Managing your finances in France : opening a bank account & tips on expenses
Opening a bank account: yet another intimidating administrative procedure, especially for you, who have the language barrier! But take it easy, it’s a bit long but not that difficult. The hardest part will probably be choosing which bank to subscribe in.
Is it mandatory?
A french bank account is essential for your daily transactions: pay in shops, withdraw money, receive transfers...
In France, you’ll use your credit card a lot: you can pay by card practically anywhere. Cash is also a popular method of payment in France and ATMs never close and don’t have withdrawal limits for most.
However payment apps aren’t very common here. The french don’t use WePay, Due nor AliPay!
How do I choose a bank?
The French banking system differs slightly from elsewhere in a couple of ways. For example, whereas the UK banking industry tends to be dominated by the 'big four' high-street banks, banking in France is more regionalised with regional variations even within some French banking chains on things such as fees. Another difference is that some French banks don't have advisory staff who will help you plan or invest your money.
French banks are largely similar in terms of how money is managed and payments are made. Most French banks offer overdrafts (découverts), plus payment options via credit/debit cards (carte bleue), direct debits, standing orders and cheque. Many also offer online banking.
If you already have a bank account in your home country, check if this bank doesn’t have a partnership with a french bank - it would simplify the procedure. Namely, Société Générale and HSBC may be willing to open an account in France for you if you already have one in your current country of residence.
However, it is cheaper to open an account in a french bank or in a bank for foreigners in France than in your home country’s bank.
You may be considering opening an account in an online bank upon arriving in France: they’re the most low-priced banks and they accept anyone who can prove they’re domiciled in France. Unfortunately, you can’t open an account in an online bank if it’s the first account you’re opening in France. Indeed online banks are compelled to ask bank details from a french bank to confirm your identity, as they can’t have you coming to an office.
So it’s best to fall back on a traditional bank accepting foreigner’s subscription in France. Here are a few of them:
société générale: you can set up a meeting online and go there with the necessary documents to open your account (see list below)
crédit agricole: just bring your ID and proof of address in France, and you’ll be good to go.
Crédit Mutuel : same here!
HSBC : here too!
BNP Paribas : for european only: they require that you already own an account in France or in Europe.
You can basically visit any branch and ask to open an account. Some banks also offer this service online. However in most cases, the staff won’t be english-speaking, so you may want to bring a French speaking person with you when opening your account.
When planning to visit a bank, take into account that most banks in France typically open between 8:30-9am, close between 5-5:30pm and at lunchtime from 12 to 2pm. They also generally close on weekends, although some have branches open until 12 or 1pm on Saturdays.
Try opening an account in a branch that’s close to your place so you don’t have a long commute when you’ll have to go and meet your counsellor.
International money transfers to and from France
Transferring money from France to banks within the European Union, European Economic Area or Switzerland doesn’t cost more than it would for a transfer between 2 French banks, providing the money is paid in euros and amounts to less than €50,000.
However banks in France are free to apply their own tariffs for transfers to or from outside the EU and they will be more expensive. You will need to check with your French bank what the charge rates are. The minimum charge is around €30 but can vary depending on the country or bank you are transferring money to.
Which documents should I bring to open my account?
Just like for finding an apartment, you will need to provide the bank with a set of mandatory pieces to open your account: your ID, a certificate that you’re enrolled in a french school or university, a proof of residence (electricity or internet bill, insurance certificate, rent receipt…) and your residence permit if you’re from outside Europe.
It may also be asked of you to show a tax notice and your last 3 account statements you have in another bank (if you have another account).
How to open my account?
You have to go to a bank branch and come into contact with a counselor who will follow your case and take the necessary steps to open your account and send you your credit card.
How long does it take?
On average, 3 weeks to a month can pass between the meeting with the counselor and the account’s activation. So it’s best to engage procedures as soon as possible!
Can my landlord ask me to provide details about my bank account?
It’s strictly forbidden for a landlord to ask you to show him account statements so he can check whether your accounts are properly kept. You don’t have to disclose any information relating to your bank account to your landlord - nor to anyone.
Do I have to close my bank account when I leave France?
It’s best to close your account when you leave, otherwise you’ll continue paying contributions and fees for an account you’re not using. Any account holder can decide of to close it whenever he deems fit and it’s a free procedure.
How to close my bank account?
No matter which bank you’re in, you will have to send a close-out letter (link to template). Before closing your account, make sure they aren’t any pending transactions. To manage this properly, you can ask your counselor to give you a list of all direct debit instructions that are registered on your account. Don’t retrieve all the money available on your account in case pending payments haven’t been charged yet. Ensure that all issued cheques have been debited, and shift your usual direct debit authorizations to another account (or terminate all of your subscriptions). If a cheque is collected too late (once the account is closed), you might get in some trouble with the bank.
After closing your account, give back your checkbook and your credit card to the bank - or cut your card with scissors and cross out your cheques to make sure no one will find them and try using them.
Check your account agreement (the contract signed with your bank on opening the account): some banks may ask you to respect a notice for closing. This notice is never longer than 30 days.