So you’ve decided to make a big scene change and head on over to the country that gave the world cheese, wine and movies where people smoke a lot. Congratulations, your new adventure is sure to be filled with interesting experiences and nice surprises.
Putting the romance of moving to a new country aside, there are some things that inevitably need to be taken care of; one of those is finding a way to store your money. Now you’ve probably already got a bank account, or maybe even a few, but most people agree that having a bank account that’s based in the country you live in certainly makes life easier. So how do you open a bank account in France? What documents will you need? Are there any things you should know before you head on your banking journey? Read on to find out more.
Is it Easy to Open a Bank Account in France?
If you break down the actual steps and requirements to open a bank account in France on paper, it’s quite straightforward. You just need some documents, and then, in theory, the bank just accepts them and opens an account for you.
Note that I said, on paper, it’s pretty straightforward. This is because France can be a little bit ‘old school’ when it comes to administrative processes. What I mean here is that for a lot of things, and this includes opening a bank account, you need to schedule a meeting and go over your paperwork in person. The ‘person’ part is where it might get a little bit difficult.
Often representatives who decide if someone is eligible for something, have a certain amount of autonomy and authority. This can work in your favour if they are an easy-going person, but if they’re the kind who likes to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ you might feel a little like you’ve been drawn into the Spanish inquisition. So my advice to you is to make sure you have all the things you need before you even go to the appointment. Don’t give someone an opportunity to find something missing, and they probably won’t.
What Documents Do I Need to Open a Bank Account in France?
Different banks might require different pieces of information in order to open an account for you, but you can expect to need at least the following documents.
There are many forms of ID that banks will accept, but it’s a good idea to bring your strongest. Things like a passport, birth certificate and resident’s cards are usually a good form of ID to bring.
Proof of Your Residency In France
This is an important element when applying for a bank account because, as a foreign national, French banks don’t really want to give you a bank account if you don’t have the legal right to reside here. This can be difficult for some people because often, they are applying for a bank account at the same time as they are dealing with applying for permanent residency.
Don’t be surprised if they ask for things like a resident’s card, Titre de Sejour or other proof of legal domicile. In some cases, when you have applied for these other documents, you are at least given a temporary number or evidence that your application is being processed. In many cases, just having this is enough to satisfy them, but it is also possible that they want to wait till your residency application is finalised.
Proof of Address
This can be as simple as a bill that has your current address on it. The only stipulation is that, usually, the document cannot be any older than 6 months.
Proof of Income
This might sound a little bit strange to some people; I mean, aren’t banks supposed to just be places that store your money when you have it? Asking for proof of income before opening a bank account is a pretty common practice in many European countries.
This isn’t just them being nosy; asking for proof of income helps banks to distance themselves from money laundering and shady financial deals. Well, it helps. It doesn’t mean they’re completely guilt-free in situations like this, but we’re not here to judge banks; we’re here to make them work in our favour.
The main reason French banks want proof of income is taxes. Basically, they want to know if you have money, where it is and how much it is. This element of the process can make things difficult for some people depending on where they are from. For example, many Americans find it difficult to open bank accounts because of the way the US government taxes its citizens who live abroad. Sometimes for people in situations like this, you might be asked to provide something official like a recent tax return.
What if I’m Rejected?
It might sound severe, but many recent immigrants are rejected when they apply to open a bank account in France. It’s important to remember here that banks are businesses. Although they provide financial services to their customers, there are some elements of their business that they are allowed to have the final say over. The good news is that in France, a bank has a legal obligation to give you a reason why you were rejected. The first thing you should do if you receive a ‘no’ from a bank is to ask them why. In some cases, this can be fixed with updated paperwork or clarification on something.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that just because one bank rejects you doesn’t mean that all of them will. It pays to shop around and find a bank that provides you with the service you need. In my case, I went with La Banque Postale because in the area I was living at the time (Normandy), they had a reputation for being easier for foreigners to bank with.
Do I have to speak French?
Some banks in France are proud of the fact that they try to cater to all their clients and are able to provide services in other languages; others just expect you to speak perfect French. It can be helpful to check ahead before you have an appointment with a bank to see if they have consultants available who speak your language; otherwise, it can be helpful to take a French speaker with you. Just make sure you know that if you are taking a French speaker with you who is not a certified translator, the bank might be a little uncomfortable with the nature of personal financial matters being discussed with a third party. This is something you will need to negotiate as it happens.
Does it Matter Which Bank I Have an Account With?
Once you have a bank account in France, it’s a bit like a ‘golden ticket,’ it’s much easier to get an account with almost any bank in the country. In some cases, it can be a good idea to just find a bank that will take you, then open an account with a more desirable bank once you’re ‘in.’
If you are lucky enough to be able to keep all your financial assets stuffed into a mattress and are never inconvenienced by it, then imagine I am now giving you a huge round of applause because you have somehow managed to beat the system we live in. However, for the rest of us, we may not love banks, but they are a necessity that makes life a whole lot easier.
Opening a bank account in a foreign country can be a daunting process. When I did it, I didn’t know any of the information you read above, and when they finally gave me my account, I actually cried (it was a long process). Hopefully, with everything you’ve read, you can now go forth and conquer the task of opening a bank account without fear while knowing what to expect and how to be prepared for it.
But if you'd still like some help with the process, our partner, French administration and relocation experts, French Connections HCB, can be with you every step of the way and help guide you through the process with as much or as little support as you need. Feel free to contact them here and one of the team will be in touch within 24 hours.