Opening a bank account in France should be your top priority when relocating to France. In this article, you will learn the reason why opening a bank account in France is challenging for Americans and which banks are American friendly.
You will also learn how French payment cards work and what documents you need to open a bank account in France. Let’s begin.
- Do you need a French bank account?
- Should you close your U.S. bank account?
- Can you use an online bank?
- Opening a bank account in France from the U.S.
- Best banks in France for Americans
- Opening a bank account in France
- Required documents
- Checking and saving accounts
- Types of payment cards
- French payment cards: how do they work?
- Spending limits
- You lost your French payment card
- French still use checkbooks
- Bank accounts in France are not free?!
- Can you bank online in France?
- Should you report your account to the IRS?
- Have you been rejected by a bank?
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Do you need a French bank account?
French institutions rely heavily on people having a bank account. You need a French bank account for pretty much everything. You need a French bank account to:
- set up recurrent monthly payments that you make (for instance to EDF for your electricity bill)
- receive a salary (paying a salary in cash is not allowed by law unless it is below €1,500)
- claim benefits (family allowance from CAF for instance)
- enroll into the French healthcare system and receive reimbursements for healthcare costs
Should you close your U.S. bank accounts?
I strongly recommend that you keep one bank account in the United States if possible. This will make things easier if you get paid in US$ or when the IRS sends you a tax refund check in US$.
Cashing a check in U.S. dollars directly into your bank account in France is very costly. Read How to use a Wise account when living abroad when you need to transfer U.S. Dollars into your bank account in France.
Can you use an online bank?
Do you absolutely need a brick and mortar bank? You could go instead with an international online bank or a Wise multi-currency account. In theory, this should work fine because SEPA regulations state that a business in Europe should accept any IBAN, regardless of which country it is from.
The reality though is that some French utility companies won’t accept an IBAN unless it is from a French bank. If your IBAN from an online bank is refused, report it at Accept my IBAN.
Since May 2022, Revolut provides French IBANs to their customers living in France. It means that you can easily open a Revolut account without the hassle of a heavy load of paperwork. All you need is a smartphone on which you install the Revolut app and you can be set up in minutes.
How to open a bank account in France from the U.S.?
Opening a bank account in France from the United States is probably the ideal option if you have the possibility. I’ve seen a few people successfully open a French bank account with HSBC before setting foot in France. Read the comments at the bottom of the page to find readers of ma French Life who share their experience on how to open a French bank account from the US.
It’s fine if you cannot open a bank account before moving to France. You’ll open a bank account once you’re in France.
Best banks in France for Americans
As an American, opening a bank account in France can be tricky because of a U.S. federal law called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). The U.S. government requires foreign financial institutions to report information about accounts held by U.S. taxpayers to the IRS.
That’s the reason why the first challenge for Americans wanting to open an account is to pick a French bank that will accept them, knowing that they are U.S. persons.
In France, branches from a bank don’t always work the same way. Try a different branch if you’re not satisfied with one branch. The following banks in France usually accept Americans.
How to open a bank account in France as an American
Most banks in France require you to go to their office to open an account. While I fully understand the convenience of online banking, establishing a relationship with your banker is very common in France. There are a few operations that you cannot deal with online (like transferring a larger amount of money to purchase a home). Your experience will probably be smoother if people at the bank have already met you face-to-face. I know many French who meet with their banker once a year to faire le point (to assess their financial situation and keep in touch).
In order to open a French bank account in person, call your nearest branch to arrange an appointment. Let them know that you are a U.S. person so they can prepare specific documents. There is no walk-ins like in the United States. Be prepared to stay at the bank for about an hour.
Required documents to open a bank account in France
These are the documents you need to bring with you:
- justificatif de domicile (Proof of address)
- passeport (passport) or valid ID (justificatif d’identité)
- titre de séjour (residency status)
You may be asked to provide more documents like a proof of income issued in the past 3 months.
Because you are a U.S. person, the bank will provide you a W9 form that you’ll have to fill out. The W9 form contains your U.S. taxpayer identification number (TIN). Your French bank has an obligation to report your bank account to the IRS.
Checking account and saving account
The 2 main types of account in France are compte courant (checking account) and Livret A (saving account).
French checking account
Compte courant or compte chèque is your regular checking account and it comes with a payment card and/or a checkbook. Upon opening a compte courant, you have to sign a convention de compte bancaire (bank account agreement). The agreement contains the rules and regulations of your account.
Your account can be individuel (individual account) or joint (joined account).
French saving account
Livret A is a free saving account. Interest rate is 3% and the maximum limit is €22,950.00. The interest earned are exempt from taxes.
You can open a livret A for each of your kids, as long as each person in your family has no more than one account to their name. The rules for Livret A are the same in any French bank you pick. The French government sets the interest rate twice a year. You usually get a cash withdrawal card with each Livret A account.
Different types of payment cards in France
The 3 main types of payment cards in France are:
- Carte à débit immédiat (debit card) – That is the type of card most French use. The money is taken out of the account at the time of the purchase.
