Setting Up A Bank Account in France
French bureaucracy is renowned for its complexity, and setting up a local bank account is unfortunately no exception. Whether you have moved to the country for a better quality of life, or to start a business, you will need a bank account. Having an account makes it easier to make mortgage payments and pay bills, especially when some utility providers insist on payment by direct debit.
Choosing an account
Before choosing a bank to go with and an account to open you should consider the features available, just as you would in the USA or the UK. French banks do differ slightly though, so it’s important to do your research. Interest rates are incredibly competitive in the USA and the UK, but in France this has actually been illegal until very recently, and so very few banks offer interest. Caisse d’Epargne is one of the few who does, but as there is nothing like the competition in the USA and the UK. Online or remote banking is fairly common with European banks now so you shouldn’t have a problem with this in France.
Current accounts in France translate as compte courants. Accounts with a lot of activity are known as a compte à vue or a compte de depot. Generally there are no start-up costs and you can use the account for bills and direct debits just as in the USA or the UK.
In France deposit accounts, compte sur livret, or Livret B, are widely used in France. This is an account where you deposit money to be saved. It is separate from your current account as it is not actively used. Some of these have instant access, and these are called compte à terme.
Typical bank charges are for standing orders, statements, currency exchange, a debit card or cheque book for your account, and overdraft fines. It is now much easier to be aware of these costs as French legislation has recently implemented a law that prohibits hidden charges. Banks now legally have to inform you of any charges, either on your statements or over the phone or online, and provide a list of charges on demand. You can use this to your advantage by asking to see this and keeping hold of your statements.
Opening an Account
If you can’t speak French make sure that you choose a bank that has English speaking staff and is used to dealing with foreign expats. Some banks have telephone banking which is operated by multilingual staff.
Before opening an account you will have to make contact with your chosen bank to get the relevant forms. You can do this before you move, just call the bank and ask for the forms to be sent over. If you are already in the country you can visit the bank’s branch to pick them up.
As well as your completed forms, you will need a copy of your passport, a reference from your current UK bank, proof of your residence in France (i.e. utility bill or if you haven’t finalized your residence yet, a Compromis de Vente), and your signature witnessed by a solicitor if you are not a French resident.
French banks are usually open Monday to Friday, 9am and 5.30pm. This varies with location so checking your local branch is recommended. Larger branches in towns may open on Saturdays and late evening, and local branches in small towns or villages often close at lunchtime.
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