How to Open a French Bank Account as an American in France
Whether you are moving or retiring to France, or purchasing a French property, opening a bank account is probably high on your to-do list. However, with FATCA requirements resulting in some banks refusing American clients, this can be more challenging than you might think. Here’s what you need to know about opening a French bank account as an American in France.
Opening a bank account in France as an American
Opening a ‘compte courant’ or current account at a French bank is generally a straight-forward process but there are a few factors that can make it trickier for Americans. Our Essential Reading guide to Opening a Bank Account in France will talk you through the entire process step by step, but here are few of the most important things to consider as an American in France.
Choosing a bank
Not all French banks allow U.S. citizens to open an account, and the first difficulty that Americans often run into is finding a bank. This is because French banks are bound by FATCA or Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, meaning that if they open a bank account for a U.S. citizen in France then they must declare this to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States and report back to them regarding the account activity for tax purposes. As this requires a substantial amount of additional paperwork and legal responsibility, many banks find it easier simply to not open an account for a U.S. citizen.
Which French banks will open an account for US citizens?
Each French bank has different eligibility criteria for foreign account holders, and this is often left to the discretion of the branch itself, making it difficult to provide a definitive list of banks that cater for Americans. Just because you know of an American friend who successfully opened an account with, say, Crédit Agricole in Paris, does not mean that your local Crédit Agricole in the Dordogne will also agree to open an account for you.
Our Essential Reading guide to French Banks and Account Options is a good place to start, but the best advice is to visit all of the high-street banks in your area in person once you arrive in France. You will need to make an appointment in order to open an account anyway, and this will give you the opportunity to see whether or not they accept applications from Americans and what paperwork you will need. If you have local friends, family, or a spouse/partner, it can be a good idea to visit their bank with them to make this request – this can make all the difference, particularly in small rural towns.
A good shortlist of banks to try is: Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Mutuel, CIC, La Banque Postale, Caisse d’Epargne, Banque Populaire, and LCL.
What can Americans do if their French bank account application is refused?
If you are resident in France and have the relevant long-stay visa or residency card to prove it, then you have a right to open a bank account in France. This is known as the ‘droit au compte bancaire’ and it means that anyone who has been refused a bank account in France can write to the Banque de France and appeal. Previously, this required a formal ‘lettre de refus’ (refusal letter) from the bank in question (which, as many Americans testified, often proved hard to acquire), but thankfully, the process has recently changed to allow a tacit refusal.
If you have been refused an account at a French bank, you should first ask the bank for a ‘lettre de refus’. If they won’t provide you with one, 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.
Take your receipt or refusal letter with you, along with your passport and proof of residence to your local Banque de France office and ask for a ‘droit au compte’ application. Once you have submitted your application 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. The downside of this system is that you won’t get a choice over the bank you are assigned to, so it pays to shop around first and use this option only as a last resort.
Getting your paperwork in order
Opening a bank account in France requires a substantial amount of paperwork and perhaps the most important one is a French address. This can’t just be any address, either – you will need to show proof of residence such as an electricity bill or home insurance policy. Naturally, this can present a bit of a catch-22 situation for new arrivals in France, as you may find yourself needing a bank account in order to rent a property in France. One possible workaround is to use the address of a family member or friend who you are staying with and have them write an ‘attestation’ stating that you are living with them. They will need to provide their own ID and proof of address along with the attestation.
Along with proof of address, you will also need to provide identification, proof of residency (i.e., your long-stay visa or Carte de Séjour), proof of income (typically your last three pay stubs or pension receipts, or if self-employed, your tax return), your avis d’imposition (French tax statement), or 1040.
You will need to make an appointment to open your bank account, and it is unlikely that this will be possible on the same day, so leave yourself plenty of time to find a suitable bank and set up your account.
Bank fees and account options
A final thing to take into consideration is that you will be required to pay bank fees in France and these can vary greatly depending on the type of account and the options required. Extras such as a debit card and a cheque book (which remain very useful in France) will likely cost extra, and different ‘formules’ (packages) may be available at different price points, each including various options. Additional options such as an overdraft or credit card are unlikely to be offered on newly opened accounts, except for exceptional circumstances, but you may find they are available after having your account for a year or more.
Final tips for opening a French bank account as an American
The best advice for Americans looking to open an account in France is to be polite but persistent! Expect to have to shop around for a bank, and don’t get discouraged until you have visited at least five different bank branches. Ask for the bank manager wherever possible to avoid being fobbed off by bank tellers who may not fully understand the rules – only the bank manager or accounts manager can confirm or deny your account request.
Know your rights, and don’t be afraid to politely counter any less-than-reasonable requests. For example, some banks have been known to demand large sums of money be kept in the account at all times or refuse certain services such as a cheque book to foreigners – it’s always a good idea to politely pushback, as these ‘rules’ can often be waived or altered on request. However, note that any rule-bending or concessions will always be at the discretion of the manager, so it pays to be polite and play to their good nature – being rude, demanding, or threatening is very unlikely to yield positive results and more often than not, will simply lead to your account application being refused.
If you don’t speak good French, taking a French-speaking friend or neighbor with you is a very good idea – even better if they are local and hold an account with the same bank.
Finally, be patient! French administration can be a challenge at times, and this is certainly the case when it comes to opening a bank account, but most Americans are successful in the end.
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