French Banks and Account Options: Which Is Best For You?

 

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French Banks and Account Options: Which Is Best For You?

If you are moving to France or own a French property, you will inevitably need to set up a French bank account. There are many options in France, from high-street banks to international and online banks, each of which has different fees, services, and benefits for expats or overseas residents. This guide will help you choose the best bank and bank account to suit your needs.

Do I Need To Open a Bank Account in France?

The short answer is yes! If you plan to live, work, or study in France, opening a bank account will be essential for receiving income, paying your bills and taxes, and everyday transactions. Even if you are not resident in France, if you own a second home or plan to purchase French property, at some point, you are going to need a French bank account. This will be the easiest way to pay your utility bills, property taxes, and any maintenance or renovation bills.

It will also be essential if you decide to take out a French mortgage.

French Bank Accounts for Non-Residents

Opening a bank account as a non-resident is different to opening an account when you are resident in France. Many large banks do provide options for non-residents, but you should be aware that fees may be higher, and a minimum balance or minimum monthly deposit may be required to keep your account open. If you open an account with one of the main French banks, you will likely need to visit the bank in person to set up your account, but once it is open, you will be able to manage your account online from overseas.

Read our article on opening a non-resident bank account in France for more information.

Keeping a UK Bank Account After Brexit

Before Brexit, UK banks could operate in Europe under the EEA passport, and many British residents living in France opted to maintain their UK bank account or open a Euro account with the same bank. Post-Brexit, UK banks will still have to comply with the same EU rules, but due to the lack of national licenses and the limitations on cross-border trade, many banks (such as Lloyds Bank and Coutts) now no longer provide UK accounts to British non-residents.

HSBC, Nat West, and Barclays continue to provide non-resident accounts in the UK, and HSBC and Barclays have also kept their France branches open. HSBC continues to be the largest international bank operating in France, and you will find branches in major cities throughout France. However, while these accounts can benefit clients managing finances across two or more countries, the fees do tend to be higher than the French high street banks.

Declaring Your UK or Foreign Bank Accounts in France

If you are resident in France but still have savings, assets, or property in the UK, America, or another country, you will probably also want to maintain your bank account(s) in that country. There is nothing to stop you from doing this, but be aware that all French residents must legally declare all foreign bank accounts and savings accounts on their annual tax form. This is done via an additional form – Cerfa n°3916, ‘Déclaration par un résident d’un compte ouvert hors de France’. Remember to make your bank aware that you are no longer resident too.

Visit our French Tax zone for more on income tax declarations.

Which French Bank Should I Choose?

Just like choosing a bank in your own country, it’s a good idea to do some research before deciding which bank to open an account with. While most French residents opt for an account with one of the main high street banks, online banks are becoming increasingly popular, and all banks will offer different rates, services, and international banking options.

Choosing a French Bank: Factors to Consider

There are several factors to take into account when choosing a French bank, and expats managing finances over two or more countries may have different needs to that of the typical French worker. Here are some of the key things to consider:

Bank account fees and services

The obvious point of comparison is that of bank fees, both the monthly or quarterly account fees, and also any transaction or transfer fees. Look into the fees to set up and maintain a business, savings, or current account; the interest rates on savings; and the charges on transfers and other services. Many banks will charge extra fees for a Credit/Debit card, chequebook, and paper statements, so ensure you understand exactly what is and isn’t included in your account fees.

Check what services are on offer with the bank—overdrafts are far less common in France compared to the UK, for example, and may only be available to certain clients. How much is the maximum cash withdrawal amount (many accounts in France offer quite low maximum weekly withdrawals, so it’s worth asking if you can increase this), and what are the cash withdrawal fees outside of the branch?

International transfer fees might be a deal-breaker for expats with overseas income or savings, and if you spend time hopping between two countries, you should note the fees for drawing out cash or using your card overseas, too.

Many banks publish the bank fees of their current accounts online, or your local branch will be able to give you a full list. The government also runs a French bank fee comparison website here (in French).

