Yes, you should get a French bank account

A friend recently wrote an account of her experience getting a bank account in France and it reminded me to do an update of my various thoughts on this topic beyond my first time getting a personal account, a business account, and the legislation which is the reason for difficulties Americans face on this front: FATCA.  The most important reason to get a French account is that it’s the only way you may hit a snag on your renewal.  Not having a French account signals a lack of integration into society.  You may be able to squeak by with something else, which readers have received inconsistent results with, so the advice I give is to do what definitely works, not “let’s try this.”  Hope is not a strategy, and certainly a poor idea when it comes to renewing visas in France.

While major French banks are understandably reluctant to give a US citizen a bank account because of the high cost of compliance with FATCA, if you hold a residence card (whether a sticker in your passport or the hard card in your wallet), you can, respectfully and calmly, demand a bank account as a right.  Yes, there are low-cost online banks that have no branches, like Boursorama, that will eject you from the application process the minute they find out you are a US citizen (trust me, I tried).

My recommendations, based on personal experience, are BNP Paribas and Societe Generale, in that order.  They both have excellent online banking in the form of web access and brilliant native apps for your smart phones.  My counselors have always been available when I’ve needed help and my cards consistently work in countries all over the world, often offering an extra layer of security by needing me to verify purchases over a certain amount via entering my password on the app on my phone.

What I’ve been told secondhand by readers is that both LCL and HSBC are also willing to grant accounts to US citizens, and feel free to pitch your bank of choice in the comments below.

When you stop in at a bank you’ll almost always be making an appointment for a future date, as the bankers are often booked some time in advance.  If you don’t feel comfortable speaking the entire time in French, make sure to ask for someone who does speak English, and many of the staff do.  They will often provide you with a list of what to bring, which will include, but not be limited to:

  • Passport
  • Carte de Sejour (1st year visa holders – this is the sticker in your passport, everyone else – it’s the hard card)
  • EDF or ADH and/or lease
  • Proof of income
  • Most Recent Tax Filings – both US and French

and expect to pay around 15-20€ a month for even a basic checking account.  It’s part of the deal.

They also won’t let you pick your PIN, but I’ve found this to be a smart policy, because it doesn’t allow a thief who correctly guesses one pin access to all your cards, which Americas tend to use the same PIN for.

An intermediate step in the right direction, if you want to be able to easily transfer in Euros, pay your rent, etc., is a free Borderless Account from Transferwise that allows you to hold multiple currencies with no monthly rate and even includes a free contactless debit card.  But it is not clear to me that statements from a Borderless Account will pass muster with French immigration and no reader has yet let me know that such a strategy works.  The euro-denominated account in the Borderless Account is based in Germany.  I absolutely love Transferwise and use it for other transactions outside of my personal and business ones, which I use my French accounts for.

32 thoughts on “Yes, you should get a French bank account

  1. Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for another helpful post. A few questions:

    1. As you need your Carte de Sejour, for recent arrivals in France, it’s best to wait until after the appointment with OFII, correct?

    2. I understand starting a French bank account and showing activity is an important part of being granted a renewal, but I’ll still be allowed to show funds from US accounts to demonstrate my financial situation, correct? For example, investment/retirement accounts in the US, savings accounts that I don’t want to dissolve back in the US, etc.

    3. For long-stay visitor visa holders, working remotely, does opening a bank account in France change any tax situation/liability?

    Thanks!

    • Christian

      1 I don’t see any reason to wait until after the OFII visit. Your original visa sticker is just as valid – the OFII sticker is just a confirmation of the visa but the bank won’t care.

      2 Yes. You’re obliged to show that you’re adapting to life in France, not dissolving all your ties to other countries.

      3 This is a question for your accountant but all foreign bank accounts holding over $10k USD equivalent must be reported to the US government. The French expect you to have money in a French account but as long as it’s not income earned in France your LTS visa won’t be in jeopardy.

  2. Dear Stephen thank you for your blog, as it gives us lots of information. I just moved to Paris to complete MS study for a year, maybe will stay for another one after i get a job, but today when I went to open bank account at Societe Generale with my school friends who fluently speak french, the minute they saw my US passport they refused to open any bank account for me and told me to look for another brunch.

    With your experience and where you branch with a bank, i dont speak french and asking school friends to come with me will be annoying, would you be able to recommend me branch that you use that you know someone speaks english there? it would be highly appreciated

    • Diana

      It’s not clear to me that someone with a student visa is going to be able to get a bank account. You will need something with a more permanent status, not a more understanding bank 🙂

  3. I tried to move to Paris permanently in summer of 2018, but I couldn’t find housing and returned to the US after 30 days. I was able to open a bank account with CIC with someone’s help. I currently have about 9 euros in this account and they charge over 7 euros monthly. I would like to eventually return to France again to live long term in the future. Do you recommend I add more money to this account to keep it active? Or close it? The person who helped said not to close it no matter what since it’s so difficult to get a bank account there. Thanks for your reply.

