Beginner’s Guide to Banking in France

 

Essential Reading

Beginner’s Guide to Banking in France

If you plan to move to France or buy a French property, managing your money is essential. Whether you need to open a French bank account; make payments by card, cheque, or bank transfer; or understand your options for savings, loans, and overdrafts—this beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know about banking in France.

If most of your money is in a currency other than the Euro, start by visiting our Currency Exchange zone to learn how to get the best exchange rates and lowest fees when transferring your money to France.

Next, use this guide to get a general step-by-step overview of banking in France, then follow the links to learn more about everything from how to write a cheque to choosing a French bank.

Do I Need a Bank Account in France?

Whether you plan to live and work in France, or manage a second home while living overseas, at some point you will need to open a French bank account. A bank account will be essential for receiving income in France, paying income and housing taxes, and taking out a French mortgage loan. It’s also the easiest and most cost-effective way to manage regular payments such as utility bills, transactions such as paying local builders and artisans, as well as purchasing groceries and petrol during your regular trips to France.

Opening a bank account in France

Once you’ve decided that you need to open a bank account in France, the next question is whether or not you are eligible to do so. Generally speaking, both residents and non-residents are able to open bank accounts in France, although the account fees, rules, and paperwork required may vary considerably. Let’s take a look at both options.

French Bank Accounts for Expats

If you have been granted the right to live, work, or study in France, either through the applicable long-stay visa or through a permanent residency (Titre de Sejour), you have an automatic right to open a bank account in France.

French bank accounts for Americans.

Some American expats may find French banks unwilling to open a current account. This is often because of the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) legislation, which states that international banks must information the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in America of any American citizens accounts.

If you are refused a bank account in France, you should ask the bank for a ‘lettre de refus’, an official refusal letter, which you can use to request a ‘droit au compte’ (right to an account) from the Banque de France. You will legally be granted the right to open a current account, although you won’t be able to choose which bank the account is held with.

Read more in our article on Opening a French Bank Account.

French Bank Accounts for Non-Residents

Non-residents—for example, second-home owners in France or those conducting business in France—can also open a bank account in France. However, you will not have a legal right to an account, and not all French banks offer non-resident accounts.

A non-resident (compte non-résident) account functions the same as a current account (‘compte courant’). Still, you may find certain services are limited (overdraft facilities, for example) and fees higher when compared to a resident account. Many non-resident accounts also require a minimum holding balance, and the eligibility criteria are invariably stricter. Expect to have to provide proof of your income, domestic bank accounts, and financial situation to be considered.

Read our article Opening a Non-Resident Bank Account in France.

Which French Bank?

There are eight main high-street banks in France (Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Mutuel, La Banque Postale, Caisse d’Epargne, Banque Populaire, and LCL), as well as a growing number of online banks (including N26, Orange Bank, and Monabanq), and international banks such as HSBC which operate branches in France.

Some of the thing to consider when choosing a bank are:

  • Bank account fees and charges
  • Services provided (such as overdrafts, credit cards, and international transfer options) and their associated fees
  • English-speaking staff or support, English-language options for online banking
  • Proximity and accessibility of your local branch (especially for those in rural areas)
  • Insurance services, mortgage loans, or savings options (taking these out with the same bank means you might benefit from more competitive rates)

Read our full guide to French Banks and Account Options for Expats.

Opening a French Bank Account

The process of opening a bank account is straightforward, but as with anything in France, you will have to provide a lot of paperwork. Some resident accounts can be set up online, otherwise, you will need to book an appointment at your local branch. Once you have filled in your application form and supplied all the required documents, your bank account will be opened immediately, and your bank card, pin code, and chequebook (if you’ve requested one) will then be sent out to you by post.

Required Documents

Expect to be asked for the following:

  • Your passport or ID
  • Proof of address (for example, an electricity bill or telephone bill no older than three months. For a new property buyer, a notaire’s bill of sale would also be acceptable. For those living in a family property where your name is not on the bill, a signed ‘attestation’ from the property owner, accompanied by their proof of address, is often sufficient).
  • Details of your employment or income (you may be asked for a copy of your latest French tax return or payslips, depending on your situation).
  • Your marriage or PACS certificate (if applicable, when opening a joint account).

Account Fees & Charges

French bank accounts come with a host of fees and charges that may come as a surprise to expats. Expect to pay monthly, quarterly, or annual fees for the account itself, as well as extra charges for a debit card and chequebook, both of which are optional. Many banks offer packages or ‘formules’, which will include various different services, but be sure to check whether or not you need all the inclusions before signing up for one of these.

Many banks charge for services such as cash withdrawals from ATMs outside of your bank’s network, transfers (with different rates for domestic, SEPA, and international transfers), and international cash withdrawals and card payments. Be sure to get a full list of fees before you sign, and discuss any specific needs with your bank advisor—there may be formules available to better suit your needs or the possibility to negotiate better rates.

Read more in our article How to Open a French Bank Account.

Managing Your French Bank Account

Most French banks now have comprehensive online banking services and mobile banking apps which allow you to check your balance and set up transfers online. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself both with online transactions and the various payment options available. Here are some of the thing you need to know.

Visiting your French bank

French banks typically open from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm, and many still close from 12 pm until 2 pm, especially in rural areas. Some banks are closed Mondays and some, including the Banque Postale, are open on Saturday mornings. You will need to visit your French bank if you want to make large cash withdrawals, deposit a cheque, or request a new bank card or chequebook (although some banks allow you to make this request online).

