french taxes

French Tax Season Concludes

It’s that time of year when French accountants have closed their offices, put do-not-disturb autoresponders in their email inboxes, and have fled town to relax.  Tax season is over.  I never expected to write so much about taxes on this site, but enough people ask me about them that I have to pretty consistently write about the topic, as I did in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2020 (twice) and this article adds 2021 to the list.

Yesterday was the last day this year that personal income taxes could be filed in France.  The Fifth Republic gives paper filers the least amount of time.  This year that date was May 20th.  After that only online filing was possible.  May 26th was the deadline for departments 01-19 and non-residents of France (if you have real estate or a business that earns income in France you have to file even if you don’t live here).  June 1st was the the date for departments 20-54, and yesterday, June 8th, was the deadline for all the rest of the departments, from 55 to 976 (Mayotte), including those of us here in Paris (75).

I’ve not filed my own taxes in any country since my early 20s, before I started to own businesses and learned how favorable the US tax code was to them.  Even then, I always took cues from paid accountants who spent their entire working lives learning about the tax code and were always up on the latest regulations.  I carried that same attitude over when I moved to France.  I hired my French personal accountant in 2014 and she’s taken care of me every year since and works in concert with my US firm that handles my business and personal US returns and specializes in location-independent businesses.  My French accountant sends her engagement letters out to her existing clients early each year and that guarantees you a spot for the year’s filings.  If you’re not a pre-existing client, you’re going to pay much more to file a return if you reach out to her or her colleagues even in mid-season.  You’ll pay progressively more each week closer to filing time, and double or triple what I pay if you contacted her last week, if she was even willing to pick up the phone then.

Hence, when I get panicked emails from Americans in April and May asking if I know anyone who can help them, I often say, “I don’t know.”  There are a very limited number of firms that work with Americans filing taxes here in France and because of that, the rates are significantly higher.  Then the immediate retort to the price I quote, which usually from someone on visitor status is, “But I don’t even PAY taxes here.”  But the problem with that statement is its lack of anchorage in reality: you don’t pay your accountant based on how much tax you pay.  The accountants don’t work for the French government.  You pay based on how complicated your return is.  While Americans who are tax resident in France don’t have to file particularly complicated returns, no one would classify those returns as simple.  They get additionally complex when you add in French income from rentals and/or businesses (as I have had to over the years).

Americans forget that there isn’t some equivalent of H&R Block here offering tax returns at cut-price rates done by people who went to a clinic for eight weeks.  Hence they have unreasonable expectations.

One way to adjust your expectations appropriately is to educate yourself.  I recently came across a book written by someone I met in Bangkok at the end of 2019.  He runs an international accounting firm and the book is called US Taxes for Americans Abroad.  It’s not an exciting page-turner (no financial book is) but it’s very helpful for understanding just how complicated life for a US citizen abroad is.  I suspect the estimated nine million of us who live outside the US have no idea how complicated it is, even if, like me, they have been filing in their country of residence for years.

Just a few helpful concepts Vincenzo (himself a non-resident American) includes in his book:

  • how renting a home abroad can lower your US tax burden
  • the ins and outs of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)
  • how to avoid paying state taxes if you are no longer resident stateside
  • the tax implications of marrying a non-US citizen
  • retirement and investment challenges

and the topic du jour among Americans abroad in recent years: renouncing US citizenship, and all the costs that come with it.

The moral of the story, as always: living outside the United States comes with some amazing opportunities and benefits.  it also comes with at least double the paperwork of a regular life in the US.  Stop your complaining and get to work.  At least one benefit for those of us filing in France this year?  No need to report any of the aid we received for our businesses due to Covid.  One more thing to be grateful for as the weather turns warmer, ever so slightly, day by day.

french taxes

Normalizing Your Tax Contributions in France

I’ve written about taxes numerous times over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what happens after you file them here in France.  As 2020 winds to an end, it’s as good a time as any to explain.

