How to open a French bank account as an American

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

how to open a French bank account as an American

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?

Read on for my experience and tips!

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.

how to open a bank account in france as an american

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

More on this below.

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.

Costs:

  • 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:

  • Passport
  • 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. 😉

Going to the dentist in France: Things you never want to hear your dentist say

how to open a bank account in france if you're american

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).

Be friendly and professional. Show up organized with your documents, and hope for the best!

***

How has your experience been with opening a French bank account?

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how to open a French bank account as an American

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Comments (11)

  • Taste of France

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    I was infuriated that the bank would put only my husband’s name on the account. I could be on as Mrs. but not with my own surname (I didn’t change my name after getting married). They told me only one name per address. Ridiculous.
    Bigger banks are more likely to be able to deal with foreigners and the U.S. FATCA rules. In fact, Americans need to file an FBAR and FATCA form every year if balances go above a certain amount, even if for just one day. There are some nasty stories about the IRS going after people of modest means who didn’t cross their T’s and dot their I’s on these forms (I suppose modest means are easier to go after than rich people who have lawyers and shell companies to hide their assets.)
    Also, the reason for the fees is that interest rates are so low. The current rate set by the ECB is 0%. Banks have no way to make money by giving interest on savings that’s a bit less than the ECB rate–right now it would be negative. That translates into fees.
    Taste of France recently posted…Before/After: KitchenMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      That’s nuts! I wonder why not. Were you then able to go to another bank and get an account opened in your name alone? Seems silly they weren’t able to add your full name — joint accounts are common. But like I realized in my first Welcome To France moment, things that seem normal at home are sometimes impossible here!

      Reply

  • fiona

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    I know some Brits who have a bank a/c in France and their French is terrible, so I think that reason was an excuse. You were lucky to have Tom to hold your hand throughout the process.
    I don’t pay any banking charges in the UK, unless I go overdrawn and as an ex bank employee I’ve never done this. By the way have you seen What The F*** France! ? There’s a video on French administration, it’ll make you laugh.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      It was definitely an excuse and one that just broke me that day. I felt helpless and let down and questioned my decision to come to France. But now I know that’s how things are.
      I LOVE Paul Taylor and often share his videos on my FB page. I watch them all. He’s phenomenal!

      Reply

  • Diane

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    I just went through the process 2 weeks ago! I bought a vacation home in Burgundy, and I flew to France to set up the bank account. The house was officially mine in September, but I couldn’t get back at that time. Luckily I have a French friend who paid my utilities these past few months, as I couldn’t pay them without a bank account. I also couldn’t get a cell phone at the Orange store without a bank account!

    So this trip I took along another friend to act as translator. We went to a couple of banks, but they weren’t too interested. Finally at Credit Agricole we went over my documentation (tricky, because the utilities were now in my friend’s name). I brought EVERYTHING from the States I could think of, including all the house purchasing paperwork. They actually used my passport, social security card, 2 years of tax info, electric bill with the property address and then my purchasing paperwork. They still had to think about it but called my friend back a few days later and told us to come in again and they’d open it up. So, about an hour the first time around, a little longer than an hour the 2nd time. I received my pin # by mail last week, but am still waiting for the checks/bank card (they are sending all this to my house in the US). I hope they show up soon!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello name twin! Congrats on your new home — how exciting!! Thank goodness your friend was able to help you out with the utilities and everything requiring a bank account for the time being. It can really be a circus sometimes jumping through all the hoops. You were very smart to bring all the paperwork from the US just in case. Better to be overprepared. Glad it all worked out and that you’ve opened the account. Hope the card and checks come soon! Crossing my fingers for you!

      Reply

      • Diane

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        Thank you! I emailed my banker yesterday and the checks/card haven’t even been sent yet!! Ahhhh, France.

        Reply

  • Kim U

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    Keep in mind that this was just over 30 years ago, but I had moved to Paris to take classes at l’Alliance Française. I opened up a “foreigner’s account at Société Generale – no problem. However, I was hired by a school to teach a conversation class, for which I was paid with a check. The bank went crazy when I tried to deposit it. I couldn’t put francs in my account – only foreign money. I finally got a letter from the school and they agreed to “allow” me to deposit my check. Then I moved and I tried to use another branch closer to my new apartment – no deal. I had to continue using the one near Montparnasse, even though I now lived in the 12th. I didn’t dare close the account there and try to open a new one nearer to me. Good thing that I didn’t because I ended up moving back to the 14th.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh wow, luckily they finally gave you permission to deposit your money. What a pain! Glad it all worked out. Thanks for sharing your experience! Are you still in France?

      Reply

      • Kim

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        Non, malheureusement. Par contre, je suis prof de FLE aux EU et je voyage de temps en temps avec mes étudiants.

        Reply

  • richard johnston

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    I love your blog, Diane! I’m a Canadian, living in Switzerland and have had very similar experiences. I get to Paris every couple of months and to meet people for casual dating in Paris

    Reply

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