Solutions for Buying Train Tickets for France on SNCF without a French Credit Card


Trouble with a foreign credit card and the French train system? You’re not alone, but there really are solutions that don’t involve aggravation, nor travel agents and their extra fees. Photo credits Tomas Depenbusch and ccPixs.

The French train operator’s websites OUI.sncf and Ouigo.com are notorious for rejecting bank and credit cards from outside of France. Those from Brazil, Eastern Europe, the United States, Australia, and Canada in particular report problems with payments not going through or getting rejected.

We’ve been carefully researching the best alternatives for foreigners looking to purchase French train tickets ahead of their travels or while in the Hexagon. We’ll discuss the complaints and what to do about them, but basically our advice boils down to this.

What to to do about rejected international credit cards with Ouigo or OUI.sncf

1. Don’t use Ouigo’s website. It’s by far the most likely to reject non-French credit cards and all of the same options are available from options 2 and 3 below.

2. The OUI.sncf website works a bit better, and can be useful for finding some trip options, especially with its “flexible dates” search feature, though it sometimes rejects foreign credit cards too. Above all, be sure not to let this site redirect you to Rail Europe or other sites, which have surcharges.

3. By far the easiest way to buy French train tickets with a non-French credit card is Trainline. It accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Apple Pay and PayPal. Its prices are exactly the same as when purchased directly from SNCF if you are in France or mainland Europe; others may get a surcharge of about 3%.

4. Non-Europeans can avoid Trainline’s booking fee by using another private portal that we really like, Loco2; in our overall comparison it was just about as good in terms of routing and just as easy to use. It’s the only option with absolutely no fees, but it doesn’t have quite as extensive coverage as Trainline does for France, notably lacking Ouigo trains.

Search Trainline  Search Loco2

Update History of This Article

This article was published on Oct. 10, 2017. It underwent a major rewrite on September 19, 2018. Updated again on April 22, 2019 concerning Trainline’s fees and Ouigo’s total bull doo-doo.

Problems with Buying SNCF Train Tickets with American and Other International Credit Cards

The French rail operator, SNCF, claims1in French to accept Carte Bancaire (French debit cards), Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Paylib, E-Carte Bleue, and Carte Maestro. (And at last check it makes outdated claims on the English version of that page.)

But there are many exceptions and problems:

  • American Express cards cannot be used to withdraw purchased tickets from in-station machines.
  • Many American credit cards, especially those without modern EMV secure chips and pins, are not usable with French machines and websites.
  • Often American, Australian, Canadian, and other international users find that the SNCF sites reject our credit cards outright and for no reason even if they are among the supposedly accepted cards.
  • In some cases, users cannot be sure if their credit card has been charged or not by SNCF sites.
  • Various banks’ security measures for online purchases can conflict with the SNCF’s site.
  • Worse, the sites sometimes sell you a ticket promising that you can retrieve it from a French ticket machine, which you are then unable to do once at the station in Paris, Bordeaux, or whatever. This can be particularly a problem if your card doesn’t have a chip and pin, but I’ve even had this happen to me personally with a very French bank card. It took literally hours of wrangling with train station staff to get my ticket printed.
  • If your credit card is lost, expires, or is stolen in between when you purchase the ticket and when you attempt to retrieve it from a ticket machine, it can also be difficult to impossible to get it replaced.
  • There are also certain refusals to make returns on “refundable” tickets with some of the payment options listed by the SNCF.
  • One OUI.sncf user reached out to us to describe problems purchasing a ticket when his phone number was not a French phone number. The website has issues, sometimes, with accepting non-French phone numbers, in this case an American phone number. This has not been an issue at all on the other platforms we recommend.
  • Even French users with their French bank cards and French language skills have an incredible number of complaints about their payments being refused. Its Trustpilot rankings are in the toilet.