Annee Blanche

One of the numerous campaign promises that President Macron made years ago was a simplification of the tax and pension systems, and one of those reforms meant moving to a “present year” form of taxation instead of the trailing year system we have in the US (we pay taxes on income we earned the previous year).  On January 1st, 2019, many people who were in salaried positions began being taxed for their income each time they received a paycheck.  The idea was that since you were paying each month, you wouldn’t need to “save up” to pay taxes the following year.  This meant that for many, 2018 would be considered as a “no tax” year, an “annee blanche,” since the government would theoretically only be looking at your 2019 earnings for your 2019 taxes.  In practice, it’s pretty much the same as before, but with monthly deductions instead of a lump sum annual payment.

But that still means that your tax charges for any given year are based on what you earned in the previous year.  If nothing changes for you financially, your taxation will always remain the same, unless legislation changes the tax code.

Avis d’Impot

Taxes in France are due at the end of May usually.  This gives the Ministry of Finance all summer to process your returns and by September you will receive an important document for those who are on a citizenship journey: your “Avis d’impot sur les revenus et prelevements sociaux.”  You’ll need at least five of these in which you are paying taxes (and making a sustainable income) as part of your citizenship dossier.  These used to be mailed but now they are available as downloadable PDFs, which makes the normally scary “document a conserver” label pointless.  No worry about having to keep a document on file that you can print on command.

This report verifies the return that you have made, though the Ministry of Finance is not bound to it.  They can come back for you up to 3 years after a tax year for any errors or omissions that they find.  So, if they have problems with your current return they will tell you.  Otherwise they’ll accept it and tell you what remains to be paid for the current year.

So, let’s say that based on your 2019 return, the government estimated that if nothing changed in 2020, you would need to pay 100€ per month, or 1200€ for the year.  However, 2020 was good to you (maybe you had stock in Zoom) and you made more money. As a result, when you get your Avis back in September, the government says that instead of the 1200€ that you were going to pay this year (which they smoothed into 100€/month), you now owe 1600€.  As such, your automatic deductions for September-December will double to 200€ to get you to 1600€ total by the end of the year, and your 2021 contributions will now probably be 133.33€ per month, unless you make more money in 2021, in which case you can expect those contributions to go up, or if you make less money, in which case the contributions go down.

Keep in mind that this is simply for your personal tax return.  File a personal tax return in May, get an end-of-year regularization of your personal tax contributions in September.

Declaration Sociales des Independents

So, when you file your French personal taxes the Ministry of Finance makes the calculations and auto-adjusts your contributions.  But it doesn’t work that way for filing your French business taxes.  Once you’ve filed your business return, you’ll need to enter in certain values from your return into a website, in this case, it’s a website called net-entreprises.fr.

Now, I’m not your accountant, and that’s who you should be speaking with regarding these various boxes, as your business may have certain revenues and contributions that I have not made and vice versa, but the two most important numbers are going to be XA, which is your total profit, and XD, which is your total revenues (turnover).  You’ll also need to report if you received certain benefits or have certain obligatory contributions, but at the end of all this you are going to push “submit.”  This has to be done no later than the end of June normally, so unlike your personal taxes, which give you your new amounts owed in September, your revised business contributions to URSSAF will immediately display.

To follow the previous example, if you were paying 200€ a month in contributions to URSSAF (if you don’t know, this is your social security and health care contribution as a business) based on your previous year’s revenues, and this year was better, they will increase your charges in September-December in order to make you current for the year, then create a new schedule of payments for you for the following year based on your new “normalized” revenues.

The corresponding document you will get from URSSAF will come much sooner than September, probably sometime in early August, and this year would look like: “Regularisation des Cotisations 2019 et Appel de Cotisations 2020.”  URSSAF hasn’t yet caught up technology-wise with the Ministry of Finance so they are still sending these by mail, but I expect them to go paperless pretty soon.  President Macron has been pushing the dematerialization agenda pretty hard across all government agencies and that’s a good thing: more digital documents + less paper = fewer things to lose.