- Carte à débit différé (deferred debit card) – The money for all your purchases in a month is taken at once on a date you agreed on with your banker. This does not apply to the cash you get from an ATM.
- Carte de crédit (credit card) – This is the same as a typical American credit card.
France has a national interbank network called CB (Groupement des Cartes Bancaires CB) which makes sure that anyone can easily use their CB Bank Card anywhere in France.You can withdraw cash from ATMs anywhere you see the CB logo with no fees, regardless of the bank the ATM belongs to. CB stands for Carte Bancaire or Carte Bleue.
French payment cards: how do they work?
When using your payment card to purchase something, you don’t need to provide a signature. You have to enter your code personnel (PIN number) instead. One exception though is when you pay for highway tolls, where you don’t have to enter your PIN.
If your card has a little wi-fi symbol on it, you do not need to enter your PIN for purchases under €50. Approach your card without touching the machine to pay sans contact (no contact).
Plafonds de paiement (Spending limitations)
A bank payment card comes with 2 spending limits, one payment limit and one withdrawal limit.
This is very puzzling from an American point of view that you can’t spend as much as you want off your money without asking your banker first. I found out the hard way when I first landed in France and I had to spend a big amount of money to furnish a home. If your payment card is denied, contact your banker and ask him/her to temporarily raise your limit for the month.
Plafond de paiement sur 30 jours glissants (30 sliding days payment limit) – Every time you pay with your card, if the total amount you spent on the last 29 days plus the one you are about to make puts you above your limit, the payment will not be permitted.
If you need to spend more than your limit for a specific purchase or when traveling, ask your banker to temporarily raise up your limit.
A payment limit is usually in the €2,000-€3,000 price range.
un plafond de retrait maximum sur 7 jours glissants (7 sliding days withdrawal limit) – Every time you try to withdraw money at the ATM, if the total amount you withdraw on the previous 6 days puts you above your limit, the withdrawal won’t be allowed.
A withdrawal limit is usually in the €500-€1,500 price range.
Payment and withdrawal limits are explicitly stated on your contract when you open a French bank account.
You lost your French payment card
If your card is stolen or lost, report it immediately. The procedure is known as faire opposition. There is a unique phone number you can call: 0 892 705 705. It’s wise to call your bank as well to let them know “J’ai fait opposition”. Note that you cannot use your card after you report it stolen or lost.
French still use checkbooks
Your checking account comes with a chéquier or carnet de chèques (checkbook). I bet you’ll write way more checks in France than you did in the United States. It could be that some vendors don’t have a terminal payment or that the one they do have is broken. This is a good idea to always carry your checkbook along with you.
The person writing a check is called the émetteur and the beneficiary is the bénéficiaire. You need to go to your bank and fill out a remise de chèque (deposit form) to deposit a check. Give the cashier your remise de cheque along with your endorsed check.
If you have an account at La Banque Postale, then you might have to experiment their check deposit process. It takes 6 (!) steps to deposit a check.
Sometimes I remember with nostalgia how easy it was to deposit a check in Los Angeles. I would push it through the little slot in the ATM and be done with it in 2 seconds top.
Depositing a check in my U.S. Chase account from France is very fast and easy as well. I simply take a picture of the check with my cell phone and voila!
Bank accounts in France are not free?!
Sorry but here’s some bad news: in France, banking services are not free (and Reward Programs are un-heard of). Frais de tenue de compte (checking account maintenance fees) range from €0 to €70 per year. A basic bank card like Visa Classic or Mastercard costs around €45 a year, whereas the more upscale versions like Premier, Gold, and Platinum range from €125 to several hundreds euros a year.
Can you bank online in France?
French banks can be accessed online though a website portal and/or a mobile app. There is a limit on how much you can transfer to someone else’s account online called plafond d’un virement bancaire. You might need to pay a visit to your banker if the amount is over the limit.
Do you have to report your bank account in France to the IRS?
If the aggregate value of your foreign bank accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year, you must report your bank accounts to the IRS by filing an FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report).
If the total value of your foreign assets is more than a certain threshold, you also have to report your foreign account to the IRS with your annual tax return. Read American living in France taxes to understand the basics on how to file U.S. taxes from abroad.
Have you been rejected by a bank in France?
If you have already tried to open a French bank account without success, do not despair. There is such a thing as a right to hold a bank account in France for anyone who is a French resident, regardless of nationality. This right is called Droit au compte.
You can exercise your right by sending a request to Banque de France, who will pick a bank for you. You need to send the following documents (or bring them in person) to Banque de France:
- letter of refusal from the bank that refused to open an account for you. If you can’t get a letter from the bank, use any proof that your application has been received by the bank more than 15 days ago (accusé de réception or récépissé de dépôt).
- filled out Banque de France form
- copy of your passport
- justificatif de domicile (proof of address)
Send your documents by regular mail to.
Banque de France
31 rue Croix des petits-Champs
75049 Paris cedex 01
Now that you’ve learned about opening a bank account in France, you might be interested in Opening a Wise account to transfer money from the U.S. to France.