Banking in France

Banking in France: Opening a French bank account

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This guide to France's banking system explains everything from opening a bank account in France to making payments and transferring money abroad.

If you're living and working in France, opening a French bank account will be easier for local payments. These steps can help you arrange a bank account before or after you move to France.

Sorting out a bank account is a critical first step to getting settled in France. There are no legal restrictions on non-residents opening bank accounts in France and as there are several internet banks and branches of international banks in France, it's not unfeasible to start the banking process before you land in France.

Choosing a bank in France

The main options in France are national high-street banks, local financial institutions, internet banks, and French branches of international banks. It's almost impossible to fully understand the fees and charges, so focus on the key areas that matter to you, such as ease of access (online, telephone and in branch), mortgage or savings rates, ability to make international transfers, or costs of a current account, credit and/or debit card.

At a national level options include: BNP Paribas, CICSocieté Générale, and the French post office (La Banque Postale). Credit Agricole operates as a network of regional institutions but don't assume that the CA in Paris will charge the same as that in Marseille. 


A number of internet-only banks now operate in France. These include: ING Direct, Axa Banque, Groupama, BRED and Monabanq. Some online banks are tied to major financial institutions, for example Boursorama (part of Societé Générale), Hello Bank (BNP Paribas) and Filbanque (CIC).

Joint accounts: et or ou?

If you're opening an account in two names (eg. for a couple), the account may be Person One et Person Two or Person One ou Person Two. If it says et (and), a cheque or other instruction will only be valid if both One and Two sign it. If it says ou (or) then only one person needs to sign for a cheque or instruction to be valid.

Bank charges and fees

Standard current accounts are typically free or less than EUR 10 per year. Monthly or annual administration fees are common for premium current accounts, savings accounts (around EUR 40 per year), credit (EUR 30-40) and debit cards (EUR 20–30). Expect numerous additional small charges from EUR 0.20–2.00 for services including withdrawals from ATMs belonging to other banks, issuing paper statements and accessing certain forms of support (eg. text alerts).

Opening a French bank account before you move

There are no legal barriers to opening an account as a non-resident. However, banks may be reluctant to do so. A few banks provide day-to-day banking services in both France and other countries, and may be willing to open an account in France for you if you already have one in your current country of residence. Those that do include:


Additionally, applications to high-street banks, as well as internet-only banks, can usually be made online. Expect that you will still have to provide physical versions of your documents in both cases, however.

Providing documentation at a distance
Expect to have to prove your identity, current address, address in France (if known), French visa status and employment. You may also be asked questions about your personal, financial and employment history.

Documentation will usually have to be authenticated. The most common ways to do this are:

  • Get a notarised copy or an Apostille stamp.
  • Visit a local branch of the bank in question.
  • Visit a local 'correspondent bank' selected by the bank in France.


Opening a bank account in France

Visit any branch and ask to open an account (accompt). Don't expect that staff will speak English, even at large banks in major cities. If at all possible, take a translator with you. Ask to take the documentation away to complete it, so you have time to fully understand it. Branches are typically open 9am–5pm Monday to Friday and close over lunch.

Documents to bring with you
You will normally have to prove your identity, your address and your residence status. This can normally be done with your passport, rental agreement or a recent bill and visa (titre de séjour). If you are still house-hunting, you may be asked to provide a reference from your employer or a cash guaranty before you can be issued a bank account or credit card. If your documents are not in French, you may have to provide a notarised translation or a translation certified with an Apostille stamp.

Cash, cheques and card: how do you pay in France?

Cash is still king in France. While many businesses accept credit (carte de crédit) and debit cards (carte de débit), not all do. If you pay by credit or debit card, the charge may go out immediately, in a few days, or at the end of the month. Expect to use cash for small transactions, any transaction where the seller doesn't have both a phone line and electricity (eg. market stalls), and payments on public transport (including at machines). Always have enough cash to cover your meal when dining out, as some restaurants might not accept a card (carte bancaire) of any description.

Cheques/checks (chèques) remain popular in France. They are typically used to pay bills, pay the deposit or rent on a new home and to pay plumbers, electricians and such for similar services. They can also be used to pay large bills, such as for furniture or white goods, although most stores will now accept a credit or debit card. If you're struggling to fill out a cheque, ask the person you're paying to do it for you. Double check all amounts (both written out and numerical) and ensure there are no blank spaces to add a digit or a word.

Paying bills directly from your account
Direct debits (prélèvements) are available in France and are typically only used to pay rent and bills. In this case, the company will bill you for a sum of their choosing. The direct debit mandate authorises your bank to pay the bills for that company without consulting you. Standing orders, where a fixed sum is transferred automatically by your bank at regular intervals, are also available. There may be a small charge for each direct debit or standing order transfer.

Transferring money abroad
The simplest way to access funds in your foreign account is to withdraw money from a cash machine. However, this may not be economical as both banks may charge a fee and there are low daily limits on withdrawals.

You may also be charged a fee by both sides in bank-to-bank transfers. Banks in France typically charge around EUR 20 for sending payments. Receiving payments from international sources is typically free at the multinational chains, but may incur a fee at smaller, local institutions.

It is typically cheaper to transfer large sums using bank-to-bank transfer, and smaller sums using an online payment system, such as Travelex or PayPal. Some banks are unwilling to send sums to certain countries, such as Iraq.

 

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Updated 2015.

