Bank account

French bank and insurance office
French bank and insurance office

We finally broke down and opened a French bank account. We’d been resisting it since our arrival here for a couple of reasons. In the US we were spoiled with free banking of all sorts: accounts, checks, savings, ATM cards, transfers, toaster-ovens (!), even seed-money given to you as a new customer. Once we got to Europe we found an online German bank that offered much the same at that same low price: zero. Not so in France.

We have a community bank in the US that we’ve maintained since our pension checks were already being deposited there, they only charge one dollar when we withdraw cash from an ATM over here, and the staff could not be any friendlier. We use a low-price money transfer service to pay our rent directly from that account into our landlord’s bank here and since that also covers our utilities, we have no other bills. Purchases for food and drink from the market, supermarket, wine store, restaurants, etc. all come from cash so keeping track of spending is pretty easy. The use of debit cards here is widespread so we got the German one anticipating its base in euros would make things easier for us, but it has been a bit of a disappointment. For one thing, we continue to use cash anyway and secondly when we’ve tried to use the German card for online purchases, it has been refused. Although all businesses within the Euro Zone are supposed to accept all bank cards issued within the zone, the computer systems don’t yet seem capable of doing that as was explained to us by a French customer service rep.

So if we mostly use cash and substitute an American credit card for those online purchases when the German card won’t work, why do we need the French account? We are in the process of buying a house and once we own it we’ll be paying for the utilities directly instead of via a landlord. Services like electricity, gas, water, and even taxes are paid by a direct debit from your bank account, your French bank account, that is.

For every official appointment that we’ve gone to, starting back at the French consulate in the US and continuing through this visit to the bank we’ve used 2 rules: 1.) take EXACTLY the paperwork with you that their website says you should bring, in the order in which they have asked, and 2.) take every other piece of documentation with you for which anyone has ever asked. In this instance, the instructions only said to bring your passport, a utility bill, and a phone bill. Nothing more. We had the passport but the utilities are paid as part of the rent and our phone is prepaid as we need it, so there’s no bill for that either.

The "banks" of the River Aude running through Carcassonne
The “banks” of the River Aude running through Carcassonne

Time for Rule 2 and a bit of logic, knowing that agencies and businesses want to confirm your address which is what a utility bill can do. In our bag of tricks, though, we had our original lease, rent receipts, plus mail addressed to us from the government’s immigration office. We also had to show our marriage certificate and our tax returns for last year. All of that was accepted and within 45 minutes we had an account but no access to it yet. Just as we were told, exactly 10 days later we got a text saying that our ATM card had arrived and we should make an appointment to return to the bank to activate it.

The same friendly woman who helped us open the account then assisted with making our initial deposit at the ATM where it seems all transactions involving cash or checks at this branch take place. The annual fees are: 16 euro for an account and 40 euro for one ATM card that either of us can use. We could have received one free ATM card for use only at that branch but it was worth the cost to access any distributeur automatique worldwide. We will probably upgrade it anyway for an annual fee of 110 euro that includes travel/car rental insurance since coverage for one trip alone will pay for that charge.

3 thoughts on “Bank account

  1. You were definitely more on the ball than we were when we opened our French account. It never occurred to me until reading your post that the OFII letter may have worked for our address! Brilliant, my friend!

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  2. I was surprised at the steep fees, but then David told me that 40 years ago, when he opened a savings in France, he earned no interest! Ah, well, it still sounds as though the time had come, and you knew what you were doing. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to learn through your experiences. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. We use Credit Agricole also, and it surprises us the difference in local fees. Our initial account is with our local branch in Dept 49 (Maine et Loire), but we had issues with them when we wanted to get a home mortgage, so the good folks at their Britline, recommended we could get a mortgage from the Normandie branch. So we opened a separate account with ÇA Normandie. My point though, is our ÇA Maine et Loire acct charges 5e/month, and our ÇA Normandie account only charges 2e/month. The Britline folks were also extremely helpful explaining how French mortgages work. I think they’re currently around 2%.


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