If you are buying in or moving to France you will need a French bank account but before you open one make sure you read these 11 things you need to know to avoid making a costly mistake
1. You can get a simple bank account from the Post Office
If you just want basic banking services at a low cost then consider opening an account with La Banque Postale – the banking arm of the La Poste postal service. The charges are minimal and it operates primarily through existing post offices so there is likely to be a branch near to where you live in France.
2. Be careful which type of joint account you choose
You can get different types of joint account. An account written M Smith et Mme Smith (Mr and Mrs Smith) requires both account holders to sign everything together, even cheques. Whereas an account written M Smith ou Mme Smith (Mr or Mrs Smith) allows each individual account holder independent use of the account – but be warned it means one or other could clear and close the account so choose your banking partner wisely!
3. There are certain documents you will need to open an account
To open a French bank account you will need: proof of ID (passport and/or driving licence with a photo); proof of address (utility bill or council tax bill from the last 3 months – mobile phone bills are not always accepted); proof of bank account within the EU (bank statements from the last 2 months); evidence of income (wage slips from the last 3 months, annual pension statement or tax return if self-employed). This is a minimum and individual banks might required further documents.
4. French banks charge for their services
French banks charge for their services, even for a bank card, which many British people might not be used to. Each bank publishes their tariffs but they could vary from region to region so check this before opening an account.
5. Don’t lose your RIB
Once your bank account has been opened, the bank will give you your relevé d’identité bancaire, or ‘RIB’. This document gives you all of your bank details, including your international account number (IBAN), and you will need this to set up direct debits and make payments.
6. You’ll have to pick up your bank cards from the bank
Once you have opened your account your bank cards and chequebooks are not sent to your home address as in the UK but will have to be picked up in branch within a certain timeframe.
7. There is a limit on how much you can spend on a bank card
You will discover there is a limit on how much cash you can withdraw per week or how much you can spend per month, regardless of how much is in your account. As a result, cheques are still widely used in France in addition to bank cards.
8. Cheques are filled out slightly differently
A French cheque is valid for a year and 8 days from the issue date and is filled out differently from a UK cheque. You need to fill in where in France you are and the recipient and amount-in-words lines are the opposite of a UK cheque. Also remember that in France a decimal point is represented by a comma and a full stop marks the thousands, e.g. €5.000,63
9. Only write cheques if you have enough money in your account
Cheques can only be cancelled under very limited circumstances and are treated the same as cash. If one of your cheques bounces you could be blacklisted by the Banque de France and your bank and banned from issuing cheques for up to five years. So only write a cheque if you have enough money in your account!
10. Keep an eye on your overdraft
Your overdraft is usually only available for a limited time, typically 30 days, before your account must come back into credit for at least 24 hours. If not, you face hefty bank charges for being overdrawn.
11. Time your withdrawals from your savings account
Interest on savings accounts is calculated differently in France. The calculation is done by the ‘quinzaine’ – the first and last 15 days of the month – so if you don’t wish to lose out on interest payments time your withdrawals on the 1st or 16th of each month.