  4. Hello, I am a US citizen with a pied a terre in Paris. The BNPPARIBAS just told me they were closing my account. No explanation. I went to other banks. Some says inmediately no when I say I am a US citizen , others ask for a visa in my passport. I explained that we do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area, they just said it was a requirement. I need then bank account to pay EDF, taxes, insurances, etc. What to do? I don’t have a carte de sejour.

    • Nothing you can do. FATCA is an American thing. It has made life for Americans abroad really challenging. Since you don’t have legal residence here (no CDS) BNP is not going to spend compliance money on you, it seems. Sorry about that. As I referenced, get a transferwise borderless account. It’s free and you can still do European transactions when necessary.

  5. Hello,
    I am American living in Montpellier, France since 2006. I have never had an issue with banks and was able to buy a house and refinance my mortgage. I have a full time job and good/stable income.
    End of last year, I sold my house as I wanted to build a new one. Also, this January, my car broke down. Now I need a new mortgage and a small loan to buy a car. The issue is that banks and insurance institutions are refusing my application. The reason: You are AMERICAN.
    The first time I heard about this, I though it to be a joke or some banks exceptions, but almost 6 months on, I still cannot get these credit approved.
    Some banks ( like Credit Agricole or Foncier) said that they would give me a mortgage if I can get outside insurance. To my surprise, only GENERALI agreed to insure me so I have no a way of comparing offers. Even with this insurance, I still don’t have a loan from these banks.

    I have contacted the USA embassy in Paris, but I was told this to be a private matter and that they cannot force a French businesses to serve people.

    I am stuck.

    The French citizen are being served OK in USA, why are the USA citizen being discriminated against here in France !

    Do you have or know any case like this one ? Do you have any advice ?

    Thank you
    Tina

    • Tina they are discriminating because of our idiotic law called FATCA which makes them spend millions in compliance. The market is responding: dump American clients rather than comply with onerous reporting burdens. Only way out is to get another citizenship and renounce. Then you will no longer be a « US person » and will be free to do more things.

      • Is this recent dumping of American clients making it significantly more difficult to start a bank account as an American? Or is showing your Carte de Sejour and making it clear you understand your legal right to an account still enough in most cases?

        • Christian these comments are « recent » but the dumping has been going on for years. Having a CDS will make it easier but it is by no means easy to get an account as it was pre FATCA

  6. Hello Stephen..
    I found out about FATCA yesterday from a blog.
    I then checked the IRS website and was horrified. We really do not have anywhere to go.
    We just have to seat and wait as it is not that easy to get a French citizenship which takes over 2 years and even harder to divorce the US.

    To Christian Parret….
    Yes it is almost impossible to open a new account if you are a US person in France now.
    Sorry…just keep going around you may get luck at one bank.

    • Tina

      That solution of French citizenship only works if you then renounce your US citizenship. It doesn’t matter how many passports you have, as long as one of them is blue with a bald eagle gripping arrows, you will be considered a « US person » by FATCA and the banks worldwide.

      • Not completely true. If you are a French citizen residing in France with a US citizenship, Société Générale will open a bank account for you. They will not open a bank account for you if you are a non resident French citizen with a US citizenship. By the way, any french citizen can file a complaint with the Banque de France to force a bank to open a bank account. BRED and BRED espace has no problem with US citizens has they do a lot of business with expats around the world. They will not give you any issue. I know that for a fact since I opened an account with them and I am a dual national living in the US.

        • Jean – you’re a French citizen. This is not the case for the majority of the readers of this blog who do not have such abilities to file complaints in the way you describe. It’s also not a situation I covered in this article 🙂

          • Stephen, it just shows that you do not have to renounce citizenship if you have both the US citizenship and the French citizenship. I would encourage US citizens who have the possibility to become French citizens to do so.

          • Jean – I agree – and I have documented a path to become a French citizen via this blog. I think perhaps you are referring to this quote: “Tina they are discriminating because of our idiotic law called FATCA which makes them spend millions in compliance. The market is responding: dump American clients rather than comply with onerous reporting burdens. Only way out is to get another citizenship and renounce. Then you will no longer be a « US person » and will be free to do more things.” Let me modify it to correspond to your position: “Another way is to get a French citizenship and not renounce.” 🙂

            My response would be that if someone is eligible to apply for French citizenship, they probably aren’t struggling to open a bank account here…

  7. Hello Stephen and Jean,

    Thanks for the interesting info regarding banks and dual citizenship.

    I’m a Franco-Amercan, French and US tax compliant citizen, residing in France.

    My long time bank has recently asked me to declare if I am a US citizen. I hesitate to tell them anything at all for fear of loosing the account. I wonder if being a US tax compliant citizen plays a role in the bank’s decision to keep me or “not bother” and kick me out. No way to know for sure until I ask them…and expose myself to the risk of loosing the account. Or I can put my head in the sand. Or I can lie and not admit US citizenship.