If you have these or other problems with your using your bank cards, consider the following solutions:

  • If your payment method has simply been rejected, caused a website error, or otherwise not gone through, simply note the details of the trip you wanted and skip to the next section on alternative website options for buying your ticket at the same price.
  • If you’re not sure whether your payment has gone through, check your email for a payment confirmation from the SNCF. If you haven’t received one and it’s not in spam, chances are the payment didn’t go through. You can double-check by contacting your bank or credit card issuer.
  • If you have been charged but cannot retrieve your tickets, I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with SNCF customer service. This is, frankly, nobody’s idea of a good time. Also consider challenging any bogus charges with your credit card issuer and doing this promptly. Be careful, as SNCF customer service is may try to issue you ticket vouchers (coupons) instead of straight refunds when their haphazard systems screw up. (Refunds and customer service are easier with Trainline.)

The Easier Ways to Buy Train Tickets for France with Credit Cards from Anywhere

There are a few sites that allow you to buy all of the same tickets for French trains and that take foreign cards.

We have found that the best train platform for France overall is Trainline. It accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Apple Pay and PayPal, and does so flawlessly. Payment works like any normal website, and you immediately receive a completely comprehensible email with your itinerary and receipt. Ticket prices are pulled dynamically to reflect those offered at any particular time by the SNCF system. Unfortunately, those outside of Euro countries are often charged a small booking fee, but it’s usually only about 3%.

Trainline is a particularly ideal way for Americans, Canadians, Australians, and others to avoid the hassle and problems that can come from using their national credit cards (with pin and chip, or without) in trying to purchase tickets from the randomly dysfunctional SNCF website. Trainline also avoids the problems of retrieving and printing pre-purchased tickets  from ornery French train station machines. All French train tickets from Trainline are E-tickets and do not need to be mailed.

Trainline is like Google Flights or Skyscanner for trains — it offers very smart routing across European systems and gives you the cheapest possible access to tickets. Trainline also has much better customer service (via email) than the SNCF.

In front of the Gare de Lyon in Paris with our favorite wheeled carry-on backpack.

Another option for tickets in France is Loco2, whose website is also clean and easy to use. It accepts MasterCard, Visa, Visa Electron, Maestro, and PayPal. It doesn’t offer Ouigo (low-cost budget routes) train tickets however. The big advantage to Loco2 is that there are no booking fees; the prices are the same as those offered at any particular point in time by the SNCF itself on its websites and in its stations. We have noticed the Loco2 seems to round up to the nearest euro or half-euro, however.

Finally there is Rail Europe, which is the SNCF’s own dated way to sell tickets to those outside of Europe. Its ticket prices are quite inflated, there are surcharges, and the routes are much more limited. But it tends to handle foreign cards well if they are Visa or MasterCard. But consider that site a last resort.

Ouigo Ticket Purchases Blocked from Outside Europe (and Even Parts of Europe)

The SNCF’s French budget trains Ouigo system is blocking credit cards from certain countries from purchasing tickets. This means that even those booking through Trainline’s system get blocked by Ouigo if they are using a credit card from certain countries.

The current list of approved countries for Ouigo credit card purchases is:

Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, French Southern Territories, Germany, Greece, Guadeloupe, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, St Pierre and Miquelon, Sweden, Switzerland, United States and United Kingdom.

If you’re not on that list, our current suggestion is to purchase the tickets via Paypal on Trainline; we’d love to hear in the comments if this works for you, or if you find other solutions (VPNs?). Thanks to our readers for pointing this out; we’ve also reached out to Trainline and the SNCF for solutions but we’re not holding our breath. Note that Trainline does have very cheap bus options if all else fails.

 

So there you have it. In brief, if you haven’t yet been charged, you’re much better off getting tickets through options other than the SNCF itself. And if you have been charged by SNCF but haven’t received your ticket, contact their customer service for some rigmarole.

We hope this helps and happy travels in France! It really is worth it, believe it or not. We don’t much enjoy the official websites, but do love the French trains.

