Banking in France: Opening a French bank account
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, CIC, Societé 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.
Need advice? Post your question on Expatica's free Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.