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 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 the following.

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

1. 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 (particularly if you’re an AmEx card user, this is the only good option). Trainline charges the same as SNCF for any particular route but adds on a surcharge of generally 2-4 euros depending on your trip and the location you’re shopping from —though on the other hand it often scrounges up routes that are even cheaper than the SNCF itself (and other official operators in Europe), particularly if you’re crossing between countries on the trip.

Search Trainline

2. If you don’t have a French credit card, don’t use the Ouigo’s website (which is in French only, by the way). This is by far the most likely to reject non-French credit cards. Ouigo trains can be booked through option 1 above and option 3 below. If you’re in certain countries, though, booking a Ouigo train with a non-French credit card is impossible (see below for that world of hurt — and a possible solution).

2. The official, mainstay OUI.sncf can be useful for finding some trip options, especially with its “flexible dates” search feature, though it often rejects foreign credit cards and has many errors and oddities.

4. A Trainline competitor for France that is decent is Raileurope.co.uk (formerly known as Loco2, now owned by the SNCF); in our overall comparison with Trainline it was just about as good in terms of routing and just as easy to use. But it charges a per-order booking fee of £4.95, €5.95 or $5.95, depending on the currency you’ve chosen, with no fees for orders under £15/€15/$15. It doesn’t have quite as extensive coverage as Trainline does for France, notably lacking Ouigo trains, which can offer big savings. Loco2 accepts MasterCard, Visa, Visa Electron, Maestro, and PayPal.

  Search Raileurope.co.uk

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. Further updated Ouigo on June 6, 2019. Updated concerning card verification on July 30, 2019. It was updated with the change to Raileurope-UK and other news on November 15, 2019. Updated with the Kiwi suggestion on February 27, 2020.

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 if you buy from the official OUI sncf site:

  • 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 complain 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. (This happened to me once too, I was promised a refund by mail, and sent trip vouchers instead.)
  • There are also general 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.
  • In some cases your payment may be rejected because the Verified by Visa or MasterCard Identity Check systems of the SNCF are not compatible with those used in your country, particularly we’ve heard of this from readers using American credit cards. This can be solved in some cases by contacting your card issuer by phone, and then retrying the purchase.
  • 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 I mentioned 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, there is generally a small booking fee of a few euros.

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. It’s consistently my first choice for buying French tickets (even though I now actually have a French bank card).

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

Another option for tickets in France is RailEurope.co.uk, 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. Like Trainline, prices are the same as those offered at any particular point in time by the SNCF itself on its websites and in its stations, but there’s also a small booking fee.

RailEurope.co.uk should not be confused with RailEurope.com, which is the dated way for the SNCF 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 do consider that site only as a last resort.

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

The SNCF’s French budget trains Ouigo system is still blocking credit cards from certain countries from purchasing tickets at all, through any website. 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 your credit card’s country is not on that list, no payment is possible via Trainline nor Ouigo nor SNCF. Ouigo has blocked payment cards from all other countries! This means even some EU countries are blocked! The one suggestion we have for you is to try logging in to Trainline from an approved country like France using a VPN (virtual private network software) and then paying for your Ouigo tickets via Paypal; we’d love to hear in the comments if this works for you. Thanks to our readers for pointing this out; we’ve also reached out to Trainline and the SNCF for solutions but they have nothing so far. Another reader has suggested buying a Visa or Mastercard gift card in an approved country, and we’d love to hear about that as well. Note that Trainline also offers very cheap bus options if all else fails for Ouigo tickets.

UPDATE (Feb. 27, 2020): I’ve noticed that Kiwi — a site I love and use for flight booking — is offering Ouigo tickets. Search for the specific route you want to take, deselect flights and buses, and look for your Ouigo option. I would be extremely grateful and curious to hear from readers from affected countries if this works for your purchase. I don’t think it’s such a great site for train booking generally, but I’ll be checking into this more…

 

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.

Footnotes   [ + ]

25 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Hall, H
    2019-12-30
    Reply

    It seems RailEurope.co.uk was purchased by Loco2, and now also partners with SNCF, so is it any different than RailEurope.com? Both sites have the exact same info and same exact logo.

    Something that I’ve been trying to find out: how can you be sure you’re purchasing e-tickets and NOT paper tickets that need to be printed out at the station or mailed? Every time I have purchased tickets that need to be printed out at the station, there has been some sort of nightmare with my French bank card (ie once the card expired between the time I bought the tickets and the time of the trip, so when I went to pick them up on the day of travel it wouldn’t accept my new credit card sent to me by my bank when th eold one expired, and they made me cancel my trip, buy new tickets on the spot, and then sent me vouchers instead of a refund). I want to make sure I only purchase e-tickets in the future.

  2. Avatar
    Ana Liese
    2019-06-15
    Reply

    Hi, I’m trying to book my tickets from Paris to Aix-en-Provence and both trainline & the English site for ouigo seem confusing to me. The search result shows the price for 4 people, but at check out, that same price is for only 1 person. For example, search result says: $460, 4 people (2 adults & 2 kids), but checkout counter says $460, 1 person. And the total is something crazy like $900, 4 people. That cannot be right. I’m so confused. Please help!

  3. Avatar
    Margaret Stasiak
    2019-06-06
    Reply

    Hi, I’m running into the same problem, trying to buy three tickets from Colmar to Paris on OUIGO train. all my transactions were declined, but OK my bank’s end. There is no Paypal option on the payment page – am I missing anything?

  4. Avatar
    Trevor Walton
    2019-05-31
    Reply

    Hello,
    I’m in Australia. Is there any way I can book a Ouigo train ticket. I have tried on trainline.com and oui.sncf and it keeps getting cancelled.

    I’m trying to book from Paris to Strasbourg.

    thank you

    • Mose
      2019-06-06
      Reply

      Australia is not on the list of Ouigo’s approved countries, see above.

  5. Avatar
    Julia
    2019-05-17
    Reply

    My boyfriend and I have Canadian credit cards and are having the same issue booking with Ouigo. Has anyone tried buying a Visa or Mastercard gift card in France and using that to buy train tickets online? We’re trying to figure out if this will work.

    • Mose
      2019-06-06
      Reply

      I would love to hear from you if this works.

  6. Avatar
    James
    2019-05-01
    Reply

    Hi there, I have booked a one way ticket on oui.snsf.

    It is an e ticket. I have put my first name as last name and last name as first name. Do I need to cancel and book a new ticket? Or are the train inspector really strict?

  7. Avatar
    marac
    2019-01-03
    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.

    • Avatar
      marac
      2019-01-03
      Reply

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

    • Avatar
      marac
      2019-01-04
      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.

      • Mose
        2019-01-04
        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.

        • Avatar
          marac
          2019-01-04
          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.

        • Avatar
          marac
          2019-01-05
          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.

        • Avatar
          marac
          2019-01-05
          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.

  8. Avatar
    owen
    2018-12-27
    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

    • Mose
      2018-12-27
      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!

      • Mose
        2018-12-28
        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.

        • Avatar
          Shani Gelles
          2019-01-03
          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!

          • Mose
            2019-01-03

            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.

          • Avatar
            Shani Gelles
            2019-01-03

            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.

          • Avatar
            marac
            2019-01-03

            try Aéroport de Nice on Trainline…;)

  9. Avatar
    Janice Van Bever
    2018-09-18
    Reply

    Yay, thanks for your help after spending hours on Oui

    • Mose
      2018-09-19
      Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Bon voyage!

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