Opening a French bank account
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Opening a French bank account will help you organise your finances and keep track of mortgage payments and bills. Laurent Galy explains the basics of banking in France
When buying in France, one thing is essential: a French bank account. This will help you organise your finances and keep track of mortgage payments and bills. Whether you’re moving permanently, purchasing a secondary residence or investing in a property, it’s preferable – and often essential – to hold a bank account in France. Peace of mind is what we’re all looking for, knowing that our utility bills and mortgage will be paid on time. On top of that, we just want to get on with enjoying la belle vie in France. Even investing in France through a leaseback scheme or something similar can be made considerably easier when you hold a French bank account.
Opening an account
Setting up your bank account can be a very simple process and in some cases you don’t even need to leave the UK to get one organised. Once your account has been opened, the bank will give you your relevé d’identité bancaire, or RIB, with which you’ll soon become very familiar. This document gives you all of your bank details, including your international account number (IBAN). When getting yourself established, you’ll need your RIB to set up direct debits with utility companies. Most utility bills can be paid by setting up direct debits, as in the UK, but there are alternative methods too, such as the TIP. You’ll see the tear-off slip on the bottom of your bill, and you just need to sign this and send it back to the service provider with the details of your RIB and a one-off payment will be debited from your account. This is a good way of keeping an eye on how much you’re paying for your bills. For those everyday needs while in France, you can apply for a card and cheque book when setting up your account. You’ll find Visa and MasterCard debit cards in France, and they do work in the 24-hour petrol stations so you won’t get caught out. There’s an annual fee for cards in France, but not for cheque books, which is probably why so many French people use them.
There’s a myth relating to unpaid cheques in France. However, I can confirm that I haven’t seen any hangings for a bounced cheque, although it is considered to be a serious matter. The result of becoming interdit bancaire can be an expensive affair and includes a ban on writing cheques for up to five years. The main thing to remember is that a cheque is considered to be as good as cash. This means that if you haven’t got it, don’t spend it.
To avoid this, crediting your account is something you’ll need to do on a fairly regular basis. There are several ways of doing this, from depositing cash, making a SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) transfer in euros or a direct transfer in sterling, using one of the international services now available, or sending a cheque, including sterling cheques. Of course, we’re all naturally concerned about exchange rates, but if you make regular credits to your French bank account then you’ll limit your exposure to fluctuations in the exchange rate each time you have a bill to pay.
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Protecting your account
All banks propose service packages which either simply cover basic running costs for day-to-day operations, or may include more elaborate options such as sweeper systems to top up savings, guarantees for agreed overdrafts and protection for your means of payment such as bank cards, cheque books and mobile phones. These options can also provide assistance and guarantees for online purchases as well as warnings when your card details have been used remotely. Some banks may include the annual cost for your bank cards within a monthly service charge.
When starting your new adventure in France, you don’t want to be worrying about your finances. Your bank is on hand to help with all your financial needs, from mortgages and insurance to savings and investments. It’s therefore important that you make the right choice when you open your account. Always make sure you sign up with someone who understands you and your needs, and that you understand too.
Laurent Galy is a branch manager of CA Britline within the Crédit Agricole network. CA Britline offers distance banking via telephone, internet and app for English-speaking customers
Tel: 0033 (0)2 31 55 67 89