From watching people stroll on Avenue des Champs-Élysées to taking in the fragrant lavender fields of Provence, France has always drawn travellers looking for that special ‘je ne sais quoi’.
If holidays in France have sparked your interest, you might be tempted to make the move more permanently. France is truly world class when it comes to climate, culture and cuisine.
If you’re planning on a move to France, one of your first priorities will be opening a local bank account. While French banking has its quirks (like closing the office for lunch), getting started with a French bank account isn’t too tricky. Here’s how.
If you’re a citizen of an EEA country, you’re entitled to open a bank account in France - even if you aren’t a French resident. However, if you’re a non-resident, you might find that you have more restrictions on your account options like minimum monthly deposits and withdrawal limits.
Opening a bank account in France involves a lot of paperwork. Although it is technically possible to start the process remotely, banks often require you to visit a branch in person before your account is fully operational.
Face-to-face banking is normal in France, so high street banks may be reluctant to allow you to open an account remotely. Notable exceptions include Britline (for residents of the U.K., France and Ireland), and HSBC for their existing customers.
The documents you need vary between banks, but expect to be asked to prove:
- Your identity (a passport, photo ID or driving license will be essential)
- Your address (including a French address if you are planning on becoming resident)
- Visa status
- Your employment
Be prepared to show up-to-date paperwork, such as recent utility bills and payslips. If your documents aren’t in French, you may be required to have them officially translated or notarised. Check with your chosen bank for their policy.
Some banks require further details before you can open an account, such as evidence of your financial history to demonstrate you can pay your way in France. These might be obtained through bank statements and additional documentation, or in an application interview directly with the bank.
France has no shortage of banking options - so before choosing an account, be clear on what is important to you. If you’re not comfortable speaking French, or will be living outside of the major towns, choose an online bank with the option of corresponding in English. Similarly, bank charges can be complex, so make sure that you fully understand the product you select, and check it suits your needs. Here are the key details for some popular options.
- Internet/phone banking service, operated by French bank, Crédit Agricole
- Britline offers banking in English, online or on the phone
- You can open an account before moving to France
- As with most French banks, charges are levied on banking activities
- Britline’s charges and documentation are transparent and published in English
- One of the largest high street banks operating in France
- BNP Paribas offer a wide range, from basic current accounts to savings products
- Check out the offers for 18-24 year old customers, which include hefty discounts on fees and charges
- La Banque Postal is an offshoot of the postal service
- The largest branch network in France, operating through local post offices
- Competitive rates, but service is likely to be French-language only
- Start the application process online, before posting your ‘dossier’ of forms and documents for free
- ING Direct is the largest online bank in France
- Full range of products including a free basic current account
- Opening offers such as free bank cards and increased interest rates
- You must be a resident in France to open an account
- Application is in French only, so finding a translator - or brushing up your language skills - is essential
Some aspects of banking in France can feel quite alien. Charging structures are a good example. Although there are many ‘free’ basic current accounts, it doesn’t mean that such accounts come without restrictions. Many require a minimum initial deposit and ongoing monthly payments in addition to charges for using bank cards and for basic services like SMS balance updates and paper statements.
Account ‘handling fees’, which are monthly payments for the basic operation of the account, are generally fairly low - but can rise dramatically if your account is inactive for a set period. Check your bank’s policy, and don’t leave your account dormant or forgotten. Similarly, be sure to read up on terms and conditions if you choose to bank with one of France’s regional banks, such as those operated on a mutual basis with Crédit Agricole. You might find that charges and terms vary by region.
Standard banking hours are 8 or 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some branches also opening on a Saturday morning. If you’re in a rural area, check the local branch hours, as closing for lunch is not unusual. And finally, get used to writing cheques again. Although a distant memory in many countries, writing a cheque to pay for your groceries, fill up your car, or pay a tradesman is still common practise in France.
Having a functioning bank account in France will make daily life smoother, and help you settle quickly into your new home.