Whether you plan to live in France or have a second home here it will all be easier if you have a French bank account. You will definitely need one if you have a French mortgage so that the repayments can be made to your provider.It also makes the paying of bills simpler – and some organisations such as phone companies or utilities may insist on a prélèvement (direct debit automatic withdrawal). Your first step when opening an account is deciding on what type of account you want.
If you are a non-resident, then you will need to ask for a non-resident account (compte non-résident). This may be slightly more restrictive than resident accounts regarding the amounts of money you can transfer and the fact that you cannot obtain an overdraft – but check with your bank for the specific restrictions. Although it is usually easier to open a French bank account in person while in France, for many people this is not practical. Fortunately there are various options available to set up euro accounts online.
In France this is called a compte courant, a compte à vue or a compte de dépôt and is an account that is quite active, with monies coming in and out. You will need to set this up to pay bills and everyday French expenses and have a cheque book. This is usually free to set up – costs start to apply if you take up any of the special ‘services’, such as the use of a bank card to withdraw money from cash points.
Called a compte sur livret, or Livret A (a compte à terme if it the account is not instant access), this is an account into which you deposit money that will not be used immediately. It needs to be separate from your current account.
How do I choose an account?
As with any bank or savings account there are a number of important variables to consider and which can make a noticeable difference to the cost and ease of running the account. You should take into account the following factors when selecting an account provider:
* Interest – What rate can you obtain on your savings?
* Withdrawals & Transfers – what are the rules regarding the number of withdrawals?
* What are the charges for transfers to Euro and non-Euro accounts?
* Access – does it have online or mobile banking facilities?
A law introduced in January 2008 means that now, by law, banks have to tell you, by annual statement at least, what charges have been applied to your account. By law they also must be able to give you a list of their tarifs. There are many different things for which you can be charged, but expect a tarif for: a debit card; a cheque book (still commonly used in France); statements; standing orders; foreign currency transactions; going over your overdraft (this can be quite hefty!)
How do I open a bank account?
First you will need to obtain the forms from your selected bank, either during a visit or by correspondence from abroad. If you are unsure which bank to choose try to get a recommendation from other people in similar situations who have opened and run French bank accounts.
If you don’t speak much French you will want to choose a bank that is used to running resident expat or non-resident accounts, but bear in mind that just because you are able to talk to helpful English speaking staff in the HQ does not mean there will be any in the local branch where you intend to conduct your banking. If you are visiting the area in which you are buying a house why not try and visit the branch for a quick meeting to see what familiarity they have with non-French speaking customers.
Alternatively choose a service that provides a telephone or remote banking service staffed by English speakers.
In addition to completing the application form – called a mandat – you may (not always, depending on the bank) need to provide additional information as follows:
• Reference from your current bank
• Copy of your passport
• Signature witnessed by a solicitor (non-residents)
• Evidence of residency status (utility bill or copy of house purchase agreement, e.g. Compromis de Vente, if your purchase has not gone through).
You will also need to deposit some funds to open the account.
If you wish to open a joint bank account you have the option of the account being held as M. et MME. SMITH or M. ou MME. SMITH. In the former case both partners must sign and in the event of one partner dying the account is frozen until the will has been proven. If you wish to have a joint account where either partner can sign and draw on the account then you must have the second option.
French bank opening hours are quite variable, depending on the location, size of branch etc. In general, they are open from 09:00 to 17:00 Mondays to Fridays. Some banks will open on Saturdays mornings and late on certain evenings though this is more likely in larger towns. Lunchtime closing is the norm in smaller towns. It’s best to check your local branch.
Vocabulary: what to say when you’re in the bank