It didn’t seem that long ago that I penned an article explaining the few steps necessary to change your address. So, as a “veteran” of the process, I thought it would be just as simple to do it again. Not exactly.
The Post Office
As I did the last time I wanted to change my address, I showed up at La Poste with a copy of an EDF from my new address as well as proof of my old address. The clerk helping me seemed fairly new to the whole process, and after 15 minutes of typing in my information, he asked his supervisor to certify the form, and the supervisor squints at the computer monitor and says in French, “Oh, sir, this is much easier to do at home on your computer.” “Why would I do that at home, I’m already here,” I responded in French. Then he did it. The shrug. “It’s better,” he said, and walked away.
No need to get upset, I thought. I just walked home and went to the La Poste website. I laughed out loud at the tagline it sported: “Simplifier la vie.” Oh yeah, you’re making it really simple. I clicked through to get to this page. I clicked the 6-month option to find out that I was required to create a La Poste account to do this. Remember to smile, I thought. It’s just France being French. I created the account, filled out the contract for the change, paid, and got a confirmation. At the bottom of the confirmation, in fine print, it told me that I needed to take this printout, with a copy of my ID, to the post office, to certify the contract.
I looked at the Paddington Bear on my desk with disbelief, asking him to commiserate. But, remembering where I lived, within a couple days I duly showed up as required and two minutes after I got to the front of the line my contract was certified. But, that was just my personal change of address.
You might remember that I did a post on the alphabet soup of agencies that entered my life once I switched over to Profession Liberale. The most important one is INSEE. Their database serves as the clearing house for all the other agencies connected to your professional French life. Your postal change of address is insufficient for INSEE. You essentially need to do a professional change of address, using this exciting form. Send that in to INSEE, or if you’re like me and like to outsource things like this, you can simply ask your business accountants to file it for you before or after tax season. For a fee, of course.
I’ll start with the easy one first. My French business bank is BNP Paribas. I opened it post-FATCA, but I had been in France for years at that point and I had a working visa, so despite the extra forms I had to fill out as a “US person” the account was opened without question on my first visit. Additionally, BNP Paribas has amazing tools (disclosure: I’ve done some contract work for them so I really got some insight into how tech-forward they are) and technology and it showed in this simple desire to change my address.
I was able to change my address inside the online banking suite within two minutes. I was also able to change agencies. I then ordered a new chequebook with my new address. This all happened with zero friction and to be honest, a fair amount of (pleasant) surprise on my part.
Not so with Societe Generale, holders of my personal bank account, and one of my very first “paperwork” experiences in France. They required me to go to my original branch, in the 17th, with proof of my new address (EDF bill) that was from the last 90 days as well as ID, etc. This only permitted me to change my address. There’s no way to do it online. “And, may I change my agency, too?” I asked in French with a smile, thinking, maybe it will be that easy. “Non, monsieur,” she gravely replied to the lady who had dutifully stamped my address change dossier just moments before. “You’ll need to go to that branch and request the change yourself.” I laughed. She was a bit bemused, but I gave her a smile and a bon journee and out I went.
I live in the 19th now and there’s a Societe Generale very close to my house, and I went there to request an agency change. “You have to make an appointment,” the nice young man told me. Of course I have to make an appointment, I thought. It’s not like you’re my bank and have been for the last four years. To be fair, this is simply politesse. The new branch wanted to “get to know me” so they could serve me better, and to do that I’d need to come by, have a coffee, etc. Fine with me. I made an appointment and brought everything I thought I would need (and as usual, even stuff I didn’t think I would need) and fifteen minutes into our appointment he was on the phone with someone higher up asking about “US persons.” I knew he was discussing FATCA stuff, but I was a bit puzzled as SG had been filing my FATCA paperwork for years now. “I need you to bring your French tax return,” he said. I handed it to him, from the pile of “stuff they may ask me for.” “Okay, give me a week or so and I’ll get back to you.” A week came and went. No word. I called and left a message. No return.
I reached out to a banker I knew at my old branch in the 17th and asked her what the hold-up was. She made a couple calls and found out that the branch manager at the branch I wanted to transfer to didn’t want to accept an American into her branch. The implication was obvious to me: she would have to do all my paperwork and be responsible for me and she didn’t want that merci beaucoup. I laughed as the banker who had chased up the intelligence told me about her refusal. “But you’re the same company,” I switched into English as I didn’t have the French to properly express my confusion. “I know, I will talk to my branch manager to talk to her.” That was four weeks ago, and even the friendly banker seems to have forgotten how to reply to my email.
I’ve decided to let it be. There are only a few functions that require you to visit your branch (I’ve detailed a couple above!), and that branch in the 17th is in a lovely neighborhood, my very first one in Paris, and I can always find other useful things to do if I need to head out there. But it’s just an example of two banks with differing approaches. One, stuck in revered (and inefficient) Gallican ways, the other, daring to be a bit more Anglo-Saxon and customer-friendly. One will receive my undisputed recommendation when friends ask where to open a bank account. The other? Well…let’s see if I ever get a call or email back.
As for that pesky French bank account question, I’ve been doing some research to get more updated information to you than I furnished in my previous articles here and here. As an intermediate free solution with minimal paperwork, you could open a Transferwise Borderless account. That will get you a euro-denominated IBAN as well as a free debit card so that you can start enjoying the privileges of a French/European bank account right away. I’ve discussed Transferwise as an easy way to send or transfer money to France (I think it’s by far the cheapest way to send money to France) in the past but that assumes a European/French account to transfer funds to, and I wrote that article before Transferwise created their multi-denominational Borderless account (you can hold up to 40 different currencies), which is awesome (I have one as a backup in case anything ever happens to my French accounts). Once my research is complete, I hope to have some updated options and scripts for you to carry into a bank with you to open your own French account.
In the meantime, remember to smile and consider: this is France. This is how they do things here. Love it or leave it 🙂