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.

4 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?


    • 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 🙂

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