayette or anywhere in France. The VAT refund is not just for luxury goods and it’s not just for airport shopping.
The only catch is that you have to get the invoice addressed to Wevat, but as I said the app walks you through the process. Stores are obligated to issue an invoice upon request. Another trick for getting the invoice is not to mention the “tax refund,” otherwise the store will end up with issuing a traditional paper refund form due to their commercial interest in the process.
4. Buy a museum pass.
No trip to France would be complete without visiting a couple of museums, right? If Paris on a budget is the name of the game and museums are on the agenda, look into picking up a Paris Museum Pass for the most cost effective way to see everything since admission fees can really pile up. The Paris Museum Pass is available in 2-, 4- and 6-day options and gives you access to over 50 museums and monuments in the capital and the surrounding area. Another plus? You get to skip the lines.
PRO TIP: Paris museums are free on the first Sunday of every month, so if that works with your timing, be sure to visit then to save a few bucks. But go early, since as you’d expect, it gets really busy!
5. Take the backroads.
There’s something to be said for renting a car and hitting the road on your own. It’s a fantastic way to leisurely visit smaller towns and discover nooks and crannies off the beaten track. As amazing as that can be, what’s not amazing is the cost of gas and tolls. France’s autoroute system often surprises foreigners because seemingly short trips can really add up. Not even including gas, it’s 30 euros to drive the 300-km trip from where I live in Angers to Paris — and that’s just one way!
If you want to save money and aren’t in a rush, ditch the autoroute and take the departmental roads. It’s a win because they’re often full of the beautiful countryside that is a step up from monotonous highway driving. Besides, you may find all kinds of neat shops, delectable bakery treats, and photo ops. So yeah, a leisurely backroads road trip for the win!
P.S. Be sure to watch my video on driving in France so you’re prepared behind the wheel.
6. Take advantage of restaurants’ daily specials.
French food is not all expensive and fancy. In fact, there are so many restaurants that take pride in preparing simple but delicious meals. They often have a daily special in a prix fixe format, referred to as le menu du jour. In the U.S., prix fixe menus are often associated with high-end restaurants.
In France, that’s not always the case and it’s common to see set menu options at casual restaurants as well. They’re a cost-effective (and delicious!) way to experience a great French meal. Daily specials are often displayed on a chalkboard or slate of some type so keep an eye out.
What you’ll want to do instead of ordering each course from the regular menu, look for the daily menu or formule where you have two- or three-course set menu options from which to choose. They usually consist of an appetizer and main course, a main course and dessert, or all three. The best part is they often feature local, seasonal food for a reasonable price. Keep in mind that la carte is the French word for menu.
PRO TIP: To save even more, be sure to ask for une carafe d’eau, which is tap water. Otherwise if you just ask for water, you’ll often get expensive bottled water brought to you instead. So if tap water is fine, be sure to specifically ask for it.
7. Check out all of the free events.
France has no shortage of culture and that means cultural events as well – especially in the spring and summer months. Be sure to look up free activities in the area you’re visiting ranging from photo and music festivals to kids’ days to concerts, sporting events, and so much more. Public gardens, beaches, parks, markets, churches and more are where it’s at and all host free events. They’re just as worthy of a visit as paid attractions. Tourism offices are a great resource for seeing what’s going on and when.
Well, there you go, that’s how to save money in Paris on your trip to France. Most of all, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the experience for all that it is! Bon voyage! What Paris on a budget tips do you have to add?
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Wevat. All opinions are my own.