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16 Comments

  1. marac
    January 3, 2019
    Reply

    I have the same problem with buying tickets both on oui.sncf and ouigo. I am from Croatia, so i’m within EU and there is some regulation they must not do that. But, obviously they manage to override it with message that they have technical issues. I have thought that our railways in Croatia are bad, but now i know there are others too.

    • marac
      January 3, 2019
      Reply

      Btw, I wonder if it’s just because I’m trying to buy cheap ouigo tickets.

    • marac
      January 4, 2019
      Reply

      And just to let you know, today i have tried Trainline application and my payment was not accepted niether. I have got message from my bank that authorisation has passed, but Trainline rejected it.

      • January 4, 2019
        Reply

        Hi Marac, does this mean you were able to find the tickets on Trainline in the end? Searching for the exact time and Ouigo station (sometimes they’re on the outskirts) can help. For the credit card, you can try Paypal perhaps, or contact Trainline customer service which is generally very responsive. It may also still be an issue with your bank. Thanks for commenting here to let us know, we do take these comments into account as we update our recommendations.

        • marac
          January 4, 2019
          Reply

          Yes, i have found tickets on Trainline (it was Nancy – Paris Gare de Est with return). Don’t think it’s issue with bank (Raiffeisen) because they send me notification by e-mail that transaction was authorized. Also, i’m very dissapointed because trainlaine didn’t send any notification about cancelled transaction on e-mail like ouigo and oui.sncf did, just got screen notiffication trough app.

        • marac
          January 5, 2019
          Reply

          Ok, so i’m stubborn.
          I tried again today and it was not successful. But first i tried to buy ticket for normal sncf train between Nancy and Laneuville-devt-Nancy just to check if there is a problem with my bank and i have bought that ticket without problem (yes, i have thrown away €2,70 just to see will it work). Then i have tried to buy ticket for Ouigo from Nancy to Paris on 16.01. but again like yesterday without success.
          So i think there must be some kind of problem between Trainline and Ouigo, but then it would be nice if they would cancel all steps at the begining and not after last step of paying.

        • marac
          January 5, 2019
          Reply

          I have contacted Trainline customer service and here is what i have found.
          https://faq.trainline.eu/article/166-payment-not-working#ouigo
          My country is Croatia and it is not on the list of approwed countries. And yes, Ouigo is doing geo-blocking which is prohibitet within EU.

  2. owen
    December 27, 2018
    Reply

    Not only are prices higher on Trainline, but they don’t offer the same train schedule. Looking for Paris-Strasbourg. I never had problems buying on sncf before but now i get to the end fo the process and get an error every time (on web and app). Also no possibility to enter a us phone #. Quite stupid for an advanced country like France

    • December 27, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Owen, If you’d like to share what route and date you’re looking for, I’ll check into this. I haven’t yet found a case where Trainline is higher than SNCF for normal routes but I do want to make sure that my article is accurate and update it if necessary.
      Also try Loco2 perhaps. I assume the website trouble you mentioned is on the SNCF site?
      Thanks for commenting!

      • December 28, 2018
        Reply

        Just to follow up: Owen reached out with his route info and we were able to find the exact same route on Trainline for cheaper. The problems with the phone number were on the SNCF site.

        • Shani Gelles
          January 3, 2019
          Reply

          Having the same issue! I cannot pay on Oui SNCF, and all other websites do not have the route and are have much more expensive options. Any help would be great!

          • January 3, 2019

            Ensure that you’re searching for the particular time on Trainline when you know that the route goes; in every case we’ve checked out so far, this has worked.

          • Shani Gelles
            January 3, 2019

            I did! Trying to find the train from Paris-Nice on January 15th at 7:07-13:04 for 19 Euro. The train just not seem to exist on Trainline and all options are minimum $72.

          • marac
            January 3, 2019

            try Aéroport de Nice on Trainline…;)

  3. Janice Van Bever
    September 18, 2018
    Reply

    Yay, thanks for your help after spending hours on Oui

    • September 19, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Bon voyage!

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