Escaping to your dream home in France unfortunately doesn’t mean escaping from paying the bills, and any purchase or rental may well entail paying a host of creditors, from landlords and builders to local authorities and utilities. However, take heart as many methods of payment in France are not that different from those you are already used to in your home country:
Cash (espèces, liquide)
Cash is mainly used for lower-value transactions and the law requires that all commercial transactions in excess of 3,000 euros be settled by other means. However, many French people routinely pay cash for purchases such as household shopping where credit cards are now used in the UK.
Cheques (chèques) / Banker’s Drafts (chèques de banque)
Cheques are still widely used in France. However French cheques do not have a guarantee card, so proof of identity such as a passport, photo driver’s licence or carte de séjour is often required. Cheque fraud carries a serious penalty in France and such crime has traditionally been rare.
You must ensure that sufficient cleared funds are available against any cheque you write as your bank can ‘bounce’ it for all or even part of the amount. A cheque can only be stopped, however, on the grounds of loss, theft or suspected fraudulent use.
If a cheque is not paid upon its second representation within one month, or if you do not provide other proof that the debt has been settled or if this is not the first time you have issued a cheque without funds, your bank must declare the incident to the Banque de France. Unless you pay a penalty charge (by timbres fiscaux which are difficult to obtain outside of France) you may be prevented by law from obtaining a payment card and chequebook, and opening another account elsewhere in France may be more difficult in the future.
The equivalent of a Banker’s Draft is a ch?que de banque and is a useful way of making larger-value transactions such as car or house purchase. It is best to give your bank a couple of days’ notice if you need a draft.
To make a bank to bank transfer, you’ll need to provide full details of the person or company that is going to receive the funds, including the name of the account holder, name of the bank, and address of the branch and the full account number. Ask the beneficiary for a copy of their RIB (rélevé d’identité bancaire) or RIP (rélevé d’identité postal), which will list all these details.
Standing orders / direct debits (virements permanents / prélèvements automatiques)
Standing orders provide a useful way of paying a specific person on a specific series of dates (such as rent) while direct debit is a convenient way to pay variable bills on your property (gas, electricity, telephone etc).
Direct debits are easily set up by sending your RIB or RIP to the third party concerned. They will then automatically debit your account, or you can request to sign and date a TIP (Titre Interbancaire de Paiement) to authorise the debit so as to be always sure that you have sufficient funds.
Payment cards (cartes de paiements)
The other main method of payment is though debit or credit cards, which can also be used to get cash at bank counters (guichets) or at ATM cash machines (DAB – distributeur automatique de billets). They use the Chip and PIN or “carte à puce”, and also the contactless smart cards that you just briefly rest on the reader without the need for a PIN code.
You can also swipe a foreign card and sign a transaction slip, though certain retailers may require you to produce proof of identity such as your passport. Using a UK card every time for purchases can become expensive because of the exchange rate used and transaction fee levied each time. Certain UK banks have reciprocal arrangements with French banks that can reduce or even waive the charges incurred when you withdraw cash from an ATM (Barclays has such an agreement with BNP Paribas), though you will still have to pay for the conversion to euros.
•With thanks to Ian McDonald, Barclays Bank in France