This guide explains how to open a bank account in France as a resident, how to open a French bank account online and what is required for opening a French bank account for non-residents.
If you’re living and working in France, opening a French bank account will be easier for local payments. For some transactions, such as renting or buying French property, a bank account in France may even be obligatory, meaning sorting out a bank account can become 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 move abroad.
This guide explains everything you need to know about opening a French bank account:
- Choosing a bank in France
- Joint accounts: et or ou?
- Bank charges and fees
- Opening a French bank account before you move
- French bank accounts for non-residents
- Opening a bank account in France
- How to open a French bank account online
- Cash, cheque and card: how do you pay in France?
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.
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.
Banks in France at a national level 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 also now operate in France. These include:
- LeoPay, who offers free accounts in multiple currencies, VISA debit cards and a mobile app for Android and iOS.
- Axa Banque
With online bank bunq you can open all your French 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.
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.
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 (e.g. text alerts).
There are no legal barriers to opening an account as a non-resident, although banks may be reluctant to do so. If you have long-term intentions to stay in France, however, some banks will arrange a bank account while you’re still abroad, provided you supply proof of a French address after you arrive later on.
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.
There are also privately funded loan platforms in France, the first being Younited Credit, that enable investors and borrowers to directly lend money to one another without traditional bank fees.
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.
Foreign 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.
A French bank account for non-residents is called a compte non-resident, however, not all banks have the provisions to offer this or may impose restrictions based on a minimum deposit amount, your place of residence (EU residents have a higher chance of being accepted than non-EU nationals) or other factors. As such, choosing a bank in France will largely depend on finding one that accepts your request depending on your situation and nationality. International banks in France in particular offer French bank accounts for non-residents.
In general, however, if you’re not a French resident you will have more difficulty opening a bank account in France. If you have long-term intentions in France, some banks will allow you to open an account as a non-resident provided you can supply sufficient documentation. Those planning to buy French property, for example, may be able to present a statement from their estate agency on their intention to buy. Other banks may ask you to present certified copies of your address abroad, a banker’s reference or proof of staying in France for six months.
You can visit any branch and ask to open an account (accompt), although many banks also offer this service online. Don’t expect that staff will speak English, even at large banks in major cities. If required, 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 9am–5pm Monday to Friday and close over lunch hours.
Once an official resident in France, all foreigners are granted the legal right to open a bank account. Although a visitor without a job, university enrolment or only a long-stay visa (ie. no residence permit) will have more difficulty, particularly Americans because the recent FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) commits banks to extra IRS reporting requirements.
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’re required to provide by law. The bank does not have to explain their reason for refusal however.
If your financial history is respectable you may take the letter of refusal, accompanied by your ID and proof of residence, to the Banque de France (Bank of France), where you will be asked 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. For information on the droit au compte click here.
Documents for opening a French bank account
You will typically be asked to show proof of:
- your identity
- your address
- your residence status.
It is usually sufficient to show your passport, a rental agreement or a recent bill, and your visa (titre de séjour). However, all evidence should be official; a hand-written document, even if it is a rental agreement from your landlord, will not be accepted. In most cases, a utility bill or similar is the best option for proof of address.
If you are still house-hunting, you may be asked to provide a reference from your employer or a cash guarantee 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. The bank may also ask for additional documents relevant to your situation, such as a university placement or even a birth certificate.
Today many international and French banks offer services for opening a French bank account online. In most cases it’s as simple as filling out a secure form, uploading your documents and signing online, which in some cases allows foreigners to open a French bank account before they arrive.
Some banks may charge a small fee for opening a French bank account online, while other packages can include free online banking services but high fees for anything extra (such as in-branch services), so it’s important to assess your needs.
Below is a short list of French banks offering online services:
- BNP Paribas
- Societe Generale
- La Banque Postale
- Hello Bank!
- Fortuneo Banque
Cash is still king in France although this is increasingly changing, particularly with a recent law limiting the amount of cash purchases to EUR 1,000 (from EUR 3,000) to stop payments with black (untaxed) money. 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 even at the end of the month. Expect to use cash for some 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 some 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 although are being phased out. They are typically used to pay bills, pay the deposit or rent on a new home, as well as 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, PayPal or Transferwise. Some banks may be unwilling to send sums to certain countries. View our guide on cheaper options for money transfers and currency exchange here.
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