How to choose a French bank and account

PUBLISHED: 13:00 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 15:20 12 November 2020

How you want to use your French bank account will determine which is best for you (c) Max Labeille / Getty Images

How you want to use your French bank account will determine which is best for you (c) Max Labeille / Getty Images

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Opening a French bank account is an essential part of the process for people who are moving to France or buying a French property, so how do you find the right one for you?

There are four main types of banks in France, national, regional, international and online; all of which are regulated by the Banque de France. Major players within the national category include BNP Paribas, CIC, Société Général and La Banque Postale - the post office bank. It’s interesting to note that even within these so called ‘national’ banks, services and fees can vary from region to region. There’s often even more variation within the regional banking category which includes banks such as Crédit Mutuel and Crédit Agricole. Multinational banks such as HBSC, Barclays and Axa tend only to be found in bigger cities and many of them offer ‘English spoken’ services. The final category, the online sector, is a much more recent addition to the French banking scene and whilst they are the least likely to offer an English-speaking service (with the exception of N26), they tend to lead the way in providing better offers and cheaper banking.

Online or face to face?

The first place to start is probably by deciding whether you are happy with online banking or whether you would rather deal with someone in person. If you prefer doing things online then choosing one of the new generation online banks makes more sense than opting for a traditional bank which also offers online services. This is because the technology tends to be better and account opening is often much easier, sometimes taking as little as ten minutes. Monabanq, Revolut and N26 are all particularly user friendly and Revolut allows you to add accounts in other currencies which is ideal if you use both sterling and euros.

The availability of cash points might affect your choice of banks (c) AdrianHancu / Getty ImagesThe availability of cash points might affect your choice of banks (c) AdrianHancu / Getty Images

If you prefer having a designated English-speaking contact, then one of the international banks is going to be more suitable. If you’d like face to face service but are happy to speak French, then your choice is going to be dependent on what is on offer in your locality. Anyone near a large town will have a good selection but if you live in a smaller town or village, then there may only be a choice of two or three. In this case I would recommend having a look at their standard offers. This will provide an indication of the services available and charging structure and I would then ask local friends or neighbours as the level of customer service can vary quite widely. Some banks or accounts will impose their own restrictions; for example, they may require a minimum monthly income or ask you to deposit a certain amount in savings before they will agree to open an account.

Local facilities

If you’ve decided you want a bank with a local branch and you work, do check the opening hours. Outside large cities, these can vary enormously and may well be incompatible with your schedule. In any case, they tend to be shorter than UK hours once Monday closing and lunchtime closures are factored in and you may decide that online is going to be easier. Most of the online banks have arrangements with local branches for paying in cash and cheques, for example, Monabanq clients can use CIC branches but if this facility is important to you, do check it out before you open an account.

Online versus face to face service is one factor in choosing a bank (c) -zlaki- / getty imagesOnline versus face to face service is one factor in choosing a bank (c) -zlaki- / getty images

You also need to look at the availability of cash points (which can be few and far between in rural areas) and make sure that you choose a bank which won’t charge you if you use ‘other’ network’s cash points. Some banks impose a limit; N26 only allows five free withdrawals per month and then clients incur a €2 fee per withdrawal. If you rarely use cash, this may not be an issue but it is another factor to consider. Most banks have a spending and/or withdrawal limit which may be daily, weekly or monthly. This will almost certainly be lower than UK clients are used to, so again, you will need to ascertain this before opening the account and if it is insufficient, check with the bank as to whether you can have the limits changed.

Choosing an account

Once you’ve decided on the bank, you need to think about the type of account you require. Obviously students, children, businesses and the self-employed all have different needs and most banks offer suitable accounts. But most people will need a personal account and couples may want a joint account as well. If you are opening a joint account, you will need to decide whether you set it up as either ‘[nom] et [nom]’ which means both account holders need to sign off payments such as cheques, or ‘[nom] ou [nom]’ where permission is only needed from one account holder. A current account or compte courant is the standard account for managing day to day expenditure. You will also be asked to open a Livret or savings account where you can store funds and access them easily, transferring money to and from your current account and most banks also offer a Livret A - a tax free savings account. Longer term savings accounts are known as Compte à Terme or Compte d’Epargne Logement and offer higher interest rates.

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