It’s a good idea to develop a relationship with your local bank advisor, especially if you’re hoping to apply for an overdraft or credit card, or seek any kind of loan or financing —all of these things will require a meeting in person. Business owners will generally be assigned an advisor that will look after their account and many will insist on an annual meeting to update them on the status of your business and discuss any additional financing options.

Read our article Managing Your French Bank Account: Withdrawals, Payments, Overdrafts.

Making and receiving payments with your French bank account

There are three principal ways that you will make payments from your French account—using your debit card, by cheque, or by direct transfer (virement)—and it’s important to understand each of them and the associated fees.

Debit Cards

Debit cards (also known as a ‘carte bleue’) are the most common form of payment in France and card payments are accepted just about everywhere, even for small purchases. Most debit cards are VISA or Mastercard ‘chip and pin’ cards, for which you will be given a four-digit PIN number. Contactless (sans contact) payments are also fast becoming the norm for payments up to the value of €50, but each bank has slightly different rules regarding maximum payment amounts, so be sure to confirm this with your bank.

One key difference with French banks in comparison to many other international banks is that they will all charge you a monthly or annual fee for your debit card. It’s important to be aware of additional fees, too. Cash withdrawals from outside your bank, payments and withdrawals in other European or international countries, and sometimes online payments may also incur fees.

Our article Cheques, Credit, and Debit cards in France has all the details.

Bank transfers, direct debits, and standing orders

Bank transfers or ‘virements’ are another popular way to make payments in France and these can be used to transfer money between your own accounts, to the accounts of friends or family, or to businesses or other individuals for purchases, services, or bills.

You can make a one-off transfer (virement occasionnel) or set up a standing order (virement permanent) to make recurring payments such as your rent or monthly services. Most banks will also allow you to make Sepa transfers (within the Eurozone) and international transfers, although there will often be additional fees for these transfers. For more on international transfers, head over to our Currency Exchange Zone.

See our article on how to make a transfer (virement) from your French bank.

For utility bills or membership fees in France, you will often be asked to set up a prélèvement or direct debit. You might also give your bank details to a company, friend, or client in order for them to transfer money or make a payment to your account. For these, you’ll need to present your bank RIB.

Read our article What is a French Bank RIB?

Cheques

Cheque payments are still common in France and for large purchases, payments, or deposits, many companies prefer or even insist upon being paid by cheque. Expect to pay a small fee to your bank for a chequebook.

Read our articles how to write a French cheque and how to cash a French cheque.

Managing Your Finances in France

From savings options to closing your account—here are some of the other things to consider when managing your finances in France.

Savings Accounts in France

There are several options available for savings accounts in France, including instant-access savings accounts (‘Comptes sur Livret’) and fixed-term accounts (‘Comptes à Terme’). Popular options include the Livret A, which allows tax-free savings up to a maximum of €22,950, and the Plan d’Epargne Logement which grants savers access to a subsidised mortgage. For larger savings, share accounts (Plan d’Epargne en Actions) allow savings of up to €150,000 and some favourable tax benefits, as do the popular Assurance Vie investments, which have no limits to the amount you can save.

Read our article Savings Accounts in France: Your Options.

Loans and Finance Options in France

Most French banks offer short-term general loans (crédit de consummation) for a range of purposes, and with interest rates starting at around 2%, they can be an attractive option for expats and French property owners. The most popular options are a prêt personnel (personal loan), which can be taken out for any reason and are typically paid back over a term of up to five years, and a prêt affecté or crédit affecté (assigned credit), which is paid directly to the seller or service provider, and is typically taken out for large purchases such as a car or home renovations.

Eligibility criteria for French bank loans can be strict, and you should expect to provide extensive details of your financial situation, but there are sometimes options even for non-residents or self-employed workers.

Read our article French Bank Loans and Finance Options.

Closing your French bank account

If you are moving banks or leaving France permanently, you should close down your bank account. Remember that even if you are not using your account, you will still be liable to pay the associated fees, and there may be penalties for going overdrawn. You can close a French account at any time without giving a reason, but it must be done in writing.

Find out how to do it and use our example letter in our article Closing a French Bank Account.

Legal and tax responsibilities

Every bank account opened in France is listed on the FICOBA (Fichier national des comptes bancaires et assimilés), a national database that can be accessed by French tax officials, notaires, and government authorities. While this list does not allow access to your account history, balance, or statements, it’s important to note that in the event of a tax audit, investigation, or court procedure, these could be disclosed.

All French residents are also required to hold onto official documents such as bank statements for a minimum of five years. While many banks now issue online statements online, if you do receive paper copies, it’s still a good idea to hang onto them.

Foreign bank accounts

Expats have a right to retain savings, investments, or bank accounts in foreign countries, but if you are tax resident in France, you are legally required to declare all of these on your annual tax return. This is done via an additional form – Cerfa n°3916, ‘Déclaration par un résident d’un compte ouvert hors de France’.

Visit our French Tax Zone for more about French taxes, social charges, and tax liabilities.

Still Have Questions About Banking and Finances in France?

Managing your finances in a foreign country can feel like a constant challenge, but FrenchEntrée is here to help! Whether you need advice on paying French taxes, taking out insurance, or managing your wealth, our handy Essential Reading guides, expert FAQs, and up-to-date news reports will answer all your questions. And if we don’t have the answers, we can connect you with our trusted financial advisors.

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