Have you heard about the famous Catch-22 in France where you need a bank account to rent housing but need an address to open an account? If you’re moving to France, this may be one of the first administrative hurdles you face. As our mission at Renestance is helping English-speakers live out their French dream, we often help them clear this obstacle early on.
A French bank account is a prerequisite for several settling-in tasks, since many bills (electricity, phone, etc.) are debited directly from your account. You’ll also want a French account to access your money in euros and avoid currency conversion and transfer fees on every transaction.
Understanding all the small print about bank services can be quite a challenge in any language, so below we’ve listed answers to some Frequently Asked Questions below:
Who is eligible to open a bank account in France?
The main conditions to open a current account are that you must be at least 18 years old*, possess a valid passport or ID card, and show proof of a fixed home address (in France or abroad).
All banking establishments are obliged to check with the Banque de France (the banking authority in France) that the person requesting the account has no banking misdemeanors (fraud, bouncing checks, etc) against their name.
*There are savings account options from 12 years old and SOME banks may allow a 16-year old to open a current account under certain conditions.
What amount of money do I need to have a French account?
Usually, you can open an account without depositing any money, but you would be expected to deposit funds quickly after opening in order to pay the set-up and monthly banking charges.
What documentation would I need to open an account?
This differs according to your nationality and situation. You’ll always need: your passport, proof of address (a utility bill under three months old with your fixed address or an ‘attestation d’hébergement’ from the person who’s lodging you), your most recent tax statement, and your Social Security number (US citizens).
You’ll sometimes need: birth certificates, proof that you have revenue or savings (bank statements from other accounts, funds/stocks/shares statements), payslips.
It’s always best to check what you need with the bank before you attend your account opening meeting. Note that, apart from online accounts, you will always need to open your account in person.
If I don’t have a recent utility bill or proof of address in France what can I do?
In most cases, you will not be able to open a French bank account. Some banks will allow you to set up a provisional account if you show them your move is imminent, and then they’ll complete the procedure once you have a French address.
Which French banks offer better services for citizens outside of the EU?
We have found Crédit Agricole, and their partly-anglophone online service, to be very accommodating for our foreign clients, so we generally go to them first.
Which French banks offer the best service for UK citizens?
Again, Crédit Agricole are our go-to bank. However, other banks may be just as good, depending on your location. As with anything in France, service tends to depend on each bank, each branch, and each employee.
Which banks offer online banking for international transfers?
HSBC France – they also have an English speaking helpline.
What kind of bank accounts are available?
- Current account – on which you can choose to have various types of card, a check book, ability to set up direct debits and standing orders, make online transfers, etc. Note that you pay per ‘feature’ for your current account in France (eg cards, check books, direct debits etc)
- Savings account for those with low revenue LEP (Livret d’Epargne Populaire) – max deposit 7700€ (higher interest rate than other accounts) – tax-free interest
- Savings account LDD (Livret de Développement Durable) – max deposit 12000€
- Livret A – max deposit 22,950€ – tax-free interest
- Livret Jeune (12-25 years old) – max deposit 1600€ – tax-free interest
- Assurance Vie – not life insurance, but a savings account where you can nominate inheritors to receive this money tax-free upon your death (ie free of death duties/estate tax)
There are also accounts to help you fund a property purchase, eg PEL (Plan Épargne Logement) or CEL (Compte Épargne Logement).
Note: individuals are only allowed one of each of the above.
What is the difference between a Carte Bleue and a Visa card?
Carte Bleue is a national (within France) means of payment (CB logo on card) and a Visa, or Mastercard is an international payment network. You can choose your card at the bank when you open a current account. At the time of each payment request, a balance check is made to verify that the account is sufficiently funded to cover the transaction.
Note: French banks do not issue credit cards (with revolving credit), only debit cards. You may request that the card payments be debited from your current account at the end of the month, rather than on the day of the transaction, but you will not be able to maintain a credit balance from one month to the next.
If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or to contact us directly, we’re here to help!
Nicole is a bilingual Brit from Cambridge who has been living in the Languedoc since 2002 and is Renestance's Administrative Assistance Coordinator. She knows how to get things done and can find the key contacts, having worked in real estate, managed two businesses of her own, and started a large social group for English-speakers in the area.
All articles by: Nicole Hammond