Home Finance Banking Opening a bank account in France
Last update on August 16, 2019
Written by Gary Buswell

This guide explains how to open a French bank account as a resident, what options there are, and what is required when opening a bank account in France.

Opening a bank account in France will make local payments easier if you are living and working there. For some transactions, such as renting or buying French property, a bank account may even be obligatory, therefore sorting one out can become a critical first step to getting settled in France.

This guide explains everything you need to know about opening a French bank account, including sections on:

bunq

With bunq, you can open your full bank accounts in just five minutes using nothing more than your mobile phone. You get real-time access to your account, instant payments and dedicated customer support available in English, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. 


Banking in France

France has a highly developed banking system that consists of 266 private and international banks, plus over 300 public regional banks and other credit institutions. The Banque de France is the country’s national centralized bank which also regulates the banking sector through the Autorite de Controle Prudentiel et de Resolution (ACPR). See more information in our detailed guide to banking in France.

Do you need a bank account in France?

It is possible to live in France without having a French bank account as there is no legal requirement to have one. However managing your finances from an overseas account will prove to be tricky, and possibly costly. This is particularly true when it comes to things such as receiving wages and paying utility bills. Having a French bank account will also help you with things like getting a French mortgage.

Before you open a bank account in France

If you relocate before opening a bank account in France, you can manage your finances and make payments using an overseas account. Most French businesses accept cards such as Visa and Mastercard. You can use ATMs at banks for free but you should check for any charges issued by your home bank. If you are intent on opening a bank account in France, you can do so in advance of your move. Some French banks offer non-resident accounts (compte non-resident) that can be operated from overseas. Many multinational banks also have branches in France, so if your home bank has a French base, you shouldn’t have a problem transferring. Additionally, some French banks will help you set up an account before you move if you can prove that you will be a long-term resident in the country and can provide a French address.

Types of bank account in France

There are three general types of French bank accounts for individuals:

  • Current account (compte courant) – a basic bank account in France for managing everyday money, with easy access to funds and no fees on the basic package. Many banks offer specialist accounts, e.g. student accounts, young person’s account, and non-resident accounts.
  • General savings account (Livret) – a French bank account for storing funds for which there is no immediate use, but where there is easy access and you can easily transfer money to and from your current account. Most banks also offer a tax-free savings account option (Livret A).
  • Long-term savings account (Compte a Terme or Compte d’Epargne Logement) – higher interest accounts for saving money for things such as buying a house in France.

It is possible to open joint accounts with most French banks. If you open an account in two names (e.g. for a couple), you can set it up as either [name] et [name] where both account holders need to sign off payments such as cheques, or [name] ou [name] where signature/permission is only needed from one account holder.

credit card

Bank accounts in France

French banks that offer accounts suitable for expat residents include:

Banque Populaire

Part of the BPCE group, with current account and savings account options that include international expat services such as easy cross-border transfers and operating the account from abroad. Online and mobile banking services and smartphone payment options are also available.

BNP Paribas

One of the biggest banks in France, offers both current and savings accounts as well as online banking options. There is also a young person’s account for 18-24 year olds with discounts on fees and services. BNP Paribas operates globally but services are more limited in some countries, so you may need to be a French resident to access some products and services.

Credit Agricole

This French cooperative banking network has a compte a composer function allowing customers to tailor the banking services and features to best suit their individual needs. This includes money management tools, payment services, and digital banking options. The bank also runs an English-speaking Britline banking service which is ideal for setting up an account from overseas.

An alternative to opening a bank account in France with a French bank is to bank with an international bank based in France. These include:

  • Axa Banque
  • Barclays
  • Citibank
  • Deutsche Bank
  • HSBC

Another convenient option which is also great for setting up from abroad is to bank with an online or mobile bank operating in France. These give you instant 24/7 access to your account and offer cross-border payment transactions. Online and mobile banks in France include:

Choosing a bank in France

When opening a bank account in France, you will need to shop around and weigh up which factors are most important to you. Are you looking for lower fees, convenience, or extent of services? Things you may want to consider could be:

  • Costs – it can be difficult to fully understand all the different fees and charges, which often vary a lot between different providers. Thankfully this public comparison site set up a couple of years ago makes things easier;
  • Ease of access – what are the online, mobile, phone and in-person services like? If you want to access your account 24/7 from your smartphone, then a mobile bank account could be the most suitable option;
  • Range of services – you might want to see what’s on offer in terms of international money transfers or pensions savings plans;
  • English-speaking services – this is more readily available with international banks and online banks, but less so with smaller and regional banks.

How to open a bank account in France as an expat

You can visit any branch and ask to open an account. It’s likely that staff won’t speak English, even at large banks in major cities, so it might be a good idea to take a translator with you or ask to take the documentation away to complete it so you have time to understand it. Branches are typically open around 9am–5pm Monday to Friday and close over lunch hours (some are open half day on Saturday).

You will typically be asked to show proof of:

Some banks may also ask for proof of job or student status. Foreigners without long-term resident permits can sometimes find it more difficult to open an account if they aren’t working or studying. If you are still house-hunting, the bank may ask you to provide a reference from your employer or a cash guarantee before you are issued with a bank account or credit card. If your documents are not in French, you may have to provide a notarized translation or a translation certified with an Apostille stamp. You should receive your banking documents (debit card, account number, cheque book) within 7-14 days.

how to open a bank account in France

Opening a French bank account before you move

It is possible to open a non-resident account (compte non-resident) with some French banks, although some require a minimum deposit. There may also be restrictions on accounts being opened from some countries (for example, some non-EU/EFTA countries). You will need to submit documentation (proof of ID; address; proof of income) either online or through the post. If the bank requests the documentation in hard copy, you may need to get it authenticated. You can do this by getting a notarized copy, an Apostille stamp, or visiting a branch of the bank or ‘correspondent bank’ in your home country.