    What would you do in my situation ?

    Thanks

    • I would declare instead of lying but lean on your status as a French citizen to make sure you can retain your account as you have a right to. Don’t fear the worst in your case.

      • Thanks Stephen for your take on the situation, I appreciate it and I tend to agree.

        I might add that the notion lying has a different value in France and in the US. As I remember it, the Clinton presidency was almost taken down, not for some terrible political act, but because he “lied” about his behaviour. And US tax and immigration authorities have no patience for lies at all. Lying in an absolute sin in the US. Lying in France however is not as severe. It’s not good behaviour but there’s more room for a little lying here and there. What’s more, it would mean lying to a French bank and not an administration, about a distant issue for them. And as for the US tax administration, I’m all clear with them anyways.

        So as I ponder about my choices, I do so with both French and American cultures in mind, makes the choices a bit more complicated…

        As you say, this FACTA business is really a drag.

        Thanks for your posts.

  8. I have been resident in France for many years. And a client of the société générale for many years. Recently they sent me a form asking me to indicate if I am a US Person (of course, they had never asked this before as I’ve been with them for so long). I replied honestly that I have US citizenship. Then I got a call stating that they cannot maintain *savings* accounts for US persons. Within an hour they had simply closed my accounts!! I’m SHOCKED. I don’t have any investment accounts or anything like that, just basic savings accounts. I never expected this from a major bank like the Société générale. Has this happened to anyone else? Where do I go now??

  9. Hi Stephen, I will be moving to France in a year with my husband (who’s a French citizen), and I was wondering if those that are married to French citizens are having problems too. We’re currently living in Korea, and here we haven’t had any problems with the FATCA, I don’t know the reason, but I suspect that it’s because Korea is scared to not comply with the US, maybe because of North Korea, and they don’t want the US presence to leave, I don’t know, it’s just a thought. But I’ll have to send money to the States before moving to France because we’re closing our Korean accounts when we leave. Does anyone know of the best bank in France that is ok with wire transfers with US banks? My husband has his French accounts with Caisse d’Epargne, and we already know they won’t deal with me, in fact he can’t really even transfer his money here in Korea to that account, they won’t deal with that either. I will tell him about about Transferwise because he’s been trying to figure how to get his money here to France. I’ve already realised that maybe everything like mortgage and stuff will need to be in my husband’s name until I can get French citizenship. Are things really this bad? I never really heard about the FATCA until I started looking into what we need to do for the move, because there is no presence of it here in Korea, at least at the basic level, maybe there’s a problem when it comes to loans and stuff (thought they do require a Korean citizen to co-sign anyways for that stuff).

      • I disagree that being married to a French citizen will ensure more plentiful banking options. If a bank doesn’t want to do business with Americans (or indeed anyone who can be considered a US taxpayer, such as green card holders), they simply won’t, regardless of the spouse’s nationality.

        • Dave you misunderstand. It’s not a question of the marriage solely, but the visas which she can easily apply for, visas which then make the argument that yes, you are entitled to a bank account. I’m a US citizen, married to no one, with two French bank accounts. I got them because of my visas.

      • We looked into Transfer wise, and while they will transfer from France to Korea, they don’t have the option to transfer from Korea to France. We looked at a lot of other online transfer sites, and we couldn’t find one that would do Korea to France, just France to Korea. The only think we saw that might work is Western Union. My bank here in Korea I can do Western Union transfers online. And Banque Postale has Western Union. It’s not ideal that it’s for cash pickup and my bank here in Korea only let’s me do $3000 USD at a time. 🙁

        I’ll have a family/spouse visa when we go. This has nothing to do with banking, but I will say that France made it really tough for us to get married, tons of paperwork, because they do their immigration vetting before getting married, and it cost me a lot of money to get all the paperwork done (I don’t recommend getting married to a French person outside of France or even outside of your home country, we did it all here in Korea, hahaha) and it took almost 7 months from start to finish. But the embassy here did say that after this getting the visa is super easy, like a week or 2 week process. I doubt the banks will care about how I got into France, just that I file US taxes, but I’m hoping that particular visa and our livre de famille will help a bit.

  10. Hi Stephen et al, those are interesting subtexts from those with dual citizenship! We’re in our sixth year here, happily banked in a heavily expat (though not many US persons) part of Ile-de-France, but trying to buy an appart — and it’s gone sideways, to say the least. BNP turned us down, then Société Générale, BRED Banque Pop is making discouraging sounds, all citing expenses related to SEC / FATCA, the hardship of managing a US person (W9 or not). And we’re on long-term work visas (cartes bleue), plus only asking for a loan on about 50% of the apartment.

    This was utterly unexpected as we’d waltzed into Sweden just after those laws were signed (2010), financed a car, bought an apartment, and started a family – quite a shock!

    Meanwhile I’ll accelerate our naturalization applications a bit, it’s encouraging that some banks may ignore the FATCA hassles for dual-nats.

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