French Bank Account
Do you really need a French bank account , especially if you’re only buying a holiday home and not moving to France permanently?
Well, it is certainly preferable to have a bank account in France, especially for those looking to move abroad and work, in order to have their salary paid. You also need a French account if you have a French loan or mortgage so that the repayments can be made to your provider.
It also makes sense to have an account from which you can pay bills. EDF/GDF (electricity and gas) estimated bills are normally sent out every three months and can be paid simply by initially giving the utltities providers your bank sort code and account number and then signing the ‘TIP’ (authorisation slip) attached to the bill to allow the payment to be taken directly from your account. France Telecom usually insists on performing a ‘prélèvement’ (direct debit automatic withdrawal).
There are also the smaller bills that may need to be paid if you’re having work done on your property – painters, decorators, gardeners, property managers, etc.
By running a bank account in France with regular deposits, it is possible to reduce your exposure to changes in the exchange rates every time a bill arrives for payment.
The use of credit cards is very different in France. The idea of revolving credit is not as popular in France as in the UK, and many people use a Carte Bleue or MasterCard debit card to carry out purchases. Your debit card is automatically paid from your account, either immediately or at the end of the month – there is no option to make a minimum payment – it is essential, therefore to ensure you have sufficient funds in your account to cover card bills.
Another difference regarding cards is in the security measures. All cards in France have a microchip which allows the client to enter a PIN number into a machine linked to the point-of-sale equipment so as to authorise the transaction. This provides potentially greater security than simply comparing signatures as in the UK. Don’t reveal your PIN number to anyone, not even bank staff, and especially not when making purchases.
There is a difference in the attitude to paying by cheque. Although the use of cheques is diminishing in France, cheques are a highly popular form of payment and, unlike in the UK, there is no cheque guarantee card so proof of identity is often required when paying by cheque. You must also ensure that sufficient funds are available against any cheque you write as bouncing a cheque in France is taken very seriously, which may lead to your name being entered on the blacklist of the Banque de France. This in turn will prevent you from having a credit or debit card and chequebook, and can make opening another account elsewhere more difficult in the future.
The procedures for opening bank accounts in France are essentially relatively straightforward, but may be complicated by language barriers and the documentation. Having a bank manager or advisor who speaks English can greatly aid clarification and many banks in France are making efforts in this regard. Some banks offer their international clients an English-speaking relationship manager, or an English-speaking freephone contact centre.
The documents required to open an account depend largely on your circumstances. If resident in France, you will require a valid piece of identification, such as a passport or carte de séjour as well as a proof of address (such as an EDF/GDF or France Telecom bill in your name), which, in turn, is no more than three months old.
If a non-resident in France, as well as the above, you will need a recent credit card statement, again not more than three months old, (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc) showing your address, or a bank statement from a reputable bank showing your address, or a recent utility bill at your home address, not more than three months old will also be required.
In addition, if you are opening an account from overseas and are not actually in the country in person, then you must provide copies of two pieces of identity (passport and photo driver’s licence for example), and two proofs of address, all certified by your bank and the letter of recommendation.
Once the account is opened, you will usually receive a welcome letter as confirmation, giving you your account number and contact details for your relationship manager. Your chequebook and RIBs (rélévés d’identité bancaire) will follow shortly and can be collected from your branch.
A RIB is a slip of paper, much the same size as a cheque that shows your french bank account details and your home address. The RIB includes information such as your bank code, branch sort code, account number, etc.
The RIB is used to set up and perform any operations involving your french account (transfers both made and received, regular payments etc.). It ensures that the operations in question are correctly entered, hence avoiding both delays and disputes over operational errors. When setting up a prélèvement (direct debit) for example, the company will request a RIB (a photocopy will is often be sufficient). The RIB should be sent to the appropriate person, who will then set up the payment.
For a list of bank services in English, read Banking in France