In this same document they will give you an estimate for your monthly contributions for the following year but it’s only “provisional” as things can change.  For example, this year URSSAF stopped taking our contributions beginning in March which didn’t mean our charges were forgiven, but that September-December of this year took up all the burden of the contributions that were not deducted from March-August.  URSSAF did tell us that we could continue to manually make payments during this time, but they made it sufficiently complicated that the majority of us opted to take the “free rent” from the government and just wait until later in the year when the charges would catch up.

Digital Has Its Benefits

So I hope that you now have a better understanding of how taxes work in France and the fact that what you file in the Spring has consequences in the Autumn, for better or worse.  An increasingly interconnected digital system across all the government agencies is reducing error and making managing your accounts easier, though of course this risks leaving behind the elderly, who are less comfortable with technology, or the poor, who don’t have ready access to the internet or computers.  Thankfully there are agencies and associations trying to help these and other groups keep up with change in France.

Firing Société Generale

One of the earliest articles for this blog was about my experience getting my first French bank account at Societe Generale.  The process was relatively painless, but that was before FATCA came into force and made life more challenging for US citizens living abroad.  Still, possession of any form of long term visa will allow you to get a bank account here, as I shared some years later.  When it came time for me to open a bank account for my French business, I decided to hedge my bets and audition another company, BNP Paribas.  Time has shown them to be the better bank for me, and armed with additional European bank accounts at N26 and Transferwise, I fired Societe Generale from my life in February.

Mais pour quoi?

Given how challenging it can be to open accounts these days, why would I get rid of one I had?  Well, firstly, bank accounts in France are rarely free.  There’s a monthly service fee (in this case, 17 euros a month for a very basic account) whether you have any activity or not.  Secondly, I had already had exceptional service from BNP that Societe Generale couldn’t match.  When I moved from the 2nd to the 19th, I was able to change my “home agency” using the BNP Paribas app.  With Societe Generale, it was a nine month saga, with multiple trips to my original agence in the 17th.  But the last straw was a denial of a loan.

Americans are used to having a “credit score” which tells lending institutions how worthy we are of being loaned money, and at what rate of interest.  There’s no such thing in France.  Indeed, there’s not even a centralized place for banks to know you have loans at other banks.  I found all this out when BNP Paribas sent me a flyer some years ago offering a 2% loan for my business account.  I didn’t need any funds at that time, but I was intrigued by an opportunity to build my relationship and profile with the bank and thought it might make for a good future article.  The truth was that the process was so speedy, there wasn’t enough meat for the article.  I made an appointment (online, using the app), showed up, and after 15 minutes of us getting to know each other and how we ended up in Paris, he asked what the loan was for.  I told him I actually didn’t need a loan, but was more interested in seeing how the process worked.  He nodded and said, “Okay, how about for working capital?”  I nodded and asked if there was any early repayment penalty.  He shook his head.  Ten minutes after that I was out the door, and 48 hours after that, the funds were in my account.  BNP had once again shown me that they were forward-looking, easy to work with, and fast.

As I audited my expenses for 2019 I wondered about Societe Generale and my personal account there, which is what I paid my French taxes out of and was an account I deposited some sources of income into.  Should I really be paying 17€ a month for my personal account there when my account at BNP cost 7€ a month?  But I wanted to give them one final test to confirm my gut instinct: asking for a loan.

There’s no way to make an appointment with your counselor online with SG, so I had to go into my agence.  That’s fine.  I made an appointment in January.  The day of the appointment, he cancelled on me.  Okay, I rescheduled for the next available time, which was two weeks later.  When that day arrived, I brought all the paperwork I might be expected of to get a loan, which includes the “Avis d’impot” (the government document that verifies the veracity of your last filed return) of the last three years, my business tax returns, my business bank accounts, and the usual ID, lease, etc.  Two hours later, he “didn’t have enough information” and told me he would email me for more info.

