Whether you are moving to France to work, study, or retire, or looking to purchase French property, opening a bank account will likely be high on your to-do list. From choosing the right ‘formule’ to all the necessary documents—here’s how to open a bank account in France.
Opening a French Bank Account: What You Need to Know
If you’ve just arrived in France or are opening an account for the first time, you will want to open a ‘compte courant’ or current account. The first thing you’ll need to do is choose which bank you want to open an account with, and there are several options available in France from high street banks to internet and international banks.
The best bank for you depends on several factors including your proximity to the nearest branch, the account fees and charges, and the services and finance options available. If you are taking out a French mortgage, for example, you will likely choose to open your current account with your loan provider, while if you have complicated financial assets or business interests, an account with an international bank may provide more options.
Our article on French Banks and Accounts will talk you through the options.
Do I Need to Be Resident in France to Open a Bank Account?
To open a current account with one of the French high street banks you will need to have a permanent residence in France. However, there are also options for non-residents. Some high street banks offer ‘non-resident accounts’ (compte non-résident) which provide many of the same services as a resident account, although you may have to pay slightly higher fees or meet certain requirements. International banks such as HSBC or internet banks such as Monobanq or N26, can also be good options, especially if you find you are not eligible for a non-resident account with the French banks.
Read our article on opening a non-resident bank account in France.
Can I Open a French Bank Account Online?
Some French banks do offer the option to open an account online, but this is uniquely for those who are tax resident in France (due to the unique tax situation of American expats, most Americans will also find they cannot open a bank account online). If you are opening a non-resident or business account, you will need to open the account in person.
Even if you have the option to open an account online, it’s often a good idea to open your account in person. Going into the bank will give you chance to meet the advisors and ask any questions regarding account fees and services, before you sign.
What If I Am Refused A French Bank Account?
Some expats may have difficulty opening a bank account, especially if you are not currently employed or enrolled as a student, and only hold a long-stay visa. This is particularly a worry for Americans, due to the FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) legislation, which states that international banks must inform the Internal Revenue Service(IRS) in America of any American citizens accounts, even those permanently resident in France. Some French banks have been known to turn down American applicants or refuse to open business accounts for them on these grounds.
However, it’s important to know that anyone with a legal right to residence in France also has a legal right to open a current account. In the event of being refused an account, ask the bank for an official refusal letter (a ‘lettre de refus’)*, which they are legally required to provide. Find your local Banque de France office and take this letter, along with your ID and proof of residence, to request a ‘droit au compte’ (right to an account). You’ll need to fill in an application form and it may take several days to process, but you will be issued a letter with a designated bank. This bank will be required by law to open an account for you.
*If the bank won’t give you a ‘lettre de refus’, you should write to the bank requesting to open an account and either send this to the bank branch by registered post (with a receipt slip) or hand it in at the bank in person and ask for a ‘récépissé de dépôt en main propre’ (receipt of delivery). If you have no response within 15 days, you can use this receipt as proof of a refusal instead.
Opening a Bank Account in France: Step by Step
It’s advisable to make an appointment at your local branch if you want to open an account, as there may not always be someone available if you decide to just drop in. Bring all the necessary documents with you (more about that below) and prepare any questions you have to ask.
Choosing an account option or ‘formule’
You’ll be talked through the different account options and services, and will likely be offered a choice of packages or ‘formules’ which will include various different services. A standard ‘formule’ might include a VISA debit card and access to your bank’s online banking application, but you might opt for a chequebook or various additions such as insurance or international or sepa transfers.
Be sure to check exactly what fees and charges you will pay on the account. French banks can charge fees for everything from cash withdrawals to transfers, and depending on your needs, it may be worth opting for a formule that includes these things at a set rate. However, don’t feel pressured to take out the offer presented by your bank—it is possible to open a current account in France without all these extras, so don’t pay for anything unless you are sure you will use it.
Here are a few questions to ask:
- How much are the monthly, quarterly, or annual fees?
- What kind of VISA debit card comes with your account? Will this work internationally? What are the fees for withdrawals or payments in EU or international countries?
- What are the fees on transfers between French banks, sepa transfers within the eurozone, and international transfers? Are instant transfers available?
- What are the fees for cash withdrawals (especially if you withdraw from another bank’s ATMs), and are there limits on the withdrawal amount or number of withdrawals?
- Does your bank card allow contactless payments (sans contact), and is there an extra charge to enable this?
- How much is a chequebook?
- What services are available via your mobile banking app? Can you use online payment services such as Paylib or Apple Pay?
Documents needed to open your French bank account
When you book your appointment to open your account, be sure to ask which documents you need. Generally, you will need 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).
You may also be asked to provide details of your income and employment or show your latest French tax return or payslips, depending on your situation.
Opening a Joint Account in France
In France, it’s generally easy to open an account in joint names (for a married, PACSed, or cohabiting couple). Both parties will need to provide the above-listed documents, and you will also be asked for a copy of your marriage or PACS certificate if applicable.
Take care over the wording on a joint account. An account listed as M. et Mme. Blackwood (Mr and Mrs Blackwood) is different from an account named M. ou Mme. Blackwood (Mr or Mrs Blackwood). The former account would require the signatures of both parties on a transaction, while the latter means either party can sign for or withdraw funds from the account without the consent of the other.
Opening a Business Account or Compte Pro
Opening a business account is a slightly different process from opening a personal account. These accounts must be opened in person, and you should expect to be assigned a bank advisor for your account. Along with the above-mentioned documents, expect to be asked for your SIREN/SIRET (your business registration number) and any related documents for your business or auto-entrepreneur status.
You should expect to answer numerous questions about your business and projected turnover, and may also need to present a business plan, especially if you are seeking any kind of financing or require services such as an overdraft.
Opening your French bank account: what happens next
Once you have agreed upon the account option and formule, and provided all the necessary documents, you will then complete the mandat (bank application form), and finally, sign the contract (convention de compte). There is often a minimal deposit amount to open the account, so you will need to pay this along with any set-up fees.
After signing the contract, you should be presented with a full list of the fees and tariffs associated with your account. Your account is now open and your bank card, pin code, and chequebook (if applicable) will then be sent out to you by post.
Congratulations, you now have a French bank account!
Managing Your French Bank Account
Now that you’ve successfully opened your French bank account, you’ll need to know about managing your account. Read our handy guides to: