How to Open a French Bank Account Even If You Don’t Speak French!
If you’re coming to live in France, or buying a holiday home here, you’re going to need to open a French bank account. If you speak a little French then the local branch of any French bank will be more than happy to help you provided you have the right paperwork. If you don’t speak French, it’s not quite so easy but there are several French banks now that have English speaking assistance via email, phone and in person.
Do you really need a bank in France though? Could you not handle all your payments by credit or debit card?
There are a lot of things you could do that way, but it’s not really practical. Any French utility company is going to want paying is Euros of course – which isn’t a problem – but France Telecom, for example, insist that you pay your phone bill by direct debit from a French bank account. The same with SAUR, the water agency. Gas and electricity suppliers would prefer it too. Then there’s things like taxe d’habitation and taxe fonci?ï¿½re – your annual local rates.
Even if it’s only a holiday home, opening a French bank account is the only sensible option.
It’s not difficult to do. You need your passport and some proof of French residency – your French electric or gas bill is perfect. If you are in the process of buying a house in France then your compromis de vente (a legal document which states your intention to buy) will usually be enough. If you are renting then a copy of your or a rental agreement will usually be fine.
All of which is fine and easy if you are just popping in to your local branch. However, in most of France it is unlikely that you will find anyone there to help you if you only speak English!
There are two solutions. First, find a branch with English speaking staff (there are banks in Brittany and Provence that advertise this). For many, however, this is clearly not practical. Secondly, set up your account via mail, a service which at least one French bank does provide – although, in the battle against drug smugglers and money laundering there is considerably more paperwork to deal with. It takes a while, and can be frustrating, but you can do it without actually being in France and once up and running, you can manage your account online, any time you like, with access from anywhere in the world.