Is French bank­ing re­ally so dif­fer­ent to what you are used to in the UK? Yes, says Rachel Johnson, but as long as you un­der­stand how the French sys­tem works, you should ‘cheque’ out ok

French Property News - - Contents - Rachel Johnson is Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Man­ager at CA Brit­line, an on­line and tele­phone bank­ing branch of CA Nor­mandie Tel: 0033 (0)2 31 55 67 89 brit­

How to get your French bank ac­count up and run­ning

The dif­fer­ences in French bank­ing may not be large but they’re just enough to make life com­pli­cated if you don’t know about them. They can also be hard to de­tect be­cause if you walk into a bank in France and the per­son you are deal­ing with has never lived abroad, they won’t re­alise that bank­ing is done any dif­fer­ently else­where. Here are a few tips to help you be­gin bank­ing in France.

Opening a bank ac­count Some peo­ple will tell you that you can’t have a bank ac­count in France with­out a French ad­dress (hol­i­day home or main res­i­dence). It’s true that many banks, and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing bank­ing ser­vices, will not open a bank ac­count for you with­out a French ad­dress. Credit Agri­cole Brit­line ap­pears to be the only bank able to open an ac­count while you have a UK, Ir­ish or French ad­dress and are fis­cally res­i­dent in one of those coun­tries (ap­pli­ca­tions are made on­line).

If you have a prop­erty in France and you de­cide to walk into a bank or post office near your prop­erty then you should be able to open an ac­count. You will need the fol­low­ing doc­u­ments: Your pass­port (more than six months’ va­lid­ity left to run). Two proofs of ad­dress per per­son to be named on the ac­count; each must be un­der three months old. Last two months of full bank state­ments, from your main ac­count show­ing liv­ing ex­penses. Proof of your French prop­erty ( acte au­then­thique, util­ity bills, house in­sur­ance etc).

The above list is not ex­haus­tive; you may also be asked to pro­vide proof of in­come, for ex­am­ple. Be sure which ad­dress is be­ing used to set up your ac­count: if they use the French ad­dress, will you be there to pick up your state­ments or can you use on­line bank­ing? Don’t worry about the ad­dress with re­gards to your means of pay­ments (debit cards, cheque books etc) as th­ese are not sent out by post in France. Of­ten this isn’t men­tioned as French cus­tomers al­ready know! You will usu­ally need to re­turn to the branch within a cer­tain time­frame to pick them up or they will be de­stroyed. You also need to un­der­stand how your means of pay­ment work in France.

Cheque books As long as you have avail­able funds in your ac­count, you can write a cheque for any amount. There is no cheque guar­an­tee card as there are strong reg­u­la­tions in place to dis­suade peo­ple is­su­ing cheques that can’t be hon­oured. A bounced cheque can re­sult in you be­ing black­listed by the Banque de France for up to five years (known as be­ing in­ter­dit ban­caire) for the ac­count that the cheque was drawn on, but also for any other ac­count held in France at that time or opened sub­se­quently on which your name ap­pears.

If your French prop­erty is your hol­i­day home, it is un­der­stand­able that your French bank ac­count will not be your main ac­count and you may find it hard to fol­low it at a dis­tance, mean­ing over­sights can oc­cur. If you do re­ceive a let­ter in French from your bank telling you about a bounced cheque, you must act quickly and credit your ac­count and ask for the cheque to be re-pre­sented. If the ben­e­fi­ciary has the cheque re­turned to them, they must keep it and re-present it once your ac­count is back in credit. Don’t pay the per­son in cash – this will not lift the black­list­ing and you will still need to wait five years to have the black­list­ing lifted. Ba­si­cally, you need to talk to your bank and un­der­stand what you have to do to sort it out and what you should avoid – this is a key area where mis­un­der­stand­ings

hap­pen and can drag on for long pe­ri­ods of time, mak­ing life dif­fi­cult. If you know who to talk to though, it can be dealt with eas­ily.

Debit cards Apart from some on­line banks who may not charge ini­tially, debit cards usu­ally have an an­nual fee at­tached to them – paid an­nu­ally or bro­ken down into monthly pay­ments (some­times in­clud­ing other ser­vice pack­age op­tions too).

Banks pub­lish their tar­iffs on­line and they all show a set of ba­sic fees for a fixed set of trans­ac­tions so you can eas­ily com­pare the ba­sics from bank to bank. In gen­eral, an in­ter­na­tional debit card, if charged at full price, will be around €40 per year, while a Gold/pre­mier card can vary from ap­prox­i­mately €100 to €150 per year, and the big­gest dif­fer­ences can be found on the an­nual fees for the equiv­a­lent of Plat­inum cards (World Elite Master­card or Visa In­fi­nite, for ex­am­ple) from bank to bank.