Of course he didn’t email me.  I had to follow up with him over a two week period and he kept asking for more info before finally saying flatly, “Non.”  I was appalled.  “Tu rigoles,” I began, and told him that BNP had had the exact same info (actually, BNP had asked for less info) and gave me a decision in five minutes, and I had only been banking with them since 2016, whereas I had been with Societe Generale since 2014.  He shrugged and told me that different banks have different practices.

Okay, then I need to close my account,” I replied.  He was nonplussed.  We made an appointment for the following week.  You can guess what happened next.  I arrived only to find out that he was too busy to keep the appointment he had made and I was traveling the following week and he was in conferences the week after, so yes, I had to delay closing my account by three weeks, giving them another month of bank fees.

It took nearly an hour to actually close the account.  I was forced to sign several papers closing both my Livret A (savings account) and the checking account as well as ending the agreements that went with them.  The final action was to transfer the remaining funds at SG into my newly opened additional bank account at BNP (which took all of ten minutes to open, since they just copied all my information over from my existing account). Ridiculous to the end, offering no apology or regret for losing me as a customer, both my counselor and the bank vindicated my decision to fire them.  I’m literally now doubly happy as a BNP client, having two accounts with them and a solid and respectful relationship with my counselor.

Why don’t more French people fire their banks?  That’s part of a larger administrative issue that I’ll address in a future article.

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 Belgium.  I absolutely love Transferwise and use it for other transactions outside of my personal and business ones, which I use my French accounts for.

French and US Taxes

This was the year I finally found my rhythm filing in two countries.  I did my US business taxes in March, my US personal taxes in April (though I needed some French income estimates to complete them), my French business taxes in May, and my French personal taxes right before June.  Yes, Americans, from the country ostensibly founded on a tax revolt, always get to file taxes, no matter where they live in the world.

Everyone has different strategies and situations and how much you actually pay in taxes is down to how well-constructed those strategies are.  What I have been reminding people in previous articles over the years (here and here) is that the moment you pass 183 days in a calendar year of living in France, you transform from being a regular resident to a fiscal resident, and as such, are required to file taxes, even if you are here on a visitor visa and have earned no French income.  As I often say, the French love documentation and paperwork and the Ministry of Finance doesn’t share records with OFII in this regard and even if they did, they wouldn’t care.  They want their own proof of your fiscal liabilities (or lack thereof) during your stay here.

If you aren’t an accountant who speaks French and also knows French accounting law, I would strongly advise against self-filing.  If you need the recommendation of someone reliable, my accountant has been filing for me since my first fiscal year in Paris and now handles my file that includes French income and tax liability.

I’ve also found new French business accountants, who have been a dream to work with and delivered the kind of customer service that I had hoped for when I signed up with the last firm I used (who I have severed ties with).

I often hear from people who mention in their emails that “no one ever told me about this” and while I fully understand that sentiment, as I had to be told about this issue myself, you can’t have that attitude when emigrating to a new country, or even staying there just a few years.  Do not wait “to be told” about anything.  You are not a customer in a store.  You are a visitor and/or future possible citizen.  Read everything you can and continuously educate yourself.

Further, be assured that as cryptocurrency begins making greater inroads and banks continue to become more rigorous in their compliance, that taxes will follow you, wherever you might be domiciled.  You won’t get to skate out of a tax system simply because you aren’t living in your country of nationality and/or because you’re a legal resident of a country in which you’re a foreigner.  Be proactive.  It will go a long way to preventing unpleasant messages in long white envelopes from either the IRS or the Ministry of Finance.

Troubleshooting: Branchless Bank Accounts

Some time ago I was sitting with some friends and the conversation turned to banks and bank fees.  Both of my friends shared how much they hated “establishment” banks and described with relish how they had recently “fired” them.  They had chosen to move on to the “internet only” banks.  One banked at Fortuneo, the other recommended Boursorama.  I was happy with Societe Generale and had long ago written off bank fees in France as “part of the deal.”  Turns out, as an American citizen, I don’t really have a choice.

