Before you go

Social Security website brochure

We’ve recently added some more information on our page called “Are You Serious?” that you can access from the tab above. That’s where we’ve assembled an outline of the basic steps we took in preparation for the move and then what we did upon arrival here. With at least a year’s worth of planning before we made the big move to France, we thought that we had everything covered. Actually we did, as far as taking care of our situation at the time but then some things changed and we had to adapt. Opening a bank account at the branch at the end of our street proved much easier than we anticipated compared with what we’d read about the experience of others. Getting money transferred into that new account from our US bank and Social Security benefits direct deposited there too, well, not so easy.

We initially thought that we’d be able to live without a French bank account. Much of what we’d seen online suggested that it was not easy to open an account here and then you would have to pay high monthly charges just to maintain it. The first year we were here, we rented a house where all of our utilities were included so our only monthly bill was to the landlord that we typically paid with a debit from the free online German bank account we opened after arriving here. After we decided to buy a house in Carcassonne, which meant we’d be directly responsible for the various utility charges, we had to join a French bank since all of those are automatically debited from your account. It wasn’t difficult at all and here’s a link to our blog post about that.

The king’s house and bank

Buying a house here was a simple process as well, but in the middle of it the vote for the UK to leave the European Union passed and for a few weeks banks worldwide put a major restriction on transferring money from one country to another. In exploring what options we had to get our money from a savings account in America to our new account here, Bill called our US bank and found out that because before we left we had not signed, in person, a document allowing for wire transfers out of the country, they would not be able to help us. Then we attempted to get a cash advance on our US credit card (an expensive interest charge option but definitely doable according to the card issuer) but our new bank said “non”. It eventually all worked out fine, as it always does, but we would have preferred a less-stressful backup plan.

With that backup plan in mind, we decided it was time to have our monthly Social Security retirement checks deposited at a bank 400 feet from our front door rather than 4000 miles away. The American embassy in Paris converts those benefits into euros and manages the deposits once you’ve mailed in the form (the one we used was SSA-1199-/FR) to the Baltimore address on the application. After 5 months of not hearing anything, we called that office where a nice woman patiently explained that what we were requesting could not be done. It seems that if you begin collecting benefits while you are living in the US and then move overseas, and you maintain a US address and bank, those benefits must continue to be paid into a US bank. If you begin collecting benefits after you have moved to France, for example, or if you no longer have an address and a bank in the US, then the embassy in Paris can make that deposit for you locally.

So where does that leave us as far as getting money from there to here? Since we’re settled in the house, we don’t anticipate needing a money transfer service company but if we do the cheapest fee that we’ve seen is 0.9 percent of what you’re sending. Our US bank charges 1 dollar when you use an ATM anywhere in the world so we can easily walk the 400 feet up to our local bank, withdraw euros in cash from our US account, and then use that same machine to deposit the cash right back into our French account. Naturally we have to put 3 euros in our pocket, or 5 if we’re splurging on an expensive bottle, since we pass a wine store on the short walk back home. There’s also a bakery, butcher, and fish shop on the same corner. Convenience!

UPDATE: Within 1 week of emailing the Social Security Administration office at the US Embassy in Paris, they had arranged for our pension checks to be direct deposited in our French bank. The embassy makes the conversion from dollars to euros at a good rate and the money is then put in our French account on the same date it would appear in a US bank account if we lived there. The website address is: Their contact form is accessed on their page by either clicking “Federal Benefits Contact” near the top or by scrolling to the bottom of that same welcome page and clicking “Social Security Contact Us”. The form name is “Paris FBU Contact Form”.