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8 Comments To This Article

  • Monique posted:

    on 3rd November 2016, 18:40:15 - Reply

    I use USForex very reliable and prompt. You may not be able to take it all at once but each month 5000E problem solved
  • Poppy posted:

    on 5th September 2016, 18:56:10 - Reply

    We have owned a second house in France for a few years and had an account with HSBC France to pay bills. We have now moved from UK to France to live and asked HSBC to change the address on our account to the French address and they have asked for our French fiscal numbers, we don't have them yet as we haven't completed a French tax return now they have asked for our last UK tax returns which I feel is very intrusive and none of their business. I understand they exchange info with the authorities but surely our NI numbers should suffice to do this. Is it a mandatory requirement to do this?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • JC posted:

    on 6th September 2016, 18:40:00 - Reply

    I am the other way round, I am a female french citizen living in UK with my English partner and I am struggling to open a UK bank account because my surname on my French passport details as my maiden name then "ep" (meaning married) and my married name - which i use.
    The banks have told me they can open an account in my maiden name but not my married name because of how the passport is detailed -( and its standard for a French womans passport). So frustrating as I dont have address proof in my maiden name.
    I feel for you all having issues with crazy French bureaucracy and helpfulness, I know it well, but I also feel liek baning someones head on a wall, along with mine.
  • Bird7 posted:

    on 23rd August 2016, 20:03:33 - Reply

    I am a PhD and was hired by a French national research agency for a 4-month position as a researcher. Being a non-European (Pakistani) citizen, I had to acquire a researcher visa which was valid for 6-months, fair enough!
    Prior to moving to France, I had lived in Luxembourg for more than 4 years to complete my PhD. When I moved to France, my employer asked me to open an account in a French bank (and this was indeed a fairly logical demand) so that I can receive my salary. Therefore, I started to look for banks in France.
    To open an account, I visited 3 banks BUT they refused to open an account for me since my visa is just 6-months long. I am not just saying or suspecting that it was due to my visa duration but the following experience makes me say it: At all of these 3 banks, I went with my documents, they saw my documents one by one and their tone was very welcoming and supportive until they saw the duration of my visa. At one of these banks, the representative even completed my paperwork and took the bundle of papers/forms inside (to the administration) for approval, but came out with the following excuse: the person in-charge of opening the accounts is on vacation for 2-months. Really? How is it possible?
    Anyway, then I spotted a branch of the LCL bank near my office. I went there and requested for opening an account. They did open my account BUT after opening my account, they told me that the account has been opened in another branch which is 3 metro stops away from here! I was stuck now though and had no other option but to accept the situation.
    Nevertheless, my account got opened, I got online banking service and a debit card. I started receiving my salary and my closing balance was always positive (above 1000 EUR). The card and online banking were working so I didn't have to visit the branch frequently until the worst part of this story started:
    One evening, I went to withdraw some money from an ATM, but found out that my card has been blocked! I got scared, worried and came back home to login into my bank account online. Another surprise: I wasn't even able to login to online banking! Next morning I went to the branch to see what the problem was. The manager and the front-desk officer talked for about 10 minutes in the manager's office and then called me in to say to me that: Sorry, we have to close your account. We don't know the reason and our boss has told us to close your account. Your debit card and online banking have been stopped too. You have to withdraw all your money within 1 week. This made me frustrated, sad and angry but I couldn't say anything to them as they were poor in English and I didn't know any French.
    THEY DIDN'T GIVE ME ANY ADVANCE NOTICE AND CLOSED MY CARD AND ONLINE SERVICES WITHOUT NOTICE. Which meant for me that I can't pay my rent online, I can't use ATM, I can't shop online, I can't shop at stores unless I have cash. Later on, I searched for the banking laws in France and found out that a bank can close your account without giving you a reason BUT in order to do so, the bank is obliged to give a one-month prior notice.
    Several questions then arose in my mind about why did they close my account?:
    - because I don't speak French?
    - because I am here with only 6-month long visa?
    - because I am a non-European?

    This unfortunate and bad banking experience in France made my experience of living in France very unpleasant. Why didn't anybody realize or acknowledge the fact that I was there in France to add a value to the science/research conducted in France? Why didn't anybody realize that I was there to make things better and not to make them worse? The bank staff with merely Bachelors degrees or even high-school diplomas were not probably aware that what is research and how is it benefitial.

  • KJ posted:

    on 19th July 2016, 19:49:17 - Reply

    My partner worked in France and has collected a French pension for many years which is deposited into a French bank account. He also owns a house in the south of the country. The problem is he has accumulated a lot of euros but when he has tried to take out 10K of euros his bank refuses! But it's my money he says. French shoulder shrug. He will try again this year but is not holding out a lot of hope. This cannot be legal surely.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • hugo posted:

    on 18th July 2016, 10:29:22 - Reply

    i just called to all banks you mentioned, and all of them refused to open an acc to non-resident :))
  • SAlexander posted:

    on 11th December 2015, 20:32:07 - Reply

    Alexandra: did you have to have your tax returns translated or certified by an apostille? Thanks!
  • AlexandraNewsome posted:

    on 17th September 2015, 12:21:24 - Reply

    Please note that banks now require proof of financial domicile if you want to open a non resident account, not just proof of address. We had to produce UK tax returns for this purpose to satisfy Societe Generale in Cannes after buying a holiday flat this summer.