If you can show that you have intentions to stay in France long-term, some banks will help you arrange a French account before you move. You must, however, be able to provide details of your move and then a French address later on.

Banks that provide day-to-day banking services in both France and abroad may be able to help open an account at a French branch for you. These include international banks such as HSBC as well as French bank Credit Agricole (through its Britline service). Another option is to open an account with an online bank, such as N26, bunq, or LeoPay, which can be done from anywhere and only takes minutes.

Opening a digital or mobile bank account in France

Most banks today in France offer their services online and through mobile banking apps, although these may only be available to French residents. Some banks may charge a small fee for opening a French bank account online. Other packages can include free online banking services but high fees for anything extra (such as in-branch services). Therefore it is important to assess your needs.

Mobile-only accounts such as those available through N26, bunq, and LeoPay are available to non-residents too. If you already have a bank account and want to move to mobile banking, all you need to do is download the mobile banking app. To open up a mobile-only bank account, you usually need to provide a physical address, email address, and mobile number. See our guide to mobile banking in France for more information.

How to open a business bank account in France

Most French banks provide business banking as well as personal banking. However, opening a bank account in France for business purposes can be a lengthy process that involves a lot of paperwork. Banks will want to make sure that the business is legitimate and above board. If you simply want to open a separate account for freelance work or are setting up a business in France that isn’t incorporated (e.g. sole trader or general partnership), it is more straightforward. However, if you are setting up a limited company, you will probably need to supply the following in additional to personal documentation:

  • Articles of incorporation;
  • K-bis (legal company ID document that proves the business has been registered with the French Commerce and Companies Register);
  • Minimum deposit (this varies between banks and type of business account)

As with personal accounts, banks are not obliged to offer accounts to businesses and may ask a lot of questions beforehand. These may cover things such as business plans, cash flow forecasts, and the nature of the business. The process can sometimes take several months and involve a few meetings where directors of the business need to be present. Fees for business banking are usually higher than for personal banking, so ask for these upfront before signing up for an account.

How to open a bank account in France for your children

Children’s bank accounts are available with many French banks, and offers vary. Some banks may have a young person’s account for school-age children. Others may offer savings accounts for children that can be opened at birth. Each banking provider will have a different process and requirements if you want to open an account on behalf of your child. In general, accounts opened by anyone aged under 18 will usually need an accompanying letter from the parent or guardian.

If you are opening an account on behalf of a child under 18, you will usually need to provide ID for both yourself and your child. You will also need to show proof of address. The best way of opening an account for your child is for you both to visit the branch in person. If this is not possible, banks may still open an account if you provide the necessary documentation. Some may even allow you to open the account online.

What to do if you are refused a bank account in France

If the bank denies your application once you are a resident in France, you can ask for a letter de refus (letter of refusal) which they are required to provide by law. However, the bank does not have to explain their reason for refusal.

If your financial history is respectable you may take the letter of refusal, accompanied with your ID and proof of residence, to the Banque de France (Bank of France). The bank will ask you to complete a droit au compte. Within several days, the Bank of France will designate a bank that is obliged to accept you. You will be given a letter to take to the assigned bank. Read more information on the droit au compte.

Banking services in France

French banks provide a range of financial services similar to banks in other European countries. In addition to current and savings accounts, debit cards, and credit cards, you are likely to find the following services through banks:

For an in-depth look at what banks in France offer, see this guide to banking in France.

International money transfers in France

There are alternative money transfer solutions to banks which can sometimes offer easier and cheaper international transfer options, including:

Managing your bank account in France

You can choose how you manage your money and finances with French banks, whether via counter services or remotely. The majority of French banks now offer:

  • Face-to-face banking – many French residents still choose to bank at their local branch and there are still plenty of physical branches on the high street. Counter services can range from payments to financial advice, but you won’t find too many English-speaking staff.
  • Online banking – you can enjoy 24/7 access to your account through online banking. This is a key feature of most modern banks. Most services and products, including loans, can be accessed online and some banks now have live online chat systems to deal with issues.
  • Mobile banking – banking via smartphone using mobile banking apps is becoming increasingly common. This is the ultimate in convenient banking for today’s young customers. Mobile-only banks offer all their services through an app and don’t use physical branches at all. You can manage your funds, access services, and make a range of payments all at the touch of a screen. See the Expatica guide to mobile banking in France for more details.

Changing banks or closing a bank account in France

You can close most current and standard savings accounts with French banks free of charge. In order to do this, you cannot have any outstanding overdrafts or debts against the account. You may have to pay fees for certain types of savings accounts and long-term savings accounts. Following the introduction of a new law in 2017, your new bank is responsible for taking care of transferring your account, free of charge, should you wish to change banks in France. Customers sign a ‘banking mobility mandate’ and the bank has 22 days to complete the transfer of your account from your old bank.

If you close a bank account in France yourself, make sure that you:

  • Get written confirmation from the bank that the account is no longer active, so that no further charges can accrue;
  • Have no outstanding payments such as rent payments, direct debits, or standing orders coming out of the account;
  • Inform your employer and anyone else making payments into the account that it is no longer in use.

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