I went through the process of applying for a basic checking account at both Fortuneo and Boursorama, banks that leveraged technology and virtual offices to offer low-to-no fee banking.  At the end of both applications I was rejected, in no uncertain terms.  Not because of my credit score (because there’s no such thing in Europe), but because unlike my friends, who possessed German and Czech citizenship, respectively, I was considered a “US person” for legal purposes, and was subject to FATCA.

FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) became law in 2010 in the US but came into force officially in France this year.  It places an enormous regulatory reporting burden on French banks servicing US citizens.  The “budget banks” mentioned above do not have the means or the staff to comply with this reporting requirement so they rejected me.  I was told by one person in the know that it costs French banks up to 10,000€/year to service someone like me (a “US person”).  This is all because the US government is determined to get its grubby hands on every last shred of our income, even if it was not earned in the USA.

Now, even if that number of 10,000€/year is wildly exaggerated, something like 2,500€/year is still a lot just to comply with US reporting requirements.  When you keep that in mind, you can smile your way through the two hour process of opening a new checking account, as I had to do a few months ago for my new French business.  It’s not enough to sign a few forms and give the bank your money, as we often do in America.  The French want to know what kind of business you are operating, how much money you think you will make, the name of your most recently deceased pet, etc.

Part of this is simply a “get to know you” policy that French banks are encouraging these days.  But part of it is both French governmental compliance and now US regulatory compliance.  My poor counselor told me that I was his first “US” account and he called in backup from his colleagues no fewer than three times as unexpected screens kept popping up during my registration.

All in all, I was happy with the process and BNP Paribas offers the same level of service and convenience that I’ve become accustomed to with French banks but is (to my knowledge) not widespread in the US.

  1. RIB (releve d’identite bancaire) This is an upgrade over traditional “online billpay” as there is never a paper check issued.  The money leaves your account and 48 business hours later it is in another account, whether it’s the account of a friend or that of a regular payee of your household.  When you add a new payee you must key in a pin and everytime you issue a RIB payment to someone you must key in a pin.
  2. App-based verification for online purchases.  When you make a credit card purchase on the web you will receive a push notification on your phone.  You must key in a pin in order to approve the purchase.  Then, and only then, is your purchase approved.
  3. No ATM fees.  By French law, you cannot be charged fees for withdrawing your own money, even if it’s from the ATM of another bank.  So you can use any ATM anywhere, anytime.

It’s a lot of trouble to set up a French bank account as an American these days, but once you have that account, it’s a great thing, and it makes your life here that much easier.

You Have to File Taxes as a Fiscal Resident of France

So in France you receive a tax bill for the current year based on what you were assessed the previous year.  You then pay that bill in payments so that by the time that year’s taxes are due, you will ostensibly be “ahead of the game.”  Of course, this depends on your income stability.  If you make a lot more money this year than last year, then those payments are simply a down payment on your future tax bill.  Conversely, if you are unemployed, you will still be paying into the system at the rate you did when you were employed.

Wait, Stephen, I thought you said I didn’t have to pay taxes?  You’re right, as a visitor, I don’t have to pay taxes, but I still have to file and declare taxes.

But the French government didn’t do their sums correctly, and I had to do a bit of correspondence with them to fix it.  In this blog post I told you that they recognized this error but they ended up only removing some of the amount, so I had to write another letter explaining that I didn’t owe anything.  It only took four months and two letters. 🙂

But the person who issued my corrections didn’t update my file, because I got a notice to start paying taxes based on last year’s amount…which I got dismissed.  So I had to draft another letter explaining (with photocopies of the dismissals) that not only did I not owe taxes for the 2014 taxes, but I did not owe advance payments for 2016, as I wouldn’t have any tax liability in 2015 either.  I only moved to my right to work status in January so next year I will actually owe something.

Remember in dealing with the French: be patient, have your documentation to the Nth degree and backups, and trust the process.  The fastest road to frustration is to imagine you are entitled to anything.

