Banking in France

When transferring funds to or from France, you will require a French bank account in order to send or receive the funds. Having a French bank account will also allow you to set up Direct Debits to pay for your mortgage each month as well as a range of utility bills and other expenses.

France’s state-of-the-art banking system is every bit as good as other leading European countries, including the UK. Therefore, whichever bank you select, you can count on finding a large network of branches and ATMs that you can use across France, not to mention online services enabling you to operate around the clock. Some tariffs and charges may apply as far as some banks are concerned.

Notably, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale, BPCE and Crédit Mutuel are among the largest financial institutions in France and all provide a wide selection of services, including mortgages.

Selecting the right bank for you

Should you choose the first bank you see in France? Of course you shouldn’t. There are many considerations to bear in mind before making your selection.

  • What is the size of the bank’s network nationwide? Some French banks may charge a commission for using ATMs that are not a part of their own network, so check to see if the bank offers a good distribution of branches and cash points
  • How is your French? Unless you are comfortable speaking in French, you may wish to to choose a bank with English-speaking staff. This will make banking in France a whole lot easier
  • Do not simply select branch nearest to your home in France as it may not offer the sort of service that you are looking for
  • Online and telephone banking. Almost all banks in France now provide these services and some even offer them in English
  • Avoid being lost in translation. Documents and statements may be available in English and so check with the bank to see if it is possible to get paperwork in English – again, handy if you are not fluent in French
  • Consider what sort of dealings you will be undertaking and check to see if the bank you are considering signing up to will charge for this service or if it is free. For instance, some banks charge a fee for banker’s cheques and transfers, while others may charge commission

Resident and non-resident accounts

An individual must meet at least one of the following criteria in order to be considered a resident:

  • You live in France at least 183 days per year
  • You carry on a professional activity in France, either self-employed or as an employee
  • Your centre of economic interests is in France, e.g. investments, business

You are entitled to open a bank account in France whether you are a resident or non-resident, even if you do not own a property in the country.

However, while residents have an automatic right to a bank account, non-residents do not. But those who do qualify are entitled to open a ‘compte non-résident’, which are governed by strict rules, such as the need to maintain a minimum deposit, and limits on the amount you may be able to transfer each month.

Opening a bank account

There several different types of bank account available, but the main ones you’ll be considering are:

  • Current account, otherwise known as a ‘compte courant’, but may also be referred to as a ‘compte à vue’ or ‘compte de dépôt’. This is designed for everyday banking activities. As in the UK, little or no interest is paid on accounts in credit
  • Savings account, which with have a limited number of banking services and may not allow instant access to funds, though balances attract slightly higher interest rates
  • Deposit account, otherwise referred to as a ‘compte sur livret’, or ‘Livret B’, or ‘compte à terme’ if the account is not instant access. It may offer slightly higher interest rates on day-to-day banking services

In order to open an account in France you should make a visit to the local branch office of the bank of your choice and complete an application form, called a ‘mandat’.

The following documentation is required:

  • You will need to provide your passport and proof of your address, such as your electricity or telephone bill. You may also be asked to produce your latest French income tax return
  • If you are non-resident, you may also need to produce your last two bank statements and a banker’s reference
  • If you have recently purchased property in France and do not yet possess a utility bill for your French property, you should obtain from the notaire a certificate of purchase (‘attestation’), confirming your ownership of the property
  • When you open an account you will need to sign a contract called a ‘convention de compte’, which sets out the rules governing the operation of the account and the products and services

Presenting all these documents at once should ensure that the account is opened almost straightaway. A cheque book and ATM/debit card should follow within a few days, though most banks instantly provide a bank book to allow withdrawals even before the ATM/debit card arrives.

Most banks will not send cheque books and ATM/debit cards to overseas addresses. So if you do not yet have an address in France to send them to, they can either be collected from the branch or sent to trusted French address belong to a friend or relative.

Continue to section 7: Currency exchange to and from France

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