This guide explains the French banking system to help foreigners choose a bank in France. Find a list of French banks, online banks and international banks in France.
France has a highly developed banking system with some of the top French banks ranked among the best in the world. Banks in France offer a wide range of services, including French mortgages and a variety of different borrowing options, plus there are special bank accounts in France tailored to meet the needs of expats and non-residents.
This guide explains the French banking system for foreigners, including the types of French banks, opening hours, and a list of French banks, online banks and international banks in France.
French banking system for foreigners
If you are a foreigner living in France, opening a French bank account will make it much easier to manage your money. There is a wide range of banks in France to choose from to suit your needs including international banks and online banking options. Banks in France offer a reasonably high level of consumer protection, although recent legislative changes aim to reduce bank charges and open up competition among French banks.
France is a Eurozone country which means money can be transferred into a French bank account from other Eurozone countries without incurring international transfer fees (if the single euro payments area, or SEPA agreement, is applicable).
The French banking system differs slightly from elsewhere in a couple of ways. For example, whereas the UK banking industry tends to be dominated by the ‘big four’ high-street banks, banking in France is more regionalised with regional variations even within some French banking chains on things such as fees. Another difference is that some French banks don’t have advisory staff who will help you plan or invest your money.
French banks are largely similar in terms of how money is managed and payments are made. Most French banks offer overdrafts (decouverts), plus payment options via credit/debit cards (carte bleue), direct debits, standing orders and cheque. Many also offer online banking.
See our guide to opening a bank account in France for more information.
Main French banks
There are several retail banks in France, although the biggest and most well-known are:
The French post office also runs a bank called La Banque Postale, which is the most popular French bank in terms of membership.
Most banks in France offer the usual variety of services to individuals and businesses, including loans, high-interest savings accounts, insurance and mortgages in France. However, many French banks do not have English-speaking staff so you may need to take a translator or phrase book with you.
Cash is still a popular method of payment in France and there is no shortage of ATMs (called distributeur automatique de billets) in cities, towns and airports. You can use Visa and Mastercard in French ATMs and most don’t have withdrawal limits.
If you use at ATM at a bank rather than a privately installed one elsewhere, you won’t be charged a fee. You can find the closest ATM in your area that accepts Visa or Mastercard. Most French bank websites also have their own branch finder and ATM search engines.
List of banks in France
France has some of the highest ranked banks in the world, with BNP Paribas (ranked fifth in the world), Credit Agricole (11), Societe Generale (17) and BPCE (20) ranked among the best banks in France according to Accuity.
Below is a list of banks in France.
List of French banks
- BNP Paribas
- Credit Agricole
- Societe Generale
- Caisse D’Epargne
- Banque Populaire
- Credit Mutuel
- La Banque Postale
International banks in France
You will find several international banks in France, including:
Online banking in France
Offshore banking in France
The following major French banks provide international, offshore banking services:
- BNP Paribas
- Credit Agricole
- Societe Generale
- Credit Mutuel
Read more in our guide to offshore banking in France.
Opening hours of French banks
Opening hours of French banks vary between branches but most banks in France typically open between 8.30– 9am and close between 5–5.30pm. Most branches close for lunch. French banks are also generally closed on the weekends, although some have branches open until 12 or 1pm on Saturdays.
Brances of the post office bank (Banque Postale) have longer opening hours, normally from 8am until 6–7pm during the week and 8am–noon on Saturdays.
International money transfers from France
International money transfers in France to banks within the European Union, the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland cost no more than a French banks, providing the money is paid in euros and less than EUR 50,000. You will need the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and SWIFT/BIC (Bank Identifier Code) for the bank that is receiving payment.
Transfers to or from outside the EU/EEA, however, will be more expensive as banks in France are free to apply their own tariffs. You will need to check with your French bank what the charge rates are. The minimum charge is around EUR 30 but varies depending on the country or bank to which you are transferring money.
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.
- 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.
Both residents and non-residents are entitled to open an account with a French bank. It is also possible to open a joint account with French banks.
There is a special French bank account for non-residents (compte non-resident), although this option is not available in all banks and there are usually more restrictions, such as minimum deposits, restrictions on money transfers and stricter ID checks. See our guide to opening a French bank account for more information.
Opening a French bank account
If you decide to open a French bank account, you’ll need to make a decision on which French bank to choose, considering:
- Reputation – you can visit Expatica’s free Ask the Expert service to ask for recommendations for the best bank in France for foreigners.
- Whether or not the local branch has English-speaking staff.
- Type of services available eg. does the bank provide an online banking service?
- Are there any service fees involved?
- How easy is it make international money transfers?
- Does the bank offer the compte non-resident?
- The process and requirements for setting up an account
With most banks in France, you can open up an account in person at a local branch or online via the bank website. You will normally need to provide proof of your identity, your address and your residence status.
French debit and credit cards
The most commonly used bank card in France is the carte bancaire (CB) which can be used in connection with Mastercard, Eurocard and Visa and outside of France. The CB comes as either a debit or credit card and costs from around EUR 40 a year, with gold and platinum card versions costing upwards of EUR 125 per year).
Other types of bank cards in France are the standard debit card (carte bleue), cash cards (carte de retrait) which allow you to withdraw money from ATMs in France and usually abroad, and the Carte Moneo. The latter is a card available in some European countries which allows you to store money from your bank account and make payments (up to a maximum of EUR 30) without using a PIN number.
In the event of a lost or stolen bank card in France, you can ring the interbank emergency number 0892 705 705. See our guide to emergency numbers in France for additional numbers for lost Mastercard, Visa and American Express cards.
Click to the top of our list of banks in France.