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Second-home owners: Which French bank is best for non-residents?

French banks charge a fee to keep an account open, but if you're not a full time resident in France, you may be hit by big charges. Here's the breakdown of the best deals for non-residents.

Which French bank should you use to store money as a non-resident?
Which French bank should you use to store money as a non-resident? Your options are limited. (Photo by DAMIEN MEYER / AFP)

It’s standard practice for banks in France to charge fees, known as frais de tenue de compte, to keep you account open, but the fees can vary and those who are not resident in France can face higher charges.

Many second-home owners open a French bank account in order to pay bills and set up direct debits for their property – but be careful to check out the fee structure for non-residents first. 

The fees are generally charged monthly and vary according to a number of criteria: how often you use it, your age and the type of account. 

Another key determinant of how much money you are charged is your residency status – some banks charge more for accounts for non-residents, while France’s largest banking group has recently announced that it is doubling its fees for non-residents. 

Traditional banks 

High-street banks in France tend to charge higher frais de tenue de compte to non-residents. We have broken down the costs at some of the bigger banks in France to help you decide where to put your money. 

  • BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas is the largest banking group in France and in the Eurozone more widely. 

Currently, all non-residents with current accounts at the bank are required to pay frais de tenue de compte of €5 per month, per account. 

From June 2nd though, fees will increase for non-residents from outside the EU.

People whose official residence lies in a country that is a signatory to Automatic Exchange of Information mechanism (including the UK and the US) will have to pay €10 per month, per account.

People whose official residence isn’t in an EU country or an AEOI country will have to pay €15 per month, per account.

This makes BNP Paribas as one of the most expensive options if you want to open a bank account as a non-resident. The bank says it is increasing fees to “be able to continue providing all of our non-resident clients the same level of service and accompaniment despite a more and more demanding international environment”. 

The banks’ account advisers speak more than 30 different languages and offer some options to non-resident clients, such as lending insurance and health coverage, that other banks do not. Clients can also benefit from video calls with their account adviser. 

  • HSBC

HSBC is the second biggest bank in Europe, behind BNP Paribas. It employs about 10,000 people in France and is also a popular choice for foreigners who want to open bank accounts in the country. 

Their frais de tenue de compte are €7 per quarter – about €2.30 per month – and are the same for residents and non-residents alike. These fees have remained the same since January 2020. 

“An increase is not on the agenda,” said Sophie Ricord, a spokesperson for the group. 

  • Crédit Agricole 

Crédit Agricole gets its name from its historical ties to the French farming sector. 

It is comprised of 39 different regional branches, each of which has its own policy regarding frais de tenue de compteSome apply extra charges for non-residents, while others do not. 

It is worth enquiring with your local branch to see if you could be given the same fee as any other resident. 

  • Crédit du Nord

Crédit du Nord is a network of French banks spread around the country – not just the north, although it was founded in Lille. 

Non-residents using this bank are charged €16.50 per quarter – or about €5.50 per month – to keep their account open. These fees are unchanged from the last year – although the bank declined to comment on whether there would be more increases on the way. 

  • Société Générale 

Société Générale charges non-resident clients a flat fee of €15 per quarter in frais de tenue de compte.

Bernard Gaudin, a press officer at the bank, explained why non-resident fees were higher than those for residents. 

“Non-resident clients require a particular service (specific knowledge on this type of client),” he wrote in an email.

“Furthermore, the advisers speak multiple languages in certain cases.” 

He said that there were no plans to increase fees in the future. 

Changing bank 

Shortly after his election in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron introduced rules that make it easier to switch from one bank to another. 

If you have an existing current account in France, you can visit a new bank and ask for them to initiate a procedure called la mobilité bancaire

The new bank will liaise with your old one to close down the old account and transfer all money into your new one. From the moment you request your new bank to do this and sign the relevant forms, the two banks have 22 working days to carry out the procedure. 

This service is free. 

Are online banks a reasonable solution?

Many foreign residents in France use online banks such as Revolut or N26 – the former can be opened in your home country but used in France while the latter is built to be opened in France (including by non-residents). 

The benefits of using online banks is that in most cases, there are no frais de tenue de compte even for non-residents. 

The disadvantage is that these banks often have terrible customer service, with communication only possible via chatbot in some instances. On top of this, these banks are seen as less secure that traditional ones and users can be vulnerable to scams.

Some online banks also don’t deal with cheques, which are still issued by certain French public administration bodies.  

“Online banks can work fine but should only be a secondary solution,” said Christophe Gilbert, communications director with the Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Épargne group, which is not specialised at dealing with non-resident clients. 

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MONEY

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

The French government has capped electricity prices rises at four percent - but as with many French rules, there are certain exceptions.

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

Question: I read in the media that electricity prices in France are capped at four percent, but I just got a letter from EDF telling me that my bill is going up by almost 20 percent – is this a mistake?

The French government’s bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield), froze gas prices at 2021 levels and capped electricity price hikes to four percent – it remain in place until at least the end of 2022.

However, there are some customers who will see increases to their bills of more than that – here’s why: 

The regulated tariff rate

The French government involvement in price-setting doesn’t just happen during periods of energy crisis, normally regulated tariff prices are updated twice a year: usually on February 1st and August 1st.

Typically, this value is calculated by the CRE (commission de régulation de l’énergie) and it is based on several different factors, which are explained on this government website. These tariffs proposed by the CRE are then subject to approval by the ministers in charge of energy and the economy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

These affect the state-owned Engie (formerly Gaz de France), the mostly state-owned EDF and some local distribution companies. Around 70 percent of people in France get their electricity from EDF but other suppliers do exist in the market.

These alternative suppliers, like Direct-Énergie, Total Spring or Antargaz, are free to charge more – but don’t usually charge much above the EDF rates for obvious commercial reasons.

Basic rate

The government-set limit in price rises refers only to the basic rate (option base) for electricity.

This plan represents over 80 percent of the 32 million households connected to the electricity grid in France. So, there is a good chance you might be subscribed to this without even realising it. 

If you are on the basic tariff rate, your bill will not increase by more than four percent this year.

Other tariff options

However, other options for electricity bills do exist, including off-peak rates, green deals and fixed energy prices for a certain period.

Typically people who sign up for these will have been paying less for their electricity in the preceding months than those on the base rate.

However, there are certain special deals that are not covered by the four percent cap, and some users will find that their deal period has come to an end, they are then shifted onto the base rate – which is likely to represent a price increase for them of more than four percent.

It’s little consolation when faced with rising bills, but you will likely have been paying significantly less than customers who have been in the base rate for the past few years.

READ MORE: French government to continue energy price freeze until at least 2023

Kilowatt price

Because most electricity price plans are bafflingly complicated, the easiest way to compare is to look at the price per kilowatt-hour.

Your electricity bill consists of a fixed part, the monthly subscription (abonnement) and the variable part, which depends on the quantity of electricity consumed (in euro per kilowatt-hour, kWh). The latter part is what is concerned by the tariff shield of four percent.

Here is an example of what that might look like:

The mid-August base rate price per kilowatt-hour is €0.1740/ kWh, so if you’re with EDF they cannot charge you more than this rate.

Other EDF plans charge significantly less than that – for example the Vert Electrique Weekend deal has been charging €0.1080/kWh on weekends and €0.1434/kWh on weekdays. 

Bill rises

With the tariff shield, the average resident customer on the base rate will see a €38 rise on their bill this year, while professional customers will see an average of €60 rise. 

Without the tariff shield, electricity prices per residential (non-business) customer would likely have increased an average of €330 a year, according to the CRE.

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