Hindsight is 20/20: Opening a French bank account

Opening a French bank account will open a variety of opportunities for you in France. It’s essentially your golden ticket to your life in France because without a French bank account, you cannot hope to have

1. Your paychecks – most companies have gone paperless now, and your paychecks are more than likely going to be directly deposited into your account. I know this to be a fact if you are going to be a language assistant.

2. Get wifi and a cell phone plan – Again, most companies have gone paperless, so most cell phone companies will take your payments directly out of your bank account.

3. Open your assurance maladie account – Even though the taxes for your health insurance should come straight out of your paycheck, they still require you to send in a copy of your RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire), which is essentially a copy of your bank coordinates. You will get this once you open your bank account.

4. Open a CAF account – As I mentioned in my post that explains what CAF is and why it’s important for people living in France, you must have a bank account to open a CAF account so that once you do start receiving rental assistance, they can directly deposit the money into your account.

5. Get rental insurance – Again, payments most likely will come directly from your bank account. Unsure of what exactly rental insurance is and why you need it? Check out my post about it here.

So, how do you go about getting a French bank account? Though it can be a bit of a hassle, there are ways in which you can simplify the process.

  • researching your options before hand – which banks are available in the city in which you will be living; what type of accounts do they offer; what sort of documents do they require for opening a bank account; do they have any fees attached to the type of account; do they offer any accounts specifically for young people. You can even ask your référent for advice on which banks are in the city and what they offer. If you are only planning on living in France for less than a year, then many times banks offer a one year free checking account for young people. This is the option that I went with when I opened my checking account with Crédit Mutuel.
    • Some French banks – Crédit Mutuel, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas Banque, Société Générale, La Banque Postale (Yes, the post office has a bank!)
  • see about having a local go with you when you open your bank account – this can be your référent, a friend, one of the teachers with whom you’ll be working. I had my référent go with me, not only because he offered to do so but also because even if you consider your French conversation skills to be at a considerable level for having a decent conversation, it is a different system. Plus, if you do it the day after you arrive much like I did, then you will be severely jet-lagged and will only comprehend half of the information. So, it’s nice to have a local with you just in case you don’t understand something and need to have it cleared up.
  • making sure you have all of the necessary documents with you before you go – You will need the following documents to open a bank account in France:
    • Proof of identity – copies of your passport
    • Proof of residency – This can be a utility bill (which you probably won’t yet have in which case you can use…), a copy of your lease, or an attestation d’habitation (a piece of a paper other than a lease that shows proof of residency). This is what I used when opening my bank account because having lived in a foyer, I did not have a lease nor did I have any utilities bills. You should also give a copy of your visa, carte de long séjour, because if you are a non-EU citizen, you will need to show proof that you are legally in the country.
    • Proof of earnings/status – a copy of your arrêté de nomination (your contract) will be sufficient
    • Sometimes they might also require a copy of your birth certificate, so I would bring it with you just in case.
    • Money – because you just can’t open a bank account with no money. What I did is pull some money out of an ATM using my American debit card to deposit in my new bank account.

Now, when you actually go to open a bank account at the bank in which you’ve chosen to open an account, it is very possible that they will require you to make an appointment. So, once you have done that, then you need to show up to your appointment on time with all of your necessary documents.

They will ask you what type of bank account you are looking to open and for what you will be using it for. This is your chance to explain your situation. If you are like me, then you are a language teaching assistant here for under a year fulfilling the terms of your contract. So, you will need a checking account from which you can use to pay for basic needs, like a cell phone plan, a wifi plan, paying for groceries, etc. etc. you know, the basics. It’s also important to emphasize that you will be here for less than a year (if you are indeed going to be there for less than a year), and you need to ask about the possibility of closing fees when you do so at the end of your contract. Chances are that you will not be in France for the long term, so you don’t need anything fancy. You definitely don’t need a savings account. They will ask you for all of the documents noted above in order to open your account.

As I mentioned in my post about renter’s insurance, you can also invest in your renter’s insurance through your bank at this time, if you so choose. You will have to explain where you live, whether or not it’s furnished, how big it is, etc. If you choose to invest in renter’s insurance through your bank, then they will include it in your account information and have you sign a contract for the insurance. The beauty of this is that your monthly payments for this insurance come directly out of your bank account.

After they create the account with all of the necessary documents, then you will most likely have to sign papers, saying that you agree to the opening of said account and that you understand all of the terms and conditions of said account.

Important sidenote: If you are an American citizen, then all foreign banks are required by the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act to report on your earnings in your foreign bank account, so the bank will require you to fill out a tax form that allows them to do so. If they don’t, both you and the bank both could be heavily fined by the U.S. Government. If the bank with whom you are opening an account does not do so, then you need to bring it up during your account appointment, because it is absolutely required. If you want information about this, then you can visit the IRS website to learn more.

Once you fill out all of the necessary forms, of which you should get a copy that includes your account number and the Terms and Conditions of your account, then you should be able to deposit some money into your account. You will also receive a copy of your RIB. This is highly important. You will need to guard your RIB with your life, because you will need it for several other things. It also has your bank account coordinates on it, so you definitely don’t want to lose it.

Your debit card and your PIN will be sent to you separately in the mail, and it could take up to two weeks time. So, be patient. This is also why I advise that opening your bank account is one of the number one things that you do when you move to France.

Once you receive your debit card and your PIN, in order to activate your card, you will most likely have to go to the bank itself, insert the card into an ATM, and enter your PIN to activate it, at least that was my experience when I opened my bank account.

If you do the necessary research and preparations before hand, then opening your bank account should not be too much of a hassle. If there are moments during your appointment when you do not understand, then ask them to please repeat more slowly. Yes, it could be embarrassing and a little stressful, but your bank account is not something that you want to mess up. So, you must make sure that you understand everything that is going on.

Many assistants do this every year, many of whom do it without anyone else’s help. So, I promise, you can do it! I wish you good luck!


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