Location and branch access

In rural areas, you may find your banking options limited to those that have the closest regional branches. While some accounts can be set up online or over the phone, having a direct point of contact can be helpful, particularly for business owners or those with additional banking needs. Many banks charge withdrawal fees if you are drawing out from a different bank’s ATM, and certain services or large withdrawals will only be available in person. You probably don’t want to drive an hour into the city just to visit your bank, so it’s important to think about this from the outset.

Loans, savings, and insurance options

Many French banks offer a range of products from mortgage loans and savings accounts, to home, life, and car insurance. It can be beneficial to take these out with the same bank, as many offer competitive rates to current clients.

English-speaking services

Choosing a bank with English-speaking staff or services could be a huge help if you struggle to speak French. Crédit Agricole, for example, operates ‘Britline’ which provides English-speaking banking services to clients resident in both France and the UK & Ireland.

French Banks: Your Options

Now, you know what you’re looking for, let’s take a look at the different French banks and online banks.

High Street Banks in France

The main French banks remain the most popular for locals and most expats will find themselves opening an account with one of them. There are eight French high street banks to choose from and some of them have now merged.

Crédit Agricole (CA)

BNP Paribas

Société Générale

Crédit Mutuel – also operates the subsidiary bank CIC (Crédit Industriel et Commercial)

La Banque Postale – the banking arm of the French post office.

Caisse d’Epargne (CE) – now part of the ‘Groupe BPCE’ along with the Banque Populaire

Banque Populaire – now part of the ‘Groupe BPCE’ along with the Caisse d’Epargne

LCL – now owned by Crédit Agricole

Online Banks in France

In addition to the high street banks, there are now a number of online banks that are becoming increasingly popular. Often they offer lower fees and competitive interest rates, and can be a strong contender, especially when it comes to savings accounts and mortgage loans. You’ll notice that many of the online banks in France actually operate under the main high-street banks. Here are some of the main players:

ING Direct – currently the largest online bank

AXA – the online banking arm of Axa insurance

AGF – the online banking arm of AGF insurance

Boursorama – the online banking arm of Societé Générale

BRED – the online banking arm of Banque Populaire

e.LCL – the online banking arm of LCL

Monabanq

Hello — the online banking arm of BNP Paribas

EKO Banque — the online banking arm of Crédit Agricole

Filbanque — the online banking arm of CIC

N26

Orange Bank – the online bank of Orange telecoms and Groupama insurance

French Bank Accounts: Personal, Business, & Savings

The final thing to consider is the type of account or ‘compte bancaire’ you want to set up.

Types of French Bank Account

Current Account

If it’s your first time opening a French bank account, you’ll want to open a ‘compte courant’ or current account. The fees for maintaining a current account in France are often minimal, but most people opt for one of the packages provided by the bank. Typically this would include a monthly fee and provide services such as a Credit/Debit card, a chequebook, and internet banking.

Be sure you understand exactly what is and isn’t included, as it’s easy to sign up for a more expensive account option without considering whether you actually need the services provided.

Business Account

For a business or auto-entrepeneur, you’ll need a ‘compte professionnel’ or ‘compte pro’. Fees for these accounts are generally higher, but you’ll gain access to different services such as overdrafts or a credit card. You’ll typically be assigned an account advisor or ‘conseiller professionnel’ who will aid you in opening and managing your account. You may need to present a business plan or additional documents in order to have your account approved.

Savings Account

Interest rates on savings accounts are higher, although it’s worth mentioning that these interest rates may still be low in comparison to savings options you have in your own country. It’s still a better choice to keep savings in a dedicated savings account or ‘compte épargne’. Options include a government-regulated tax-free Livret A or a Plan d’Epargne en Actions, a share account.

Read our article Savings Accounts in France: Your Options. If you’re looking for options to manage large savings and financial assets, our Wealth Management zone has some more ideas.

Ready to Open a Bank Account in France?

For all the documents you’ll need to open your account and the step-by-step process, read our article on opening a bank account in France.

Managing Your 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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