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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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For members

TAX DECLARATION

Late fees, fines and charges: What you risk by missing French tax deadlines

The deadlines for the annual French tax declaration are upon us, but what are the penalties if you either miss the deadline or fail to file your return at all? We take a look at the sanctions.

Late fees, fines and charges: What you risk by missing French tax deadlines

The annual Déclaration des revenues – income tax declaration – involves virtually everyone in France filling out a form giving detailed information on their income to French tax authorities.

If you live in France, it’s almost certain that you will have to complete this – even if you’re a salaried employee and your tax has already been deducted at source, or if all your income comes from outside France (eg a pension received from the UK or USA).

There are only a very few exemptions to the requirement to fill out the tax declaration and they are listed here

Declarations for the 2021 tax year opened in April 2022 and the deadline is either late May or early June, depending on where you live – find the full calendar here

But what happens if you miss the deadline?

For most people there is a staggered system of late charges.

If you are less than 30 days late your overall tax bill can be increased by up to a maximum of 10 percent.

Once you receive a notice of late payment, the overall bill can increase by up to 20 percent, or 40 percent if you have still not filed within 30 days of receiving the later payment notice.

You will also be charged interest on late payments.

What if I don’t pay income tax in France?

If you have no taxable income in France – for example your only income is a pension from another country – then you still have to fill in the declaration.

If you file late the increases cannot be applied, since your tax bill is €0, but you can instead be liable for a late fee of €150.

What if I have exceptional circumstances?

If you know that you will not be able to file in time, you can ask the tax office for a remise gracieuse (remission) in order to avoid late fees and penalties.

You will need to outline your reasons for not being able to file in time and while there isn’t a list of accepted excuses, the reason must be exceptional circumstances such as serious illness or the death or a loved one.

If you have previously missed deadlines, the tax office will be less likely to accept your request.

The request should be made by June 29th either in person at the tax office or through the messaging system in your online tax page.

What if you don’t declare everything?

If you have not declared income which is subsequently discovered by authorities, the increase in your overall tax bill can be up to 80 percent – the maximum penalty is usually reserved for people who have deliberately tried to hide parts of their income.

We have a full guide to what you need to declare HERE, but the basic rule of thumb is that you need to declare everything, even if it is not taxable in France, eg income from a rental property in another country.

France has dual taxation agreements with countries including the UK and USA so if you have already paid tax on income in another country you won’t need to pay more tax in France – but you still need to declare it.

What about foreign bank accounts?

Another item that frequently catches out foreigners in France is overseas bank accounts.

If you have any non-French bank accounts, you need to list them on your tax declaration, even if they are dormant or only have a very small amount of money in them.

This also applies to any foreign investment schemes you have, such as life insurance policies. 

The penalty for not listing accounts is between €1,500 and €10,000 and that applies for each account you fail to declare. 

What if I made a mistake on my declaration?

In 2018 France formally enshrined the ‘right to make mistakes’, giving people the right to go back and correct their declarations without attracting a penalty.

So if you realise you have missed something off or added the wrong info you can either go back into your online declaration and correct it or, if you file on paper, visit your local tax office.

However the ‘right to make a mistake’ does not extend to late filing.

What if I didn’t make a declaration?

The French tax system is often confusing for foreigners, with many people wrongly assuming that if they are not liable for tax in France then they don’t need to fill in the declaration.

For people who persist in not making the declaration, even after the arrival of the notice of default, tax authorities can make an estimate, based on earnings and lifestyle, and present the bill.

However for new arrivals in France it’s likely that they will not be registered with the tax office and will therefore never receive a notice. 

In this instance it’s always better to come clean – if you have made a genuine mistake and you approach the tax office  (rather than waiting for them to watch up with you) you will usually be dealt with quite leniently. 

How can I get help?

If you’re struggling with the system, there are ways to get help.

The tax office has an English language information page here, and a dedicated helpline for internationals on + 33 1 72 95 20 42.

You can also visit your local tax office, every town has one and you can simply turn up without appointment and ask for help (although if the office is small and your query is complicated you may need to make an appointment for the full discussion). Surprising as it may sound, employees at the tax office are generally pretty friendly and helpful and can guide you through the forms you need to fill in.

If your tax affairs are complicated and/or your French is at beginner level, it may be better to hire an accountant to ensure that everything is in order. You can find some tips on getting professional help HERE.

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