Most French bank cards come with travel in­sur­ance and assistance in­cluded, al­though the lev­els of cover will dif­fer from card to card. You may also have some pay­ment guar­an­tees in­cluded; ask your bank and don’t as­sume you will have the same guar­an­tees as in the UK just be­cause you have a card is­sued by a world­wide group.

Debit cards are either im­me­di­ate debit or de­ferred debit (end of month debit regrouping all pay­ments into one debit from your ac­count); you choose depend­ing on how you pre­fer to man­age your ac­count. How­ever, don’t be un­der the il­lu­sion that now you have your card, you can ac­cess all your funds as and when you want – this isn’t the case in France!

There are up­per lim­its set as stan­dard for cash with­drawals over seven rolling days and pay­ments over the cal­en­dar month. Typ­i­cally, an in­ter­na­tional debit card will al­low stan­dard ac­cess of €450 cash per seven days and €2,300 per month in pay­ments. You can ask to in­crease them (there may be a

Hav­ing an au­tho­rised over­draft is per­fectly nor­mal in France. They just don’t work in the same way as the UK. We ad­vise cus­tomers to think of them more in terms of a use­ful buf­fer zone

charge for this) or you can up­grade your card. Of course, if you don’t know about this it can be frus­trat­ing when to­wards the end of the month your card is re­fused in the su­per­mar­ket. You’ve prob­a­bly reached your limit even though you still have plenty of funds in your ac­count! That’s why you see so many peo­ple still pay­ing by cheque in France.

Di­rect deb­its and TIP pay­ments You will prob­a­bly need to set up di­rect deb­its for util­i­ties, in­sur­ances, in­ter­net etc; this is rel­a­tively easy, you just need a RIB. A what? A RIB is the relevé d’iden­tité ban­caire, an unas­sum­ing doc­u­ment found in your cheque book, on your bank state­ment, on­line or print­able at some cash ma­chines. It com­prises your bank de­tails in­clud­ing your ad­dress, IBAN and BIC codes, and you need this to set up a di­rect debit. Com­plete the form and re­turn it signed with your RIB to the com­pany who will in­form your bank of the or­der. If you don’t wish to give an open man­date to a util­ity com­pany for a di­rect debit then you can ask them for their de­tails and set up an on­line ben­e­fi­ciary and make a trans­fer to them your­self when it’s needed.

Al­ter­na­tively, sign a TIP – titre in­ter ban­caire de paiement – this re­sem­bles a ‘giro’-type form re­ceived with a bill. The TIP en­ables you to keep con­trol, for the price of a stamp. With each due bill, just sign and re­turn the TIP form to the com­pany; the first time you re­turn it, you will also need to send a copy of your RIB, but there­after your bank de­tails will fig­ure on the pay­ing slip.

You can make card pay­ments on­line for some util­i­ties but this type of pay­ment is not as com­mon as in the UK, and once you give your card de­tails to some­one, you can­not can­cel a pay­ment they take, even if you don’t agree with it. Those card de­tails are valid for the life of the card; up to three years or un­til you can­cel and re­place it.


Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, it is not il­le­gal to be over­drawn in France. This idea stems from peo­ple’s mis­un­der­stand­ing of French reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing bounced cheques. Hav­ing an au­tho­rised over­draft is per­fectly nor­mal in France. They just don’t work in the same way as the UK. We ad­vise cus­tomers to think of them more in terms of a use­ful buf­fer zone, par­tic­u­larly if the French ac­count is not your main ac­count.

In gen­eral, the over­draft that will be agreed will be based upon a third of your reg­u­lar pay­ments into the ac­count, so if you trans­fer in €600 per month (or equiv­a­lent) then an over­draft of around €200 would be agreed, for ex­am­ple.

You also need to un­der­stand how long you are al­lowed to re­main over­drawn; this is usu­ally 30 days and then your ac­count must come back into credit for at least 24 hours be­fore be­com­ing over­drawn again.

Fees It is worth not­ing at this stage that some French banks are re­gion­alised, such as Credit Agri­cole or Credit Mutuel. Each re­gion will pub­lish its own an­nual fees, so CA Nor­mandie will not have the same fees as CA Char­ente-Perig­ord, for ex­am­ple.

Th­ese are just some of the ba­sic dif­fer­ences you may come across when start­ing to bank in France, but there are more! Be sure that you can com­mu­ni­cate with your bank and your ad­viser eas­ily from wher­ever you may be, that you un­der­stand what is be­ing said, and that your bank un­der­stands you. Don’t be afraid to ask ques­tions even if you think you know the an­swer – you may be sur­prised!

Don’t as­sume you can ac­cess all your funds as and when you want – there are up­per lim­its for cash with­drawals over seven rolling days

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