Every year, thousands of students come to Paris from across the world to study and to work. Whatever people might say about life as a student, one thing is for certain: money matters. In this article we offer practical guidance to opening a French bank account so that you can stop worrying and start living as soon as you arrive in Paris.
Why open a French bank account?
If you already live in France, having a bank account is virtually essential, so this probably doesn’t apply to you. If you’re moving to France, whether it’s for a few months or several years, you will almost certainly need a French bank account. Most international card payments are subject to hefty fees and if you transfer your own currency into euros you’re often landed with a poor exchange rate. A basic French bank account, on the other hand, should allow you to (a) be paid by an employer, (b) deposit and withdraw money from ATMs, (c) make transactions in-store and online, (d) send and receive payments via telephone or internet banking.
There are 8 major «high-street» banks in France:
- BNP Paribas
- Société Générale
- Caisse d’Épargne
- Banque Populaire
- La Banque Postale
- Crédit Agricole
- Crédit Mutuel
Most banks have similar requirements for opening an account and will charge a small monthly handling fee (“tenue de compte”) for their services. It is important, however, for you to choose your bank based on what is most important for you. Common reasons for opening a particular account include: ease of access, interest rates, types of card offered, e.g. contactless and access to services such as internet banking. Some banks, like BNP Paribas, offer a student account with special advantages such as an interest-free overdraft and reduced fees.
Lodgis Tip: If you don’t like paperwork and want to get a bank account instantly, head to one of the Paris’ 1739 buralistes agréés (tobacconists) and open a Compte Nickel. All you need to bring is a piece of Photo ID, a mobile number and €20 as a one-off fee. The account gives you a MasterCard, allowing you to make withdrawals for 1€ and free transactions and to send and receive payments via internet banking.
How to open an account?
The documents you will need will depend on which account you opt for. You will certainly be asked for:
- Proof of identity (passport, driving license)
- Proof of address (a rental receipt in your name)
You may be asked to provide:
- Proof of employment (payslip, employment contract)
- Proof of enrollment in a French school or university
- Visa documentation
- A household bill in your name from the last 3 months
It’s a good idea to open an account at your nearest branch as certain operations, like large withdrawals and card replacements must be carried out by your personal banker. Ask if you can open an account on the spot. Provided that you have the correct paperwork, they will either say yes or ask you to make an appointment and come back another day.
Make sure that you choose an account that matches your profile. For example, you may want to avoid accounts that require a minimum monthly payment or have transaction limits. We recommend looking for an account that has low monthly handling fees and offers telephone and internet banking services. If you can’t speak French, consider applying for a bank account online. Popular choices include Boursorama, Britline and ING direct.
What if you’re rejected?
You should be aware that you are entitled to a French bank account by law. So if your application is refused by a particular bank, you can request a “lettre de refus”. Bring this letter and your supporting documents to the nearest Banque de France. They will select another bank and provide you with a “droit au compte” letter that says they are legally obliged to accept you.
Can you open a bank account in advance?
It usually takes around 10 working days before you gain full access to a French bank account. So what will you do when you arrive in Paris? The answer is that some banks allow you to open an account remotely from abroad. Britline (Crédit Agricole), La Banque Postale and HSBC are good options for international students in Paris. There are also a number of online-only banks, such as Boursorama, Hellobank and Fortuneo, which offer rewards for joining. In any case, however, it’s always a good idea to bring some euros and a bank card with you for when you first arrive in Paris!
Whether you’re fluent or you speak no French at all, it’s never worth getting caught out on the paperwork. That’s why we’ve created a short list of the most useful words and phrases for a opening and using a French bank account:
- Un compte bancaire – bank account
- Un compte joint – joint account
- Un compte épargne – savings account
- Un titulaire – account holder
- RIB (relevé d’identité bancaire) – bank account number
- BIC – bank SWIFT code
- La tenue du compte – account handling fees
- Une carte bancaire – bank/ATM card
- Une carte de crédit – credit card
- Le taux d’intérêt – interest rate
- Un retrait – withdrawal
- Un dépôt – deposit
- Un virement – transfer
- Toucher un chèque – to cash a check
- Un carnet de chèques – checkbook
- Les frais – fees
- Le bilan – balance
- Un guichet automatique – ATM
- Un code personnel – PIN
- Un prélèvement automatique – direct debit
- TEG – Annual Repayment Percentage (APR)
- Un relevé de compte – bank statement
- Un justicatif de domicile – proof of address
- Une pièce d’identité – proof of identity
- Une attestation d’emploi – proof of employment
- Un certificat de scolarité – proof of enrollment in education
- Une facture du ménage – household bill
- Une quittance de loyer – rental receipt
- Un certificat d’hébergement – leasehold agreement
- Sans contact – contactless
- Un découvert – an overdraft
Good luck and spend wisely!