Opening a French Bank Account

As part of my business at Paris Home Shares, it is routinely necessary for me to transfer money from the US to France, and to be able to purchase goods while we are there.  To that end, it is quite handy to have a checking account in France, denominated in euros.  Converting the currency is the first obstacle, and that will be discussed in an entirely separate area.  If one has decided that having a foreign account would be handy, then the first step is to take a deep breath and understand the French idealogy on banking.

Unlike the US, or I surmise, Canada, the UK and other English speaking nations, the French banking system is NOT consumer friendly.  First, French banks act like they don’t want your money (unless we are talking huge sums).  Despite what you may see in advertising, this also seems to be true of English based banks doing business in France.  The French do not even like to talk about money, even in a banking context. Second, opening a checking account requires vast amounts of paperwork, with a greater scrutiny than an IRS audit.  You must, among other things,  have a recommendation from your bank in your home country, show your passport, and most difficult, show a recent utility statement with your name on it, referencing your French address.  In other words, you have to own or rent property in France in order to qualify for an account. Finally, it helps if you have lots of money.

Finally, most banks will require you to establish a savings account as cross collateral for your simple checking account. (Did I say it was easy?).

If you get past these hurdles, then congratulations!  Now the real fun begins.  Here are a couple expectations and assumptions which I hope to dash for you:

1.  Just because you maintain a balance in your account does not mean it is your money.  IT IS THE BANK’S MONEY!  They will allow you to access it, but only a little at a time, and you must ask permission in advance (preferably in writing) if you wish to withdraw a large sum (usually greater than 1000 euros). Getting your hands on your own money once it is in the system can be a time-consuming process, even after all the necessary hurdles have been cleared. Just plan on it in advance and you will be ok.

2.  If you receive a check, even a bank cheque, from someone drawn on a French bank, can you present it for payment in cash at that person’s bank?  NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! What are you thinking?  How about your bank?  NOPE.

3.  Can you withdraw cash from your own account using the debit card the Bank kindly gives you?  YES, but you better not need more than 500 euros in one week.  Yes, it is your money.  No, you cannot have more than that.

4.  If you bank with a large bank with many offices, can you conduct your business at any of these offices?  NO, unless it is something petty.  All major transactions or unusual requests can only be done at the location where your account was created, so pick your location judiciously! Branch banking does not really exist in France, despite what you may read.

Opening a French banking account is good practice for familiarizing oneself with the layers of bureaucracy that all of the French people have become accustomed to. Learning to navigate the banking system will bring you one step closer to understanding the French way of thinking, which is to say, nothing is ever quick or easy.


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