Now that you’ve opened your French bank account, let’s get into all the details about managing your finances. From cheques, transfers, and overdraft options, to closing an account—here’s what you need to know about managing your French bank account.
French Bank Opening Times and Customer Service
French banks are typically open from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm, and many banks still close between 12 pm and 2 pm, especially in rural areas. Some banks are also closed on Mondays. The Banque Postale (the banking arm of the French post office) is one bank that is open on a Saturday morning, and some other high street banks have followed suit, especially those in larger cities.
Although online banking services are improving rapidly in France, there are still many reasons why you might need to visit your bank. Large cash withdrawals, depositing a cheque, and international bank transfers are some of the services available at your local bank. To request a new bank card or chequebook, or to change any details or services on your account, you’ll also need to go into your bank.
While routine transactions can be dealt with on the spot, it’s a good idea to book an appointment for anything else—taking out an overdraft or making a credit card application for example. To save time, be sure to double-check in advance if you need to bring any documentation such as proof of address, your passport, or payslips (don’t assume that just because you provided them once when opening your account that you won’t be asked again).
For business accounts, you will typically be assigned an account advisor and you will want to cultivate a good relationship with them. Most will insist on an annual meeting or at least an annual phone call to check up on the status of your business and discuss any additional financing options.
Managing Your Money With Your French Bank
From bank statements and mobile banking to making payments—here’s what you need to know about managing your money in France.
These days, many French banks are moving away from printed statements (relevé de compete), and it’s becoming more and more common to have a paperless account with online statements available online. If you do opt for printed statements, you will typically receive one per month, and they should state the charges applied to the account. An annual summary of account charges must also be issued. This is a good time to double-check any hidden fees and charges you may not have been aware of, particularly on international transfers or overdrafts.
If you do receive paper statements, you should hold onto them. In France, you are legally required to keep all official paperwork for up to five years in case of a tax audit. Even though your statements will all be able to view online, a good rule of thumb is that if you received a paper copy, that will be viewed as the ‘original’, and therefore you should file it.
Most French banks now allow the majority of services to accessed online, and all banks have their own dedicated smartphone apps, which can be accessed via a security code login or fingerprint sensor. You may need to unblock access to certain services in order to access them digitally, so it’s a good idea to check with your bank in advance.
Using your online banking account, you should be able to view your balance, set up transfers (virements) between your own bank accounts and other banks, view and edit any direct debits or standing orders, and download previous statements.
Withdrawing cash from your account is typically done via an ATM (a ‘distributeur automatique de billets (DAB)’ or a ‘guichet automatique’). Many banks don’t hold cash, and if you want to take out large amounts of cash, it’s advisable to contact your bank in advance.
Withdrawals should be free of charge from any ATM belonging to your bank. However, many banks charge for withdrawals from another bank’s ATM—be sure to check this with your bank. You may find that you are allowed a certain number of free withdrawals from other banks before you are charged, or you may find you are allowed free withdrawals, but there are stricter limits on the maximum withdrawal amount.
Speaking of maximum withdrawal amounts, many French banks set these quite low, so it is worth checking the rules and requesting an increase depending on your needs. Limits can be on the amount of a single transaction (for example, a maximum of €200 per withdrawal), or they could be per week or per month (for example, a maximum €200 total withdrawals over a seven day period). Often these limits do not apply to withdrawing money from your own bank.
In remote areas, you may find ATMs or ‘Point vert’ (cash withdrawal points) are available in local shops, such as a bakery or Tabac.
Debit card payments are the most common form of payment in France, and card payments are widely accepted even for very small amounts. Contactless (sans contact) payments are also available, and, especially in the wake of Covid-19, some shops now only accept card payments, with contactless preferred wherever possible. On the flip side, some local markets may only accept cash.
However, unlike other countries where cheque payments are fast becoming obsolete, France still favours cheques for many large payments and deposits. You will likely have to request a chequebook from your bank as they don’t come as standard with every account, but if you are living in France or own French property, you will almost certainly need to use a cheque at some point.
For recurring payments such as utility bills or membership fees, it’s most common to set up a standing order (virement permanent) or a direct debit (prelevement) from your account. For large transfers or one-off payments, you can also set up a bank transfer (virement), and this is becoming increasingly common for private sales or small business purchases or services.
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Bank overdrafts (a découvert) in France are not half as common as they are in other countries, and you will need to request approval from your bank to set one up. There are often strict penalties for going overdrawn or having a cheque bounce in France, and many French banks will simply not allow you to go into debt.
Overdrafts can be arranged, especially for business accounts, but they are considered on an individual basis. You will likely need to arrange a meeting with your bank advisor to negotiate this and it’s unlikely to be approved unless you have a strong history with your bank of steady income. There will, of course, be fees associated with it, so be sure you understand exactly what you will pay on each transaction.
How to Close A French Bank Account
Closing a bank account in France can be done at any time and you do not need to give a reason. There are no charges to close your account providing that all overdrafts, fees, and charges have been paid, although this may not always be the case with savings accounts.
In order to close the account, you will need to make a formal request for the closure of your account by letter. If you are opening an account with a different bank, you can also mandate your new bank to do this on your behalf, including transferring any outstanding funds, direct debits, and informing employers.
See our article on Closing a French Bank Account for all the details and an example letter.
Tax Records and Your French Bank Account
In France, summary details of all bank accounts, including current, business, and savings accounts, are issued to French tax and other government authorities as standard. Notaires dealing with inheritance or divorce cases will also have access to the list. This registration system is known as the FICOBA (Fichier national des comptes bancaires et assimilés). Banks are required to update this list whenever a bank account is opened or closed, as well as if key account details (such as the name of the account holder) is changed.
The FICOBA only provides details of the account holder and type of account, but it’s worth noting that your bank transactions and history could be disclosed in the event of a tax audit, police investigation or court procedure. Your bank is also legally required to notify authorities of any ‘suspicious’ transactions made on your account.
For American expats in France, note that your French bank will also be required under the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) legislation to inform the IRS of your account as long as you remain an American citizen.
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.