If you are going to live in Paris, you will need a French bank account. I have been through this process twice, so I thought I should share a bit about how to open a bank account in France.
Choosing Your Bank
This one is tricky and I can’t give you an exact answer. My best suggestion is to compare different banks, you want to find one with low fees and with an office that is comfortably located for you, as you will have to visit the bank now and then. Nowadays, a lot of banks are open on Saturdays, but if you want to avoid spending a Saturday at the bank, choose a bank with a branch close to your office. That way you can take care of any business during lunch on a weekday. There are many different banks in France, you might want to start looking at a couple of the major ones: BNP Paribas, Credit Mutuel, LCL and BRED Banque Populaire.
How to Open a Bank Account in France
There, now you decided on a bank and it is time to visit your chosen branch. You will visit the same branch every time you have business with you bank, so again, choose wisely. Another piece of advise: I have yet to meet a bank clerk who speaks more than just very basic English, and you will likely have to handle this mainly in French. They are friendly though, so if there is something you are unsure about, don’t be afraid to ask them to write it down and check the translation app on your phone.
You are going to need to bring a few things:
- Your passport
- A proof of your French address: your insurance papers are your best bet for this
- A French phone number
The thing about France, however, is that nothing is ever so simple. To be able to sign up for a French cell phone plan you need a French bank account. You can, however, easily get around this by buying a pre-payed SIM card for a few euros. The proof of address is a tougher nut to crack. Normally, a recent utility bill is used for this (you will need a proof of address for a lot of different bureaucratic things) but you will have trouble signing up for utilities if you lack a French bank account. Therefor, you will have to use the insurance that your landlord or agency will have insisted that you must have before moving into your apartment (I’ve written about how to find an apartment without being in the French system here).
Once you have presented your papers to the person behind the desk they will ask questions about your personal information, even things such as marital status, where you work and how much you make. After a long conversation you will be asked to sign a lot of papers (if you are just opening a basic account these should be pretty straight forward) and then you will leave, confused and with only a slip with you bank information and a sense that you told somebody all your secrets, signed some papers and left. Don’t worry. In about a week you will get two letters: one containing your pin for your new CB, and one that tells you to come and pick up your card at the branch office. To activate your card you will have to use it in a situation that requires you to use your code (i.e. not online) so make sure there is some money in your account (if you don’t have money coming in yet, just transfer €20 from your old account). You will receive a clean, shiny new card that will get scratched up in your wallet in no time.