I expect to get a dismissal of my current tax bill.  I’ll let you know if something else happens.

transferwise

Taxes and Transferwise

I recently had the opportunity to meet with one of the readers of the blog over lunch.  We discussed some of his strategies for staying in France but since he had just recently arrived I asked him to check with some of his connections (he had done work at an accounting/consulting firm) about getting taxes filed.  That’s right – as an American, even if you’re here on a visitor visa and prevented by the terms of your visa from working for a French company in France, the French government requires you to file a tax return.

You read that correctly.  Now, despite the fact that you don’t owe any taxes, you still have to prepare the taxes, in French, according to French accounting laws.  If you don’t have these intersecting skill sets, let me know and I can connect you with an amazing firm that did this for me for the 2014 tax year.  If this has slipped through the cracks for you, let me know asap and I will try and connect you – there’s no fine and no fee to pay (as ostensibly, you don’t have taxes to pay) but you don’t want the French government catching you doing something you are supposed to do.  Better late than forgetting altogether.

2015 will be the last year that I will be considered a “non-fiscal” resident – as part of the path to citizenship (which involves my new visa) is paying taxes.  If you aren’t married to a French person, and don’t pay taxes for five consecutive years, you aren’t on the path to citizenship.  I still can’t say I “look forward” to paying taxes, but I do look forward to “being on the path.” 🙂

* * *

Early on in this blog’s life I talked about getting a French bank account  It’s honestly something you’re going to need to do if you plan to stay here for longer than 6 months.  However, again pursuant to your visa status, you really only want wire transfers coming in from yourself, not from employers – even if those employers are outside France – this will just cause questions at the Prefecture should they look closely at your bank accounts when you come for your appointment.

Wire transfers are “old-fashioned” in our modern age and carry old-fashioned fees.  The originating bank charges the sender (i.e. YOU sending to yourself), the receiving bank charges the receiver (again, YOU), and then there are currency exchange fees.  However, this system is in the midst of being disrupted by a company started by the guys who built Skype and bankrolled by the likes of Sir Richard Branson.  It’s called Transferwise.  If you click this link your first transfer is free so you can try it for yourself with no risk.  To learn more about how they do this, and circumvent the wire transfer system, watch this funny video.

Hope you enjoy the service as much as I do.  I’m an unabashed user, though I can’t imagine my US or French banks have been happy to miss out on all those fees I used to pay them 🙂

Getting a Bank Debit Card in France

It’s actually not that hard to get a bank account in France.  What’s hard is getting your debit card.  To open an account, stop in at your local bank of choice (I chose Societe Generale because it was and is close to my place) with your passport, some money, and proof of residence (this will be a quittance de loyer or attestation de hebergement).

To get a debit card you will need to transfer a substantial sum of money into your account.  They will ask for 1000 euros – I talked them down to 500 – which will have the excitement of your American bank charging you for a wire transfer, your French bank account charging you for your own wire transfer, and the transaction fee of converting dollars into euros.  My personal expat experience has allowed me to conduct most of my life using American bank accounts, allowing my French bank account to deal with minor day-to-day expenses which would help me avoid carrying cash around all the time (like the UGC Pass Illimite, which occasioned my getting an account in the first place, something I originally resisted.  More about the Pass in a future piece.).  Unless you have a phenomenal bank in America (like mine) you’re going to get killed in foreign transaction fees, so beware.

Only after I got a wire transfer in did I get my debit card – with a pre-assigned PIN.  That PIN, by the way, can’t be changed unless you want to pay to change it.  Brilliant or cruel?  You decide.

My account came standard with a ton of limits that a regular bank account in America wouldn’t correspondingly have.  I could only withdraw 50 euros at a time from an ATM, up to 100 euros a day.  I could only charge so much on my debit card every seven days, etc.

Even when you want to change your address you have to show proof.  In America I would call and change it, end of.  Not here.  The French love their paperwork.  Don’t you forget it!

If you are here for any period over three months, get a French bank account.  It will be a bit of trouble, but well worth it!