After moving to France, one of the first things you’ll want to do is open a French bank account. You’ll need a French bank account to pay your bills, to easily withdraw cash, and to get paid by your employer, for starters. Sometimes simply opening an account can seem like a catch-22 with all the requirements: you need proof of address to open your account, but to get an apartment, you need a bank account. And that’s just the beginning. If you’re interested in how to open a French bank account as an American, you’ll want to continue reading. Is it as much of a headache as it seems?
My experience and tips on how to open a French bank account as an American
Please keep in mind I’m not a banking professional and am sharing my experience, which may vastly differ from yours. Depending on your banking needs, visa status and personal situation, your experience may not be in line with what I explain below. Always check with your financial institution for the most up to date information and to verify what documents are required.
Before moving to France, I figured that banking would be very similar to what it’s like in the US. A bank is a bank, right? You open an account, you get a debit card, you set up direct deposit. Easy. Not so fast…
Yes, sure, banking in France is similar enough to banking in the USA, but actually opening an account was a bit of a shock. It took a while, cost money and involved a fair amount of paperwork!
Banks in France seem to operate very subjectively in my opinion. They can tell you they are unable to open an account for you for an assortment of reasons, 2 of which I experienced firsthand even though I was a legal resident in France and could produce the required paperwork.
The first reason brought me to tears back in 2009 when I came to France to teach English. Tom had just picked me up from the airport and we drove to my new home in the Val D’Oise department in la region Parisienne to get my bank account squared away. I had a work contract in hand, money to deposit, and was not able to get my paycheck unless I had a bank account. It was of the utmost importance that I open an account immediately.
Except after going through all the paperwork, I was denied.
On what grounds? That I was a foreigner and my French wasn’t good enough at the time.
I pleaded with the branch manager to please give me a chance, that I was jetlagged, and my French would only improve. I had cash in hand and a work contract! I told them i’d be no bother (in French) and would only use the ATM. Tom insisted. They didn’t care and we left. Defeated. And in tears. (The story has a happy ending. I managed to open an account at another bank the next day. But wow, what a nice welcome to France, right?) I couldn’t imagine an American bank denying someone with legal status a bank account because of their English level.
Flash forward a few years and we get to reason-I-was-denied-#2. I didn’t have a French paycheck that would be direct deposited into the account. It didn’t matter if I had a decent amount to deposit. They didn’t care. No dice. No account.
Anyway, once I moved here for good after marrying Tom, things got a whole lot simpler.
How to open a French bank account
To open a French bank account, I had to do 3 things:
1. Make an appointment
No walk-ins allowed! You’ll have to call or visit the bank in person to request an appointment to open an account. Appointments are rarely, if ever, made for the same day, so plan accordingly.
TIP: If you’re looking to open a French bank account as an American, ask them upfront (before you spend an hour in their office) if they’re able to do it. If one bank tells you no, shop around. It can be done! Why is this sometimes tricky? It’s a hassle for French banks to jump through the hoops required to comply with the IRS. Having Americans as clients just adds to their workload and banks have no problem turning Americans away.
2. Get documents together
3. Show up to the appointment with the required documents.
Easy, right? More or less.
The details on my French bank account:
My legal status in France: Legal permanent resident. I’m an American living in France on a 10-year carte de sejour (married to a Frenchman)
Bank: Credit Agricole, Maine-et-Loire (Department 49)
Time spent at bank: 1-hour appointment going over everything and signing paperwork. Debit card arrived at the bank about a week after opening the account.
- Annual 40-euro fee for the chipped debit card, but they gave it to me for free for the first year (PIN is set by bank, by the way, you don’t choose the 4-digit code)
- 7.70 euros/month in fees (elective, I say more on this below)
- Highlights: Checks are free, online banking included, ATM withdrawals/deposits are free at my bank, no minimum balance requirements
Documents I was required to bring:
- Carte de sejour
- W-9 form
- Proof of residence in France (I brought our electricity bill as proof but any type of bill would work if it’s in your name)
- Last two years of our tax declaration (if you’ve just moved to France but your spouse was there before, bring his/her declaration even if your income doesn’t factor in)
- Optional: Not 100% obligatory but I was told this would help move things along if I could bring any of the following: Proof of owning a home, a work contract, 3 months’ worth of statements from another bank account in my name.
Something I learned, which surprised me, was that it was possible for me to get my debit card and then not incur any additional monthly fees.
I would not be protected against overdraft fees if my account dipped below zero, would not have charges immediately reversed in the case of card theft, as well as other protections, but some banks DO offer very low-cost accounts. It’s not recommended to opt out of these services, though, so I didn’t. Most French people are used to paying a monthly banking fee of some sort so I figured I should get on board. 😉
So was opening a French bank account a hassle?
Not really. I admit I was nervous walking into my local Credit Agricole and asking if they are able to open accounts for Americans. But there was no need to be nervous. They were nothing but kind, scheduled an appointment for me the next week and that was that. Smooth sailing!
My biggest piece of advice is to shop around and don’t get discouraged if a bank turns you away. Some are strict and others are not (regardless, you will need proof of identity, address, and legal status at a minimum).