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Banking for Expats in France

Author: Gavin Adie
Submitted: January 2014

Aside from the language barrier, setting up a bank account in France is a relatively quick and simple process - the portion that happens in France at least; when setting up your first bank account in France, the bank will often ask your existing bank to vouch for your creditworthiness, which can considerably delay the process.

Due to the linguistic difficulties of banking in France, expats generally opt to bank with the nation's larger banks:

A number of international banks also have operations in France, such as HSBC France. HSBC has a significant presence in most cities, in particular in the capital, but has significantly fewer branches in less built-up areas.

Many of these banks' branches, particularly in urban areas, have full-time English-speaking representatives on hand to translate, but it's worth ringing up in advance to confirm someone will be available.

The most popular institution to bank with is the nation's post office, La Poste, which offers banking lower fees, and is open on Saturdays - unlike most banks in France, which typically open during normal working hours Monday through Friday. However, La Poste offers accounts that may be less attractive to internationally mobile expats, having more restrictions on cash withdrawals, and higher fees on international transactions.

While it also possible to establish an account before relocating to France, it can be simpler to establish an account when you arrive. Fewer documents are needed to set up an account in person. You will be required to provide: a passport or residency card (carte de séjour), to prove your identity; and, to prove your residential address, either: a recent utility bill in your name delivered to your address; property deeds, if you own a property; or a rental agreement.

If this is to be your first account in France, the French bank will likely request a credit reference from your home country bank, credit card provider, or utility company. This final - often lengthy - process is the principal reason expats' accounts are sometimes delayed.

More documents are required if you wish to set up an account in advance of moving. You will be required to provide two documents verifying your identity, and two documents verifying your home address. These documents must be certified by your home bank, which will also need to provide a reference on your behalf.

Irrespective of where you choose to bank, several forms must be completed, normally in French. It is recommended that you ask the help of a French speaker, preferably a local, to help you understand the requirements, to explain any terms and conditions, and to ask the bank any questions on your behalf.

When your account has been created, your bank will likely send you your banking PIN and require that you collect your card from the bank.

The types of account on offer in France mirror those offered elsewhere. However, expatriates who have lived in France for less than three months are only permitted to set up a non-resident account (compte non-résident). Non-resident account holders are often offered banking services in line with the resident current account but are seldom allowed an overdraft or credit.

A resident current account holder can write and cash checks, set up direct debits (prélèvement automatique) and standing orders (titre interbancaire de paiement), purchase goods and services using a debit card (carte bleue), and generally can use online banking. A credit card and overdraft may be offered to "resident" expatriates, depending on their credit history.

The other commonly-used account in France is the savings account, which typically carries higher rates of interest but offers fewer banking services and may have rules restricting withdrawals.

Accounts are typically established within a week or two of submitting the relevant documents but the process can be delayed if the expat's home bank responds slowly to a request for a credit reference.

Check books are still commonly used to pay for goods and services in France. However - unlike elsewhere - issuing a check that bounces is considered a serious, fraudulent offence, which can result in the account holder being placed on a blacklist drawn up by the central bank, Banque de France. Placement on this list can result in the person being prevented from opening another account in France, and from receiving credit.

Banking in France can be expensive; monthly fees are often charged and other fees may apply to ATM withdrawals, the use of online banking services, and for setting up direct debits and standing orders. For accounts that carry a monthly fee, banks typically charge a monthly fee of between EU3 and EUR30 a month.

Some French accounts offer free Euro withdrawals in Euro zone countries, which - if you travel frequently - may be a key factor in deciding where to bank.



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